Tuesday, November 1, 2011

There Is No "d" in Congratulations

The title of this post says it all. There's no "d" in the word "congratulations." Congratulations is spelled with the letter "t." Its root word is congratulate.

So, the next time you want to commend someone for a job well done, or a milestone event like a marriage or birth, bring to mind the informal short form of congratulations, which is congrats. This will remind you of the correct spelling.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Compliment vs. Complement

Two soundalike words that are frequently mistaken for one another in written form are "compliment" and "complement."  Often, compliment is used when what is meant is complement.

Compliment, which can be used as either a noun or a verb, means praise.  One can either compliment someone or give someone a compliment.  Examples: "I would like to compliment you on your attire."  "I must compliment her dress."  "He gave me such a nice compliment abuot my hairstyle."

In addition, if something is free of charge, we often refer to it as "complimentary."  Examples: "Admission to the ball game is complimentary on Sunday."  "The restaurant owner served me a complimentary bowl of soup."

Complement is a term that refers to completing or supplementing and can also be used as either a noun or a verb.  An easy way to remember its spelling is to think of the word "complete," which is a reminder to use an "e" rather than an "i."  Examples: "The dessert you brought is a perfect complement to the main course."  "His talent as a pianist complements my skills as a singer."

Essentially, if you're not praising someone or something, or referring to something that's free of charge, the word you want to write is "complement."

Incorrect: "Your new carpet is a perfect compliment to the furniture."
Correct: "Your new carpet is a perfect complement to the furniture."
Correct: "I would like to compliment your beautiful new carpet."

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Apostrophe Is Your Friend - But Don't Overdo It

The apostrophe (') is often over-used.  Some folks erroneously add an apostrophe before the "s" when making a word plural.  Additionally, people will sometimes use an apostrophe with a possessive pronoun such as "its" or "theirs."

Or, sometimes people will just dispense with the apostrophe altogether, even where it's required, possibly due to uncertainty as to usage.

Keeping in mind just two very basic rules will help dissolve the confusion:

1. An apostrophe is used in contractions, in place of the missing letter or letters.
Examples: Don't (do not); you're (you are); could've (could have); it's (it is or it has); we'll (we will)

2. An apostrophe is used along with an "s" to indicate possession, except in the case of possessive pronouns like his, hers, its, ours, yours, theirs, and whose.
Examples: Bonnie's hairbrush; Florida's weather; the dog's fur

When indicating possession for more than one person or entity, make the people or entities plural before adding the apostrophe.  (A list of rules governing the use of the apostrophe can be found on this excellent site.)
Examples: "The cars' roofs were all damaged by hail." "We are going to paint the twins' bedroom."

No apostrophe is needed to pluralize words.  Merely add an "s" (or "es" or "ies") at the end, as appropriate.
Examples: Photos; toys; dresses; anniversaries

The same goes for numbers.  Just add an "s" without an apostrophe.
Examples: his 50s; the 1960s

Incorrect: "He took many photo's at the wedding." "They all had lot's of fun."  "We have celebrated many anniversary's together."
Correct: "He took many photos at the wedding." "They all had lots of fun."  "We have celebrated many anniversaries together."

Incorrect: "I dont want to go to the store." "He does'nt want to go to the store either."
Correct: "I don't want to go to the store." "He doesn't want to go to the store either."

Incorrect: "Marthas house has just been painted."  "All of the neighbors houses were painted, too."
Correct: "Martha's house has just been painted."  "All of the neighbors' houses were painted, too."

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Ware, Wear, Were or Where?

Ware, wear, and where are soundalike words that are sometimes confused with one another in written form.  The word "where" is often misspelled as "were," which is another proper word (and another case in which spellcheck won't flag it).

Ware is a somewhat archaic form of "aware," as in "Be ware" or the derivative "beware."  These days, the word "ware" is seldom used in this fashion except in literature.  It can also refer to a product or commodity that is purchased.  ("He is selling his wares door-to-door.")

To "wear" means to "be clothed in" or to have or carry on the body, among other definitions.  You can wear a coat, or you can wear a smile on your face.

"Were" is the past tense of "are."  ("Were you at the party last night?")  ("They were at the beach yesterday.")

"Where" means "what place."  ("Where would you like to go today?")  ("Where did I put my keys?")

Incorrect: "Were did they go?"
Correct: "Where did they go?"
Incorrect: "I want to ware my new clothes today."
Correct: "I want to wear my new clothes today."

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Affect vs. Effect

Affect and effect are frequently mixed up with one another, like breath and breathe.  Both "affect" and "effect" have multiple meanings - check out Common Errors in English Usage for their definitions along with some excellent contextual examples - but this blog post addresses only the most common usage for both.

"Affect" is a verb, and "effect" is a noun (in most cases). To affect is to "have an effect on."  "Affect" is often written when "effect" is what is meant.

Incorrect: "His parents' divorce had a profound affect on him."
Correct: "His parents' divorce had a profound effect on him."
Correct:  "His parents hadn't realized that their divorce would affect him that much."

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Breath vs. Breathe

The word "breath" is often erroneously written when "breathe" is what is meant.  This is another instance where spellchecker won't catch the mistake, as both are legitimate words.  "Breathe" is the verb, the action.  "Breath" is the noun, the result of breathing.  When you breathe in, you take in a breath.  When you breathe out, you let out your breath.  (When you're doing neither, you're holding your breath!)

Both words are pluralized merely by adding an "s" at the end.  ("She breathes through her mouth."  "He was taking very deep breaths.")

When spoken, "breathe" is pronounced with a long "e" sound, as well as a soft "th" as with the word "the."  Keeping both of these points in mind can help in remembering the extra "e" at the end.  "Breath" is pronounced with a short "e" sound and a hard "th" like "think."

Incorrect: "It was so hot out, she could hardly breath."
Correct: "It was so hot out, she could hardly breathe."  "I took a deep breath before going outside."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Accept vs. Except

"Accept" and "Except" sound very similar when spoken but have two entirely different meanings.  The latter is often written in error when the former is meant.

To accept means to receive willingly ("Will you accept money for driving me to the store?") or to respond affirmatively, as with an invitation ("I will accept your offer to drive me to the store.").  Check out this page on Answers.com for a complete list of definitions.

Except means excluding ("Everyone except me is going to the store.").  Several more definitions can be found here on Dictionary.com.

Incorrect: "He will not except money for driving me to the store."
Correct: "He will not accept money for driving me to the store."

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Is it Aloud or Allowed?

The word allow means permit, and its past tense is "allowed," not "aloud."  The word aloud means "out loud."

Incorrect: "He is not aloud to go to the store by himself."
Correct: "He is not allowed to go to the store by himself."
Correct: "I said that aloud without meaning to."

Monday, July 4, 2011

Truly Awful: "E" is for Error

To "e" or not to "e"?  No question here.

Two words I often see misspelled are "truly" and "awful."  There is no "e" in either of these words.

True, the root word of "truly" is true, but the "e" is dropped when the -ly is added.

Incorrect: This blog post is truely aweful.
Correct: This blog post is truly awful.

Oh, well, my posts can't all be Shakespearean or poetic!  My goal is to help folks become better writers by avoiding common spelling/grammatical errors, not to have an award-winning blog.  Sometimes the simplest way is the best way.

Thursday, June 30, 2011


The correct spelling for the number 2 is "two."  Think "twice" before spelling it out.  There's a "w" in both words, as well as in other variations of the number such as "twenty" and "twins."

When the meaning is "also" or "excessive," the word is spelled "too."  For any usage other than the foregoing, the proper word is "to."  ("I am going to the store.  They are going to the store, too."  "There are too many people to fit in the car.")  One way to remember the distinction is to think of the way it sounds when spoken.  Technically, the words are pronounced the same, but some people emphasize the "oo" sound of the word "too" more than they do with "to," especially when they're speaking quickly (as we all do sometimes!).  Another way to remember is to keep in mind that the word "too," which signifies "in addition" or "in excess," is the one with the extra "o."

Incorrect: "I am going too the store."
Correct: "I am going to the store."

Incorrect: "This is to much money."
Correct: "This is too much money."

Incorrect: "She will be going to."
Correct: "She will be going too."

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Have vs. Of

Quite often, people are thrown by the way a phrase is pronounced, and they subsequently carry the confusion into their written text.  I often see incorrect usage of the word "of," as in the following examples: Should of / Would of / Could of / Must of.  There are no such expressions in American English.  In all cases, the second word should be have, not of.  The correct phrases are should have, would have, could have, and must have.

When these phrases are spoken, people will often use the contracted form of the two words, as in: Should've/Would've/Could've/Must've, which doubtless led to the mistaken belief that the second word is "of" rather than "have."  Sometimes in casual speech, folks will use the slang terms "shoulda," "woulda," "coulda" and even "musta," which helps to blur things further, especially given the fact that the slang word "kinda" does mean "kind of."  In informal writing, the proper and correct contractions for Should have/Would have/Could have/Must have are Should've/Would've/Could've/Must've.  In formal writing, it is best to spell out the two words.  In any case, the word "of" is never used.

The foregoing refers to phrases of intent.  For other usages, such as "I must have a cup of coffee now" or "The dog should have a bath," it would be incorrect to write or say "must've" or "should've."

To summarize:

Should of, would of, could of and must of are all incorrect.
The correct phrases are: Should have, would have, could have, and must have.

The contractions should've, would've, could've, and must've are used informally.

Incorrect: "We should of gone to the beach."  "I must of left my bathing suit at home."
Correct: "We should have gone to the beach.  "I must have left my bathing suit at home."  "We could've gone to the beach today."  "We would've gone to the beach if it hadn't rained."

Saturday, June 25, 2011


Their, there and they're are soundalike words that have entirely different meanings.  Starting with the easiest one to define, the contraction "they're" means "they are" - and that's all it means.  Using anything other than "they're" for "they are" is incorrect, as is using "they're" to mean anything but "they are."  Further, the usage of "they're" for "they are" presumes that one or more words follow the contraction.  Writing or saying "They're late" is correct, but writing/saying "Here they're" for "Here they are" isn't.

As for the other two, the word "there" has multiple meanings, but possession isn't one of them.  Many people write "there" when they mean to use "their," as in belonging to two or more people ("They need to watch their language."  "They're out of their minds.").  Their is a possessive pronoun, just like your, our, his or her.

For anything other than "they are" (they're) or "belonging to them" (their), the correct word is thereThere often refers to a place or destination, and an easy way to remember this is to keep in mind that the words "where" and "here," which also refer to places/destinations, are spelled similarly, and "where" and "there" both have the word "here" in them.  ("There they are!  They're late, and they've forgotten their books.")

Incorrect: "Their out of there minds."
Correct: "They're out of their minds."

Incorrect: "Their they are."
Correct: "There they are."

Incorrect: "They forgot they're books."
Correct: "They forgot their books."

Friday, May 27, 2011

Your vs. You're

"Your" is a possessive pronoun, meaning belonging to you (see also the entry for yours).  An example of proper usage is: "Is that your bicycle?"  When intending to convey "you are," the word that should be used is "you're."  "You're" is the contraction for "you are."  The words "your" and "you're" are often mixed up in informal writing, mainly by using the former in place of the latter (although I've also seen the error made in reverse).

Incorrect: "Your the best."

Correct: "You're the best."

Correct: "You're taking your bicycle with you, aren't you?"

Summary: If you mean "you are," use "you're."  If not, "your" is the spelling that should be used.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

It's "its," not "it's" - most of the time

An extremely prevalent word usage error these days is that of "it's," with an apostrophe between the t and the s, when the correct word is "its."  Yes, both are proper words, but "it's" is a contraction of either "it is" (as in, "It's a beautiful day today") or "it has" ("It's been a beautiful day") - and those are its only meanings.  When possession is indicated, the word to use is the possessive pronoun "its," as in the last phrase of the previous sentence.  (This example uses both words: "The painting has lost its luster; it's not as bright as it used to be.")
Of course, I've seen the trend reversed as well, when the apostrophe is incorrectly omitted where it's required.  But that's another blog post.

Possessive pronouns, such as "its," "whose," "hers," "ours," "yours," and "theirs," do not require apostrophes.  Spellcheckers probably won't flag either of the first two, because "it's" and "who's" are proper words (there are, however, no such words as "her's," "our's," "your's," or "their's").  This can be confusing because most other nouns and all proper names do use the apostrophe-"s" combination to indicate posession ("Whose bicycle is that?"  "That is Sally's bicycle.").  But, as we all know, there are exceptions to nearly every rule.  As a consequence, it's up to human beings to memorize the rules of grammar pertaining to the usage of "it's," "its," "who's," and "whose," or to use an on- or offline reference when unsure.  (There are links to a few good online ones under the Resources heading in the sidebar of this blog.)

To summarize:

It's = it is or it has (contraction)
Its = belonging to it (possessive pronoun)
  Incorrect usage: "The snake is shedding it's skin."
  Correct usage:  "The snake is shedding its skin."  "It's going to be a good day."

Who's = who is or who has (contraction)
Whose = belonging to whom (possessive pronoun)
  Incorrect usage: "Who's bicycle is that?"  "There's the man who's eyes are two different colors."
  Correct usage: "Whose bicycle is that?"  "There's the man whose eyes are two different colors."  "Who's going to the store?"

Her's, their's, our's, your's = these words do not exist

See also Common Errors in English Usage - one of the resources listed in my blog's sidebar, and a good one.

Friday, May 13, 2011

It's "a lot," not "alot"

One of the most common spelling errors I've seen over the last decade or so has been the usage of the non-word "alot," in place of the proper two-word phrase "a lot."  A lot - two words, often followed by the word "of"unless it falls at the end of a sentence - means many, or a great deal.  An easy way of remembering this is to mentally use the phrase "a whole lot," which will serve as a reminder that there is a space between the words "a" and "lot."  (Check out Common Errors in English Usage 2nd Edition.)

The confusion about the nonexistent word "alot" may have stemmed from the actual word "allot," which means "to assign as a share" or "to distribute by lot."  (Source: Merriam-Webster.)

Thanks a lot for reading!