GQ Wishes You a Happy and Grammatically Correct New Year!

GQ Wishes You a Happy and Grammatically Correct New Year!

Good morning, students, and may I wish each of you a happy, productive, and grammatically correct New Year!

Yes, there is nothing like the start of a new year for resolving never again to commit grammatical faux pas. And the best way to avoid such embarrassment is to learn and remember the rules. That is why Grammar Queen has consented to grace you once again with the benefit of her bounteous wisdom.

This lecture is partially inspired by a news report aired some time ago on a local television station. In the segment, an adult appeared to be addressing a class of elementary students concerning acceptable conduct for handling misunderstandings. Unfortunately, I completely missed the rest of the report because I was distracted by the list of rules the adult was writing on the whiteboard.

Actually, it was the very first rule that I found so profoundly shocking. The sentence read, quite simply:


Say your sorry???????

In this case, Grammar Queen feels quite justified in overusing certain punctuation marks, because she is utterly and absolutely stunned!!!!!

How many mistakes do we find in this instance?

1. The adult should have used the word “you’re,” a contraction for “you are.”

2. The adult allowed this blatant error to be videotaped for local television news coverage, thus revealing her face to an entire metropolitan viewing area.

I understand that the occasional lapse in grammatical good sense happens to the best of us from time to time, and perhaps we can chalk up this person’s mistake to a bad case of nerves. After all, who would not be a teensy bit anxious with a video camera lurking over one’s shoulder while standing before a horde of antsy preadolescents?

All that aside, we come here today to arm ourselves with knowledge. And knowledge, as they say, is power. Power to overcome the grammatical affronts that bombard us nonstop from the ramparts, from the bulwarks, from the–

Excuse me. Myra, you raised your hand? A question, dear?

“Uh, Grammar Queen, sorry for interrupting, but maybe you could just get on with the grammar lesson?”

Ahem. Yes. Of course. And in today’s lesson we will address frequently misused, misspelled, or otherwise confusing words.

Clearly, contractions (or lack thereof, as in the sad example we just described) are among the most often to be misspelled or misused. A contraction, according to Merriam-Webster, is “a shortening of a word, syllable, or word group by omission of one or more sounds or letters.” Normally an apostrophe is inserted at the point of omission.

Let us begin with that dreaded contraction you’re.

You are ➔ you’re

But the problem is that we get in a hurry and confuse the contraction with the possessive pronoun your. One reason for this confusion is because the spoken words sound identical. In other words, they are homonyms.

Yes, homonyms are among the most frustrating culprits of correct usage. Let’s look at a few.

Its (possessive pronoun)
It’s (contraction for “it is”)

They’re (they are)
Their (plural possessive)
There (adverb)

Alter (to change)
Altar (a table used for a holy rite)

Compliment (to flatter, enhance)
Complement (to complete)

Led (past tense of lead, to show the way)
Lead (a heavy metal)

Peaked (reached the top)
Piqued (stimulated interest)

The list goes on and on, but in the interest of time let me refer you to this handy online resource

Now let’s discuss a few other problem words. An often confused pair is:

Effect (noun)
Affect (verb)

Although, not to confuse you more, but effect can also be a verb.

Dear me. How to keep all these words straight! Let’s try using them in a sentence.

Myra effected a major overhaul of her main character, and the effect was a much stronger story that affected her readers in meaningful ways.

Now let’s look at a pair of adjectives that are often used incorrectly:

Averse (reluctant)
Adverse (unfavorable)

Sally was averse to speaking directly with her publisher about an adverse term in her contract, so she relied upon her agent to handle the details.

Two words that go the distance when it comes to usage confusion are:

Farther (generally used for measurable or physical distances)
Further (generally used to describe a figurative distance)

Benjamin lives farther from the coast than Peter, but after further consideration they have decided they are quite happy where they are.

No discussion of this nature would be complete without another pair of oft confused homonyms:

Principle (always a noun)
Principal (as a noun, the head of a school, as in “the principal is your pal”); as an adjective, meaning prominent or important)

The principal reason the literature students attended the principal’s lecture was to learn more about the principles of good writing.

And finally (at least for today’s discussion) we have the often confused pair:

Sight (something worth seeing; a device to aid the eye)
Site (location)

Jo arrived at the site of her new dude ranch in Montana and immediately invited her friends and family to enjoy the breathtaking sight.

We cannot begin to cover all the words that belong on this list, so for further study, let me refer you to this handy website I came across. Simply  click on the word groups you want to study, and you can even take a short quiz to check your comprehension.

Caveat: Grammar Queen makes no claims about the accuracy of such sites and cannot be held responsible for any misinformation distributed therefrom.

Now, as our lecture time draws to a close, Grammar Queen is happy to take your questions. Do I see any hands? Yes, you there in the back row. Don’t be shy. Share your questions and comments below, or feel free to send them to me personally using this comment form.

You can also follow Grammar Queen on Twitter


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