OK, are you worried about the grammar blunders you’re unknowingly making? No worries. Here are seven grammar pitfalls and hacks for avoiding them.
1. I vs. Me
One of my biggest grammar pet peeves is when people use “I” when they should use “me.” My theory is people think “I” sounds smarter. And who doesn’t want to sound smart in an interview or when speaking in front of a audience? My favorite is when people let you in on something by starting with “Between you and I…” Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Grammar hack: Use subjective form (I, you, he, she, it, we, you, they) if the person is the subject of the verb: She and I ate lunch. You and he left on time.
Use objective form (me, you, him, her, it, us, you, them) if the person comes after a preposition: Between you and me, it’s curtains for her and them.
2. Who vs. Whom
“Who” refers to a subject, while “whom” refers to an object.
The hack: Brian advises rephrasing the statement as a question, and then answering with a complete sentence using “he” or “him.” If your answer is “him,” then you’d use “whom” in the original statement. You could even remember that “him” and “whom” both end in ‘m,’ if that makes it easier to remember to keep these two together. If your answer calls for “he,” you’d use who.
3. That vs. Who, Whose and Whom
I hear people say “that” for other people all the time. “Who” is for people; “that” is for everything else.
The hack: Who and whom are for humans. Think human — who-man.
4. Semicolon vs. comma
I rarely use the semicolon. Generally, I prefer two short sentences to one long one. Still, if you must use a semicolon, you’ll know you’re doing it right if the two parts of the sentence can be independent thoughts, or two complete sentences.
The hack: Think of the semi-colon as a super comma. Maybe inside your head say “Semicolon! Super Comma!” in the voice you’d use for “Super Man!” or “Wonder Woman!” FYI, this hack comes from a super hero copy editor pal who prefers to wield her powers under the cloak of privacy.
5. Affect vs. Effect
I often have to look up this one. In most cases, affect is a verb, and effect is a noun. For example: The company’s new leaders want to affect change, and they hope it will have a positive effect on employee morale.
The hack: Thanks again to my super hero copy editor, because I’m never again going to have to check myself on this one. Her advice is to think of the state abbreviations for Virginia — VA — and Nebraska — NE. VA = verb affect. NE = noun effect.
6. Try vs. Try And
You want to let someone know when you are going to try to call them. You are not going to try and call them.
The hack: Brian suggests treating “try” the way you treat “fail.” Don’t write “I know he’ll try and call you” if you wouldn’t write “I know he’ll fail and call you.”
7. Male and Female vs. Man and Woman
The former are adjectives; the latter are nouns. I’m a woman, not a female. My daughters go to school with boys and girls, not males and females. There are male and female students at my girls’ school.
The hack: Think of Helen Reddy’s famous song, “I Am Woman,” because “I am a female, hear me roar” doesn’t have the same ring to it. (It does make for a good personal theme song.)
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