In an age where the Internet and social media have created new additions to the English language vocabulary that even Merriam Webster has become resigned to (e.g. selfie, bromance, OMG, to name a few), it’s no wonder that most people continue to misuse certain “standards” that have been around for years.
In a recent edition of Inc.,Bill Murphy, Jr. highlights 17 of the least egregious mistakes in the English language that he recommends we just accept without pointing out the errors of one’s ways. Among them:
- Him/her or his/her vs them or their – Since there isn’t a gender-neutral singular possessive word in English, many people use “they” or “their” when technically, “him or her” or “his and her” is correct.
- Who vs that – “That” refers to a thing(s); “Who” refers to a person/people
- Less vs fewer – Use “fewer” when referring to things that can be quantified or counted easily (e.g. “This checkout line is for people with nine items or fewer”) and “less” when referring to things that can’t be counted easily (“We need less hatred in the world.”)
- Eliminating the “-ly” in adverbs – It’s incorrect to skip the –ly in an adverb, although people do (Murphy reminds us of the Apple marketing campaign, “Think Different.”) He also reminds us that nobody really cares.
- That vs which – At issue is the correct use of “that” or “which” at the start of a clause in the middle of a sentence. An easy to remember rule: If cutting the clause would change the meaning of the sentence, use “that”; if it’s not necessary, use “which.” Confused? Join the club.
- Irregardless – Technically, this is not a word but who knows; it is used so often, it may become one.
- Further vs farther – Use “farther” for physical distance and “further” for metaphysical or figurative distance. Also, remember that “farther” includes the word “far”, which means distance.
- Me vs I – Murphy notes that most people get this right when using the singular pronoun alone (e.g. “I went to the movies,” “I hope my boss will give me a raise.”) But, when we combine a reference to ourselves with other pronouns, it can create a problem. Try removing the other person from the sentence and see whether “I” or “me” still makes sense.
- i.e. vs e.g. – “i.e.” means “in other words” while “e.g.” means “for example.”
- Incomplete comparisons – People say things such as “Our company’s products are better, cheaper and more efficient.” Better than what? Cheaper than what” More efficient than what?
- Into vs in to – “Into” is a transitive word (e.g. Turning lemons into lemonade; putting money into one’s pocket.) “In” and “to” are an adverb followed by a proposition; usually short for “in order to.”
There are many more vocabulary “faux pas” out there but these are some of the most misused. Can you think of others?