Worrying words and ghastly grammar

We at addmustard know that every word counts, which is why it’s so imperative we get it right every time. That said, even the most confident writer can second guess themselves at times, especially with outdated rules, homophones, and variant spellings bounding around.

Our grammar guide offers clear navigation through the worrying world of words, allowing you to triumph gallantly with your grammar. After all, practise makes perfect… or should that be practice?*

*It’s the former. Practice is the noun, as in doctor’s practice and practise is the verb, as in to practise the piano).

Headache-inducing homophones

Homophones are one of the main reasons English can be such a difficult language to learn, and let’s face it, the vast majority of native English writers still struggle with these from one time to another. Our knowledge of homophones usually begins at primary school, yet the grammar rule of ‘it sounds the same but has a different spelling and meaning’ doesn’t always help retention of this knowledge. Whether it is there, their, or they’re; bear or bare; or you’re and your; homophones have a habit of causing headaches.

Really the only solution is to get with the program…programme? Practise really does make perfect, and a pretty sure-fire solution to this dilemma is simply to learn them. A good strategy is to consider the meaning of the words, for example, when asking someone to bear with you, you certainly wouldn’t want to use bare as you may end up in a rather awkward (and naked) situation. Similarly, it can be handy to think ‘I know it isn’t mine, therefore it must be theirs’ when trying to remember the I in their. Similarly, they’re is a contraction of they are, so simply consider whether ‘they are’ fits in the sentence.

 Exhausting apostrophes

Most of us learn fairly early on that apostrophes signify possession, such as the case of Jennifer’s or Mark’s. Simple right? Wrong! The confusion lies in the fact that apostrophes can also indicate a contraction of two words such as they’re (they are) or you’re (you are). The trick to apostrophes is actually quite straightforward. All you have to do is imagine your sentence without the contraction, ‘You are lovely’ becomes ‘You’re lovely,’ rather than ‘your lovely’ (my lovely what?!).

The same issue can be found with its and it’s. This is a common grammar hiccup, as many follow the rule of an apostrophe showing possession and then incorrectly use it’s. ‘Its’ signifies possession but has no apostrophe. As with any contraction vs possession, the only way to solve it is to remove the contraction and see if the sentence makes sense, e.g. ‘it’s landscape stretches to the sea’ would become ‘it is landscape stretches to the sea’. See? Let’s (let us) move on.

Which word?

One of the most common ‘which word?’ struggles we face tends to be that of affect or effect. They sound the same. They are almost identical in spelling. So does it really matter which we use? In short, yes it does. The affect is the cause and the effect is the outcome. So the affect causes the effect. For example, ‘The fire really affected us. The damage had a lasting effect.’

If this is still too much then just think alphabetically, the affect comes before the effect.

Who vs. whom is another grammar hurdle. The fact is the majority of us don’t use whom because a) we’re unsure when it applies and b) it sounds overly formal. However, formality should never be an excuse to avoid proper grammar, after all we all need to be formal at times, and even if you rarely use it, it is always worth knowing the difference.

Although you needn’t become an expert on this, there is a handy rule to learn. The rule states: if you can answer the question with her, him or them, then it is whom, such as in the example ‘to whom does this belong? It belongs to him’. This is also known as the ‘M rule’, as in if it can be answered with him or them then it is whom. Of course, this is weakened slightly by the possibility of the answer being her….

Who is used when the answer can be he, she or they, e.g. ‘Who said I was crying over my grammar? They did’.

Ever-evolving syntax

No matter how many ‘emojis’ are entered into the dictionary, and if no one else ever uses the royal ‘we’ other than the queen, there are some grammar tricks that will never change.

For example, there are few people who can claim they didn’t learn how to spell beautiful thanks to Jim Carey in ‘Bruce Almighty’ (B-E-A-utiful). Plus, those who can say they didn’t learn the importance of commas from the phrase ‘let’s eat grandma*/let’s eat, grandma’. A personal favourite is conquering desert vs. dessert by remembering that ‘stressed’ is ‘desserts’ spelt backwards – after all, who doesn’t want desserts more than when stressed? And of course, we couldn’t possibly write a grammar article without mentioning the marvellous mnemonics at play in ‘Matilda,’ which taught us how to spell ‘difficulty’ (Mrs D, Mrs I… etc.).

Finally, if you ever find it necessary to use necessary, then just remember ‘one collar, two socks’ and all will be well.

*Please don’t eat your grandmother.