It’s true. You can get a date through using good grammar. It sounds ludicrous doesn’t it, but what if the girl (or guy) that you’ve been emailing is getting slowly but surely turned off by your constant and flagrant disregard for the English language?
An unlikely scenario you may think, but in a survey of 100 women, 74% said that they would prefer to date a man with brains above brawn. Difficult to comprehend isn’t it, but it’s true, Steven Hawkins may actually have a better chance than you. So pay attention and you can get even with the love geeks that are picking up girls quicker than they can pick up comic books.
1. There vs. their vs. they’re
This is one of the most universal errors in the English language. It’s difficult to know which one to use sometimes but don’t get into the habit of thinking, ‘it doesn’t matter because they’ll know what I mean’. They might not.
- Look over their. I’m pretty sure that there having problems with they’re wheelchairs.
Can you spot what’s wrong with that sentence? Of course you can:
- There – indicates a place
- Their – tells us that it belongs to him, her, it or them
- They’re – is a shortened version of ‘they are’. If you have problems with this one, pretend that you’re Steven Fry and say every word in the sentence fully without shortening it.
The sentence should have read:
- Look over there. I’m pretty sure that they’re having problems with their wheelchairs.
Or look at it this way:
- Look over [the place]. I’m pretty sure that [the people are] having problems with [belongs to them] wheelchairs.
2. It’s vs. its
This is a tricky one but once it clicks it stays forever. It’s tricky because it’s the opposite of what we’re accustomed to in every day writing. Usually, if it belongs to somebody or something we’ll use an apostrophe to indicate that it’s theirs:
- Those war policies are George’s, they’re nothing to do with me.
The apostrophe comes after their name, but here’s the problem. When you’re describing somebody or something as ‘it’, i.e. the dog, and you then want to talk about something that belongs to it, i.e. a bone, the sentence would read:
- The dog couldn’t get rid of its bone.
No apostrophe after ‘it’. Only ever use an apostrophe after the word it is if you want to shorten ‘it is’. Be posh again for a second and say the full words.
Here are a couple of sentences containing both the words ‘it’s’ and ‘its’. See if you can spot which is correct.
- Its difficult to say whether it’s face has taken a beating or its naturally that ugly.
- It’s difficult to say whether its face has taken a beating or it’s naturally that ugly.
The second one is correct. Break it all up into single words. If ‘it is’ becomes ‘it’s’ when it is shortened then the sentence beginning ‘it’s difficult to say’ is right.
Try thinking of it like this:
- [It is] difficult to say whether [belonging to it] face has taken a beating or [it is] naturally that ugly.
3. Would have, could have, should have
The title of number three says it all, doesn’t it? Yes it does! When using could, would or should, remember never to follow it by the word ‘of’, it’s always ‘have’.
You can even shorten it to could’ve, would’ve, should’ve if you like, just never ‘of’. Have you ever come across the words could’f, would’f, should’f? Neither has anybody else.
4. If it ends with ‘S’
The title may be a bit ambiguous, but you’d be amazed at how many people get it wrong when the word ends or should end with the letter ‘s’.
Here are a couple of examples. See if you can spot the problems:
- There are so many gypsys in the south-eastern countrys of Europe.
That’s right, if it ends in the letter ‘y’ and there are more than one of them, it needs to end in ‘ies’ rather than ‘ys’, i.e. ‘countries’ rather than ‘countrys’. The sentence should read:
- There are so many gypsies in the south-eastern countries of Europe.
Want to get technical? Of course, you wouldn’t be here otherwise! This one is quite tricky so pay close attention:
- The gypsies’ rights were infringed by the south-eastern European countries’ governments.
OK, this is a difficult one, but if the word ends in ‘ies’ or ‘s’ and the thing you’re describing belongs to them (in this case the governments belong to the countries) the apostrophe comes after the ‘s’.
The natural thing to want to do here is to add another ‘s’, i.e. ‘the countries’s governments’ or ‘the gypsies’s rights’. This would be wrong, though.
This rule also applies to people names, place names and company names. Here are some examples just to cement it home:
- James’ balls had never felt that flat before
- Loch Ness’ mayor gets excited when tourists flock to see his monster
- Sainsburys’ share in the consumer market is growing
5. Effect vs. affect
It’s difficult to know what affect you’re going to have if the words aren’t effective. This one was officially crowned with the grammatical query that has caused the most head scratching in history. In fact, it has been claimed that one man in New Zealand spent six full hours scratching his head over this exact issue.
Ok, so to ‘affect’ something or someone means to influence or change it:
- Osama’s ability to hide was affected when a missile destroyed his cave
- The new boss told him it was no longer appropriate to wear high heels to work. This affected him on an emotional level.
When you make something happen, it is an ‘effect’, something or someone can also ‘be effected’.
- Kim Jong-il’s new policies on dog food come into effect tomorrow
- The effect of selling millions of records meant that she could adopt the entire village’s children
Can you see the difference? The ‘effect’ of something doesn’t necessarily change or influence a person/object in a physical or emotional way – it’s the ‘affect’ that did that!
Well, there’s a summary of the most common grammatical errors to be found in the English language. There are more to come, but in the meantime, remember not to take grammar for granted.
It’s a tough world out there and if you treat grammar in the same way you’d treat a beautiful woman, grammar has the ability to reward you with one!