Knowing the right way to write what you mean can sometimes be tricky, but you don’t have to memorize the rules of grammar to stop making common errors. Other people make these errors, too, so how do you know what’s right? Below are some of the common errors, along with simple explanations of the correct way to write what you mean. If you know someone who gets confused by these phrases and words, share this with them.
It’s—It is (a contraction). A shortening of the words it is. “It’s a shame that I have to buy a new car.” That’s the same as It is a shame I have to buy a new car.
Its—Belongs to (a possessive). Think of the possessives his and hers. They don’t have apostrophes. Neither does its. “My old car is showing its age.” Remember: his, hers, its.
You’re—You are (a contraction). “You’re a good friend to me.” Same as You are a good friend to me.
Your—Belongs to someone (a possessive). “Your jokes are corny.”
Excited for—Excited on behalf of someone. “I’m excited for you. You worked hard for that raise.”
Excited about—Excitement because of anticipation. “I’m excited about going to that concert.”
Who’s—Who is (a contraction). A shortening of the words who is. “Who’s going to your graduation?” Same as Who is going to your graduation.
Whose—Belongs to someone (a possessive). “Whose graduation are you going to?”
There—A location. “What will you do when you get there?”
Their— Belongs to someone (a possessive). “This is a picture of their new house.”
They’re—They are (a contraction). A shortening of the words they are. “They’re going to move in on Thursday.” Same as They are going to move in on Thursday.
Were—Past tense of are. “We were going to see the movie, but we didn’t.”
We’re—We are (a contraction). A shortening of the words we are. “We’re going to see the movie tomorrow instead.” Same as We are going to see the movie tomorrow instead.
Seen—Correct only when the word have or has is in front of it. “Have you seen the movie?”” “I have seen the movie.” “He has seen the movie.” A common but absolutely incorrect use of seen is “I seen the movie,” or “We seen the movie,” or any use of seen without has or have in front of it.
Saw—Past tense of see. “I saw the movie.” This is the way to say it. He saw the movie. We saw the movie.
A lot—Many. Please note the space between these two words.
Alot— This is not a word. Do not use it. Ever.
I could care less—You still care some. This is misused when people actually say it, but they mean that they don’t care at all.
I couldn’t care less— You don’t care at all anymore. “I couldn’t care less what my old boyfriend does.”
Then—A time in the past, present, or future: “I can’t go to the movie then,” or a condition, part of a sentence that says If ____ then____. “If you aren’t going, then I’m not going.”
Than—A contrast or comparison. “I would rather go to the movie with you than with someone else.”
Spectacular—The root word of this is “spectacle,” so it’s only correct if you use it when describing how something looks. “The music wasn’t spectacular, but the choreography was.”
Literally—Actually. “My jaw literally dropped.” Correct only if your jaw actually opened and dropped.
Figuratively—When you are using language figuratively, you are creating an image of something that didn’t actually happen. This is usually done for emphasis. If you’re trying to tell someone you were shocked, but your jaw didn’t actually drop, “My jaw dropped” would be correct. “My jaw literally dropped” is incorrect, because your jaw didn’t actually drop.
The Gilmans—More than one Gilman (plural). “Did the Gilmans go on vacation?”
The Gilmans’—Belonging to the Gilmans (possessive). “We’re going to the Gilmans’ Christmas party.” The correct place for the apostrophe is after the s.
The Gilman’s—An incorrect attempt to show that something belongs to more than one person the Gilmans (possessive), because the apostrophe is before the s. A common place this is seen is on signs on houses. It may say “The Gilman’s, Established 1999.” That means it only belongs to one Gilman when it belongs to more than one Gilman. A correct usage of the apostrophe before the s is when you are showing that something belongs to only one person or thing, such as “I’m going to the museum’s Christmas party” or “I’m going to Suzannah’s Christmas party.”
A part—A piece of something. “My car won’t work until I get a new part put on it.”
Apart—Not together. “They drifted apart, and then they divorced.”
Everyday—Regular. “I’m just an everyday kind of person.”
Every day—Each day. “He eats the same thing for breakfast every day.”
In light of—Because of something. “In light of your financial situation, we will give you a discount.”
In lieu of—In place of something else. “In lieu of a senior trip, my parents are going to give me money for college.”
Loose—Not tight or not kept in its place. “My jeans are loose because I had the flu,” or “My cat got loose, and I can’t find her.”
Lose—To no longer have possession of something. “How much money did you lose in Vegas?”
Further—This means distance, but not physical distance. “We couldn’t get any further with our yard work after it started raining,” or “I’m not doing to discuss this any further.”
Farther—This means physical distance. “I ran farther than I’ve ever run before.”
Futher—Sorry, southerners, this ain’t a word.
Affect—A word that denotes an action (a verb). “Will the change of time affect him?”
Effect—The result of an action (a noun). “The effect of the change of the time was that he missed the meeting.”
Many people think the correct way to reference another person and themselves is by calling themselves “I.” This is not always the correct way. Here’s how to tell which is correct.
Him and I— “This is a picture of him and I.” You know this is correct if you split up the sentence into two similar sentences and they are both correct: This is a picture of him. This is a picture of I. You’d never say “This is a picture of I,” so “This is a picture of him and I is incorrect.”
Him and me— “This a picture of him and me.” Same test as above: Split the sentence and if it’s correct for both, you used it right. This is a picture of him. This is a picture of me. Correct!
You and I—Same test. “I’d like to get a picture of you and I.” I’d like to get a picture of you. I’d like to get a picture of I. You’d never say “I’d like to get a picture of I.” Incorrect!
You and me—Same test. “I’d like to get a picture of you and me.” I’d like to get a picture of you. I’d like to get a picture of me. Correct!
Me and him—Incorrect slang. I don’t care how popular it is. The other person should always be put first.
Would have/Should have— A missed opportunity or a regret. “I would have gone to Macy’s if I knew they were having a huge sale.” “I should have looked at the sale ads.”
Would’ve/ Should’ve—Would have/should have (a contraction). A shortening of the words would have and should have. “I would’ve gone to Macy’s if I knew they were having a huge sale.” “I should’ve looked at the sale ads.” Same as I would have gone to Macy’s if I knew they were having a huge sale, and I should have looked at the sale ads.
Would of/Could of—These two words together don’t mean anything. They sound like “would’ve” and “should’ve,” but the sound is the only thing they share. They are absolutely incorrect, always and forever. Every time you write them, an angel loses its wings.