- Don’t substitute “utilize” for “use.” It doesn’t make you sound smart. “Use” and “utilize” are not interchangeable and using the longer word in place of the shorter one doesn’t make you sound smart. “Use is the correct word when employing an object for it’s an intended purpose: Sally used a hairpin to keep hair out of her eyes during the exam. When describing an object used for other than its intended purpose, “utilize” is the correct word: After the exam, when Sally found herself locked out of her car, she utilized a hairpin to jimmy the lock.
- Don’t confuse “capital” and “capitol.” Trenton, Albany, Sacramento, Tallahassee, Concord, Montpelier, and Austin are state capitals. The gold-domed buildings in those cities, where the state legislatures meet to conduct business, are capitols. Got it?
- Which is it: it’s, its, or its’? “It’s” is a contraction of “It is.” It’s cold outside today. “ “Its” is the possessive form of an inanimate object or an animal or child of unknown gender. The Coca-Cola Company issued its annual report last week. “Its’” is not a word. Please don’t use it—especially on National Grammar Day.
- Is it “lesser” or “few”? I’m always annoyed by the signs for the supermarket express line that say: “10 or Less Items.” Here’s why they should say “10 or Fewer Items.” When talking or writing about discreet objects that can be counted individually, use “fewer.” When talking about nouns that cannot be counted individually, use “less.” Pamela had fewer coins than Rob, but her coins were quarters and his were pennies, so Rob had less money than Pamela. Here’s another one: Josephine had less flour than she thought, so she baked fewer cookies.
- Why you should not say or write “Marci left the decision to Joe and I. ”In this sentence, “Joe and I” are the objects of the sentence—the ones to whom Marci gave the decision-making power. But “I” should be used only as a sentence’s subject, not its object. The correct way to say or write this sentence is “Marci left the decision to Joe and me.” To easily decide whether to use “I” or “me,” take Joe out of the picture entirely. Would you ever say, “Marci left the decision to I”? I hope not! I also hope that it sounds so wrong that you know at once that the correct choice is “me.”
Happy National Grammar Day, my friends!