Without a doubt, the human language is quite challenging yet essential. Not only does language allow people to communicate and share knowledge, ideas, thoughts, and feelings; words express meaning. And, when strung together in sentences or paragraphs, they convey more complete thoughts. Some words sound silly and can make us laugh. Abracadabra, said by magicians when performing a magic trick, is a case in point. In fact, there are entire YouTube channels dedicated to funny-sounding words from around the globe. Sometimes people joke around with mottos. I have a friend who greets visitors at the door and quips, “Don’t forget, me casa is Sue’s casa. I don’t know who Sue is, but apparently, it’s her place so if you need anything, you’ll have to find her.” That corny joke, combining Spanish and English, somehow gets a laugh every time. (Mi casa es su casa literally means my house is yours.) Of course, the humor is an attempt to make everyone feel at home.
Language is often perplexing. For example, homophones are words that sound alike but have different meanings, origins, or spellings (examples: creek vs. creak, hole vs. whole, peak vs. peek, rain vs. reign vs. rein). Homographs are words that are spelled the same but have different meanings and origins (examples: bat/bat, slip/slip). They are not necessarily pronounced the same. Heteronyms, a type of homograph, are English words that share the same spelling but are pronounced differently and have different meanings (examples: read/read, live/live, wind/wind, bow/bow). Then, there are homonyms, two or more words having the same spelling or pronunciation but different meanings and origins. Homophones are a type of homonym, words that sound alike but have different meanings regardless of spelling (examples: write/right, knight/night). Words that both sound the same and are spelled the same are homonyms (same sound) and homographs (same spelling), (examples: lie/lie fair/fair). Whew! Confusing indeed!
Here are some common English language words that tend to be confused and misused:
|Anybody/nobody||“Anybody” means any person or people, anyone. “Nobody” means no person, no one. It also means a person of no importance or authority. Examples: “Is anybody home?” “No, nobody is home.” “The person conducting the meeting is a nobody.”|
|Everyday/every day||“Everyday” means a common occurrence. “Every day” means each day. Examples: “Loud noises are an everyday thing.” “I start work every day at 9 am.”|
|Fewer/less||“Fewer” refers to things that are countable, whereas “Less” is for things that cannot be counted. “Less” can also mean a smaller amount or minus.” Examples: “Fewer than 50 people arrived at the presentation.” “I spent less time at home.” “I made it there in less than six hours.” “Six is less than seven.”|
|Good/Well||“Good” modifies a person, place, or thing. “Well” modifies an action and links verbs that describe health. Examples: “I’m having a good day.” “My day is going well.” “I feel well.”|
|Its/It’s||“Its” is belonging to or associated with something. “It’s” is the contraction for “it is” or “it has.” Examples: “The book is missing its jacket.” “It’s never too late to have a good time.” “It’s been a long time.”|
|Lay/Lie||“Lay” means to place something down flat and requires an object to act upon it. “Lie” means to be in a flat position. “Lie” also means to make a false statement. Examples: “He lay down his sword.” “I decided to lie down.” “I shall not tell a lie in court.”|
|Than/Then||“Than” is generally used to introduce the second element in a comparison. “Then” means at the time, or after that. “Her handbag is larger than mine.” “My car broke down and then I was late.” “The show ends at 6:00, and then I’ll be home.”|
|There/Their/They’re||“There” refers to a place, “Their” refers to ownership, “They’re” is short for “they are.” Examples: “Your computer is there on the table.” “The students left their computers at school.” “They’re busy doing homework.”|
|Two/too/to||“Two” is the number. “Too” means also or to a higher degree. “To” is a preposition, generally meaning toward or until. Examples: “I ate two donuts.” “I love that book, too!” “That restaurant is too noisy.” “I like to eat.” “I am going to the party.” “The task will take me five to ten minutes longer.”|
|Your/You’re||“Your” indicates possession. “You’re” is the contraction for “you are.” Examples: “Your book is on the table.” “You’re a descriptive writer.”|
The human language is not easy, and learning each one presents its own challenges. Some languages have tough pronunciations. For example, in French, words certain letters are not pronounced. And, don’t get me started on the Japanese writing system that looks incredibly complex. Of course, English is sometimes no walk in the park. I have a different friend who finds that specific English language mistakes irk her. For example, she cringes when people incorrectly say, “Happy Valentime’s Day,” which should be Valentine’s. She also dislikes when folks say, “Daylight Saving’s Time,” rather than the correct “Daylight Saving Time.” In English and other languages, grammar and punctuation do matter and serve to make communication between people clearer. In the cases below, you’ll notice that punctuation can affect meaning. Hope you get a chuckle out of these and realize the importance of duly placing commas where they are needed.
Bad: Let’s eat Timmy. Better: Let’s eat, Timmy.
Bad: We are going to learn how to cut and paste kids. Better: We are going to learn how to cut and paste, kids.
Bad: The chef finds inspiration in cooking her family and her cat. Better: The chef finds inspiration in cooking, her family, and her cat.
Bad: Symptoms: Unable to eat diarrhea. Better: Symptoms: Unable to eat, diarrhea.
What grammar/punctuation mistakes irk you most? Feel free to share below.