8 grammar goofs many of us need to fix

For most people, grammar conjures up comforting images like this, 40-pound book bags and gushing armpits.

For most people, grammar conjures up comforting images like this, 40-pound book bags and gushing armpits.

If we likened languages to dogs, there would be few purebreds in the world. Most tongues in today’s world are crossbred with others, at least to some degree. They pick up vocabulary, expressions or even characteristics of other languages, especially at borders, where they can blend to form unique dialects. It’s pretty amazing.

Sticking with our canine analogy, English is most assuredly the alpha mutt of world languages. On any given day, you’ll hear Americans use French expressions (déjà vu), African words (taboo), Gaelic (shenanigans), Yiddish (schmuck!), and countless others.

Our language has sprung from its crazy history—including roots in German and Nordic tongues, its early spread through the English empire, the American “melting pot” and its ensuring dominance in the world, and the globe becoming smaller and smaller via travel and technological advances.

All of this has given English a flexibility that’s nothing short of acrobatic. Friends and relatives of mine who speak multiple languages always remark that English is incredibly agile, even nimble, when it comes to self-expression. And even though its mutt-like quality brings the best characteristics together from across the globe, it’s also yielded some nutty grammar and vocabulary.

Here are some examples I see every day, or I’m asked about all the time.

  1. Affect and effect

Both are verbs. Affect means to influence or have impact on. The design flaw affected our product launch for the show.

Effect means to achieve something. The governor effected a wide-reaching quarantine during the epidemic.

Now the tricky part. Effect is also a noun, meaning result or consequence. The way that guy played the guitar had a huge effect on me.

  1. Complement and compliment

Compliment is saying something nice. Complement, with an “e,” means to complete something. (That’s how I remember it… complement looks more like complete.)

  1. Capital vs capitol

Capital means a city that’s a seat of government, money, or uppercase. Capitol, with an “o,” means the actual capitol building itself. I remember that with this little trick: Capitol and dome both have the letter “o.”

  1. Fewer and less

Fewer is for actual things you can count. Ever since my e-reader, I have fewer books than ever!

Less is for more abstract things that you can’t physically count. I seem to have a lot less time these days.

  1. Infer and imply

I always get these two mixed up. Imply means to suggest. He is implying that the manager doesn’t know what he’s doing.

Infer means to conclude. From these stats, we can infer that sales are going to tank by year’s end.

  1. Farther and further

Farther is about actual physical distance. New York is farther for us than Boston for our team.

Further is more abstract or about degree. I will talk no further about this dilemma until we know more.

  1. Whose and who’s

I see these mixed up on a daily basis. Whose is possessive. Whose car is blocking the driveway!?

Who’s is a contraction of who isWho’s going to move that car, anyway?

  1. When to use a colon vs. a semicolon

Use a colon (double dots) when you’re introducing something. Here’s what you can expect at the banquet: A three-course meal, live entertainment, and a networking event.

A semicolon has a lot of uses! For one, you can use it as a “soft period” between two closely related independent clauses. The bicycle tour was an utter disaster; nearly every rider suffered from some sort of injury.

It’s most useful, though, to separate a series of items when there are commas in the series already. In other words, separating a series of series.

In the old trunk, she found her grandmother’s wedding gown, album, and shoes; her grandfather’s pipe, tobacco tin, and monogrammed handkerchief; and baby photos of her parents.

I can go on and on here—English is rich with confusion! If you found this useful, let me know, and I’ll do a few more blogs like this over the coming year. Until then… enjoy our crazy, beautiful, agile, little pup of a language.

– Andy Badalamenti is the creative director for CI-Group

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