Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Writer's Wednesday: More Grammar Tips

While this image has nothing in particular to do with grammar (other than it's the alphabet, which we use to make words, which are then misused in examples of bad grammar), it's very cool.  So enjoy!

I got an e-mail the other day with some quick grammar tips from Gotham Writer's Workshop.  Seeing as how all the tips I either needed myself or well... know some of you need ('cause who doesn't need a reminder every now and then?), I thought I'd share.

Its versus It's
This one is easy to mess up if you're not thinking about what you're writing (hello speed writing!), and it drives grammar bugs NUTS!

What a difference an apostrophe makes. Every possessive has one, right? Well, not necessarily so. It (like he and she) is a pronoun—a stand-in for a noun—and pronouns don’t have apostrophes when they’re possessives: His coat is too loud because of its color, but hers is too mousy.
Now, as for it’s (the one with the punctuation), the apostrophe stands for something that has been removed. It’s is short for it is, and the apostrophe replaces the missing in isThe parakeet is screeching because it’s time to feed him.
Here’s how to keep its and it’s straight:
  • If the word you want could be replaced by it is, use it’s. If not, use its
Who's versus Whose
The battle between whose and who’s comes up less frequently than the one between its and it’s(see above), but the problems are identical. If you can solve one, you’ve got the other one whipped.
Don’t be misled by the apostrophe. Not every possessive has one. Who (like it and he) is a pronoun—a stand-in for a noun—and pronouns don’t have apostrophes when they’re possessives: Whose frog is this?” said Miss Grundy.
Now, as for who’s, the apostrophe stands for something that has been removed. Who’s is short for who is, and the apostrophe replaces the missing in is. “And who’s responsible for putting it in my desk?”
Here’s how to keep whose and who’s straight:
  • If you can substitute who is, use who’s. If not, use whose.
NOTE: Sometimes who’s is short for who has, as in: Who’s had lunch?
Who versus Whom

Do you choke when you have to decide when to use who and whom? Here’s something I call the “him-lich maneuver.” Ask if you could hypothetically answer the question with him. If you can, use whomHim and whom both end with the letter m. This works because whom refers to objects, and him is an object pronoun, so it makes a good test case.
Who/Whom should we invite? (You could answer, “We should invite him.” You’ve got a him, so the right choice is whom.)
Who/Whom is going? (You could answer, “He is going.” Him doesn’t work, so the right choice is who.)

Each and Every

Each and every mean the same thing and are considered singular nouns so they take singular verbs. (Note the singular verbs in the following example.) If you want to get technical, you can use each to emphasize the individual items or people:
Each car is handled with care.
Inspectors scrutinize each egg to make sure it isn’t cracked.
And you can use every to emphasize the larger group:
Every car should use hybrid technology.
The Egg Farmers of America want eggs on every table for breakfast.
People often say “each and every” for emphasis, but it is redundant, and I almost always advise brevity when it comes to usage.

Hope these served as a helpful reminder!


  1. Great tips! I confess, I'm one of those who gnash teeth at its/it's and whose/who's. :) The one I have trouble with is "all" or nouns like "team" where it's hard to tell if they should be used singular or plural.

  2. Great tips. I finally figured these out about a year ago. :D

  3. I'm glad to know I knew most of these! Great tips, thanks!



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