English, like all languages, is riddled with twists, turns, and unexpected idiosyncrasies. Many of which trip up native speakers and second-language speakers alike.
Prompted by a series of now-viral memes in which several women talk about how good it is to smell a man’s colon, we decided to delve into a few of the most common mistakes people make in English.
1. Malapropisms - The Specifically Pacific Ocean
A malapropism is when an intended word is misused, thereby giving the sentence an entirely different (and sometimes nonsensical) meaning. Often this is because the words that are mixed up have similar phonetic features.
Have you ever heard someone explain a predicament using the word “pacifically”?
“I pacifically wanted no cheese because of my lactose intolerance.”
The part that’s even more comical about this specific malapropism are the correction attempts. To pacifically do something means to do so in a tranquil, calm, collected manner. But it would seem that the Pacific ocean has robbed it of its meaning.
● Pacifically isn’t a real word (Proper Noun)
● Specific is a real word (-ly)
● Pacific is a real word
● pacifically is a real word.
2. Double Negatives
You’ve probably heard the phrase “Two wrongs don’t make a right” before. When applied to the English language this means that double negatives are a “no-no”. In writing at least.
Prior to the 16th century, double negation was actually a common element in English speech and writing. Just as it is in many languages. In fact, it is more common for a language to display negative concord than not. It wasn’t until the first prescriptionist grammarians began rallying against double negation that it was viewed as “poor” English.
Applying basic rules from logic to language, it was decided that two negatives make a positive. This is overly simplistic and language is too nuanced for statements such as this. Nevertheless, the rule stuck.
Today, many varieties of English, including AAVE and several UK varieties, make use of negative concord as standard practice; which should go a long way toward proving that it’s not actually such a bad thing.
But old habits die hard and the double negative is still viewed as poor style in written English.
❌I don’t want to do nothing today.
✔️I don’t want to do anything today.
❌We don’t have no more money
✔️We don’t have any more money.
3. Preposition Use
Prepositions are used to highlight the relationship between an object and subject. When speaking, however, we don’t realise that some words already have built-in prepositions. Here are some examples:
Approach (come near to)
❌ Don’t approach to that building
✔️ Don’t approach that building.
Attack (go and fight against)
❌ They launched an attack against the enemy
✔️ They attacked the enemy.
Leave (depart from)
❌I left from Germany last week.
✔️I left Germany last week.
Reached (to arrive)
❌ We reached at the doctor’s office early.
✔️ We reached the doctor’s office early.
4. Awkward Idioms
Idioms are used when we want to take a break from ordinary speech and spice up our routine. These cleverly constructed phrases can tell an entire story in one short breath. But when idioms and phrases are misused or said out-of-context it can prove to be a somewhat embarrassing situation.
Here are a few common examples:
❌To all intensive purposes
✔️To all intents and purposes
❌It peaked my interest
✔️It piqued my interest
5. The Your vs You’re Tragedy
Poor “your” and “you’re” are so commonly mixed up and misused that an entire article could be devoted to the subject alone.
If you’ve spent any time on social media you have probably spotted this common mistake many times. You’ve probably also spotted the commenter who wants to correct the error and the subsequent “grammar nazi” jokes that arise.
Here’s how the your vs you’re thing works:
“Your” should be used to show possession.
“You’re” is always a contraction for “you are.”
❌You’re life is your life, live like there’s no tomorrow.
✔️Your life is your life, live like there’s no tomorrow.
6. That vs Who
Okay, humans aren’t objects so this one is easy to remember. The general rule of thumb is that “who” is for people and “that” is for objects.
❌There have been people that have passed this test many times
✔️There have been people who’ve passed this test many times.
That vs Which is a whole other beast and is to do with restrictive clauses. Generally speaking, British English is kinder to the writer or speaker who isn’t sure which word to use. For more info on that, check here.
7. Apostrophe Placement
Yes, apostrophes are aesthetically pleasing to the eye. But we can’t always just throw them at the end of a word and hope for the best. Many people make the mistake of using apostrophes in the place of a plural ending.
Apostrophe Dos and Don’ts
● Do use them to contract words such as do not, can not, should not, have not, etc.
● Do use them to show possession or ownership
● Don’t use them to pluralise a word.
● Do remember that “it’s” always means “it is” and never marks the possessive.
❌The duck’s are swimming in the pond.
✔️The ducks are swimming in the pond.
❌It’s mechanism is complex.
✔️Its mechanism is complex.
8. The Infamous There/Their/They’re
Like its cousin the “Your vs You’re” tragedy, the misuse of there/their/they’re is abundant. This is perhaps unsurprisingly considering each sounds very similar.
Without getting too complicated, let’s break this one down:
“There” is to do with location or an event in time.
Look over there!
There is a sale at the mall tomorrow.
There’s my hat!
“They’re” is always a contraction for “they are”.
They’re going to the movies tonight.
“Their” is used to show possession. It’s kind of like the modified version of “they”.
Their class schedule is very busy.
Their ice cream was delicious.
Who would’ve thought that there would be a homophone for signifying numbers, prepositions, and excess at the same time? Clearly English did… To that end, let’s take a look at how to use these little words right.
To and too specifically are used interchangeably in today’s society. But the good news is that “two” is rarely misused, mostly because it has a ‘w’ in it and is a number.
The rules are fairly simple for this:
“To” is used to make the infinitive verb form.
To swim, to run, to walk, to eat, to sing, to look, to watch.
“To” is also used to mean going “towards.”
I am going to the movies.
Want to go to the park?
To boldly go where no man has gone before**
“Two” (2) refers to the number itself.
Two cups of ice cream, please.
You need a number-two pencil for this exam.
“Too” mean "also" or represents an excess of something.
I like pizza too.
That is too much sugar!
And that’s enough grammar for one day! Did we miss anything? Any common mistakes that you see a lot? Let us know in the comments below.
**Don’t worry, we won’t go into the split infinitive!!