10 Grammar Mistakes That Make You Look Stupid

Written By Jodi Gilbert

These days, we tend to communicate via the keyboard as much as we do verbally. Often, we’re in a hurry, quickly dashing off e-mails with typos, grammatical shortcuts (I’m being kind here), and that breezy, e.e. cummings, no-caps look. It’s expected. It’s no big deal. But other times, we try to invest a little care, avoiding mistakes so that there’s no confusion about what we’re saying and so that we look professional and reasonably bright.

In general, we can slip up in a verbal conversation and get away with it. A colleague may be thinking, Did she just say “irregardless”?, but the words flow on, and our worst transgressions are carried away and with luck, forgotten.

That’s not the case with written communications. When we commit a grammatical crime in e-mails, discussion posts, reports, memos, and other professional documents, there’s no going back. We’ve just officially gone on record as being careless or clueless. And here’s the worst thing. It’s not necessary to be an editor or a language whiz or a spelling bee triathlete to spot such mistakes. They have a way of doing a little wiggle dance on the screen and then reaching out to
grab the reader by the throat.

So here we are in the era of Word’s red-underline “wrong spelling, dumb ass” feature and Outlook’s Always Check Spelling Before Sending option, and still the mistakes proliferate. Catching typos is easy (although not everyone does it). It’s the other stuff — correctly spelled but incorrectly wielded — that sneaks through and makes us look stupid. Here’s a quick review of some of the big ones.

1. Loose for lose
No: I always loose the product key.
Yes: I always lose the product key.

2. It’s for its (or god forbid, its’)
No: Download the HTA, along with it’s readme file.
Yes: Download the HTA, along with its readme file.
No: The laptop is overheating and its making that funny noise again.
Yes: The laptop is overheating and it’s making that funny noise again.

3.They’re fortheir for there
No: The managers are in they’re weekly planning meeting.
Yes: The managers are in their weekly planning meeting.
No: The techs have to check there cell phones at the door, and their not happy about it.
Yes: The techs have to check their cell phones at the door, and they’re not happy about it.

4.i.e. for e.g.
No: Use an anti-spyware program (i.e., AdAware).
Yes: Use an anti-spyware program (e.g., AdAware).
Note: The term i.e. means “that is”; e.g. means “for example.” And a comma follows both of them.

5.Effect for affect
No: The outage shouldn’t effect any users during work hours.
Yes: The outage shouldn’t affect any users during work hours.
Yes: The outage shouldn’t have any effect on users.
Yes: We will effect several changes during the downtime.
Note: Impact is not a verb. Purists, at least, beg you to use affect instead:
No: The outage shouldn’t impact any users during work hours.
Yes: The outage shouldn’t affect any users during work hours.
Yes: The outage should have no impact on users during work hours.

6. You’re foryour
No: Remember to defrag you’re machine on a regular basis.
Yes: Remember to defrag your machine on a regular basis.
No: Your right about the changes.
Yes: You’re right about the changes.

7. Different than for different from
No: This setup is different than the one at the main office.
Yes: This setup is different from the one at the main office.
Yes: This setup is better than the one at the main office.

8. Lay for lie
No: I got dizzy and had to lay down.
Yes: I got dizzy and had to lie down.
Yes: Just lay those books over there.

9. Then for than
No: The accounting department had more problems then we did.
Yes: The accounting department had more problems than we did.
Note: Here’s a sub-peeve. When a sentence construction begins with If, you don’t need a then. Then is implicit, so it’s
superfluous and wordy:
No: If you can’t get Windows to boot, then you’ll need to call Ted.
Yes: If you can’t get Windows to boot, you’ll need to call Ted.

10.Could of, would of for could have, would have
No: I could of installed that app by mistake.
Yes: I could have installed that app by mistake.
No: I would of sent you a meeting notice, but you were out of town.
Yes: I would have sent you a meeting notice, but you were out of town.

Bonus peeve

I’ll just throw one more thing out here: My current burning pet peeve. At some point, who knows when, it became common practice to say that something is “hit and miss.” Nuh-UH. It can’t be both, right? It either hits or it misses? “Hit OR miss.” Granted, it’s a small thing, a Boolean-obsessive sort of thing. But it’s nonetheless vexing because it’s so illogical. Okay, that’s mine. If you’ve got a peeve of your own, share it in the discussion (or post a comment and tell me to get over it).

113 thoughts on “10 Grammar Mistakes That Make You Look Stupid

  1. Jayce

    I somehow got through high school without ever diagramming a sentence, yet I maintain above average skills in English. (Probably from the influence of college graduate parents and numerous “grammar lessons” at the dinner table.)

    Thanks for explaining the difference between e.g. and i.e., the piece that’s been missing in my grammar skills.

  2. Chris

    That’s a good list. A big e-mail annoyance for me is a blank or meaningless subject line, such as “FYI”, “Question”, or “Help!!!!!!” (I get that last one two or three times a week from different sources). When looking at an inbox with the subject lines of 25 unread messages, those are no use at all. Don’t get me started on multiple question marks or exclamation marks. You only need one, people!

    I was also taught never to begin a sentence with “And”,”But” or “Or”, but I noticed you did. I see this a lot in newspapers and it never fails to awaken the anxiety of seeing all the red ink on my papers in English class.

    1. Zamur

      It’s perfectly acceptable to start a sentence with “and”, “but”, or “or”. But, only if it directly references the prior sentence as done here.

  3. tmt

    I am glad you provided this for all of us. I purchased a cheap, but very valuable student planner this past year – it provides a ‘Study Tips’ section which includes common grammar mistakes and misused words – similar to what you have provided. It has saved me from many potential embarassments. Three more examples for the audience, especially now that graduating and resume’ season has arrived, include:
    accept/except; complement/compliment; and fewer/less. Any of the free dictionary and/or encyclopedia web-sites should be able to explain the differences. Nothing takes the place of visually proof-reading the documents again and again and again. That’s what friends are for ;-)

  4. Cross

    Another Bonus Peeve:

    When, oh when, did we lose the knack of possessional and plural tenses? Two signs in my general neighborhood for public consumption include:

    “Tattoo’s” to advertise a tattoo parlor, but unless the guy behind the counter is named Tattoo and he owns the joint, I hardly think this is appropriate.

    “Spa’s” I ask you–who’s Spa?

    Point being, overnight it appears that the apostrophe has invaded where it does not belong, and it has become my number one pet peeve. So call me a grammar fascist, I guess, but it bothers me like nails on a chalkboard.

    Thank you, thank you for providing this guide to those little grammar nuances that our text-happy society seems to have forgotten. I, too, had trouble remembering when i.e. and e.g. were used but now I can rest easy.

      1. Chief36

        What is a plural tense? The last I checked there was no such thing. I am aware of the ‘plural form’ though.

        The tenses are used for time, plural is to show a number greater than one.


  5. Jordan

    How about the misuse of “literally”? Starting sometime around 2000, “literally” became the buzzword du jour that still won’t go away, as in “The concert was sick, dude – blood was literally gushing our of my ears”.

    Well, I wish it were. And, I don’t mean virtually.

    And, whatever happened to singular forms of words that end in -ia, such as “criteria”? “My main criteria for this project is…”. This one really grates on me, but it seems ubiquitous. I don’t know what my chief criterion for usage of these words should be anymore.

  6. Dave

    My least favorite is when people say “I could care less.” That means you care. It’s “I couldn’t care less.”
    I know it doesn’t really fit with the rest of these examples as they are more formal, but I had to put it in there.

    Also “ATM Machine” the “M” stands for “Machine,” there’s no reason to say both.

    1. Audra

      I absolutely HATE it when people say “I could care less”! When did we become so lazy in speaking that we can’t add the extra syllable to an otherwise meaningless phrase??

  7. Lesley

    A good list here and strangely satisfying, I thought I was the only one brainwashed by my childhood education!

    I have another one for you, what about “newk-you-lar”? (“nuclear” pronounced the “Bush” way – can’t the man afford a speech therapist Goddammit?)



  8. Sanch

    Two Aussie errors which I never encountered in the U.K. :

    I ‘brought’ a new handbag (should be ‘bought’).

    We ‘done’ that last week (should be we ‘did’ that last week).

    These two in particular are grating on my nerves at the moment as my 8 year old has just started getting these wrong. Why aren’t such errors corrected at school; they certainly are at home?

  9. Jen

    Two peeves from Australian TV ads…

    ” Bought to you from the Masters of ‘Bigness’ ” For a Quizshow (of all things)

    ” Come in and Experience the Experience” ( For a construction company, I think)

    As with Dave, my examples are not as formal as the others, but still make me cringe when I hear them.

  10. Pete

    Here’s a bit of meta-pedantry for you, to set the record straight.

    None of these are actually grammar errors. All except 4, 7, 8 and possibly 1 and 9 are groups of (near) homophones; I imagine in each case the writer knows which of the homophones he means (else God help him, his grammar actually is mixed up), but just picked the wrong spelling. That said, they *do* make you look stupid, especially 10.

    4 and 8 are usage errors (the grammar is perfectly fine). 9 is quite possibly an innocent typo (and 1 can be caused accidentally by leaning on the “o” key too long). As for 7, while I admit I was rather surprised to hear it said in “Metal Gear Solid”, I consider it a dialectal variation rather than error. As for “impact”: just because you say it isn’t doesn’t make it so – I agree that the usage you give is pompous at best, but it has other legitimate uses. And with regard to redundant “then”: sorry, but if you call that an error, it’s really overblown pedantry. Finally, “hit and/or miss” is an idiom, and they are never fully logical, so an attack on those grounds doesn’t really work.

    Cross: Tenses are a feature of verbs, not of nouns. You’re thinking of the possessive clitic (admittedly a relatively arcane grammatical term) and plural number. And the “greengrocer’s apostrophe” (as it is called on the right side of the pond) is an error of punctuation rather than grammar.

    Sanch: I’ve heard both of those errors in Britain. “Done” for “did” seems particularly common in South Wales for some reason.

    I’ll just add that you are of course entitled to your pet peeves – where would we be without them? (Although I think “burning pet peeve” sounds like a urinary tract infection ;))

  11. margote

    You are absolutely correct… grammar has now gone by the wayside. I have always been interested and intrigued with “words” from a young age. As a court reporter proper grammar is an intricate tool for my work, but unfortunately I see mistakes that even court reporters make on a daily basis. Many making exactly the mistakes you’ve pointed out in your column. An excellent grammar lesson for everyone to test your skills is Dr. Kristi Seigel’s online grammar test at http://www.kristisiegel.com/grammartest2.html. I did the lesson a short time ago and although i don’t like to “toot my own horn”, let’s just say my interest in grammar paid off. Anyone up for the challenge?

  12. megan

    Question: Does anyone have a “rule of thumb” for the use of periods in acronyms, when and when not to use them? I was once told at a very young age that if the acronym is actually a word e.g. Unicef or NATO or
    JPEG or AIDS, then periods are not included (they can technically be an initialism), otherwise acronyms like e.g., P.M or A.M. or O.P.P. where periods are used, but I guess that rule kind of goes out the window when i think of acronyms such as FBI or RCMP…. So can anyone explain when to use periods?

    1. new_york_night

      This falls into rules of styles, as well as the dictionary. The most popular styles guides are the Chicago Manual of Style, the AP style, and the New York Times style.
      Which dictionary is the best? That is actually a good question.

      “jpeg,” or “jpg” are acronyms for computer file types and technical acronyms such as this fall into their own category because they are new words for which there is no precedence. Computer terms such as this have usage so common, they have become their own words and become added to the English vocabulary. When they become their own word, they do not take periods.

      A.M and P.M. are usually broken with periods in this case because A.M. without periods becomes, “AM,” a completely different word altogether. But this rule follows styles and can go either way.

      F.B.I. is a good example of clarity because without the periods, there can be confusion as to whether or not “FBI” is its own word which may have nothing to do with the acronym spelled out (Federal Bureau of Investigation).

      So when there is confusion with another word due to lack of usage, go with periods.

  13. alllyb

    As Pete says not strictly grammar errors.

    My pet hate: “very unique” or “more unique than”

    There are no degrees of uniqueness! Something either is unique ir it is not not unique.

    Instead “very distinctive” or “more distinctive than”…

    Thank you

  14. Mary

    One that’s driving me insane lately is “could care less”. Should be “couldn’t care less”. As in – I couldn’t care less about your grammar as long as you avoid talking to me.

    And, living in the South US, don’t even get me started on subject-verb disagreement. OMG!

    1. Jay

      What in the world is this? An unecissary discussion about every day?! Trust me, there is way more interesting things to talk about other than how other ppl talk. Is that how people get steam off nowadays? Its like listening to Alex Trebek and The nerd impression of Robin Williams argue.

      1. Peter Piper

        Also, another Pet Peeve, from the previous poster:

        “Trust me”.

        When did people start using this phrase all over the place? It conjures up images of a used car salesman. “TRUST ME, This car was only driven by a little old lady to go to church on Sunday.”

        My first mental response is, “Dude, why on earth would I trust YOU?”

        “Believe me” sounds so much nicer.

  15. Dennis

    I can’t stand people who use the phrase “waiting on” when they mean “waiting for”.

    Ditto for “less than” when they mean “fewer than”. If it can be counted, use “fewer than”, people!

    Or people who bought something “off of” someone, rather than “from” someone. If it wasn’t hanging from their person, you bought it “from” them, darn it!

    (Please don’t get me started on multiple question marks or exclamation points. It makes my eye twitch.)

    1. Jay

      how the hell does that make your eye twitch?! wat did the word do to you? Why is it such a big deal to “ya’ll”?! Did that word make your eye twich? I hope so. LAMES!!!!

  16. JB.T

    I “hate” it when people use “quotation marks” for things that aren’t “quotes,” such as when they want to put “emphasis” on a “word.”

    Oh, and there’s no such thing as a “prenump.” Prenup is short for prenuptial agreement. No m. Where did that come from? Prenup. Stop it.

  17. Mike

    The “literally” thing is my big pet peeve. But yeah it’s also annoying when people say “over-exaggerating”. You just exaggerate, not over-exaggerate. anyway, good article

  18. Ryan

    Not to be picky, but on #4, i.e. means “in effect” (i.e. “that is”). You are correct, but I’m more correct =^)

    By the way, I can’t stand the incorrect “would/could/should of.” It’s “would have or would’ve,” people!

  19. Ron

    My peeve? ‘Firstly, secondly, lastly,’ etc. when the speaker means ‘first, second, last,’ etc. You CANNOT be like, as, or similar to an ordinal number- either you’re first, or you’re not. You’re last, or you’re not- you’re next to last, or near the end. Do you actually say, “I was first, but someone was there before me ?” No? Then don’t say ‘firstly,’ damn it!

  20. Carl Witlicki

    Regardless, irregardless, not irregardless, etc. all mean the same thing.

    Unsolved mysteries. If they were solved, they would not be mysteries.

    Programming: if if = if then then = then else else = else

    Any Steve Wright joke.

  21. Escuerd

    “Hit and miss” isn’t a grammar error, of course. It’s a logical error. However, it can make sense in some cases. E.g., if it’s referring to some process that is repeated with inconsistent results. There’s hitting going on, and there’s missing going on. Nothing’s wrong there.

  22. Escuerd

    Something annoying that occurs to me is the tendency among East Texans (possibly among others) to merge the words “idea” and “ideal”. “Does anyone have any ideal what I’m talking about?”

  23. Diane Mitchell

    Why do people like to begin every sentence with LIKE or BASICALLY? And why do they love to end sentences with IF YOU WILL? If you will WHAT?

    1. Peter Piper

      “If you will” is basically faux academic speak. People use it because they think it makes them sound like a college professor. Instead it simply sounds pedantic and silly.

  24. Jeff

    Number five is incorrect.

    While the word “Affect” is in the dictionary, it is a psychology term somewhat related to the word affection. Unless you are writing a psychological dissertation, you will use “effect” for both the verb and the noun in 99.9 percent of your writing. Your suggestion to use affect as a verb and effect as a noun is just a common American wives tale most likely found on Wikipedia.

    Another commonly misspelled/mispronounced word is metrics. It’s amusing how many people say “matrix”.

  25. Jeff

    Before people flame me for my previous post I’d like to submit rthe useage note from dictionary.com…

    ?Usage note Affect1 and effect, each both noun and verb, share the sense of ?influence,? and because of their similarity in pronunciation are sometimes confused in writing. As a verb affect1 means ?to act on? or ?to move? (His words affected the crowd so deeply that many wept); affect2 means ?to pretend? or ?to assume? (new students affecting a nonchalance they didn’t feel). The verb effect means ?to bring about, accomplish?: Her administration effected radical changes. The noun effect means ?result, consequence?: the serious effects of the oil spill. The noun affect1 pronounced with the stress on the first syllable, is a technical term in psychology and psychiatry. Affect2 is not used as a noun.

  26. Andy

    With regard to 2,3 and 6, I was always taught to think of the apostrophe as a replacement for the missing letters in the phrase. Indeed the dictionary defines an apostrophe as a punctuation mark indicating the omission of letters. Therefore if there were no missing letters there was no apostrophe.

    So in the examples given:

    The laptop is overheating and it?s making that funny noise again. – ‘it’s’ is used here as a shortened form of ‘it is’ therefore the apostrophe replaces the ‘i’ in is.

    Download the HTA, along with its readme file. – ‘its’ is not a shortened form of anything, therefore no apostrophe.

    The techs have to check their cell phones at the door, and they?re not happy about it. – ‘they’re’ is used here as short for ‘they are’ therefore has an apostrophe.

    You?re right about the changes. – ‘You’re’ used here as a shortened form of ‘you are’ therefore has an apostrophe.

    I’ve always found this a useful guide to when to and when not to use apostrophe.

  27. Erick

    “He gave Jerry and I a beer.”

    Ask yourself how this would read if Jerry wasn’t there.

    “He gave I a beer.” This is one of my pet peeves. Even journalists, who should know better, make this mistake.

    Rule of thumb if this doesn’t come naturally to you: take the other person out of the scenario and run it through your head with “me” or “I.”

    “He gave Jerry and me a beer.” Now I can enjoy that ale.

  28. Corona Rivera

    Thanks for the satisfying list of errors to avoid.

    I concur (I hope that’s is right.) with Dave & Mary on the irritation of “Couldn’t care more”.

    Thanks to Erick for giving me a way to figure out when I should be me.

    I would like to add one more peeve. – The use/none use of spaces in sentences. – We have computers now that know exactly how much space to leave after punctuation. We no longer need the extra space, one will do. But please space after numbering a list. (E.g., 1. Number One – Not 1.Number One.)

    Thanks for the space to vent and I hope you enjoy the beer.


  29. KateyKat

    Please help stamp out the growing habit of refering to oneself as myself. For example: “Please send your answer to myself”.

    My all time favorite for your amusement (or horror): an internal message from the Office Managing Partner a few years ago referred to a “mute point” when of course he meant moot point.

  30. Steve Hooper

    This is an American/Brit thing but ‘insure/ensure’… Please, people, ‘ensure’ is a real word and is to be found in American dictionaries too. Please take the time to check it out.

  31. Chuck

    I’m with Dave on response #6, “I could care less” drives me crazy. Say what you mean and mean what you say i.e., “I couldn’t care less”

  32. Samir

    Having English as my second language I noticed that native speakers couldn’t care less if they make these errors, whereas non-native speakers tend to pay close attention to grammar, probably out of fear of sounding stupid. Once I noticed that I stopped “learning” from natives. :)

    This is by far the best resource I have found on the web for these types of mistakes:

  33. 0/0

    People say “A whole ‘nother (thing)” every day, and it makes me cringe. What is that? By grammatical rules that would be short for “another whole another (thing)”, which doesn’t make sense. The term is “another whole (thing)”, or “a whole other (thing)”. Why do people just make stuff up?

  34. 0/0

    Yes – “moot” vs. “mute”. I can’t think of anything that I commonly hear that makes people sound more stupid than confusing the two of those. Good call.

  35. Sherry Johnson

    My personal pet peeves are pronunciation (not pronounciation) errors.The one that makes me cring the most is noo-cyoo-ler,as in the way Bush mispronounces it.The word is spelled nuclear.Is it so hard to pronounce the letters in the order in which they appear?My other big one is ” I have a Beta fish”(pronouncing it bay-ta). Beta is a letter in the Greek language,Betta Splendens is a tropical fish, otherwise known as the Siamese Fighting Fish.It is pronounced Betta(Bet, as in” I bet a lot of people will never get this one right”).Beta is pronounced bay-ta.

  36. Sherry Johnson

    Ok, I didn’t think to take a second look at that last entry,either.It should read “Oops”, not ” Opps”.Please forgive me,again.

  37. Marilyn

    The word “actually” is very overused.
    I actually counted someone actually saying actually in a sentence so many times that it was actually so annoying that I acturally had to take a pill for the headache I actually got!

    1. Peter Piper

      The reason that it’s rare to see “I seen him run in the last race” in written form is that people who say “I seen him run…” are generally close to illiterate.

  38. Ian

    Ryan said, “Not to be picky, but on #4, i.e. means ‘in effect’ (i.e. ‘that is’). You are correct, but I?m more correct =^) ”

    Actually, Ryan, you’re incorrect. I.E. isn’t an abbreviation for “in effect” . It’s actually an abbreviation for the latin, “id est,” which means “that is”. I’m sure some teacher somewhere along the line probably told you that to try to make it easier to remember the difference, though using “in effect” as a definition for “i.e.” would surely cause you to misuse “i.e.” in situations where “e.g.” would be correct.


    In comments 26 and 27, Jeff contradicts himself. First he claims that, “Unless you are writing a psychological dissertation, you will use ‘effect’ for both the verb and the noun in 99.9 percent of your writing.” Then in comment 27, he provides a usage note which shows exactly how “affect” is properly used, and those examples have nothing to do with psychological disserations.

  39. Criss Labyrinth

    I can’t stand it when people use “them” instead of “those”. It kills me to hear someone saying, “Go over there and look at them boxes.” Either say “them” or name the items, but not both!
    Another annoying thing I often hear is “we was”. NO, people! Either use “I was” or “we were”, and never “you was”.

  40. David

    Good list!

    I get annoyed at the misuse of penultimate. It simply means second to last. I often hear people use it as a superlative, trying to say something is enormous, bigger than huge, the zenith of something. I recently heard a local news anchor interview a singer, and she asked him if he ever thought he would reach this “penultimate point in his career.” Yikes! He’ll eventually reach the second-to-last point of his career, and then he’ll reach the ultimate point. And he may also reach a career goal that is higher than he intially imagined.

  41. Alan

    I am supprised that nobody mentioned needlessly ending sentences with prepositions.

    “Where is that at?”…”Where are you going to?”…”When will you have that done by?”

    As Mr. Churchill so eloquently said, “This is the kind of impertinence up with which I shall not put.”

    Next we will be dangling our participles; in public!

  42. Chris1

    Great article and thread.

    How about “incentivized” or “incent” as non-word variations of “incentive?”

    Also (here in western Kansas, the land of the forgotten infinitive) the fence “needs painted!”

  43. Emilie

    About the Bonus part, my pet peeve is and always will be ‘new and improved.’
    How can it be new, therefore unpreceded and original, and improved, a better version of a previous concept?

  44. Cheryl

    Thank you! And as for you, grainne.X, yes, that’s what school is for; unfortunately, a huge majority of humans seemed to have ditched that semester.

    It’s a very good article in my opinion as I turn off immediately when I come across lousy grammar in what would otherwise be a potent discourse on whatever….

  45. Jay

    Great article! As a proof reader from way back I did appreciate it.
    My favorites –
    CITE your source.
    A beautiful SIGHT!
    The SITE of the concert.

  46. Mat

    Please note that #5 & #9 are inaccurate!!!
    NOTE: Technically Impact CAN BE a verb!!! (DUH!!!)
    See: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/impact
    “The ball impacted against the bat with a loud noise.”
    “Increased demand will impact on sales.”

    Also…, when starting a sentence with the word “IF”, using the word “then” is still allowed (i.e. it is NOT WRONG!), & it is merely a matter of personal preference if you drop the word “then” or not. Therefore it is NOT a mistake to use the word “then” in such context. Anyone who would nit-pick at the word “then”, when it is paired with the word “if”, will most assuredly “come off” as sounding like a snob to most people. Cheers! :-)

  47. Charlie

    When did we become “British”? I really appreciated your 10. My favorite from your list was the improper use of “affect” and “effect”. My personal peeve is sports announcers who have “affected” the British “on the day” when they mean “for the day”. C’mon, really? American sports ain’t cricket! :-)

  48. Sharon

    What a terrific article—–for the few who still care about the art of speaking correctly.
    My 2 biggest peeves have already been mentioned, but I was so happy to find others who’ve noticed!
    The word “fewer” seems to be disappearing from the English language. I’m even hearing “less”, inappropriately from mainstream journalists. presumably with a masters’ degree.
    When I hear “where’s it at?”, it hits me like fingernails on a blackboard!

  49. Sue

    All are good points, and I wonder about the quality of education having no effect, and the media having too much effect on grammar. Don’t get me started on ‘txt msg’ in a standard e-mail message or on some covering letters I’ve seen.
    How about: “for all ‘intensive purposes’?”
    Have you “ate?” (8 what…?)

    I fondly recall an exercise we were required to do in grade school English; while not precisely grammar-related, it drove home the point: “Which witch threw the broom through the room where we were?”

    Oh, and about my pet peeve, and somewhat off topic: “Rule of thumb”: stemming from the Middle Ages, at a time when the law allowed a husband to beat, without impunity, his chattels (wife, children or livestock) using a stick or rod no thicker than the circumference of his thumb. Anything thicker than that was considered going to extremes…

  50. Russell

    While no one’s perfect, I must admit that I have quite a few annoyances with bad grammar as well. I cannot stand it when people mix up then and than, overuse the word but or use em-dashes randomly or in place of semi-colons.

    Some mistake, such as your first and second examples, are excusable as typos if you don’t have a payed editor or a word processor with grammar checking capabilities.

    Anyway, you made many mistakes yourself in this article that made my eye twitch.

    – “… here’s the worst thing. It’s not …”
    – “Bonus peeve”
    – “It can’t be both, right? It either hits or it misses?”

  51. Andrew Clarke

    My pet hate is the wrong use of quotes.

    If its speech, its double quotes “Holy cow! The Best article is darn good” said Tom.

    If its quoting something written, then single quotes
    The leading article in The Times today said ‘…the economy is in dire straits…’

    I know the dictionaries say both are valid, but if you use double quotes for text how do you distinguish between speech and textual quotes other than interpreting the context.


  52. Andrew Clarke

    One final gripe (slightly off topic) and I’ll leave it alone.

    Australian sentence endings.

    If you’re from down under and the tone of your voice rises towards the end of a statement, then all well and good and I bear you no ill will.

    If you’re English, THEN DONT DO IT! YOU SOUND STUPID!

    By doing this you turn every statement into a question seemingly seeking affirmation or approval. Are you so insecure and have such low confidence that you must seek my approval for everything you say?

  53. Andrew Clarke

    @John M
    61 and 62 I’ll give you that, we all have pet peeves. (Lets not think about that in a Harry Potter context!)

    60, no. I work in corporate communications and its been a solid rule for many years to establish a clear distinction between quoted speech and quoted text.

    Our house style doesn’t necessarily mean that its a rule of grammar, however, if you don’t distinguish between speech and text quotes in an article then you are placing an extra burden on the reader to make that distinction and clarity can be lost.

    As a communicator, it is my responsibility to ensure that the meaning of what I write is clearly and simply conveyed to you the reader.

  54. Terry Baker

    People often use the word “challenge” when what they really mean is “difficulty.”

    There is something oddly corporate about this usage. As though using the weaker term will make for an attitudinal adjustment that favors success.

    I doubt that it does.

    Listen closely to the patter the media sells us with and you will hear this substitution again and again. I never say “challenge” anymore at all.

  55. Jonathan

    While many of these things can be annoying, I would venture to say that they don’t necessarily make one look stupid by using them (not all of them anyway). After learning a second language, I have come to appreciate the fact that it’s not so much the way that the language is presented so much as the communication that is reached. If I say “I could care less” when I really should have said “I couldn’t care less,” the main point that I don’t care about it is conveyed; whether or not it is correct should be irrelevent. Not to mention the fact that so many of these things are so commonly misused that many people (yes, even some educated ones) couldn’t tell you the difference, especially ones like 3 or 8. Try teaching an English class to a bunch of non-native learners, when they ask you a question of how x is different from y. There may be many times when you know what is correct or what sounds correct, but not know why. And sometimes what sounds correct, isn’t technically correct, but again, irrelevant. There are many times when I speak Chinese and I use a correct grammatical structure that natives think sounds incorrect because they have never actually been taught the fundamentals of their language, like many English speakers. And sometimes they speak, and I can find mistakes with their own word usage and sentence structure, though my Chinese is also not perfect.

    The main point is: communication should ultimately be more important than correctness–a lesson that one learns, paradoxically, through the process of being more educated.

    You want to know what DOES make you look stupid? Writing anything in l33tspeak (or AIM langauge, “lol”), overuse of exclamation points!!!!!!!, and wrITinG in MIxeD caPs. I see these most evident when people post replies to blogs, generally voicing ignorant opinions.

  56. Arislenis

    My biggest pet peeve is when people add “est” to the end of a word AFTER already having said “most” or “more.”

    Example: My piece of cake of more bigger than yours.

  57. Eldon

    Regarding ‘hit and miss’ versus ‘hit or miss’:

    The use of ‘hit and miss’ should imply variance in a series of trials or attempts. One might say “The results of our tests were hit and miss, and therefore no strong conclusion could be reached.”

    ‘Hit or miss’ should be used in a predictive way to describe a single result. “The results of your test could be hit or miss.” This is self-evident and only worth stating if the communicator is intending to amplify the sense of variability expected in the result.

    Mistakes with these phrases are contextual or logical, rather than grammatical.

    Other common mistakes:

    One often sees or hears the misuse of second person (you, your, yours) in place of third person (one) in a professional document. Of course, this is an error of style rather than an error of grammar.


    A grammatical error seen and heard frequently is the misuse of adjectives and adverbs to describe someone’s state.

    NO: I feel badly today. (This means the speaker is bad at feeling today.)
    YES: I feel bad today.

    Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and equivalent phrases. Adjectives modify nouns, pronouns, and equivalent phrases.


    NO: “The postcard says ‘Wish you were here.'”
    YES: “The postcard reads ‘Wish you were here.'”

  58. unkennable

    Oh, bullcrap on a lot of this. I’m as guilty as the next person for correcting grammer (or whatever; grammer’s taken on the meaning of any mistakes in language usage–aside from spelling, I suppose–whether you like it or not), but it all comes down to a person’s pet peeves. Language if fluid, though, and if we’re not willing to accept so-called mistakes that are in common use, it will remain static, and it will become BORING.*

    I generally agree with the person who said that if the intent is clear, it doesn’t really matter if the grammer is strictly proper; it irks me that they went on to list grammatical errors that they implied were unacceptable, especially since I disagreed with them on many of their opinions.

    But that’s just it, isn’t it? People have things that bother them in language, as in everything else; I certianly do. I’m not suggesting anarchy within the English language, and I do realise that the author of this post asked us to respond with our pet peeves. Which is what I’m doing. Because I’m astounded that the majority of people here posted absolute rules that people MUST follow, while they were breaking three or four strictures of the English language themselves!

    Oh yes, I know, I’ve done the same already in my post. I’m fine with it. In fact, I’m proud of it; it illustrates my point: get your meaning across, and, no matter the teeth-grindings and nails-on-a-chalkboard feelings you prevoke in other people, you’re good.

    Still, the passion in these posts trumps anything anyone here has stated outright. And, hypocrisy not withstanding, I think we should all continue to be vocal in our grievances with any poor handling of our language, and continue to try to keep each other in check. That way, things won’t get out of hand, and English won’t implode. At the end of the day, we’ll end up with exactly what we have now, and have always had: a language which continues to change, but which remains workable, which serves its purpose, and which will forever be a source of gripes and giggles for everyone.

    *I believe Dickens is responsible for the word “boring” in this sense (and it’s entirely possible that I’m wrong). No one jumped down his throat for bastardizing a word. Go a little nuts! :P

  59. anakelolo

    Here’s one that gets me every time: Using the word whenever in place of when. Is that a regional thing? Second favorite, right up there with nu-cu-lar, is real-a-tor.

  60. Jim Parker

    How about the word idea, but spelled with an “L”, such as in response to a question like, “do you know what time it is?” and the person says, “I have no ideal”

    Makes me want to snap a stick.

  61. Change

    1. The usage of I in sentences like the one below.

    Mom told Amy and I to go play outside. (NO)
    Mom told Amy and me to go play outside. (YES)

    Me and Kevin went to the game. (NO)
    Kevin and me went to the game. (NO)
    I and Kevin went to the game. (NO)
    Kevin and I went to the game. (YES)

    2. Pronouncing nuclear as “NOO-KU-LAR,” Iraq as “I-RACK” and Iran as “I-RAN.” It’s I-rritating to hear these.

    Like one of the commentors above, I realized that my English is a lot better than many native speakers’.

  62. Annoying Editor


    You had a major grammatical mistake in your first sentence:

    “These days, we tend to communicate via the keyboard as much as we do verbally.”

    Verbal refers to both oral and written communications. What you meant, and should have written, was

    “…we tend to communicate via the keyboard as much as we do orally.”

    I figure people think the word oral sounds salacious so they don’t like to use it and that’s why almost everyone makes the mistake.

  63. Deb

    My pet peeve: realty & reality, specialty & speciality. And something already commented upon above viz. (or is it i.e.!): its (mostly possessive) & it’s (mostly meaning “it is”). To nitpick a nitpicker:

    @Andrew (Dec. 10 & 11) appears to have used “its” at most places when probably he meant “it is” hence it’s. Also, on his Dec. 10 post, it should properly be Don’t (which at one time stood for “do not”, does it still?) instead of “Dont”.

    @Russell (Dec. 9), would you please explain the errors in the three sentences from the original post that you’ve quoted.

  64. gvo

    Numbers 1 to 9 seem to be ordinary mistakes anyone in general and foreigners in particular could easily make. But I agree, they do make you look stupid, especially in things like a resume. Number 10 however is by far much more annoying and stupid. It doesn’t just make you look stupid, it makes you look like a mentally challenged, uneducated, very stupid 8 year old kid. I don’t understand why, but it really annoys the crap out of me.

    Latest find: “You must of have missed game 5” by a certain BigJon.
    Double points I’d say.

  65. Kate

    My biggest grammar pet peeve is the use of anyways. I don’t know if it is a local phenomenon, or more wide spread, but it bugs me to hear it, and drives me insane to see it written: Anyways…. UGH! Anyway is not, and never can be plural.

  66. Jamie

    Perhaps you should run a spell-check before submitting a post about grammar. Leaving things like “fortheir” and “foryour” are just sloppy and embarrassing.

    Starting sentences with “but” is also generally frowned upon in formal writing – it’s a preposition.

    Your post is rife with similar mistakes and peppered with incorrect, less commonly used words in an attempt to sound more intelligent. If there’s a smaller word that’s more appropriate, use it.

    I’ve spotted spelling, dangling participles, and punctuation errors.

    Get off your high horse and quit looking so stupid.

  67. Bob


    “Like, where’s the tanning salon?”
    “Is this, like, fat free, or something?”
    “You’re, like, getting on my nerves.”

    What is that? Where did it come from? Why?

  68. walt

    I hate hearing idiots who go (sic) “So he goes…” instead of “So he said…” When did “Go” replace “Said” and who was the moron that came up with that?

    1. Peter Piper

      It would be interesting if Oxford English Dictionary could do an etymological study and discover who the exact moron was who first starting saying, “So he goes…, and then she goes….”.

  69. Rob Rollason

    Hi, I never usually comment on this type of thing. But one thing I've notice a lot is when answering a question, people tend to say: No, yeah, then their answer. For example:
    Q: Did you like that new Star Trek film?
    A: No yeah, it was good.
    I think this is probably a social evolution thing of not wanting to appear disagreeable with any outcome the asker will reply to your answer with.

    One more thing, the 'Hit And Miss' peeve from above:
    People say 'hit and miss' when talking about something that will have more than one definite outcome. For example, somebody's scar has been playing up a bit.
    Q: How is your car these days?
    A: It's hit and miss.
    This refers to multiple outcomes of the car's condition. 'Hit OR miss' would need a question with only one possible outcome, such as the follwing:
    Q: Will your car start tomorrow?
    A: It's hit or miss.

    Just wanted to clear that up. Bye everyone, enjoy life :)+<

  70. Jolene Wood

    And lets not forget suite and suit!

    NO: Does the suggested time SUITE you?
    Yes: Does the suggested time SUIT you?
    Yes: Well now that is a grand SUIT you’re wearing!
    Yes: Would you like a sea-facing SUITE?
    Yes: Oh, you have an en-SUITE bathroom?

  71. ACEv

    The WORSER thing I hear, is “I seen.” I hear it all day, every day. In fact, not many people use the correct form of “saw.”

    Did you see the movie “Gone With The Wind?”
    I saw “Gone With The Wind.”
    I have seen “Gone With The Wind” 5 times

  72. Eeden

    Many of these things are annoying. But we just have to accept most of it. Language usage changes over time; it always has.

    I’ve been the biggest pedant in the world in the past, and yes, grammar and spelling “misuse” and pronunciation often annoys me – I can’t help it. But now I think that this is the way things change and all you can do is sigh. Word usage and even meanings have changed drastically over time, and who’s to say that the way it is now is the best? It can be jarring, and of course I have my own list of peeves.

    When it makes expression confusing, that’s wrong and therefore even more annoying. But if the meaning is very clear (not often with misspellings), I think we have to live with it.

    Pronunciation is a different thing. It’s often a regional matter, like the differences between US and UK pronunciations, and not right or wrong, usually. That’s why we all have different accents.

  73. Amanda

    I’ve found a lot of these comments really helpful and must say I’ve picked up some corrections from these posts.

    I wonder, has anyone (apart from me) noticed some people use “kneels” instead of “knees”? For example, “Sandra got down on her kneels and begged for forgiveness.” I guess that’s one of my peeves. PEEVES! What’s that word anyway?

    Well done people! keep the corrections coming.

  74. Michelle Birbeck

    one thing that I would add is something that I have seen and heard a lot lately and it gets on my nerves so bad: Drug instead of dragged. I have no idea why people use it, but somehow drug has ended up being used at the past tense of drag. It’s so annoying!
    A pet peave of mine where I live is the people’s insistence of saying: I’ll learn you how to do it. or, Can anyone borrow me a pen. I correct them every time, because it just sounds so horrible!

  75. Pradeep kumar

    I’ve seen one more mistake people do, that is they use continues instead of continue. Is that right to use continues any where?

  76. Megatroni

    This is NOT what i.e. and e.g. stand for, but I was taught to remember their usage by /pretending/ they stand for “In Effect” and “Example Given”. Pretty hard to screw that up if you read it that way after you proofread whatever it is you’ve written. But who does that?

  77. Puffi

    I hate when people use ‘women’ when they are talking about a single person – ‘She is a pretty women.’

    I also hate when someone wants to be cute and signs off ‘chow’ instead of ciao.

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