Happy National Grammar Day! Now Here Are All The Mistakes You Keep Making

Today is National Grammar Day: a day to be spent in somber remembrance of those poor, poor souls lost in the senseless prescriptive vs. descriptive grammar wars of the 1880’s. Just kidding. [Ed: You’re really going with a fragment in the first paragraph of an article about grammar?]

But National Grammar Day IS a day for me to dust off my tweed jacket and yell at you kids about getting off my damn lawn the grammar mistakes you insist upon continually making. So grab a red pen and settle in because speaking of “continually”…

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1. Continual vs. Continuous: A Continuous Headache

Continual means “recurring frequently or intermittently”. Continuous means “occurring/existing without cessation”. If I were[1] to lament your continuous grammar mistakes, I’d be implying that you literally (and in this case I literally mean “literally”) never stop making grammar mistakes. As in every single thing you write is grammatically flawed, and not in a cool E.E. Cummings or Cormac McCarthy way. Now, I’m willing to give you a little more credit than that; let’s all agree that your grammar mistakes are continual.

2. Affect vs. Effect: Verbing All the Nouns

Affect is a verb[2]. Effect is a noun[3]. Simple, right? If you need a little more help than that, here’s a trick that should help you: next time you’re not sure which to use, try substituting another verb into the sentence and see if it makes sense. If it does, use affect. If it doesn’t, use effect.

Example: “The hurricane affected/effected millions of families and homes throughout the eastern seaboard.”
“The hurricane [roundhouse kicked] millions of families and homes throughout the eastern seaboard.”

Because another verb works, in this sentence we want to use “affect”.

Example 2: The hurricane’s high winds and debris had a negative affect/effect on our weekly kite flying club.
The hurricane’s high winds and debris had a negative [roundhouse kick] on our weekly kite flying club.

In this example, the verb doesn’t fit. Therefore, we want to use “effect”.

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Actual hurricane footage.

3. I.e. vs. E.g.: Clarifications and Examples

Excuse me a moment while I take off my freshly-dusted-off tweed jacket and dig even deeper into the back of my closet for my toga. There, much better. Ahem.

I.e. is a Latin abbreviation for “id est”, which means “it is”.

E.g. is a Latin abbreviation for “exempli gratia”, which means “for the sake of an example”.

However, it’s easier to think of them this way: i.e. is used as a clarifying statement (think of it as “in essence”), while e.g. is used to list examples.

The fantastic Matthew Inman over at theoatmeal.com has done a much better job coming up with examples of both i.e. and e.g. than I could ever could, see his examples here.

4. It’s Not That Hard to Use “Whom” Correctly

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How you feel using “whom” correctly.


Who and whom are subjective and objective pronouns, respectively. This means that if you’re referring to a subject, you use “who”. If you’re referring to the object[4] you refer to them using “whom”.

Here’s an easier way to remember which to use: simply match them up with their gendered pronoun[5]. Answer your own question with he/him and see which makes sense. If the answer is “he”, use “who”. If the answer is “him”, use “whom”.

Example: “Who/whom left all this trash on the floor?”

“He/him left all the trash on the floor”. “He” is the correct choice here, so in this example we want “who”.

Example 2: “To who/whom did you send the rough draft of that email?”

“I sent it to he/him.” In this case, “him” is correct, so we want to use “whom”.

5. Impact: Palm Impacting Face

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Strictly speaking, impact is a noun, and NOT a verb. As much as this usage seems to have been readily adopted into business-speak, sentences like “We expect the 3rd quarter sales increase to impact year-end revenue positively” are prescriptively incorrect.

Most of the time, if you’re tempted to use “impact” as a verb, “affect” is a better choice. In fact, “impact” can be a great word to use for the affect/effect test, despite it being technically wrong.

Despite this, I am at heart a descriptive grammarian. Language is fluid, and using impact as a verb has grown in popularity steadily in recent years. In casual writing feel free to use it, but it’s in your best interest to be aware of its tenuous straddling of the verb/noun demarcation.

Stay Sharp Out There, Happy Writing!

You may argue that many of these quibbles are just that: quibbles. You’re perfectly capable of conveying meaning without having to stress about objective pronouns and the like; why should you bother with being perfect when “good enough” gets the same message across?

There are many reasons. You may be driven to be excellent in everything that you do. You may be actively trying to improve your writing skills. But here’s one important fact to consider: Google and the other search engines prefer perfectly written content, and that includes grammar. Keep that in mind the next time you’re writing or editing; we’ll all be glad you did.

Happy Grammar Day!

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[1]Were vs. Was: The Subjunctive (Bonus Nitpick!): “Was” implies past tense. “Were” can imply past tense in the plural, e.g. “We were roller skating when it started snowing”, but it can also imply the theoretical, e.g. “If I were to accept this offer…”. There’s more to it than this, but this is just one more thing to keep in mind if you’re trying to make sure your writing is as clear as possible.

[2]Except when it isn’t.

[3]Q.v. Note 2.

[4]The object of a sentence, that is. People can be objects in grammar. Take THAT Sociology.

[5]This easy-to-remember trick works better with the male he/him than the female she/her. Sorry :-(.

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