Daily Writing Tip: English usage errors

ABC owns this chalk? Examples of English usage errors We pick up our continuing saga of becoming the better writer by swatting the common English usage errors that otherwise go unnoticed on forums, blogs, social networks (I see you, Twitter) and comments all over the Internet. Small stuff, maybe, but knowing the difference gives us stronger foundations for the future of our globally connected economy…err, yeah. Just trust me on that. So, let’s get crackin’ before Kim Kardashian hooks up with a Little Leaguer!

There and They’re. The downside to written grammar is mistakes are easily caught and, if not corrected, can launch totally different actions than intended. To be clear, “there” points to a place or direction and “they’re” is a contraction of “they are”.

      • Let’s be nicer to security people, you’ll never know they’re there until you need them. 
Its vs. It’s. Probably the most common error out there, next to dating Lindsay Lohan. Kids, listen well to this simple rule: its denotes ownership while it’s is a contraction of “it is”.
      • Beauty is power, a smile is its sword.
      • Man, it’s a lovely day for knitting!

Your vs. You’re. We’ll let Ross explain this one.

Yo! Apostrophe be illin'! Bad apostrophe usage is so 90s.Apostrophes don’t always precede an S.  In the same way that we don’t do it when we pluralize words like car, book, or animal, let’s stop writing 90’s/80’s/70’s, CD’s, ABC’s, do’s, etc. It’s sad that even journalists fall off their self-made pedestals on this.
      • Style today is all about throwbacks to 90s when everything was baggy.
      • You still got those Kris Kross and new jack swing CDs?

To vs. Too. It’s too easy to blame technology and the dawn of txt spk for this, when “2” has become an acceptable replacement for both words, but this is inexcusable. So, before it’s completely forgotten:

To           preposition for direction or motion toward a point, person, place or thing

Too         (a) “also”, “as well”, “furthermore”, “in addition”; (b) means excessive or extreme

      • “To love too much is folly,” said Bernice. Puffy Bear believes it, too.

Thank vs. Thanks. This is probably a non-issue for native speakers (in general) but for the rest of us, remember that “thank” is a verb while “thanks” is a noun.

Another thing we’re going to attempt to address is that awkward phrase “thanks, God.” Now, unless you’re face to face with God, it’s just wrong to say this. Why? Because it’s an expression, not a direct address, and it’s also short for “I thank God.”

      • Thank God for giving us the peace that surpasses human understanding.
      • We give thanks to God.

Should, Could, Would. Thanks to Beverly Knight, for putting the spotlight on these three confusing words. Admit it, you broke into song. Yeah, you did! These words are commonly interchanged, but in a strict sense, actually mean different things.

Should       you should use this when you’re emphatic and should be followed or else

Could         when talking about past events and future possibilities, or for polite requests

Would        used for unlikely or theoretical situations; also for polite requests

      • You could go all out but that would compromise quality so you should learn to regulate your energy.

Bring vs. Take. No other item on this list is as crafty and time-consuming than this. In fact, if you read up on it, the explanations are equally convoluted. The basic rule is to consider the location of the speaker: “bring” is used regarding the DESTINATION or a point in the future and “take” is all about the STARTING POINT. We use bring or take depending on the location in the clause.

      • Take this camera to the nearest repair shop. (Starting point: the speaker is about to go somewhere)
      • Bring your camera here as soon as you can. (Destination)
      • Take this camera to the nearest repair shop for a check, then bring it back here. (Power combo!)
      • Can I take my friends to the party? (Starting point)
      • Sure, you can bring your guests. (Destination: an event)
      • The song brings me to tears. (Destination: emotional state)

Connote vs. Denote. Connote are ideas/emotions/implications associated with the word. Denote means the actual meaning of the word or “is defined as”. Painless.

      • How did our society become so ostentatiously ignorant that simple things now connote stupidity?
      • The word “schadenfreude” denotes a malicious glee at the idea of someone else’s misfortune.

Compliment vs. complement. Compliment is an expression of admiration, affection, esteem or respect. Complement is something that completes or makes perfect. One blog post brilliantly put the erroneous usage best with an entry “My shoes think my bag is hot.”

      • He complimented her eyes.
      • She wore a red scarf because it complemented her eyes.

There’s a whole lot more out there to cover but we have to start somewhere. Or better yet, why don’t we just commit to reading more useful articles? Because the more often we encounter words assembled in sentences, the better we’ll be at writing our own. Besides, mixing up the wrong words usually stems from not having a clear understanding of their basic meaning. Basing usage only on examples heard instead of read is a slippery road. “It’s murder” and “its murder” sound the same on CSI.