Top Ten Spelling and Grammar Pet Peeves

Top 10 Spelling & Grammar Mistakes

Yep, I’ve compiled a list of those grammar and spelling mistakes that drive teachers, employers, colleagues, etc. crazy…and mnemonic devices to help you remember the correct usage. Let’s get started with…

Your and You’re

This one’s easy!  “Your” is the possessive form, showing ownership of something:

Don’t forget to put gas in your car. (What belongs to you?  YOUR car.)

“You’re” is a contraction of “you are”.  If you could replace the word in your sentence with “you are”, you know YOU’RE using the proper form!

I heard you’re going to the concert.  (I heard YOU ARE going to the concert.)

So, to sum up:

Make sure YOUR tank is full if YOU’RE going to drive to the concert!

To, Too and Two

Here we have a very common spelling mistake.  You can remember which spelling to use by keeping these things in mind:

  • To is the ‘basic’ word, so to speak. 
  • Too, can mean ‘also’.  When you need to use this spelling, you ‘also’ need an extra ‘o’.
  • Two means one plus one.  When you have TWins, you have TWo of something, so that’s a handy way to recall the proper spelling!

It’s and Its

This is another one that’s easy to make.  That’s because ‘it’s’ should follow the rule of using an apostrophe to convey the possessive form (as in the dog’s collar). But in the case of ‘it’, an apostrophe is used strictly for the contraction of it is or it has (“It’s the dog’s collar.”) while the possessive form has no apostrophe (“The dog is wearing its collar.”).  The device you can use to make sure of proper usage is to imagine replacing your instance with it is or it has.  If it doesn’t make sense, you don’t need the apostrophe!

Then and Than

This one’s super easy to fix!  Associate “then” with “when” and it’s a snap.  They are only one letter off from each other.  So, when you’re questioning whether you’ve got the proper usage, picture this:

WHEN are you going to the store?

Correct: First I am going to put on my shoes, THEN I’m going to the store.
Incorrect: First I am going to put on my shoes, THAN I’m going to the store.

Now, when it comes to THAN, try substituting compared with or in comparison to in place of it.  If it doesn’t make sense in your sentence, you probably want to use then.  Voila!

There, They’re and Their

This is a tricky trio…but I have some ways to help you get it right when you use them!

There: Use this spelling when you want to indicate place, whether literal (Sit over there.) or abstract (There are a lot of books on my desk.) When trying to determine if this is the spelling you should use, imagine replacing it with the closely related words, here or where. If your sentence still makes sense, you’ve got it right! Also use this spelling when paired with any form of be (there are, there is, there were, there are).

They’re: This one is simple.  If you could use they are in place of it in your sentence, you’ve selected the correct spelling.

They’re headed to the park. (They are headed to the park.)

Their: Consider that this is the possessive form, meaning it indicates ownership. Also consider the word heir indicates ownership in the future. So, if you’re talking about some kind of ownership, make sure your spelling includes heir in it!

The kids love their new puppy.

So, in conclusion…

They’re going over there to pick up their concert tickets.

Easy peasy!!

Hear and Here

Here’s a device that makes it super easy to remember the correct usage of this pair of homophones.

Incorrect:  Come over hear so I can here you better.
Correct: Come over here so I can hear you better.

Ok, so here’s the super easy tip: You hEAR with your EARs, so if you’re talking about something that is hEARd, you want to use H-E-A-R. Otherwise, you want to use the other spelling. Simple!

Have vs. Of

Yikes!!  The usage in the heading is just plain wrong, but such an easy mistake to make because of how the phrases SOUND. If you just listen to each phrase, it would seem “could of,”  “should of,” “would of,” and “must of” are correct.  However, the proper usage is actually:

could have – should have – would have – must have

OR the contractions of these phrases…could’ve – should’ve – would’ve – must’ve

Just goes to show you…you can’t always trust your ears when it comes to spelling & grammar!

Lie vs. Lay

Okay, this is one that makes even me stop and double…make that triple check…my usage. Let me be clear – I am not including the “lie” that means to not tell the truth here. I am talking solely about the lie (and lay) that refers to setting or reclining.

First, the easy part – – present tense – – lay requires a direct object but lie does not. So you lie down on the couch (no direct object), but you lay your keys on the table (the keys are the direct object). So, to emphasize the concept, you can lay something down, but people lie themselves down.

Now, here’s where everything goes kerflooie, because lie is also the past tense of lay. *sigh* To help with this, Grammar Girl devised this little cheat sheet, and I love it:

I vs. Me

How about a little discussion on personal pronouns? YAY! “I” and “we” are most commonly confused for each other in writing (and speaking!) sentences when they are paired with another person.

For instance, would you say, “Kevin and me are meeting Gina at the library,” or should it be, “Kevin and I…”?

To determine which pronoun fits properly in your sentence, break it down to exclude that ‘other person’.   Certainly, you wouldn’t say, “Me am meeting Gina at the library.”  Therefore, you can determine the proper usage would be Kevin and I.

What about, “Can you pick the kids and me up from the airport next week?” It may feel too informal to use me here.  However, using the same rule of thumb, you wouldn’t ask someone to, “Pick I up from the airport,” now would you?? 

Between vs. Among

This is another mistake that makes some people crazy, and one that’s so easy to make. The”rule” is that between always implies two; among always implies more than two.

Incorrect: There is little difference between department stores in America.

Correct: There is little difference among department stores in America .

Also correct: There is little difference between those two department stores.

The device to help you remember: you would never say, “Just among you and me…”; so why would you say, “between the three of us”?  Make sense??

So that’s it – my top 10 list of grammar and spelling pet peeves. I hope you have found a useful tip or two among them. Perhaps the most important thing to take away from this is that in business, as in life, if you want people to take you seriously, you need to take spelling and grammar seriously. That doesn’t mean these things must come naturally to you, but if spelling and grammar are not strong points for you, it would behoove you to get yourself a proofreader!

What are the spelling and grammar mistakes you see all the time that make you a little crazy?

What are some tricks you use to avoid common spelling errors?


    • Bob Levi on May 16, 2012 at 7:40 pm
    • Reply

    It’s a nice rule, but unfortunately, it’s a completely invented rule that contradicts actual usage both literary writers and educated (or not) speakers. James A. H. Murray put it well:

    ‘Between’ is still the only word available to express the relation of a thing to many surrounding things severally and individually, ‘among’ expressing a relation to them collectively and vaguely.

    Check your OED, which provides over a thousand years (going back to circa 975) of usage of between for more than two things, many of which are by the most celebrated writers of English. The “rule” you recite was first invented in the mid 19th century.

    Look at the evidence, and look at what reputable usage writers have written (Fowler, Garner, etc). This old superstition deserves to be staked and beheaded.

      • on June 26, 2012 at 3:16 pm
      • Reply

      Really, Bob, aren’t all rules “completely invented”? I’m not sure what your point is there and I don’t appreciate the poorly veiled, insulting suggestions that I am uneducated and irreputable. In any case, I have not positioned myself as a professor teaching grammar to university scholars. I am simply trying to help everyday people improve their communication skills.

      The Oxford is not the end-all be-all of writing references and might even be considered by some as outdated in its thousand-year-old approach to this particular rule. I reject your suggestion that because “my” rule is less than 200 years old it is invalid. Our language continues to evolve and adapt (or do you still say that you’re going down to Ye Olde Towne Shoppe??)

      Like I said, I’m really just trying to help everyday people improve their skills. The venom with which you wrote your comment as well as the use of words like “staked” and “beheaded” are really unnecessary, but thanks for your feedback! Have a great week!! :o)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.