14 more words you have been using incorrectly

DictionaryFollowing my previous post on words people use incorrectly we received a truckload of responses from Twitter and LinkedIn.

Lots of you came out in support of our attempt to stamp out these linguistic injustices and put forward your own additions to our list. Like the ancient Chinese defending their lands from invading forces, so too must we figuratively erect an excessively large wall of pedantry to prevent the downfall of our language. As a content marketing agency it’s up to us to lead the charge. Here are 14 more crimes against grammar that our readers hate:

1)    Who/whom

The last time I corrected someone on this (yeah, I’m that guy) he told me that ‘whom’ is a redundant word from Old English and that it was now acceptable to use ‘who’ for both. Old English? Really? I didn’t learn to use ‘whom’ by scouring ancient scrolls; I was taught it at school, as were you!

‘Whom’ is used when it is the object of a sentence, and ‘who’ is used when it is the subject. That may sound a bit complicated, so here’s an example: I love lamp. In that sentence I am the subject and lamp is the object.

The easiest way to remember the difference is with this mnemonic: I love you; you are the object of my affection. Geddit?

2)    That/which

Many people don’t seem to know the difference between these – communications professionals included!

That and which have multiple, similar uses in English but by and large they are not interchangeable.

For the most part, ‘which’ should be used when the clause it’s attached to can be discarded without the sentence losing its meaning. ‘That’ should be use to place a limitation or specify something that links two clauses together so that the sentence makes sense.

I feel sorry for animals that are regularly dressed as humans by their owners, which suggests I spend far too much time on Buzzfeed.

I don’t feel sorry for all animals, just those whose owners are lunatics. I definitely spend too much time on Buzzfeed, but it’s not an essential part of the sentence.

How to use that:

Bananas that are overripe and brown make the best banana bread.

Not all bananas make the best banana bread, overripe ones do.

3)    Between/among

The words between and among are not interchangeable. Among denotes a group of more than three, and between denotes two people or things.

For example:

Among: Fed up with a lack of consistency among team members, the CEO hired a training video production company.

Between: The training videos were used to reduce the number of bad habits passing between trainers and new members of the team.

4)    None

None means ‘not one’. So when you say “there are none left” or “none of us are ready” you’re in the wrong. None is singular.

5)    Less/fewer

What you say: There are less than three hours left.

What you should say is “there are fewer than three hours left”. Less should be used for nouns that cannot be counted. For example to talk about money, liquid and weight one would use ‘less’, but for units of those objects, such as dollars, millilitres and kilograms, one uses ‘fewer’ because they can be counted.

6)    Presently

What you say: The education PR team is dealing with the problem presently.

Presently means soon! Use currently or now if that’s what you really mean, or else an education PR agency might end up out on its ear when you make it look like it was slow to react.

7)    Via

Via means ‘by way of’ and is used to indicate the route used to arrive at a destination, not the means of travel.

For example, you don’t travel via plane, because travel is not a destination and plane is not a stop along the way. You travel to Sydney via Dubai by plane.

Similarly – you don’t send things via email. Email is not a place!

8)    Could of/should of/would of

For the love of baby cheeses it’s HAVE not OF.

9)    Affect/effect

This is a regularly made mistake. Affect is a verb. Effect is a noun. Simples!

10) i.e. versus e.g.

The annotation i.e. is regularly swapped in for e.g. which is of course completely wrong in almost every instance.

i.e. = in other words

e.g. = for example

They are not interchangeable! Using i.e. and then giving an example makes no sense whatsoever. Use i.e. to give further explanation or clarity to earlier phrases, not in place of e.g.

11) Over/more than

I waited over three weeks for this parcel to arrive.

You didn’t hover above ground for three weeks in order to receive a parcel. As with less and fewer, you shouldn’t use over alongside nouns that have a numerical value. While you can be over a limit or over an amount, you cannot be over the numerical values associated with limits and amounts. 

12) Infer/imply

To infer is to reach a conclusion from evidence or reasoning rather than from explicit statements. To imply is to strongly suggest the truth or existence of something (without expressly stating anything).

With this blog post I could imply that poor grammar is inexcusable and a bit lazy, and from this blog post you may infer that I am a pedant with too much free time on my hands.

13) Hone/home

What you say: I saw him hone in on the last strawberry-kiwi froyo, so I swooped in and snatched it.

To hone means to sharpen and refers to tools, techniques and skills. It doesn’t mean to take aim at a target. The confusion is believed to have come from a mix up between honing and homing – as in pigeon. It’s more accurate to say ‘zero in’ when talking about a target, but homing in can also be used.

14) Exponential

What you say: We are in a period of exponential growth at the moment.

You may well be in a period of exponential growth, but if you're just using the word to indicate very fast growth, you could be using it incorrectly. Exponential growth occurs when the rate of growth is proportionate to the value of the function. For example, bacteria in a petri dish that split in two at a steady rate will grow in number exponentially.

And there you have it! The comments section is below if you’d like to have a pop at my carefully selected grammar gripes! Find TopLine Communications on Google Plus