Grammar Tips and Clarifications for Online Writers 2.0: Commonly Misused Word Sets

Oct 17, 2013
Jason Baumann

grammar tips

This week, I have been concentrating my writing on sharing ideas online – specifically through blogging. Today, I continue yesterday’s discussion about the common grammar errors that plague online content. I will go through some of the most commonly misused word sets. While there are volumes of commonly misused word sets, I am going to tackle some of the most important and avoid some of the obvious ones.

Who vs. Whom
We are going to start with a very confusing one. According to the rules of formal grammar, who should be used in the subject position in a sentence, while whom should be used in the object position, and also after a preposition. Here is a simple trick to determining the proper usage that I wish my school teachers taught me. Replace who/whom with he/him. If he is correct, use who. If him is correct, use whom.

Fewer vs. Less
The rule for use of less vs. fewer is relatively simple. Use fewer with countable, individual things and less with uncountable amounts, volumes, etc. For example, I should drink less milk and eat fewer cookies.  You should also use less with a number that is considered to be a single bulk amount. For example, the recipe calls for less than two teaspoons of butter.

Then vs. Than
Here is yet another simple explanation. Then is an adverb that most often relates to actions in time. If I get home from work early, then I am going to hit some balls at the driving range. Than is a conjunction, or a word that connects two phrases, used mainly in making comparison. My brother weighs more than I do. I am taller than my niece.

Continual vs. Continuous
This is a less common mistake but one that I think is worth discussing. While both of these words are adjectives and both describe duration, they are different. Continuous is used for a duration without disruption. For example, there was a continuous flow of water coming from the broken pipe. Continual refers to a duration that occurs over a long period of time but with time(s) of interruption. The continual construction in Chicago causes the worst traffic in the Midwest. While it is hard to believe that there are moments of no construction in Chicago. There actually are. Hopefully this is clear.

Disinterested vs. Uninterested
This is also less commonly discussed but an often confused set of words. An uninterested person is bored, unconcerned, or indifferent; a disinterested person is impartial, unbiased, or has no stake in the outcome.

Affect vs. Effect
This one is much more complicated than I remember it. Most of the time, you use affect as a verb and effect as a noun.

Affect has a few meanings. First, affect means “to have influence on” like the price of gas affects the economy. Secondly, affect means “to respond to the emotions of” like his affair did not affect his marriage. Finally, affect means “to attack or infect, as a disease” like smoking affects your lungs.

Effect also has three meanings. First, an effect is something that was brought about by a cause. Secondly, effect is the power to produce an outcome or achieve result. For example, the effects of Immodium can be felt within 30 minutes. Finally, an effect can refer to a scientific law or phenomenon like the Greenhouse Effect.

As mentioned before, the list could go on for pages and pages. Hopefully some of these descriptions made sense to you and will help you in future writings.

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