You’re bright. You speak well. But when it comes to writing, it’s different. All those confusing rules concerning spelling, punctuating, capitalizing, etc. give you headaches. And to compound matters, sometimes your brain says to spell a word one way but you type it differently. Does anyone really care?
Possibly. Relatives, co-workers, editors, soon-to-be former friends, and spouses often care. Some wait eagerly to point out your mistakes. If you’re like many people, perhaps you’re sometimes tempted to slam their fingers between the pages of a style guide, or between “I” and “J” in a big dictionary. Be honest!!
Let’s see if I can help.
A and An before a word beginning with “h”: “An historical book” is not idiomatic in American English. Before a pronounced h, the indefinite article should be a. A hotel; a historical. Therefore, precede a word beginning with a “breathy” h with an a.
Due to or Because of? Due to modifies nouns and is generally used after some form of the verb to be (is, are, was, were, etc.). Jan’s success is due to talent and spunk (due to modifies success). Because of should modify verbs. Ted resigned because of poor health (because of modifies resigned).
Its or It’s? Its: The possessive form of the pronoun it is never written with an apostrophe, e.g., … read the book. “Its title is …” or, “What is its value?” It’s: contractions of it is and it has. It’s time to go. It’s been great. (AHD3)
Myriad As a noun, myriad means ten thousand, or a great number (a myriad of aircraft). In this case, you’re not using myriad to modify: it’s the subject. As an adjective, myriad means “having innumerable aspects or elements” (those myriad challenges — the myriad activity of the people — myriad butterflies). These days, the distinction is blurred, and we see quite a bit of “…a myriad of…”
Their, They’re, or There? Their: possessive form of the word they, e.g., Their Web site is full of typos. They’re: Contraction of the words “they” and “are,” e.g., They’re doing a great job on their Web site. There: at or in that place, e.g., “Now there is a stunning Web site.
Your or you’re? You’re: Contraction of the words “you are,” e.g., “You’re up for an award. Someone said you’re leaving.” Your is a possessive form of a personal pronoun, e.g., “I like your Web site. Tom, thanks for giving your time to this effort.” Both: “Your knowledge of HTML shows that you’re a dedicated designer.”
Want to delve more deeply into the cauldron of confusing words? Here are two of the best on the Web: