Tricky Words and Grammar for Grown-ups

If you are over fifty, it’s probably been a long while since you’ve sat in a classroom with a schoolmaster teaching you boring rules of grammar. Most of us didn’t like those lessons at the time, and don’t really want to sit through them again. But, if you are a reader or writer, you’ll notice that many adults continue to misuse and abuse the English language and apart from cultural differences you may appreciate a quick refresher course in some of the trickiest words and phrases. Here is a run-down of some of the most frequent errors adults make as they write the English language.

to, two and tooTwo young men were going to the store and their mother wanted to go too.

Nearly everyone uses the numerical word, two correctly. It’s the to and too which are confused. One goes to the store. The word too is translated “also.”

there, their and they’re:  This one is regularly butchered by a large number of adults.

It should be:  “Oh, there is my purse. I went to their house.

They’re very nice people.” There signifies a place, their means ownership and they’re is a contraction of they are. can and may:  I can touch my toes. ( I am able)  May I go to the movies? (asking for permission)

then and than:  First I woke up and then I cooked breakfast. (time)  I am faster than Tom.  (comparison)

its and it’s:  There is a cute little dog. I wonder what its name might be? It’s going to

be a sunny day. (contraction for it is)

lay and lie:  This is an especially tricky one. When using first person the distinction is:

I will lie down, (not lay) because a hen lays an egg. So for lie it goes, I lie, you lay, has has lain, and he is lying. For lay is goes: the dog lay down, laid down, he laid down and is laying down.

you’re and your:  It is your turn. (ownership) You’re next. (contraction for you are)

except and accept:  I found all the dishes except for one. I accept the prize.

desert and dessert:  I walked through the hot desert. I want a big dessert. (Think that you want more dessert, thus two s’s.)

Another consideration when writing, whether it’s an e-mail, a letter or a business form, is spelling. We all rely a great deal on our spell-check feature on our computers, but often the spell-check is not enough if our misspelling is indeed another word. Here is a handy list of the one hundred most often misspelled words. And, by the way, misspell is one of them.

There are other words that either sound the same or are often confused with one another. Here is a listing of commonly confused words which you may refer to when in doubt.

Punctuation can be another trouble spot when writing. Where to place the commas, when to use a semi-colon and those pesky quotation marks—you’ll find answers here:

Remember it’s the heart of your words that really matters to your readers. But don’t let a glaring error get in the way of the message. You may want to bookmark these sites or print them to keep handy as you express your thoughts, ideas and opinions.