Yes, I am the Grammar Hammer. (Thanks, Lars. Mama raised such a clever boy.)
I am Defender of the Faith against the continuing barrage of direct hits our poor language sustains with alarming (and increasing) regularity. But lest you accuse me of captiousness or pretentious and arbitrary verbosity , I will say that I am not a total semantics snob. I like me some slang. So don’t go all David Soul on me. Because I like sentence fragments, too. Like this. So there.
Rather, today’s special is made up of meanings; specifically, mistaken ones. Have you ever used a word, then wondered what it really meant? I have — mostly when writing mind-numbing research papers. I can probably count on two hands the times I’ve reread a sentence, then consulted a dictionary about a word I’d used, just in case.
Here’s a short list of mix-ups:
- Affect is almost always a verb; effect, a noun. Poison ivy doesn’t affect me, but I’ve seen its disastrous effect on others.
- Desert and dessert: I ate my cactus-flavored dessert in the desert, under the stars.
- Fewer versus less: If it’s something that can be counted, say “fewer.” If you’re talking about something in quantities, say “less.” I have fewer than ten children, which means I have less stress in my life. (Certain exceptions to this rule apply, however.)
- Whose versus who’s: Remember to release contractions to make sense of a thing. Whose shirt is this? Who’s in charge here?
- When referring to three or more persons or things, say “among.” Use “between” when talking about two persons or things. Let’s keep this between the two of us. Who among us is perfect?
Answer to that last question: no one — least of all, the Fink. I just publish these little gems in the public interest, and to continue to uplift English to its proper height. Because, as you know…