Gotcha Grammar: Common Word Choice Mistakes

Grammar aficionados across the nation cringe when they see these mistakes in their editing stack, but they cringe even more when they catch themselves making the following errors. These are some of the most common word choice errors that can be found in everything from press releases to blogs and even advertisements. Yikes!

Lay vs. Lie

We all probably remember learning about the difference between these two in elementary school, but don’t recall the specifics of the rule. Lay is a transitive verb, meaning it requires a direct subject and at least one object (e.g., I lay the copywriter’s drafts on her desk). Lie is intransitive, so it needs no object. Did that fly over your head? Here’s an easy way to remember: In the phrase “Lay it on me” you’re laying something (the direct object) on me. People lie down by themselves while you lay an object down.

Who vs. Whom

This is another one of those rules we all learned early on and quickly forgot. Who is a subjective pronoun (just like he, she, it, we, and they). It should be used when the pronoun is the subject of a clause. Meanwhile, whom is an objective pronoun (like him, her, it, us, and them) meaning we use it when the pronoun is the object of a clause. The quick and dirty: When in doubt, substitute he or she for who (e.g., Who posted that link on Facebook? He/she posted that link on Facebook). You can also substitute whom with him or her (e.g., I consulted a public relations specialist, whom I met nearby. I consulted her).

Fewer vs. Less

This is one of our writers’ biggest pet peeves. Fewer should be used when writing about quantifiable amounts (e.g., The graphic designer has fewer than ten projects right now). Meanwhile, less is used when the quantity is hypothetical (e.g., The designer is less messy now that she’s organized her desk). This means all those grocery store signs that say, “15 items or less” are all incorrect. Shopping will never be the same!

Affect vs. Effect

While there are little exceptions to every rule, here’s a trick to helping you remember the difference between these two homophones. Affect is almost always (we’ll say 99% of the time) a verb (e.g., Customer relationship management affects every company’s bottom line). Affect means to influence or cause something. Effect is almost always a noun. It is the thing being produces by the affecting influence (e.g., Customer relationship management has a positive effect on our clients).

These are just a small sampling of the commonly erroneous word choices that are made every day in the English language. For more information on grammar, make sure to check out other editions of our Gotcha Grammar series. We also offer daily marketing tips and more through our Facebook, Twitter, and Google+! Make sure to follow us!