Nine Common English Mistakes That Drive Me Crazy

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There are thousands of articles about the many grammatical errors that people make when speaking or writing English: "its" vs. "it's" and so on. But these are the nine mistakes that bug me, Mark Tapio Kines, the most.

  1. "Snuck" instead of "sneaked". I realize I'm on the wrong side of history here: "snuck" has become so commonplace that it's practically proper English. But the word just sounds so childish and uneducated. After all, we still say "leaked" and "squeaked" and "tweaked" and "streaked" (and, um, "spoke" and "broke" and "wrought" and "sought"), so what happened?
  2. Saying "I" when you mean "me". When we were kids, teachers and parents drummed the "me" out of us. Example: "Hey Mom, me and Billy are going to the park." "No, no. You must say, 'Billy and I are going to the park.'" Now we're so fixated on the "I" that people will say "let Billy and I do it" when "me" is the right word. The rule of thumb: if you'd say "me" when it's just you (e.g., "let me do it"), then you'd also say "me" when it's you and a second person (e.g., "let Billy and me do it"). And keep away from the misused "myself" (e.g., "let Billy and myself do it").
  3. "None are" vs. "none is". This rule has a couple of loopholes, but in general you should say "none is", although almost nobody does. To wit: "I invited all my cousins, but none of them is coming" is correct, though I'm sure you prefer to say "none of them are coming." I'll often say it the wrong way myself, just so I don't sound weird. But you should generally use "none" in the same manner you'd use "not one": "I invited all my cousins, but not one of them is coming."
  4. "Hoi polloi" doesn't refer to the rich and snooty, but to ordinary folks. It's an old Latin term that is sometimes mistaken for "hoity toity", since the two sound similar.
  5. "Nonplussed" means "shocked and confused", not "unfazed". Unfortunately, many dictionaries now allow for the current – and incorrect – American definition ("unfazed") just as they allow for "literally" to mean "figuratively" in some contexts. Argh.
  6. "Ambivalent" means "having strong but opposing feelings", not "indifferent". If you have a love/hate affair with something, then you're ambivalent: "I'm ambivalent about Christmas. I love the traditions but hate the commercialism." (Remember, "ambi-" means "both", as in ambidextrous or ambiguous.) It's the exact opposite of "indifferent", which means you have no strong feelings either way.
  7. "Inflammable" and "flammable" mean the same thing. This could save your life: if a sign says something is inflammable, that does not mean it's fire-resistant. In fact it means it is very likely to catch fire. But so many people have gotten confused by "inflammable" that the word is being phased out, and signs now differentiate between "flammable" and "nonflammable".
  8. "Everyday" is not "every day". "Everyday" is an adjective meaning "routine" or "ordinary". "Every day" means something that happens on a daily basis. So while it's proper to write "everyday low prices", it's not proper to write "I run everyday".
  9. "I could care less." This is an old one. If you don't care about something, then you should say "I couldn't care less." Saying "I could care less" indicates that you do, in fact, care. Just as I care about your grammar, dear reader.