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Common Grammatical Mistakes

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:


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