Let’s face it – spellcheck has become an intrinsic part of everyday life. It doesn’t matter if you’re using word processing software or writing an email, those little squiggly red lines that appear under a misspelled word are a warning that you need to have a closer look. Even our smartphones help us out with predictive text and autofill. This is all very well and good, unless the word that you’ve accidentally substituted is a word in its own right. Some spellcheck software is getting savvy and can tell the difference but unless we want to someday bow down to our AI overlords, it’s always a good idea for us to actually know the difference ourselves.
There/Their/They’re: Probably some of the most commonly misused words today, grammar enthusiasts like myself can’t help but get an eye tick when we see them used incorrectly. ‘There’ is a place or an idea, ‘their’ is possessive, and ‘they’re’ is a contraction of they are.
‘There was an idea to bring together a group of remarkable people. Their bravery makes them heroes. They’re the Avengers.’
Your/You’re: Probably the next most commonly misused words. ‘Your’ is like their in that it’s possessive. ‘You’re’ is a contraction of you are.
‘You’re absolutely correct – the lady lecturing you on your grammar is a nerd.’
If you’re not sure which is which, try substituting it for you are. ‘The lady lecturing you on you are grammar is a nerd’ is nonsensical and so your is the one you need.
Could have and should have: A lot of people use the phrase ‘could of’ or ‘should of’ instead of the correct ‘could have’ and ‘should have’.
It’s easy to see why — these get contracted to could’ve and should’ve and when spoken aloud. They sound like you’re saying ‘could of’ and ‘should of’. If in doubt, use the contraction!
For all intents and purposes: Many people say ‘for all intensive purposes’ — yet again, another victim of how poor enunciation leads to mangled words. This phrase is generally used when talking about the reasons for an action, or the intent behind them.
Affect and effect: This one confuses people because affect is a verb and effect is a noun but how many people nowadays can rattle off the meaning of verb and noun just like that? Basically a verb is an action or a doing word and a noun is a person, place, or thing. Therefore, ‘affect’ means to have an impact or change and ‘effect’ is generally the result of that.
‘Gravity affects everything, especially Grandma’s delicate china teacups. The effect of the broken cup is that I’m no longer on Grandma’s Christmas card list.’