An Author Toolbox Blog rant.
Let me first begin by saying that I am the World’s Worst Typist (<— that’s the title on my sash.) Nothing I’m going to blather about has to do with typos. Those are a different animal altogether. No, I’m going to talk about Usage Errors that people really should have learned by now, and because this is a wide topic, I’m going to narrow it to my personal pet peeves.
And everything I’m going to talk about has been cross checked with the CMOS, that bible of editors.
#1. Breath vs. Breathe.
Every time I see this misused, I grind my teeth because it really isn’t so hard. Breath is a noun, the air that is expelled from our lungs. Breathe is a verb, the act of taking air in and our of our lungs. The extra E (silent E) is a signal that the vowel combination is long in sound. I’ll stop there because the phonics get complex.
#2. Effect vs. Affect
Aside from their/they’re/their and you’re/your, this is probably the most common usage gaffe I see on the Internet, but it’s actually similar in structure to #1. Effect is the noun, the outcome. (“The effect of caffeine on writers is clear.”) Affect is the verb, or influencing the outcome. (“Caffeine will affect a writer.”) [There is one instance where affect is a noun, but that is used only in very specific situations.]
#3 Less vs. Fewer
This is another one that is used incorrectly all the time, so much so that some will state that these are interchangeable. No, they aren’t, and the CMOS backs me up on this. I’m not going to use their official definition. Instead I’ll explain it how I did to my students.
Less is used when you can’t easily count it: sand, water, air. Fewer is used when you can count it, even if it takes a while: grains, milliliters, cups.(Another way to look at is is less is singular while fewer is plural.)
We had an announcement that ran every day for the first two months of schools that began “Since there are less students in the halls…” Every day I would snarl and throw an object at the intercom. It’s fewer students because we could count them. Eventually, the kids got it. The writer of said announcement did not.
#4 Between vs. Among
This one is an easy fix: between is only used with two choices, among is used for more than two. It may feel awkward using among, but it’s the correct usage.
#5 Should of/ Could of/ Would of
Yeah, that’s not a thing. It comes from the way we say “Should’ve,” but it is so incorrect that I can’t offer any other suggestion than just don’t.
“Theirselves” is dialect, so if you have a character who lives in a region where it might be used, go for it. Otherwise, it isn’t a word. I happen to hear it a lot in my area. You may not hear it at all.
#7 A lot
Speaking of a lot, it’s ALWAYS two words. ALWAYS. You wouldn’t write “alittle,” so why would you write “alot”?
Phew. That’s enough for today. I’ll step off my soapbox now.
And if you haven’t heard it already, check out this ditty by Weird AL: