Grammar Wednesday!

This week’s offering? Frequently misused words!

imply / infer: imply means to throw out a hint or suggestion and infer means to take that hint or suggestion:

Am I to infer from your comments that you’re implying that I’m gaining weight?

fewer / less: If you have a countable noun, use fewer; if you have a noncountable noun, use less:

This aisle is for ten items or fewer.

We got less snow this winter than we did last year.

breath / breathe: breath is a noun; breathe is a verb:

Take a deep breath and count to ten, then tell me what happened.

Until the ban on smoking took effect, it was difficult to breathe in the bar.

elicit / illicit: Elicit is always a verb that means to draw out. Illicit is always an adjective that means unlawful:

The comment was meant to elicit an uproar against the management.

The mob boss was involved in racketeering, prostitituion, and other illicit activities.

(I always remember this one as “e – elicit – excite; i – illicit – illegal”)

it’s / its: It’s is a contraction that means “it is” “or “it has.” Its (no appostrophe) is possessive:

It’s been while, but I think I can still ice skate. (it has)

Please bring the book; it’s on the second shelf on the left. (it is)

The cat, having finished its dinner of leftover turkey and a little cream, promptly found a warm spot and fell asleep.

I’ll take suggestions if anyone has any words that always trip them up….

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6 Comments

Filed under Grammar

6 responses to “Grammar Wednesday!

  1. Hmm, I always find it funny that the British use “bath” as a verb (as in, “bath the cat.”) Not a grammar mistake, just different…

  2. Organic Mama

    These are some of the biggies of regular confusion and I am glad you have addressed them. Certainly it’s/its is one of the ones we as teachers constantly encounter and I lreally love that you touched upon elicit an ellicit.

    Another of my particular pet peeves is the regular misuse of insure when people mean ensure.

  3. I went to Target before Christmas. One of the fast checkout lanes said “10 items or less,” the other said “10 items or fewer.” Obviously the former was for people who couldn’t care less (NB: not “could care less”) about the intricacies of grammar, while the latter was for those who appreciate the subtleties of language along with a speedy checkout!

  4. Bodog

    I had a debate with a coworker a couple of weeks ago about the appropriate use of the single apostrophe (‘) and the apostrophe s (‘s)…

    I was taught that the only time you used a solo apostrophe was when you had a plural noun ending in s (teachers’ union), yet with increasing frequency I see it on singular nouns ending in s (Tom Jones’ new album) when it should be apostrophe s (Tom Jones’s new album).

    My coworker said that the solo apostrophe with any word ending with an s is now accepted…thoughts?

  5. The rules they are a-changin’, BoDog.

    The key is consistency. I use – ‘s – when I have a SINGULAR noun ending in s, and just an apostrophe when I have a PLURAL noun ending in s. But I like to follow the old ways, Grasshopper…

    I got this off of the online program that came with my grammar class’s textbooks:

    The basic principles of apostrophe usage are the same for singular words that end in “s” as they are for singular words that end in any other letter—but with a handful of exceptions:

    Do you know your boss’s email address? (“Boss” is followed by an apostrophe and “s,” even though the word ends in “s.”)

    The Chicago Sun Times’s editorial this morning was quite interesting. (“Times” is followed by an apostrophe and “s,” even though it ends in “s.”)

    I was impressed by Charles’s speech. (“Charles” is followed by an apostrophe and “s,” even though the word ends in “s.”)

    BUT:
    The book focuses on Moses’ childhood. (“Moses,” like “Jesus,” is an exception to the “singular-words-that-end-in-’s’” rule. Adding an apostrophe and “s” would create a pronunciation problem.)

    Was that at all helpful?

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