Amongst the funniest mistakes in the English language are those where a writer simply chooses the wrong word for a given situation. Although this can happen to anyone, there are several words in English grammar which crop up again and again as culprits, as people just can’t seem to master their exact usage. We’ve picked out some prime examples, with top tips for making sure you only use them in the right place!
Less and Fewer
Less and fewer are frequently confused in English grammar, even though the rule for which one to use is really quite simple.
‘Less’ is used to describe a smaller amount of something that cannot be quantified or easily counted in separate units.
For example: It is less sunny today than it was yesterday
‘Fewer’ is used to describe a smaller amount of something that can be counted or measured in units or sections.
For example: There are fewer apples on the tree this year
However many people simply use the word ‘less’ indiscriminately for both purposes, so it is one of the top mistakes on our list of wrong word usage! As this cartoon shows, the mistake is extremely widespread, with many supermarkets advertising a grammatically incorrect aisle for ’10 items or less’.
Quite and Quiet
Because of their close similarity in spelling, these words are often frequently misused as they are mistaken for one another. Just remember, quiet means not very loud, but quite means to a certain extent.
For example: I thought the piano concerto was quite good. Unfortunately it was very quiet – I thought it should have been played louder.
Remembering the phonetic sounds of these words can help with learning to spell them correctly. When you say the word ‘quiet’ out loud, it is very clear that there is an extra vowel sound before the ‘t’ is pronounced, so this should help you remember to put the ‘e’ before the ‘t’ not after!
Unfortunately this poor interviewer has made the mistake of confusing the two words on his door sign! He means to ask people outside the room to keep quiet for the sake of the interviewee, but instead has suggested that it must be ‘quite’ an interview! Let’s just hope the job doesn’t involve too much grammar!
Except and Accept
Another real English grammar sticking point, these words are some of the most commonly misused in the language! Yet again, the difference between them is really quite clear, and the rule can be easily learned!
Except means ‘apart from’
For example: Everyone except Tom is going to the cinema
The easiest way to remember this spelling is to think of the word ‘exception’ – if something is being left out then it is the ‘exception’ to the general rule.
Accept means ‘to take’ something being offered or suggested
For example: “Will you accept this gift?” Or “Will you accept that you were wrong?”
So this chemist’s sign would make a lot more sense if they had used the word ‘accept’ instead!