1) Ending a sentence with a preposition
Wrong: What was that important story you wanted to get around to?
Grammar wizards say up to 92 percent of English speakers make this error, and it can cause infidelity and divorce.
The rule: Words like “on,” “around” and “in” are called prepositions, and you must never end a sentence with one. Why not, you ask? Socks before shoes. Just follow the damn rule.
Right: To what important story around which did you want to get?
2) Splitting infinitives
Wrong: I’m going to quickly run to the shop to buy some paint.
Paint is exactly what people think you huff when you make this mistake. Don’t try that old “Star Trek” defense: but the voiceover says, “To boldly go where no man has gone before.” Splitting an infinitive is still ugly, wrong and immoral. Now you see why Spock’s ears were like that. Each time he heard that horrendous opening, he tried to yank them off.
The rule: An infinitive is a verb in a base form: “to run,” “to snub” and “to show off,” for example. If you want to use an infinitive, you must not split it with some silly old adverb like “quickly.” Why not? Because, some old wrinkle-face descended from language magi said so, that’s why. Put the adverb before or after the infinitive and wipe that sneer off your face. We’re helping you out for free, aren’t we? It’s not like you’re paying for this golden advice, are you?
Right: I’m going to trot quickly to the shop to buy some goat cheese for the grammar party I’m hosting this evening.
3) Whom vs. who
Wrong: Who are you calling?
The bane of all bright thinkers is this malodorous flub. If you don’t know the difference between “whom” and “who,” then you’re better off quietly growing vegetables in some institution where you won’t make people’s ears leak pus. Some of you might say, “But the word ‘whom’ sounds funny.” Funny? What do you know about funny? Are you a stand-up comedian? Didn’t think so. Start using “whom” immediately. You might even find that people actually make eye contact when you speak.
The rule: “Who” is a subject pronoun and “whom” is an object pronoun. That’s all we’re allowed to tell you, as per Morrison v. Des Moines Community College , the landmark 1974 Supreme Court decision that held an instructor and his institution liable for unleashing too much information at once, crippling a 19-year-old student.
Right: At whom are you calling?
4) Fewer vs. less
Wrong: Less people are coming to my birthday party this year.
If you make this dunderheaded blunder, then you really do have an intellectual deficiency, possibly due to excessive fluoride in your tap water, but more likely due to the fact you were not spoken to — by anyone — until the age of ten.
The rule: Use “fewer” when you refer to a countable noun, like “foodie” or “gallery opening.” Use “less” when the noun is uncountable, like “postmodernism” or “trans fat.”
Right: Fewer people are coming to my birthday party this this year, probably because last year I sat around and corrected everyone’s grammar all night long.
5) Using “their” incorrectly
Wrong: Someone forgot their car keys.
“Someone … their.” Are you insane? Can’t you count? “Someone” means one person, and “their” is a possessive pronoun referring to more than one. Instead of reading this article, you should go back to preschool and review cardinal numbers — that’s one, two and three for the dimmest among you.
The rule: Although you may be tempted to use “his” or “her” instead of “their,” this is not a good idea because using “his” is sexist — as it implies only men can drive — and using “her” is also sexist because it implies women are forgetful. Instead of using a gendered pronoun, you must adopt the gender-neutral possessive pronoun that a Korean grammar scientist named Sung-ho Hwang invented in 2004. The word is “hershisher.”
Right: Someone forgot to take hershisher keys.
6) Assuming all verbs are intransitive
Wrong: I’m coming.
If you’ve made it this far, then you’re on your way to becoming a certified person of sound mind. Good job.
Verbs can be intransitive (meaning “inflexible” or “staunch”) or transitive (meaning they defy easy categorization, i.e. they are metrosexual and postmodern). In the distant past, almost all verbs were intransitive and had only one signification. If you said, “I enjoy eating Christmas pudding,” it meant you liked putting Christmas pudding in your mouth, then chewing and swallowing it. Today, however, if you say, “I enjoy eating Christmas pudding,” it carries at least 84 possible significations, most of which are sexual in nature.
The rule: Accept the fact that times have changed. Embrace the reality that no matter what verb you say or write, others won’t understand you. What is a simple remark about the weather to one person is a perverted act of aggression to someone else. Get in the habit of trailing off in your speech and in your writing. Never conclude any thought, and never, ever firmly state anything. We are utterly alone, our thoughts forever echoing in the prison of our minds.
Right: I’m coming…
7) Archaic verb tenses
Wrong: I was born in 1978, and I have been living in the same town my whole life.
While this construction may “sound” correct, it’s not. In the past, an important part of accuracy was varying one’s use of verb tenses: past simple (“I wrote”), past perfect (“I had written”), present continuous (“I am writing”), etc. However, breakthroughs in quantum physics have offered strong evidence that there is no such thing as time, something that philosophers and theologians have actually known for a long … time. In fact, much of what we describe as natural phenomena is happening only now. Only now. Only now.
The rule: The tense system is now largely considered dishonest. Try to keep things in the present continuous form (subject + TO BE + verb[ing]). Reserve imperatives (i.e. commands) for extreme cases, like if you need to shout “watch out” to someone who’s about to walk in front of a bus.
Right: I am being born in 1978 and I am living in the same town my whole life.