While editing recently, I came across an interesting problem: my client was using the word than every time she should have been using the word then. And you know what, this isn’t an infrequent issue. Oftentimes, our ears get the best of us. Instead of using the right word grammatically, we use the word that sounds right to our ears. Considering our language is full of words that are spelled differently, have diverse meanings and yet sound very much the same, it’s no surprise that these grammatical errors occur all the time.
The biggest complication: spell check isn’t sophisticated enough (yet) to catch this kind of error.
So, next time you’re about to hit send on that email, homework assignment or project for your boss, check for these common problems. Otherwise, beware the wrath of grammar snobs everywhere. They may seem polite, but secretly, they are judging you.
1. affect / effect: Affect has to do with emotions; effect is the result of a cause.
2. compliment / complement: To compliment means to praise; to complement means to complete.
3. conscience / conscious: Your conscience is the angel sitting on your right shoulder; if you’re awake, you’re conscious (usually).
4. discreet vs. discrete: Discreet means subtle and careful to be unobtrusive; discrete means separate and distinct.
5. elusive / illusive: Elusive means hard to trap; illusive means hard to understand.
6. ensure / insure / assure: To ensure is to guarantee, to insure is to indemnify, and to assure is to comfort or convince.
7. right /write: To be right means you are correct; to write is when you put words down on paper.
8. their / there / they’re: Their indicates possession; there indicates place; they’re is a contraction (abbreviated version) for the words they + are.
9. then / than: Use then when you’re talking about a sequence of time; use than when you’re making a comparison.
10. whether / weather: Weather is what you discuss when you have nothing to say to the person you’re with; whether is used to indicate a choice between options.
11. your / you’re: Your blouse is beautiful (the blouse that belongs to you, that is) ; you’re (you are) beautiful (i.e. not your blouse — you).