by Davy Pawken
A library featuring commonly committed errors of the English language.
Those who have received reviews from me, or have at least seen one of the many public reviews I have written, know that I strive to put a great deal of thought and effort into each and every one of them. I typically separate my reviews into three sections: Comments, Common and/or Recurring Technical Issues, and Other Notes. When I wrote reviews in the past, I repeated many of the Common and/or Recurring Technical Issues multiple times, continually writing out detailed descriptions of the problem(s) at hand. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, seeing as how the entire spirit of that segment of the review is to highlight mistakes that occur frequently. It took quite a while to happen, but the idea finally struck me: why not create an item featuring these explanations already written and ready to go and then simply link to them from my reviews?|
Using this journal as a supplement to my reviews was the original motivation to create it, but I think it can stand alone as a general reference as well. This will be a perpetual work in progress, at least for quite a while, since I will continue to add more entries as they come to mind. Needless to say, this is not a complete guide to the English language; you still need to learn the basics elsewhere. This is merely intended to assist those who possess otherwise sound mechanics with some of the more obscure and difficult-to-grasp rules of writing.
If I direct someone here from a review, then I will provide a direct link to the pertinent entry. However, for anyone who simply wishes to peruse the database for his or her own purposes, I have organized this to the best of my abilities. The entries are separated into two categories:
Basic Word Choice: This section contains examples of words that are commonly confused with one another. Some of them are homophones, while others are words with different pronunciations that have come to be used in the incorrect context.
General Grammar: This section will deal with punctuation, capitalization, and other broad issues.
Immediately below is an outline of the entries. Clicking on their titles from there will open them in a new browser window, and accessing them from the actual list farther below will open the entry in the current window. Use the Search box just above the entry list as an index; it will search the title and body of every entry for the word(s) you choose. The most recent five entries will display the date they were added.
Basic Word Choice
"Affect vs. Effect"
"All right vs. Alright"
"Amount vs. Number"
"Capital vs. Capitol"
"Complement vs. Compliment"
"E.g. vs. I.e."
"Farther vs. Further"
"Fiancé vs. Fiancée"
"It’s vs. Its"
"Lay vs. Lie"
"Lead vs. Led"
"Loose vs. Lose"
"Peak vs. Peek vs. Pique"
"Prophecy vs. Prophesy"
"Than vs. Then"
"Their vs. There vs. They're"
"Comma Splices and Fused Sentences"
"Discourse Markers and More"
"Double Predicates and Other Double Elements"
"Nominative and Objective Pronouns"
"Relative Clauses" 2/25/07
"Subjunctive Mood" 5/31/07
If you have suggestions for topics or have any other thoughts, then feel free to contact me.
Affect vs. Effect
February 25, 2007 at 2:56pm
The words affect and effect both have multiple definitions—each can serve as either a noun or a verb. For example, affect can be a verb that means to feign or to assume a certain appearance, or it can, on occasion, serve as a noun that indicates someone’s demeanor. You could say that someone who doesn’t express emotion has a bland or flat affect . The verb effect means to cause or produce—a person who wants to effect change in our society might e... [Read more]
All right vs. Alright
February 15, 2007 at 12:48pm
All right and alright are actually the same word, but alright is the informal, non-standard spelling that probably developed because of the pattern of similar couplings such as “already” and “altogether.” In edited writing such as what an author would post on Writing.Com, all right is the proper spelling to use.... [Read more]
Amount vs. Number
March 2, 2007 at 6:37pm
One uses the word amount to refer to the quantity of something that is measured as a whole—not by its individual contents—while number , as the name suggests, refers to something that has a clearly defined count associated with it. There are certainly a definite number of salt grains in any batch of salt, but to count all of them would be an exhausting and pointless task. Instead, we refer to the overall amount of salt. The individual components of liquids are even ... [Read more]
Capital vs. Capitol
March 10, 2007 at 6:37pm
Capitol refers specifically to the building that is the seat of government for a nation or smaller governmental district like a state or province. Capital is the homophone used for all other occasions, which include quite a broad range of subjects. Examples: Santa Fe, New Mexico, is the oldest capital city in the United States. The United States Congress meets on Capitol Hill. The opposing army capitalized on our weaknesses. Minnesota’s capitol... [Read more]
Complement vs. Compliment
February 15, 2007 at 12:49pm
If two things are complements , they are counterparts in some way. For example, each primary color (red, blue, and yellow) has a complementary color (green, orange, and purple, respectively), which is formed by mixing the other two primary colors. In economics, goods that are complements will rise and fall in demand at the same time, like hamburgers and hamburger buns, often because they’re used together. Meanwhile, a compliment is what you would give someone to express p... [Read more]
E.g. vs. I.e.
March 10, 2007 at 6:59pm
I.e. is an abbreviation for id est , which is Latin for that is . E.g. is an abbreviation for exempli gratia , which is Latin for for the sake of example . Even though i.e. stands for that is , you can’t use it to replace those words in every situation. For example, Mercury is the planet that is closest to the Sun can’t simply be rewritten as Mercury is the planet i.e. closest to the Sun. It would be more appropriate to think of i.e. as stan... [Read more]
Farther vs. Further
May 31, 2007 at 1:20am
Farther and farthest are used to refer to a greater physical distance. Further and furthest refer to a greater degree or other non-distance quantity. It’s more noticeable when farther is used incorrectly, but further should not be used exclusively. Examples: How much farther do we have to travel? What further evidence do you need? Neptune is always the planet farthest from the Sun now that Pluto has been demoted. That’s the... [Read more]
It’s vs. Its
April 10, 2007 at 5:43pm
Typically, when we want to indicate that something, physical or not, belongs to or is affiliated with a person or another thing, then we add an apostrophe and S after the owner: Kevin’s company or Katie’s creativity, for example. Following this pattern, if I am on the subject of the planet Mars, it seems I should write, “ It’s moons are Phobos and Deimos.” But, as it turns out, that’s not correct. It’s is only used as a contraction for “i... [Read more]
Lay vs. Lie
February 15, 2007 at 12:56pm
Essentially, to lie means to set oneself down, or to describe a person or thing’s physical or figurative position. To lay, on the other hand, means to physically or figuratively set something other than oneself down – to make it lie, if you will. People often use the incorrect word, and the fact that the verbs seem to “cross over” – “to lie” is conjugated as “lay” in the past tense – only compounds the confusion. The general defi... [Read more]
Lead vs. Led
February 15, 2007 at 12:50pm
The past tense of the verb lead —pronounced LEED—is led , which is the conjugation used for all subjects. Instead, people commonly write its homophone, lead , which refers to the element on the periodic table. There is a triangular relationship between these three words: Lead and lead are homonyms, led is a conjugation of lead , and led is a homophone of lead , the metal. Confused yet? Well, confusion is what the following examples will hopefully el... [Read more]
Loose vs. Lose
February 15, 2007 at 12:56pm
Loose is most commonly used as an adjective. In a general sense, it means free, unrestrained, or relaxed. Lose, on the other hand, is exclusively a verb. If you lose something, then that means it’s no longer in your control, or it means that you have suffered defeat (so, in a sense, you are no longer in control of the game or battle). However, loose can be a verb as well, essentially referring to the act of making something loose – the adjective, that is. Examples: ... [Read more]
Peak vs. Peek vs. Pique
February 15, 2007 at 12:50pm
No, you’re not seeing things; this is a three-way homophone. Peak is most often used as a noun, referring to “a high point,” but it can also be used as a verb meaning “to reach a high point” or an adjective meaning “excellent.” Peek can be used as a noun meaning “a quick look” or as a verb meaning “to take a quick look.” Pique has multiple definitions as well, but I’ve heard it used most – if not exclusively &... [Read more]
Prophecy vs. Prophesy
February 15, 2007 at 1:00pm
Prophecy is a noun, and it refers to a prediction. Prophesy, on the other hand, is a verb that means “to make a prophecy,” or, more simply, “to predict.” However, these words are usually applied to a profound prediction, often based – or purportedly based – on supernatural revelation. The words come from “prophet,” after all. They look like they may be homophones, but they’re not. The first two syllables for each word are the same,... [Read more]
Than vs. Then
February 15, 2007 at 12:51pm
Than is a word that is used after a comparative adjective or adverb (such as “bigger” or “slowly”), and then is used when one is speaking of time, consequences, or a sequence of events, such as with an if-then statement. When I say to use “then” when dealing with time, that doesn’t mean that one should say, for example, “It’s later then I thought.” That’s primarily a comparison (between the actual and expected state of affai... [Read more]
Their vs. There vs. They're
February 15, 2007 at 12:52pm
Their is the possessive form of “they.” There can be used in several different ways, mostly to refer to that point or location (as opposed to here, which refers to this point or location) or in conjunction with the verb ”to be” – for example, “there is” “there are” or “there must be” – to introduce a clause. They’re, meanwhile, is a contraction for “they are.” Examples: That’s ... [Read more]
June 16, 2007 at 10:27pm
An appositive is a noun phrase—that is, a noun which may or may not be accompanied by modifiers—whose objective it is to describe or specify the noun phrase immediately preceding or following it. These side-by-side elements are said to be in apposition, which is where appositives get their name. Like relative clauses, appositives come in essential and non-essential varieties. (For more information on relative clauses, see this entry: .) Unlike relative clauses, how... [Read more]
February 25, 2007 at 8:53pm
A sentence can consist of nothing more than a subject and a verb. For example, the shortest verse in the Bible is the famous John 11:35: “Jesus wept.” Sentence fragments are often employed for effect in both oral and written communication, but no truly proper sentence can exist without those two ingredients. A clause consists of a subject, verb, and any related words. An independent clause , like Jesus wept , can exist as a sentence on its own, while a dependent clau... [Read more]
June 17, 2007 at 6:26pm
The colon is a versatile symbol. One of its duties is to separate classifications of a different hierarchy, such as between the hour and minute in the time of day, the chapter and verse of a biblical reference, or the title and subtitle of a book. Another location it appears is after the greeting in a business letter. The place it’s trickiest to use, however, is in the middle of a sentence. When you see a colon , there should be an expectation of what comes next. Not exa... [Read more]
Comma Splices and Fused Sentences
June 17, 2007 at 6:43pm
A comma splice occurs when two independent clauses are joined by nothing more than a comma. (For more information on clauses, see this entry: .) Comma splices can sometimes lead to great confusion for the reader, but they are very easy to remedy. Let’s take a look at some alternative possibilities for the following “sentence” featuring a comma splice . I could eat a pineapple for hours, it’s my favorite fruit. Each half is an independent clause ... [Read more]
February 15, 2007 at 1:08pm
When two words act together as an adjective to modify a noun, a hyphen is often used to join them: This book has color-coded pages. Are you ready for a fun-filled day? That was an action-packed movie. I am a law-abiding citizen. In the above cases, omitting the hyphen may cause minor confusion, but at other times, the meaning of the sentence can become totally unclear: I saw a man eating tiger today. If what you mean is that you saw a human eating tiger meat, the... [Read more]
February 15, 2007 at 1:05pm
Adjectives are coordinate when they work equally to modify another word: The pianist played a beautiful, haunting melody . “Beautiful” and “haunting” modify “melody” to the same degree, with no bearing on one another. You could just as easily say it was a haunting, beautiful melody; neither adjective is more attached to “melody.” To get a better idea of what I mean, here’s a case in which the adjectives modifying a word are not ... [Read more]
April 3, 2007 at 5:45pm
Dialogue tags are the phrases around dialogue that clarify who is speaking and possibly how and to whom that person is speaking as well. “The following is an example of a dialogue tag.” He instructed . That example is not grammatically correct, though. First of all, a period never comes before a dialogue tag , even when the quoted material is a complete sentence. If the preceding dialogue poses a question, then use a question mark. If the preceding dialogue i... [Read more]
Discourse Markers and More
February 15, 2007 at 1:05pm
The vague entry title is intended to encompass several different concepts, which include the aforementioned discourse markers but also pro-sentences , tag questions , and a direct address . What all these have in common is that they represent a deviation from the main thrust of the sentence to which they’re attached, so they should be set off by commas. Discourse markers are a diverse group of words and phrases that are used to connect thoughts within sentenc... [Read more]
Double Predicates and Other Double Elements
June 17, 2007 at 7:38pm
As a general rule, a comma should only appear before a coordinating conjunction for two reasons: It joins two independent clauses. It acts as a serial comma; that is, the optional comma that precedes the conjunction before the last item in a series of three or more items, such as before “and” in the phrase “me, myself, and I.” (For more information on coordinating conjunctions and clauses, see this entry: .) When a coordinating conjunction is simply used to... [Read more]