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Tricky Linguistics, Grammar & Punctuation – Let’s Get It Right, People!

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.

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Rob citizenship
2 months ago

This article, on this topic, is truly appreciated . However, I do believe it is going to be necessary to make more than one comment , and I will need to have several hours between each comment. So, it is now approximately 11:45 P.M. East Coast U.S.A. , I will aim at making two more comments within the next 24 hours. I will just say at this time that I appreciate this topic because I believe how people speak is a reflection of how they think. It is important to develop a vocabulary that provides a way to express intelligent, clear thought. And one example of that has to do with humor. As I see it , humor should be clean , meaning it should not use any crude , obscene or vulgar words or expressions, and it should be respectful and uplifting. That is all for now. Will aim at returning in about 12 hours with at least one grammatical adventure story.

2 months ago

Always enjoy your input, Mr. Rob. Perhaps this is a bit off the main topic, but I always enjoyed diagramming sentences. I remember staying up quite late in grammar school, armed with my trusty ruler to make sure every line was perfect.

Rob citizenship
1 month ago
Reply to  Donna

Thanks for your comment/reply and compliment Donna , I appreciate it. About the diagraming sentences and using a ruler to make sure lines were straight, I did that too , occasionally . I believe it is ( was ) a good thing to do. Usually it lead to drawing things after about ten minutes or so, things like trees , cats, dogs, other critters, people, ships , airplanes, houses, I am just checking on this
D.J. Wilson article — about a month after making the comment — today is April 29, 2023 .

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