11 Points

11 Little-Known Grammatical Errors That Will Shock and Horrify You
written by Sam Greenspan

You know who everyone loves? The guy who constantly corrects everyone's grammar.

I hope that this list helps you become That Guy and, in the process, make tons and tons of new friends.

Here are 11 English words and phrases that we (and by we, I mean myself included -- but not the royal we, as you're included too) seem to constantly (and surprisingly) misuse. Hey, it's not the most unique list I've ever done, I'm sure my next one will come out better if it's what I set my mind to.

  1. Homer Simpson's amazing t-shirt.
    Try and. The correct phrase is "try to." It really does make sense logically -- the trying is part of the action. I don't try and say goodbye and I choke, I try to say goodbye and I choke. (I also try i walk away and I stumble.)

    It's a rough day for a journalism major when he learns he was grammatically bested by Macy Gray.

    I remember when I learned the try and/try to disparity. I'd just gotten my first job writing professionally, in October of 2003, and I dropped a "try and" bomb in one of the first things I wrote. I was scolded, beat myself up about it for two weeks straight -- and never made the mistake again.

    The saddest part: Since that day, I've never been able to look at Homer Simpson's incredible America "Try and Stop Us" t-shirt the same way.

  2. Hopefully. Hopefully has been called the most abused word in the English language. (Let's put it this way: If Mariska Hargitay walked into Hopefully's hospital room on "Law and Order: SVU" she'd start the conversation all matronly and disarmingly with "Hi, I'm Olivia" -- not "I'm Detective Benson.")

    Hopefully means "with hope" and describes a subject who feels hopeful. "Hopefully, he decided to press his luck, Whammys be damned."

    It does not mean "it is hoped that." So the sentence "Hopefully, no Whammys will show up" is incorrect.

    Hopefully, I ask you not to go through my archives to find all the places I've messed this up.

  3. e.g. versus i.e. These two are used interchangeably, but actually have different meanings (and different correct usages).

    e.g. stands for the Latin phrases "exempli gratia" -- meaning "for example." It can be followed by any number of examples from any size set of possible examples.

    i.e. stands for the Latin phrase "id est" -- meaning "that is." It should be followed by all of the applicable examples, leaving none behind.


    Kevin Bacon in "Wild Things" -- note: 11 Points censorship bar not to scale.
    "I love all the stars we see naked in 'Wild Things', e.g. Denise Richards" is correct, because Denise Richards is one of the stars who's nude in that movie, and "e.g." doesn't have to include every single one. But "I love all the stars we see naked in 'Wild Things', i.e. Denise Richards" is incorrect, because she's not the only one -- you've egregiously excluded Kevin Bacon and his gratuitous, scarring penis flash -- and "i.e." has to list every single applicable example.

    Another example: I could say: "I test my web designs in a bunch of different web browsers, e.g. Firefox, Safari and Google Chrome." That is correct. So is this phrase: "Microsoft doesn't make very good web browsers, i.e. IE."

  4. Chomping at the bit. The correct phrase is "champing at the bit" -- which, in a classic case of proper English trumping logical English, doesn't make as much intuitive sense.

    Basically, the word chomp was derived from the word champ, which means "to bite or chew loudly." But chomp is a transitive verb, meaning it needs an object -- so while "chomping the bit" is grammatically correct, "chomping at the bit" isn't.

    Around this point in the list I would expect you're thinking to yourself: "Wait -- homeboy is giving us a lesson on transitive and intransitive verbs? The very same guy who does lists on beer pong rules and the sexiest items for sale at the 99 Cents Only Store? What the hell?" And you make a valid point. But hey -- at least it's not the Internet's 12 billionth article called "Why the iPad sucks but we're gonna buy it anyway."


  5. Joe Namath, grammar (and seduction) expert.
    Could care less. If you "could care less," technically, that means you DO still have some modicum of caring left toward the subject. "I couldn't care less" is correct.

    Let's pause, now, and give some dap to Joe Namath. Because even when drunk, he was able to use proper grammar to tell Suzy Kolber, "I wanna kiss you -- I couldn't care less about the team strug-a-ling."

  6. You've got mail. Ya know, America Online, if I'm going to pop in the floppy you sent me and use my 500 free hours... at least your announcer (and, later, an Austin Powers imitator who usurped your announcer) could greet me with the proper grammar: You *have* mail.

  7. Heart-wrenching. I had absolutely no idea about this one. "Heart-wrenching" is a term that shouldn't be.

    The correct term is "heart-rending." Rending means tearing, so when something makes you feel deeply saddened, it's heart-rending.

    Wrenching means twisting which, linguists have decided, is something that can be done metaphorically to your gut but not your heart. I guess your heart can only be wrenched when Kano has decided to FINISH [YOU] in Mortal Kombat.


  8. Pam Anderson in the opening scene of "Barb Wire" -- note: 11 Points censorship bar completely to scale.
    Barb wire. Barbed wire is the wire, covered in barbs, places on the top of fences or wrapped around two-by-fours in late '90s ECW matches. "Barb Wire" is the name of the movie where Pamela Anderson spends 98 minutes nude on screen.

  9. Anxious versus eager. You can be anxious about something, but not anxious to do something. That's eagerness. Anxious suggests a sense of nervousness or fear.

    In the sentence "I'm anxious about the Saints in the Super Bowl... and I'm anxious to drink myself into a coma whether they win or lose" only the first "anxious" is correct.

  10. Lay low. "Lay low" is an action, using the definition of lay meaning "to knock or beat down." It's regularly mistaken for "lie low," which means to conceal yourself or bide your time. (Insert Lindsay Lohan LiLo-needs-to-lie-low wordplay here.)

    So Snoop Dogg (in his famous track "Lay Low") could fire off some rounds and lay someone low (most likely a n**** who be talkin' loud and quite possibly holdin' his dick). But if Snoop wanted someone to stop talking and get out of the public view (most likely a bitch that said he shot some shit up out of his dick)... technically, he'd want her to lie low.

  11. Collide. For things to collide, they both have to be in motion. You can't have a head-on collision with a pole -- unless you're talking about driving your car into someone named Kowalski. (That's a big fat HI-YO for you right there. Aww yeah!)

OK. Grammar time is over. Now let me get back to putting together a list of photos of animals humping different species of animals or something.


This post was originally published on Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 11:00:00 AM under the category Books.

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