Like it or not, words, spelling, and punctuation are powerful and can leave a lasting impression on others. However, even educated people often unknowingly make these common mistakes
By Christina DesMarais
WHEN someone uses words or grammar incorrectly do you make an assumption about his or her intelligence or education? Check out this long list of common mistakes. You’ll either learn something new or find a few of your biggest pet peeves here. (And likely, you’ll find fault with my own use of the English language.)
- FIRST-COME, FIRST-SERVE
IT should actually be “served.” Without the d, the phrase above suggests that the first individual who arrives will be the one who serves everyone, which is not the idiom’s intent.
- I COULD CARE LESS
THINK about this one for a minute. The way it’s written above suggests you possess care which still could be allocated to the situation in question. “I couldn’t care less” is correct because it communicates that “I have no more care to give.”
THIS is not a word. It’s simply “regardless,” as in “Regardless of what you think about grammar, you’ll look silly if you use it incorrectly.”
- “I” AS THE LAST WORD
THE trick to getting this one straight is to take the other person’s name out of the sentence and see if your personal pronoun choice still sounds right. “Karlee talked with I” is awkward and incorrect. “Karlee talked with Brandon and me” is correct.
- “ME” or ‘Myself’ AS THE FIRST WORD
I HEAR people saying things such as “Me and Brandon met this morning” all the time, even though it’s always wrong. “Brandon and I met this morning” is correct. Also, never start a sentence with ‘myself’.
“SHOO-IN” is what you really want to write when you’re trying to say that someone is a sure winner. It’s because when you “shoo” something you’re urging it in a certain direction.
- EMIGRATED TO
“EMIGRATE” and “from” always go together, as do “immigrate” and “to.” To emigrate is to come from somewhere, and to immigrate is to go to somewhere. “Colin emigrated from Ireland to the United States” means the same as “Colin immigrated to the United States from Ireland”.
APOSTROPHES indicate one of two things: possession or letters missing, as in “Sara’s iPad” and “it’s” for “it is” (second i missing). They don’t belong on plurals. “FAQs,” for example, should not have an apostrophe.
- PROSTRATE CANCER
THIS one is a simple spelling mistake resulting from an extra r. “Prostrate” actually means to lie face down. The “prostate” gland is a part of the male reproductive anatomy.
- SLIGHT OF HAND
A “SLIGHT” is an insult, whereas “sleight” indicates dexterity or cunning. It’s why “sleight of hand” is commonly used in the world of magic and illusion.
- HONED IN
JUST know that to “home in” on something means to move toward a goal, such as “The missile homed in on its target.” To “hone” is to sharpen.
- BAITED BREATH
WHEN I think about bait, worms and lures come to mind. The first word should actually be “bated,” which stems from the verb “abate,” meaning to stop or lessen.
- PIECE OF MIND
IF you want to share what you’re thinking with someone, this could work if you add “my” before “mind.” But if you’re trying to indicate tranquillity, then spell it “peace”.
- WET YOUR APPETITE
“WHET” means to sharpen or stimulate. As such, the latter spelling is more appropriate.
- MAKE DUE
“DUE” means “owed,” and that’s not the intent with this idiom. “Make do” is the proper way to say that you’re going to get along with what you have.
- DO DILIGENCE
“DUE diligence” is the proper business and legal term. It means you will investigate an individual or company before signing a contract.
- PEAKED MY INTEREST
TO pique means to arouse, so the correct phrase is “piqued my interest,” meaning that my interest was stimulated.
- PER SAY OR PERSAY
BOTH are incorrect because the Latin phrase which means “in itself” or “intrinsically” is spelled “per se”.
- WORSE COMES TO WORSE
SOME Americans say “worse comes to worst,” — note the t — because it indicates something has degraded from one negative plane to the lowest possible. However the original phrase (still used in British English) was “worst come to worst” — both words ending with ‘t’. Originally the verb was in the subjunctive tense… if (the) worst come to (the) worst … means if the worst possibility becomes (or comes to) the worst reality.
- ALL THE SUDDEN
WHETHER you say “all of a sudden” or “all of the sudden…,” the preposition “of” must be involved either way. But if you’re really trying to say “suddenly,” just do.
- THE FIRST-YEAR ANNIVERSARY
THE use of the word “year” is redundant. “The first anniversary” or “the 50th anniversary” would suffice.
EVEN though people use this word as a verb all the time, the best way to “un-thaw” something would be to put it in the freezer. Is freezing what you mean, or thawing?
- HOT WATER HEATER
IF anything, it’s a cold water heater. Just use “water heater”.
- CHOCK IT UP
THE correct version — ”chalk it up”— comes from keeping score on a chalkboard.
- THROUGH THE RINGER
THE incorrect example above is missing a ‘w’. A wringer is an old-fashioned mechanism which presses water out of clothes being washed by hand, a process indicative of giving someone a hard time.
- GIVEN FREE REIGN
IT’S easy to see why this one looks correct, considering that “reign” is something that kings, queens, and other sovereigns do. Yet the correct idiom refers to the reins which control a horse. When you give a horse “free rein” you let it go where it wants to go.
- NIP IT IN THE BUTT
THE correct version is “nip it in the bud,” which refers to snipping off a flower bud before it can bloom. The idea is to put an end to something before it gets worse.
- TIE ME OVER
YOU don’t really want someone to tie you on top of something, do you? The phrase “tide me over” is talking about sustaining someone through a difficult time and refers to the ocean’s tide, which is capable of moving boats to a new location when the wind will not.
- TOW THE LINE
TO “TOE the line” means to follow the rules. It comes from runners who put their toe to the line before running a race.
- CHALK FULL
THE word “chock” is an Old English word which means “cheek” as well as “full to the brim.” In other words, “chock-full” means “mouthful”.
- THROWS OF PASSION
JUST know that a throe is a sharp attack of emotion. So, to be in the “throes of passion” is to be violently consumed by something.
- A MUTE POINT
MUTE means silent, so would you really want to make a point that doesn’t say anything? A point that is “moot” is debatable or doubtful. So, a point can be moot, but not mute.
SOME people throw this word around as an embellishment to intensify whatever they’re trying to say. But “literally” means “actually” or “in a strict sense.” So, if you say, “My head literally exploded,” you are lying.
THE strong coffee drink brewed into a tiny cup is pronounced with an “s” in the first syllable and written “espresso”.
- JIVE WITH THE FACTS
JIVE can be defined as a colourful form of speaking, or as referring to certain kinds of jazz or swing music. Since “jibe” means “to agree,” the correct phrase would be “jibe with the facts”.
- “FOR-TAY” FOR FORTE
THE technically correct way to pronounce “forte” is “fort.” The only problem: Lots of people will only understand what you’re trying to communicate if you pronounce it “for-tay,” which is incorrect. My approach: Avoid “forte” altogether and say, “It’s not my strength”.
PRONOUNCE “etcetera” exactly how it is spelled. Don’t drop the “t”.
THE incorrect spelling above seems like it could be right since something that is planted deeply in the ground would be firmly established. The correct expression, though, is “deep-seated.”
- EXTRACT REVENGE
WHEN you “extract” something, you remove it. “Exact,” when used as a verb, means “to require or demand.” Look it up if you don’t believe me.
- SNEAK PEAK
A “PEAK” is the top of a mountain. The correct word is “peek,” which means a quick look.