Rather than rant about writers who can’t be bothered to consult a dictionary or a grammar book, I’ll be positive. A rarity for Beryl Cuda, some would say. Malcontents.
I’ll limit the list to the mistakes I come across most often. Herewith, starting at the lowest end of the “argh” scale and working upward, guidelines that might help, or let’s get wildly optimistic here, solve the problem for a few writers.
- Stationery and stationary
Think of it this way: stationery is something on which you write. They both have an “e”. Stationary means you’re standing still – there’s an “a” in each word. Your grammar knowledge has been stationary since second grade when you started snoozing in class, and now your words aren’t worth the stationery on which they’re written.
- Principal and principle
Our friends the “e” and “a” will help us here too. Principal means primary or main (as in, the principal of the school is the main headache of most kids.) “Principal” and “main” both use an “a” and no “e”.
Principle, on the other hand, means rule or ethic (as in, my principles prevent me from badmouthing the principal.) There’s an “e” in principle, rule and ethic, and no “a”.
Make it one of your principal principles to use these two words correctly. Thousands will thank you.
- Loose and lose
You can have loose morals, a screw loose, a loose caboose.
A moose can be loose in the pasture, but not if you mean you lost it. If you lose your moose, you must also lose an “o” from loose.
Ditto when you lose hope that the rounder who’s been playing fast and loose with your emotions will ever propose. In that case, lose an “o” from loose, and lose the jerk too.
- Loan, lend and borrow
Your mother didn’t tell you “never loan money.” Besides being a risky financial venture, it’s not correct English. Your mother told you “don’t lend money” – her advice, and her English, was sound.
Lend is a verb (an “e” in each), loan is a noun (an “o” in each).
So, if you ignore your mother’s advice: I will ask you for a loan, and you (being an easy touch) will lend me a million dollars interest free. No repayment terms. I like this deal.
Now, when you ask me for a loan, you say “Beryl Cuda, will you lend me some money?” You do not say “Beryl Cuda, will you borrow me some money?” In either case, I’m going to say no. But if you ask me to “borrow” you some money, I’m going to say no loudly. My eyes might bug out a bit.
I lend money to you. And you borrow money from me. In reality, that’s never going to happen, but you get my point.
- Advice and advise
One’s the noun. One’s the verb. Unfortunately, there aren’t any easy tricks with common letters to keep these two words straight. If you get them muddled, try thinking of nouns as soft and nice. “Advice” sounds soft and nice, like your mother’s advice about lending money. Verbs, on the other hand, do a ton of work and are gritty. They sound harder, like “advise”.
“When Beryl Cuda advises you to use a dictionary, take her advice.”
- Less and fewer
Argh. Use “less” if you mean “not as great”. It refers to quantity but not something that can be counted. Use “fewer” for numbers of things.
“Because I ate less cake than you did, I gained fewer pounds.”
But: “I ate fewer French fries and gained less weight.”
Neither the cake nor the weight is a unit that can be counted. You simply have to memorize it. Stop whining. It’s not the end of the world.
- Affect and effect
Except in a few special instances (see the comments below), “effect” is the noun (meaning a result) and “affect” is the verb (meaning to influence, have an effect upon). Do not use “affect” when you mean the result of some action.
“When a person uses the word “affect” incorrectly it affects my dental health because I clench my teeth. The effect of clenching my teeth is that I need a night guard.”
- Lie and lay
Argh, argh, argh. This is one that I continually must look up. It does not come naturally and if I don’t look it up, I always get it wrong.
Lie means to recline in your boudoir. There’s a bit of a rhyme there to help me remember. Lay means to set or put down. Strunk and White say “the hen, or the play, lays an egg.”
Here’s where things get nasty: past tense of lie is lay, past tense of lay is laid. And you’re not “laying around like a slob”, you’re lying around like a slob.
What can I say – you just have to memorize it, or carry a little reminder in your wallet. Go ahead and whine. I’m with you on this one. And even if you memorize it, check the grammar book before you send off your manuscript.
- Top of the argh scale – four arghs: Irregardless is not a word!
I’m serious here. It is definitely not a word. Nuh-uh. Take a look in your Canadian Oxford Dictionary, 2nd edition (the official dictionary of The Canadian Press and The Globe and Mail, no less). Irregardless is not there.
And before you go running off to check it online – yes, I admit that it does appear in the online Oxford dictionary, but you will note this under “usage”: “it is regarded as incorrect in standard English.”
The word that is not a word works like a double negative, which is a topic for another rant. Don’t get me started on that one today, or we’ll be here forever. Regardless how tempting it is to use “irregardless”, resist. Use “regardless”.
That’s what riles me today. Let me know what irks you, in the misused/misspelled word department. And, if you have any handy rules or tricks that will help writers stop messing up these words, please share.
In the meantime, don’t write good. Write well.
You can learn more about Beryl Cuda (or grouchy grouch, as I call her) at the end of her first post. In the meantime, here’s a summary in Beryl’s own words: Many things in life rile me. Like dirty laundry blocking the path to the wine cellar. Bad wine. Weak coffee. Rain for five days straight. Lost luggage. You get the idea. But there’s much about the way people today treat the English language that riles me more. I like that Charlotte’s given me a chance to grumble about it.