common mistakes

Originally written for the blog of Light Creative.

 

We’ve spoken before about homophones – words that sound the same but have different meanings. These guys are a little different. They sound similar (sometimes they even share the same verbal ancestor), but they have different meanings and applications. They are frequently confused, but they are not interchangeable, and it hurts their feelings when you mix them up. You don’t want to hurt their feelings, do you? Of course you don’t! You’re not that kind of person! Well, worry no more, because we’ve put together this little cheat sheet to help you avoid that very thing!

 

Who or Whom

Use who when you’re referring to the subject of a sentence (the person, place or thing that is performing the action of the sentence).

Use whom when you’re referring to the object of a sentence (the recipient of the action).

For example:

Correct: Shhhhh! Be quiet, everyone! This is supposed to be a secret meeting! As you all know, the Inspector’s birthday is coming up, and we want to do something special, but we need help from those of you who [subject] know [action] him [object] best. Whom [object] shall I [subject] invite [action]? Who [subject] knows [action] what his favourite cake flavour is?

Incorrect: Shhhhh! Be quiet, everyone! This is supposed to be a secret meeting! As you all know, the Inspector’s birthday is coming up, and we want to do something special, but we need help from those of you whom know him best. Who shall I invite? Whom knows what his favourite cake flavour is?

Tip: If you’re struggling to decide whether to use who or whom, you can use one of our favourite tricks! Who and whom work the same way as he and him, so if you’re unsure, rework your sentence into a question and answer that question with he or him. If you can answer the question correctly with he, use who. If you can answer the question correctly with him, use whom. If you’d add the m for him, then add the m for whom.

For example:

‘We need help from those of you who/whom know him best.’

Rework the who/whom part of the sentence into a question: ‘Who/whom knows him best?’

Answer that question using he or him: ‘He does! He knows him best!’

In this case, he is correct, so you should use who rather than whom in the original sentence.

‘Who/whom shall I invite?’ ‘Invite him!’ Whom is correct.

‘Who/whom wanted to come?’ ‘He did!’ Who is correct.

‘Who/whom knows what his favourite cake flavour is?’ ‘He does!’ Who is correct.

‘Who/whom shall I ask about his favourite cake flavour?’ ‘You should ask him!’ Whom is correct.

 

I or Me

Use I when you’re referring to the subject of a sentence (the person, place or thing that is performing the action of the sentence).

Use me when you’re referring to the object of a sentence (the recipient of the action).

For example:

Correct: Please try to focus, Inspector Gubbins – this is important! You and I [subject] need to find [action] the Very Naughty Boys [object] before they smuggle all that stolen peanut butter out of the country! The Chief and I [subject] were talking [action] about the informant [object] who helped us crack the case of the coffee cat-burglar – maybe she [subject] could help [action] you and me [object] with this case! Hey, Chief! Can you [subject] give [action] Gubbins and me [object] permission to access the coffee cat-burglar case report?

Incorrect: Please try to focus, Inspector Gubbins – this is important! You and me need to find the Very Naughty Boys before they smuggle all that stolen peanut butter out of the country! The Chief and me were talking about the informant who helped us crack the case of the Coffee Cat-burglar – maybe she could help you and I with this case! Hey, Chief! Can you give Gubbins and I permission to access the Coffee Cat-burglar case report?

Tip: Most people are confident about when to use I and when to use me most of the time, but confusion seems to arise when adding someone else to the sentence – is it you and me, or you and I? You probably know this one better than you think you do. The rules don’t change when you add the extra person, so a quick and easy way to check whether it’s I or me is to remove the other person from the sentence – the answer will probably jump out at you.

For example:

You and I/you and me need to find the Very Naughty Boys.’

Remove the extra person from the sentence: ‘I/me need to find the Very Naughty Boys.’

In this case, I is correct, so you should use you and I rather than you and me in the original sentence.

The Chief and I/the Chief and me were talking’ becomes ‘I/me was talking’.

I was talking’ is correct, so ‘The Chief and I were talking’ is correct.

‘She could help you and I/you and me’ becomes ‘She could help I/me’.

‘She could help me’ is correct, so ‘She could help you and me’ is correct.

‘Can you give Gubbins and I/Gubbins and me permission?’ becomes ‘Can you give I/me permission?’

‘Can you give me permission?’ is correct, so ‘Can you give Gubbins and me permission?’ is correct.

 

i.e. or e.g.

Use i.e. when you mean that is or in other words.

Use e.g. when you mean for example.

For example:

Correct: Internal Memo, 18th May – it has come to our attention that someone has been eating from the jars of stolen peanut butter in the evidence room, i.e. [that is/in other words], someone has been eating evidence. We cannot stress enough that this sort of thing really isn’t on. Please, please, please don’t eat evidence. Please find another way to satisfy your craving for peanut butter (e.g. [for example], bringing your own from home or buying some from the shop) before we run out of evidence against the Very Naughty Boys.

Incorrect: Internal Memo, 18th May – it has come to our attention that someone has been eating from the jars of stolen peanut butter in the evidence room, e.g., someone has been eating evidence. We cannot stress enough that this sort of thing really isn’t on. Please, please, please don’t eat evidence. Please find another way to satisfy your craving for peanut butter (i.e., bringing your own from home or buying some from the shop) before we run out of evidence against the Very Naughty Boys.

Tip: I.e. stands for id est, which is Latin for that is. E.g. stands for exempli gratia, which is Latin for for the sake of example. They might be Latin abbreviations, but you can use English alternatives to help remember which is which – you can think of i.e. as in essence, and e.g. as example given.

 

Advice or Advise

Use advice (pronounced with an ‘s’ sound; rhymes with ice) when you mean an opinion or recommendation offered as a guide.

Use advise (pronounced with a ‘z’ sound; rhymes with eyes) when you mean to offer counsel, an opinion or a recommendation (to give advice).

For example:

Correct: Hey, Inspector Gubbins! You’re about to interview a known associate of the Very Naughty Boys, aren’t you? You want my advice [opinion or recommendation offered as a guide]? You don’t? Are you sure? Really sure? Ok, but I’d advise [offer counsel, urge, encourage] you to take my advice [opinion or recommendation]. I give great advice [opinion or recommendation]!

Incorrect: Hey, Inspector Gubbins! You’re about to interview a known associate of the Very Naughty Boys, aren’t you? You want my advise? You don’t? Are you sure? Really sure? Ok, but I’d advice you to take my advise. I give great advise!

Tip: Advice is a noun, and advise is a verb. There’s a handy trick that works with any noun/verb confusion like this one. Try replacing the advice/advise in your sentence with a noun that doesn’t have a similar-sounding verb – cookie, for example.  If you can replace the advice/advise in your sentence with cookie without mangling the meaning of your sentence, then you should use advice. If you can replace the advice/advise in your sentence with another transitive verb (one that requires a direct object – don’t worry, we’ll cover that in more detail in a later post) such as instruct or encourage, then you should use advise.

For example:

‘You want my advice/advise?’ becomes ‘You want my cookie?’ or ‘You want my instruct?’

Only the cookie option makes sense, so advice is correct.

‘You want my advice?’

‘I advice/advise that you pack an extra muesli bar in case you get hungry’ becomes ‘I cookie that you pack an extra muesli bar’ or ‘I suggest that you pack an extra muesli bar’.

Only the suggest option makes sense, so advise is correct.

‘I advise that you pack an extra muesli bar in case you get hungry.’

This trick will also work with other noun/verb confusions, like device/devise – replace the noun device (meaning an invention or contraption) with another noun, such as cookie, and replace the verb devise (meaning to think out or form a plan) with a similar verb, such as invent.

 

So there you have it – you never again need to worry about breaking the poor heart of an innocent whom, or running into i.e. at a party and addressing them as e.g.! You’ll be safe from all such hideously embarrassing faux pas forever! You’re welcome!

Originally published at the blog of Light Creative: https://lightcreative.com.au/journal/common-mistakes-homophone-edition/

 

English is a wonderful, complicated, inconsistent, beautiful mess of a language, and there are an awful lot of rules to follow. It doesn’t help that we have a whole bunch of homophones – words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings. Occasionally the wrong word can sneak into a sentence, and that’s understandable (homophones are famously sneaky), but using the wrong word can really mangle a perfectly innocent sentence, and do serious damage to your credibility. Here are a couple of the most common homophone mistakes, and how you can avoid them.

 

You’re and Your

Use you’re when you mean you are.

Use your when you mean belonging to you.

For example:

Correct: Inspector Gubbins, your nose [the nose belonging to you] has solved the case yet again! You’re [you are] the best detective we’ve ever had!

Incorrect: Inspector Gubbins, you’re nose has solved the case yet again! Your the best detective we’ve ever had!

Tip: If you’re unsure about your and you’re, play the substitution game! Replace the your/you’re in your sentence with you are. If your sentence still makes sense, it’s you’re. If it doesn’t make sense anymore, it’s your.

 

To, Too and Two

Use to when you’re describing a destination, a recipient or an action.

Use too when you mean as well or when you’re describing an extreme.

Use two when you mean 2.

For example:

Correct: Awww! Look at Inspector Gubbins with his tail between his legs! He doesn’t want to go [action] to the meeting room [destination], he wants to stay [action] here and play with his tennis ball! I don’t blame him – those meetings always take far too long [extreme]! Last week we spent two [2] hours talking about the correct way to send [action] reports to the Chief [recipient]. That room is always freezing cold, too [as well]!

Incorrect: Awww! Look at Inspector Gubbins with his tail between his legs! He doesn’t want too go two the meeting room, he wants two stay here and play with his tennis ball! I don’t blame him – those meetings always take far to long! Last week we spent to hours talking about the correct way two send reports too the Chief. That room is always freezing cold, to!

Tip: Stick with the substitution game if you’re uncertain. Replace the to/too/two in your sentence with 2 – if it still makes sense, use two. If not, try replacing it with as well or extremely – if that makes sense, use too. To is a little bit trickier. If your to/too/two is in front of a verb (a ‘doing word’), it should be to. If you can replace it with towards, and the sentence still makes sense, use to. If you can replace it with as a gift for, and the sentence still makes sense, use to.

 

There, They’re and Their

Use there when you’re describing a destination.

Use they’re when you mean they are.

Use their when you mean belonging to them.

For example:

Correct: Oh no! Don’t look now, Inspector Gubbins, but those three men over there [destination] are members of the infamous criminal gang, the Very Naughty Boys! They’re [they are] wanted for questioning about some stolen peanut butter! We mustn’t let them get away! Can you pick up the scent of their bags [the bags belonging to them] from here?

Incorrect: Oh no! Don’t look now, Inspector Gubbins, but those three men over they’re are members of the infamous criminal gang, the Very Naughty Boys! Their wanted for questioning about some stolen peanut butter! We mustn’t let them get away! Can you pick up the scent of there bags from here?

Tip: If you can replace the there/they’re/their in your sentence with they are, use they’re. If you’re talking about something that belongs to a group, use their. For there, try replacing it in your sentence with where and turning your sentence into a question. For example, ‘those men over there!’ would become ‘those men over where?’, or ‘my cookie was right there a second ago!’ would become ‘my cookie was right where a second ago?’. If your sentence makes sense (and sounds a bit like something out of a pantomime), use there.

 

It’s and Its

Use it’s when you mean it is or it has.

Use its when you mean belonging to it.

For example:

Correct: Goodness me, look at Inspector Gubbins gnawing at that tennis ball – it’s [it is] covered in slobber! He must be stressed about a difficult case. He’s been chewing that ball for days, and now it’s [it has] lost most of its yellow fuzz [the yellow fuzz belonging to it].

Incorrect: Goodness me, look at Inspector Gubbins gnawing at that tennis ball – its covered in slobber! He must be stressed about a difficult case. He’s been chewing that ball for days, and now its lost most of it’s yellow fuzz.

Tip: This one can be a bit confusing, but just remember that when used with it, ‘s is ALWAYS a contraction of it is or it has. If you cannot replace the its/it’s in your sentence with it is or it has, use its. Don’t worry, we’ll go into apostrophes in greater detail in a separate article – they’re tricksy little hobbitses!

 

Who’s and Whose

Use who’s when you mean who is or who has.

Use whose when you mean belonging to someone.

For example:

Correct: Whose slobbery tennis ball [the slobbery tennis ball belonging to someone] is this? Who’s [who is] always leaving slobbery tennis balls in the interrogation room? Is it Ethelbert, the lab technician whose shoelaces [the shoelaces belonging to Ethelbert] are always untied, and who’s [who has] had mung beans for lunch every day this week? I’ll bet it is Ethelbert! Thanks a lot, Ethelbert!

Incorrect: Who’s slobbery tennis ball is this? Whose always leaving slobbery tennis balls in the interrogation room? Is it Ethelbert, the lab technician who’s shoelaces are always untied, and whose had mung beans for lunch every day this week? I’ll bet it is Ethelbert! Thanks a lot, Ethelbert!

Tip: The substitution game works for this one as well – if you can replace the who’s/whose in your sentence with who is or who has, and your sentence still makes sense, use who’s. If you’re talking about something that belongs to someone, use whose.

 

Hopefully this list will help you find your way through the hidden twists and turns of the Homophone House of Mirrors – good luck to you!