Are you a grammar whiz who always nails the use of their/they’re/there? Do you scoff at people who confuse the apostrophe in it’s versus its? Some grammar mistakes are so common that people know to look for them immediately, but others are more sneaky and might slip by unnoticed. Below is a list of some lesser known grammar mistakes that you might not realize you’ve been making.
Who vs. Whom
The distinction here is based on whether you are referring to a subject or an object of a clause, and there is a simple trick to help you remember which one is appropriate. Use who if the word can be replaced with he, she, or they. Use whom if the word can be replaced with him, her, or them. For example:
- Sabrina, who runs the salon downtown, is our neighbor.
She runs the salon downtown.
- Who ate the rest of the cereal?
Alex ate the rest of the cereal.
He ate it.
- Whom did you call for a ride to the airport?
I called Max.
I called him.
- I was surprised to see so many people at the party, some of whom I didn’t recognize.
I didn’t recognize them.
Less vs. Fewer
Less and fewer are some of those word modifiers that you might get wrong without understanding why. The simple explanation is that these words are used based on whether the noun they are referring to is countable or uncountable. Fewer should be used for anything you can count, like bananas, parties, or puppies. Less should be used for anything that is a singular mass and can’t be counted, like pasta, money, or happiness.
- We should cook fewer sausages because not everyone is coming to the barbecue.
- I bought fewer apples this week because no one eats them anymore.
- I need less time to get ready in the morning since I started showering at night.
- I used less sugar in this batch of cookies.
Farther vs. Further
We hear this one used incorrectly all the time! These two words are so similar that sometimes people don’t bother to differentiate, or they just don’t care. Farther is only used in terms of physical distance while further is used in the figurative sense.
- How much farther do we have to walk?
- I traveled 10 miles farther because of the detour.
- I have no further questions.
- The book was boring so I didn’t want to read any further.
Altogether vs. All together
Another confusing set of words that seem to be misused frequently is altogether vs. all together. A lot of people just throw in whichever one looks best in the sentence they are using, without considering the grammatical rule. The words are similar but they don’t function as the same part of speech. Altogether (one word) should only be used as an adverb to mean completely or entirely. All together (two words) is used to describe people or things brought together or united.
- My brothers were home for the holidays, and we were happy to be all together again.
- The students gathered ingredients and put them all together to make a casserole.
- There were big thunderstorms in the area so our flight was canceled altogether.
- Altogether, I have 22 students in my class.
Besides vs Beside
If you’ve gotten caught up on the subtle difference between beside and besides, don’t fret! You’re definitely not the only one to wonder about when to use the “s” and when to leave it out. The good news is that besides and beside have completely different meanings, despite the spelling similarity.
Beside is used as a preposition to talk about location.
- The lamp is beside the bed. (next to)
- I put the book beside your purse. (next to)
Besides is also used as a preposition and can mean “in addition to” or “except”
- Besides pancakes and eggs, I also ordered a cinnamon roll. (in addition to)
- No one in our house eats breakfast besides me. (except)
Besides can also be used as a way to introduce more information. In these cases it is an adverb, not a preposition.
- My parents don’t want a dog, but I’m going to adopt one on my own. Besides, I will be moving out in a few months so I can take it with me.