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Six Grammar Tips to Make You Sound Smarter

Aug 3, 2012 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 1 Comments

Some grammar mistakes are obvious: the “it’s vs. its,” “your vs. you’re,” and “there / their / they’re” errors are common and detrimental to anyone’s writing. But some are less common—and some of your professors may not even know the difference. Getting these right, however, will definitely make you sound smarter.

Fewer vs. less

Using “less” when you mean “fewer,” and vice versa, is a common grammatical mistake. It’s one that not every professor will notice, but the English professor probably will—and if you use the words correctly, it will definitely make you look more articulate and like a better writer. Use “less” for things you can’t count—“I ate less ice cream than you last night”—and “fewer” for things you can—“I have fewer shoes than I used to.”

Me vs. myself
It’s not unusual for people to attempt to sound smarter by injecting the word “myself” when what they really mean is “me.” For instance, a sentence like “Give it to Bob or myself” is not just
pointlessly complicated; it’s also grammatically wrong. Using it in
writing makes your writing seem fussy, self-conscious, and concerned
with getting it right. The test to see whether you should use “myself”
is to remove the other pronouns in the sentence and see if it makes
sense. “Give it to myself” isn’t a winner; “Give it to me” is.


Acing that difficult written assignment or essay isn’t always easy—but it will always be easier if your grammar is good.


Careful with the capitalizations

Never capitalize a word to give it emphasis. While style guides vary as to what should and shouldn’t be capitalized, in general, you will always be safe capitalizing the first letter in the first word of a sentence or the name of a proper noun such as a person or place. Titles are a bit more difficult, and that’s where you see the more subtle mistakes. For example, when writing “President Obama,” you should capitalize the p in President. However, if you’re writing “the president”—i.e. you are not using the name as part of the title—then you should leave it lower-case.

Commas in a list

Technically, it’s now correct to leave off the last comma in a list: for example, “My favorite colors are red, green and blue.” However, not everyone is on board with this change in grammatical thinking. Generally speaking, if you’re going for a relaxed, casual tone in your writing, it’s OK to leave out that comma. But if you’re writing something more formal—such as a class assignment or a dissertation—you should always leave it in: “I can't decide on an online degree in teaching, business, or nursing” This not only makes your writing sound a bit more formal—it also saves you from criticism from professors who still stick to the old ways.

Who vs. that

It’s not unusual to switch these up, but it’s incorrect—and professors who are pickier about grammar will definitely notice when you get it wrong. Use “who” only to refer to people, and “that” to refer to non-people. For example, “Companies that pollute should be fined” is correct, and so is “people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”

Singular vs. plural matching

In a sentence such as “Neither of these shirts is red,” you’re probably tempted to say, “Neither of these shirts are red.” Actually, the is / are here is referring back to the singular “neither,” not the plural “shirts.” To see if this rule applies to the sentence construction you’re using, remove the phrase “of these…” from it, and see if it makes sense with “are” or “is.”

Acing that difficult written assignment or essay isn’t always easy—but it will always be easier if your grammar is good. Don’t just avoid the really obvious mistakes—make an attempt to avoid every grammatical error, even the less well-known ones. If you do, chances are your writing will be graded consistently higher. If you are in need to some help in the grammar department check out these excellent online grammar courses: Grammar Mechanics Brush-Up, Taking the "Grr" Out of Grammar, and Grammar Brush Up Bundle.


James Over a year ago

And don't use "towards." Ain't got no S.

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