Everything You Need to Know about Grammar

The following list is courtesy and copyright © of: Daniel J. Stern
  1. DIY / DYI, PCV / PVC

    Abbreviations are usually formed by putting together the first letters of the words in the phrase to be abbreviated. Thus, the abbreviation for do it yourself is DIY, not DYI. If you are talking about your car’s positive crankcase vent system, then we can discuss PCV, but otherwise you are probably referring to polyvinyl chloride, which is abbreviated PVC.

  2. Au Jus

    Au jus is a French phrase that means “with or in (usually its own) juice”. It is an adjective phrase, not a noun. You can serve roast beef au jus, but not “roast beef with au jus”, and there’s nothing such as “au jus sauce”.

  3. Loose / Lose

    Loose means not tight, and it has a hissing ssssss sound like a snake in it. Lose means not win or not retain, and it has a buzzing zzzzzzzz sound like a bee.

  4. Your / You’re, There / They’re / Their, Were / We’re

    Your refers to something that belongs to you. You’re means “you are”. The same goes for there (not here) and their (belonging to them) versus they’re (they are), and were (used to be) versus we’re (we are).

  5. Gift is not a verb

    Gifts are free. That’s what makes them gifts. If they weren’t free, they’d be purchases. Stop saying I’ll get a “free gift” if I sign up for your crappy mobile phone service or whatever. And really stop using the phrase “for free”. I really mean it. Stop doing it. Oh, and unless you are a tax lawyer or a parent very impressed with your child (whom you consider gifted, i.e., exceptionally intelligent), gift is a noun, not a verb. You didn’t “gift” somebody a free toaster, you gave him a toaster.

  6. Penchant

    You may or may not have a penchant for doing this or that or the other thing, but you do not have a “perchant” for it.

  7. Revert

    To revert means to return to an earlier habit, practice, belief, version, plan, or developmental stage. In law, it means the return of property to a former owner or her heirs. It does not mean to reply or get back to someone. “I’ll check our warehouse to see how many of that item we have and revert to you by Tuesday” is wrong.

  8. Less/Fewer

    Less means a smaller amount of something. fewer means a smaller number of something. Less water, less air, less money, less hassle. Fewer trips, fewer cups, fewer slices of pizza, and the express lane at the grocery is properly limited to purchases involving 15 or fewer items, not “15 or less items”.

  9. Grocery/Store

    I deliberately omitted the word “store” in the previous item, because it would have been redundant. I buy baked goods at a bakery, not a “bakery store”, and I buy food, food-related items, cleaning supplies and other groceries at a grocery. My grandmother bought this sort of thing from her grocer, whose grocery was usually his own small business rather than part of a corporate chain.

  10. Momentarily

    Momentarily means “for a moment”. It does not mean “in a moment”. If you say you will be somewhere momentarily, it means you will be there very, very, very briefly. It does not mean you will be there soon.

  11. Could have (and similar)

    Contractions like could’ve, should’ve, would’ve, had to’ve are written thus because they contain the last couple of letters from the word “have”. Stop writing “should of”, “could of”, “would of”, and “had to of”.

  12. Electrocute

    To electrocute means to execute (i.e., kill) a person or animal by means of electricity. It is not a synonym for “charge”, “shock”, “generate voltage near” or “electrify”. Brits take heed, because for some strange reason you seem to think it’s clever to make this error.

  13. Pronunciation makes all the difference

    As many of you know, the Country Bunker has both kinds of music: Country and Western. Likewise, sometimes the same word is used as a noun and as a verb. But the pronunciation is different. Take address for example. You “uh-DRESS” (verb) a letter or a crowd or anyone else you wish to speak to, but mail comes to your “ADD-ress” (noun). You “pro-JECT” (verb) your slides on the wall or your emotions onto others, but that new garage you’re building out back is a “PRO-ject” or “PRAH-ject” (noun), depending on whether you’re in Canada or the States. You “reh-CORD” (verb) your thoughts in your blog, so that later you can look back on the running “RECK-ord” or “RECK-erd” (noun) of what you were thinking. Easy enough, right? Well, it works the same way for detail: You read the “DEE-tails” (noun) of a report, but you “deh-TAIL” (verb) your car. “Firefighters rescue a cat stuck in a tree, we’ll have deh-TAILS coming up after this break on Action Six News” is wrong.

  14. KM

    Kilometre is properly pronounced with the emphasis on the third syllable, and optionally with emphasis on the first. “kil-uh-MEE-tur” or “KIL-uh-MEE-tur” is yes. “ki-LAH-mit-ur” is no. A “ki-LAH-mit-ur” would be a device for measuring kilos, much as a “my-CROM-it-ur” is a device for measuring small dimensions, pronounced that way to distinguish it from a “MY-cro-MEE-tur”, which is a very small dimension.

  15. Nuclear

    I left this off originally because I didn’t think it had to be said, but popular demand suggests otherwise, so — Republicans, I’m looking at you again — let’s all say two easy words together: New. Clear. Everyone can say these words. Each of them has only one syllable. They are both practically impossible to mispronounce. Now say them again, without pausing between them: NewClear. Congratulations! You can pronounce nuclear correctly after all!

  16. Ridiculous

    The word ridiculous does not contain the letter “e” in either its written or its spoken form.

  17. Apostrophes

    The apostrophe is a lovely punctuation mark. It looks a little like a helium-filled comma. One use for the apostrophe is to indicate that something or someone possesses something or someone else. Stephen’s house, the dog’s tail, the socket’s connections. Another use is to form a contraction from two words, where “is” is the second word: It’s true, and that’s a fact. Where neither an “is” contraction nor a possessive situation exists, using an apostrophe to warn the reader that s/he will soon encounter the letter “s” is wrong.

  18. Supposedly is a word; supposably is not

    Supposably and expedential and irregardless are assemblages of letters, but they are not words and so they don’t mean anything. For best results, use only 100% genuine actual real words when building your sentences. Accept no imitations; use supposedly and exponential and regardless.

  19. Kudos, not kudo

    “Kudos” is one of those words that ends in “s” but is not plural, like “pathos” and “ethos” and “gravitas”. The “s” has to be on the end of it, or it’s not a word. There’s nothing such as “giving a kudo” to someone for a job well done.

  20. How much do you care?

    If you care about something, even just a little bit, then you could care less than you do care. If you are trying to be clever and cute about expressing your utter lack of concern regarding whatever matter or idea is being discussed, then you couldn’t care less. If you have been confused by nonsensical justifications for saying “I could care less” when “couldn’t” is meant, reread the sentences preceding this one as many times as necessary.

  21. Don’t do it

    Stop using the verb “do” as a substitute for whatever verb you really mean; it’s lazy. You aren’t going to “do” Chinese food, you’re going to eat it or order it or have it. You didn’t “do” New Guinea, you went there and saw it. And how did we wind up with a clunker like “doing” drugs? No! You smoke marijuana or crack, you take pills, you shoot heroin, you eat mushrooms. Not all at the same time, it’s to be hoped.

  22. Gauge

    Yes, gauge is a less-than-intuitive spelling, because the word is pronounced with an “ay” sound, not an “aw” or an “oh” sound. No, that does not make it okay to spell it “gage”. And since we’re on the topic, “guage” is wrong, too.

  23. Significantly substantial

    Significant means real. Substantial means large. They are not synonyms. Stop and think every time you’re tempted to use “significant”; odds are you really mean “substantial”.

  24. Quote marks

    Like the apostrophe, quotation marks are delightful bits of punctuation. They come in pairs, and are really diverse. But whether they look like « » or like “ ” or like ” ” or like „ ”, they’re used to denote text spoken or written by someone else. They can also be used as “scare quotes” to denote a dubious or questionable word or phrase. They’re not used for emphasis, ever. Please “do not” leave paper in urinal & remember to “flush” is wrong.

  25. Normal

    Normal is not a noun, it is an adjective made from the noun norm. It’s possible to adapt to a new norm, but there is nothing such as “the new normal”.

  26. Homophones

    Words that sound alike but have different meanings and spellings are called homophones. Three such words are there, their, and they’re. These words are not interchangeable, and picking the right one requires only the smallest, quickest mental effort. Using the wrong one makes you look lazy and feebleminded. You don’t want to look lazy and feebleminded, do you?

  27. Champing, not chomping

    Champing at the bit means eager or anxious to get going and do something. “Chomping at the bit” doesn’t mean anything.

  28. One and the same

    One and the same means two things are alike. “One in the same” doesn’t mean anything.

  29. Stock in trade

    Stock in trade means all the merchandise and equipment kept on hand and used in carrying on a business. Colloquially, it refers to the resources habitually called on by a person in a given situation (e.g, “A ready wit is her stock in trade”). “Stock and trade” doesn’t mean anything.

  30. i.e. and e.g.

    i.e. means “that is”. e.g. means “for example”. The two are not interchangeable. And always place a comma after the last period, please.

  31. Ellipses

    There is a punctuation mark properly used to indicate words omitted from a quote, and informally used to signify a longer pause and perhaps a looser connection between thoughts than you’d indicate with a comma. It is called an ellipsis, and it looks like this: … (or . . . if you’re a Chicago Manual of Style user). It is used far oftener than warranted, but whether you’re using it correctly or insisting on using it instead of the appropriate comma or semicolon, it is always only ever composed of three dots. Not four, not five, not seventeen, but three. More dots don’t mean a longer pause, they mean you don’t know how to write. Yes, we’re sure you’ve seen four dots, but that is an ellipsis followed by a period . . . .

  32. Enunciation

    It’s important; keep that in mind for #49 and #50. I’m just saying.

  33. Et cetera (etc.)

    There are four syllables and no hard C/K sound in the word et cetera. It is “ett-SET-eh-ruh”, not “eck-SET-eh-ruh”, and definitely not “eck-SET-truh”. Christie Blatchford, this means you; say it until you get it right. Or better yet, just shut the fuck up altogether because you’re full of shit. And since we’re on the topic of etcetera, the abbreviation is etc. It is not ect.

  34. Hung or hanged

    Artwork and porn stars are hung. Condemned criminals are hanged.

  35. Food and drink

    A margarita is an alcoholic beverage. A margherita is a pizza.

  36. We’ve got details

    “See in-store for details” is wrong with or without the hyphen. Find another way to say it. Try “Visit a store for details” or “ask us for details”.

  37. Warranty/warrantee/warrantor

    A warranty is a guarantee; the warrantee is the party (such as the buyer of a product) to whom the guarantee is made by the warrantor (such as the maker of the product). “My car’s warrantee expired yesterday” is wrong unless you are reporting your own death.

  38. Copywrong

    A published work that cannot be copied or redistributed without permission of its owners is copyrighted. It is not “copywritten”, which is not a word. A copywriter is s/he who writes copy, which means the text in an advertisement. Such an ad, including the copywriter’s copy, may or may not be copyrighted.

  39. Defame-ous

    It’s not nice to defame someone, but if you’re going to do it, use the right tool for the job at hand. Slander is verbal defamation spoken, shouted from the rooftops, or sung to a fiddle, flute, monkey-operated calliope or the like. Libel is written defamation done with a pencil, crayon, printing press, can of spray paint, or computer. When the moderator of an internet forum tells you to behave yourself, you make yourself look like an idiot by threatening to sue him for slander. You make yourself look like an equal but different idiot by threatening to sue him for libel, but that’s beyond the remit of this treatise.

  40. Tenant/tenet

    Tenant means “Holder” in French. It refers to the occupant and/or lease holder of an apartment, office, house, or other property. Tenet means a principle, belief, or doctrine generally held to be true, notably one held in common by members of an organisation or society. They aren’t the same, and “tenent” doesn’t mean anything.

  41. Loathe/loath

    Loathe is a verb more or less synonymous with “detest”. Loath is an adjective the meaning of which falls between “reluctant” and “unwilling”. I am loath to admit it bothers me when people misuse loathe where loath is called for. Actually, that’s not true; I am not loath to admit I loathe it.

  42. Log in/Login

    Log in is a two-word verb meaning to assert or notate permission to enter a facility or use an online resource such as a website or email account. Login is a noun; it is a name, word, or code used to identify oneself in the process of logging in. You log in using your login. You cannot login to a website.

  43. These are nouns, not verbs

    A carrot cannot be used as a carburetor, nor a noun as a verb. Words such as pressure, acquisition, and transmission are nouns, not verbs, though each has a verb form; respectively these are press, acquire, and transmit. One company may acquire but not “acquisition” another company. A special-interest group may press but not “pressure” a politician to adopt their stance on an issue. A warehouse manager may transmit but not “transmission” an order to a manufacturer.

  44. Home of the . . .

    If you can’t resist using the tired “Home of…” cliché as a tagline for your business, please use it correctly. That is “Home of the” followed a noun optionally preceded by one adjective or more. Like this:

    • 57th Street Burgers—Home of the amazing three-pound Super Wowburger
    • Vinnie’s Vacuums—Home of the 45-Day Money-Back Satisfaction Guarantee
    • Don’s Fine Used Cars—Home of the Dealin’ Don Deal
    • Land of the Free—Home of the Brave

    It is not “Home of the” followed by a verb phrase, so not like this:

    • Tiny’s Texaco—Home of giving you the best service with a smile
    • Azaz Beds—Home of finding the best mattress for you
  45. Pallet/Palate/Palette

    The wooden thing you see hoisted by a forklift is a pallet. The board for mixing paints is a palette. The organ of your taste (or the roof of your mouth) is your palate.

  46. How You Say It

    The word pronunciation does not contain the word pronounce. The second syllable of pronunciation is nun like a very Catholic woman. It is not noun like the part of speech that refers to a person, place, or thing.

  47. A Lot / Allot

    There is no word such as “alot”. There is allot which means to assign, distribute, or allocate. There is also a lot, which means a large number or amount of something.

  48. Vinaigrette

    There are three syllables, not four, in vinaigrette. The word “vinegar” is not in there. It’s “VIN-eh-GRET”, not “VIN-egger-ETT”. Three syllables. Stop adding extra ones.

  49. America

    There are four syllables, not three, in America. Republicans, pay attention because you usually get this wrong. It’s “uh-MERR-ick-uh”. It’s not “uh-murka”. It’s not “Murrica”. It’s not “uh-MAIR-ca”. It’s not “Mairca”. There are four syllables in there, now start sayin’ ’em or I’ll add an item to the Gay Agenda to sic the Activist Judges on you and get a Constitutional Amendment to ban the mutilation of the word “America”.

  50. Electoral

    The emphasis is on the second syllable, not the third, of electoral. It’s “eh-LECK-tuh-rul”, not “eh-leck-TOR-uhl”. If you can say “pectoral” correctly — and I know you can — then you can also handle this one. If the word had an “i” and five syllables (“electorial”), then the emphasis would be on “TOR”, but it doesn’t, so it’s not.

  51. Et cetera

    There are four syllables and no hard C/K sound in the word et cetera. It is “ett-SET-eh-ruh”, not “eck-SET-eh-ruh”, and definitely not “eck-SET-truh”. Christie Blatchford, this means you; say it until you get it right. Or better yet, just shut up altogether. And since we’re on the topic of etcetera, the abbreviation is etc. It is not ect.

  52. Cue / Queue

    Cue and queue are pronounced alike, but they are not the same. A queue (noun) is a line of waiting people, events, computer commands, phone calls on hold, or suchlike. To queue (verb) (or “queue up”) is to join or add to such a waiting lineup. A cue (noun) is a signal or mark that it is time for a prepared action to occur. Examples include utterance of a line (as by an actor in a play), unveiling of a thing (as a new car at a car show), and activation of a particular combination of lighting, sound effects, and/or stage props (as in a play). To cue (verb) something is formally to prepare it for its impending time, as when a DJ cues (or “cues up”) a musical track by advancing the recording to just before the intended starting point, or the stage lighting operator readies his controls to activate what will soon be required. Informally or sarcastically, “cue” is used to signify that an expected event will happen: “Oh, climate change is in the news again? Cue the usual babble about how it’s all a big conspiracy.”

  53. Call ’em what they are

    It is important and good to use Gender-neutral terminology whenever doing so will avoid rendering half the human race invisible or implying superiority of one sex over the other. When we refer to a position that could be held by a man or a woman, it is not appropriate to use a gender-specific term. However, there is no reason or need to use a gender-neutral term when the referent’s gender is known. A male spokesperson is a spokesman, a female chairperson is a chairwoman, a male ombud officer is an ombudsman, and so on. Calling David a “chairman”, Marge an “ombudswoman”, and Michael a “spokesman” does not imply that the other gender is unsuited to the position. It is sexist to use gender-specific language to refer to a person of unknown gender (or an unfilled job), but it is not sexist to refer to a man as a man or a woman as a woman. And please make a thoughtful choice of gender-neutral terms. There is no excuse for using a clunker like “spokesperson” or “chairperson” when representative and chair are much more cromulent.

    Artificially-gendered terms like “actress” and “waitress” and “hostess” aren’t warranted, and probably never were. “Actor” and “waiter” and “host” aren’t inherently gendered and should be used regardless of the referent’s sex. The jury’s still out on “dominatrix”.

  54. Bloc that kic!

    A block is a more-or-less rectangular unit of a street grid, a brick-shaped item, or an obstruction. If you mean to refer to a group of voters or politically like-minded and -situated individuals or countries, the word you need is bloc.

  55. Elicit drugs…?

    To elicit something means to evoke, to provoke, to bring about, to inspire, to cause. It’s not the same word as illicit, which means illegal. A newspaper article advocating the use of illicit drugs might elicit angry letters to the editor from the local group of these good folks.

  56. Infer, imply

    To imply something is to suggest it without actually directly saying or writing it. It is done by the speaker or writer. To infer something is to come to understand it without actually reading or hearing it. It is done by the listener or reader. No matter how hard you try, you cannot infer something to someone else. You have to imply it and let him or her infer it.

  57. Don’t ask, don’t beg

    Begging the question looks as if it means strongly asking or firmly raising a question, but it doesn’t mean that at all, not even a little bit. It means circular reasoning. “The napkin religion is the only true religion; it says so right here on this napkin” is an example of begging the question.

  58. Unique: there can be only one

    Unique is an adjective literally meaning “having the quality of one-ness”. It practically means “one and only”, “single”, “sole”, “solitary”. It does not mean—and isn’t interchangeable with—”special”, “unusual”, “creative”, “interesting”, or anything of the like; a unique thing might also be any of those other things, but if it is not the only one of its type, it is not unique. The most important upshot of that reality is that uniqueness is binary like death and pregnancy: one either is or is not pregnant or dead. Likewise, unique cannot take quantifying, emphasising, or mitigating modifiers. There’s nothing that is “very unique” or “totally unique” or “unusually unique” or “fairly unique”; a thing either is unique or it is not. We have other words for things that are both like and unlike other things; we say they are similar.

16 thoughts on “Everything You Need to Know about Grammar

  1. Someone ought to tell Bayerische Motor Werke. I think motor is one of those words that’s been so misused that, rather than fighting it, it’s best to accept it . . . and motor on.

  2. 14. If “kilometre” were an English word, it would be pronounced “ki-LAH-mit-ur”. Perhaps it should be spelled “kilo-metre”. (Someone should write an article about that sort of thing.)

    23. I must be missing something here; perhaps some examples of misuse would be in order. While “significant” certainly doesn’t mean “large”, I have trouble seeing “real” as a reasonable definition. “Substantial”, on the other hand, can mean “real” (of course it usually doesn’t).

    31. An ellipsis can sometimes be found adjacent to a period. I suppose this might be mistaken for four dots.

  3. I have seen people pour over documents so often I don’t even bother to point out it’s supposed to be pore over.

  4. Bravo! An entire menagerie of pet peeves.

    I fully admit that I have committed some of the grammatical crimes listed above. But it’s not for wont of want. And I think that’s the key.

    I don’t think Mr. Stern is suggesting that he holds the key to “proper” communication. He is offering corrections for the sake of respectful communication. We are, after all, a nation of laws. In theory.

    As for the idea that the rules of grammar are inflexible, those who seek to remind us of them will no doubt acknowledge the tao of Yogi Beara: “If the world was perfect, it wouldn’t be. “

  5. I would also like to add that “Nip it in the Bud” is the correct phrase when trying to say something akin to “stop this before it gets worse.”
    “Nip it in the Butt,” on the other hand, is something Marv Albert got in trouble for.

    You don’t have to be a horticulturalist to know this.

  6. To “beg a question” is a logical fallacy of formal debate. An argument begs the question when it assumes a position still under debate to be true that has not been conceded by the opposing side. It is not synonymous with suggesting or raising a question.

    An engine is a type of motor, but not the other way around. A motor is any machine that imparts motion. An engine is a motor that specifically converts thermal energy into mechanical energy by combusting a fuel.

  7. Delightful reading, many, many of my peeves are listed here. I would submit, however, that the author's calling out of Republicans for #32 is misplaced. I believe such things are more regionally based, as contrasted to politically based, as a few months spent in southern states would attest. And don't get me started on "sennence", what a convict might receive at the end of a trial. SenTence, people! At court, where "loi-yers" do much of their work. Practicing "loi".

    The fields are definitely ripe for harvesting!

    1. The calling out of Republicans is all in fun (though Republicans may disagree). As to the overwhelming pronunciation of "lawyer" (and "sawyer")—about as few people say "lawww-yer" as actually aspirate the "wh" in words like "white" and "whether" and "whippersnapper"—I don't regard it as lazy or otherwise problematic. The progression from the "aw" vowell at the end of the first syllable to the "yə" diphthong at the start of the second syllable just naturally morphs into a single diphthong—"oy"—without a subsequent "vey".

      What causes me much greater annoyance is the mispronunciation of "warrior" to rhyme with "lawyer" and "sawyer". No, it's not a "woyer", it's a warrior; there are syllables in there, START SAYIN' 'EM!

      I'm just saying.

  8. You forgot to mention the pervasive misuse of “unique,” which too many people think can accept a modifier. It can’t.

    And please make an effort to see that everyone who writes in either The Truth About Cars and Jalopnik learns the difference between “its” and it’s.” Everyone. No one on either site does.

    1. You’re right. I’ll add that straightaway. (update: done!)

      Regrettably, some people are bounden determined* to make it a point of pride that they could care less** about the difference between “its” and “it’s”.

      * In this phrase peculiar to the Southern United States, bounden serves as an adjective which, translated into English, is more or less equivalent to “extremely” or “doggedly”. The etymology of the phrase is self evident.

      ** People who say this are just dumb.

  9. Your last entry is mistaken. “Unique,” though perhaps not a word for a quality that admits of degrees, can certainly “take modifiers.” Examples: “This purportedly unique diamond is in fact a mass-produced chunk of cubic zirconia”; “A truly unique particular substance is a metaphysical impossibility”; “One’s own death is bound to be an uncomfortably unique experience.” I share your annoyance at the use of “unique” to mean “special,” “unusual,” and the like, but the word does not resist all adverbs.

    Nor, I think, is it wholly beyond question whether something could be more or less unique. After all, one thing can be more or less similar to another, and if a thing is unique by virtue of being in no way similar to anything else, then it begins to look like uniqueness admits of degrees. In any case, answering that question is more a philosophical or logical than a grammatical task, but it is not already answered for us by the grammar of the word “unique.”

  10. Okeh, Bob, fair enough; I’ll edit the entry to specify that “unique” does not take _quantifying_ adverbs. That, however, is as far as I will concede. “Truly unique” doesn’t mean anything. Uniqueness is a binary condition; either a thing is or isn’t unique. We have other words—such as “similar”—for things which are neither wholly like nor wholly unlike other things Your second paragraph is, as you note, inapposite.

  11. One issue with 53 is that presence remains imbalanced. For this reason perhaps explicit gender-neutral terminology contributes to redressing noted existence. Do we call a white man a white man? – no. Usually – a man. But racial imbalance notices the black man. Isn’t gender the same issue?

  12. The one you say you've most often heard is wrong; it improperly moves a phoneme out of alignment. "Behaviour" is pronounced "bə-HAYV-yər" (or, slowly and without the schwa, "be-HAYV-ee-ur"). It is not written "behavory", so it is not pronounced "bə-HAYV-ə-ree" ("be-HAYV-ur-ee"). The adjective is "bə-HAYV-yə-rul" ("be-HAYV-yur-rul"), with four syllables. It is not "bə-HAYV-ee-OR-əl" (five syllables) nor "bə-hayv-OR-ee-əl" (five syllables out of order).

    As to the question of which syllable to stress in the second word of the phrase: both "fə-NANCE" and "FY-nance" are considered indiscriminately interchangeable by at least one major dictionary. Me, I would tend to stress the second syllable for the verb or the first syllable for the noun, in accord with such other homographs as project/project, address/address, record/record, etc.

    So the phrase you ask about would properly be pronounced "bə-HAYV-yə-rəl FY-nance".
    Your second syllabication is much closer to correctness than the one you say you've most often heard.

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