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Grammar Time: 5 Commonly Misused Words

By Amanda Sides on Jun 09, 2016

If a client or potential client knows you only by your emails or your website, you want to make sure you leave a good impression with the words you write. By now you've probably figured out to and too as well as their, there, and they're, but there are other sneaky mistakes you might still be making.

Here are a few things to watch out for in your writing (and your speaking, for that matter), even if you weren't an English major.

 

Fewer/Less

Use fewer when you're talking about a number of objects — things you can count. Use less when discussing things that are measurable, but can't be counted.

There are fewer cows in that pen.

There is less milk in that cup.

 

Who/Whom

Who is the person doing something. Whom is the person having something done to them.

The Oatmeal explained this really well: if you can answer the question with "he/she" use "who." If you can answer the question with "him/her" use "whom."

Who dropped the ball? (He dropped the ball.)

To whom was the ball given? (It was given to her.)

 

What/Which

There actually is a middle ground here where both are correct. However, in general, when there are an unlimited or unknown number of options, use what. If you have only a specific number of choices (certainly when there are only two choices), use which.

What book are you reading?

Which vase are you going to buy, the small one or the big one?

 

Lay/Lie

Lay needs a subject and an object; someone needs to do the laying of something else. So, you can lay a book on the shelf. Lie doesn't need an object. A person lies on a bed. You can lie down to rest next to the book you laid on the shelf.

On that note, the past tense of lay is laid while the past tense of lie is lay. You know. To confuse things.

You should lay the sunglasses by the towel. (Okay, I laid the sunglass by the towel.)

Every Thursday, I lie on the couch and watch TV. (Yesterday, I lay on the couch and watched TV.)

 

Farther/Further

Use "farther" when referring to actual distances. "Further" is used in the abstract sense.

The school is farther from home than I thought.

We can't further our cause without financial assistance.

 

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