Everyday Grammar Fails


Every single day I see the following errors in English:

  • Stationery, as in paper and office supplies, spelled stationary, which means not moving. Correct usage: I bought some stationery today
  • Discreet, as in cautious, careful, spelled discrete, which means separate or individually distinct. Correct usage: We did some discreet investigating
  • Flaunt (show off ostentatiously) used instead of flout (show disregard for). Correct usage: He flouted the rules whenever it suited him. He flaunted the fact that he had lots of money.
  • Infer instead of imply. The rule is that the sender implies, the receiver infers
  • Chomping at the bit instead of champing at the bit A horse champs at the bit in its mouth, eager to get going. Chomping implies eating something noisily.
  • Literally used as a synonym for figuratively. As in I literally died of fright. Thanks to people like the Kardashians, literally seems to now mean figuratively as well as literally. In which case, why use it at all?
  • Your used instead of you’re. As in your welcome. Your is genitive (possessive) as in your jacket is here. You’re is a contraction of you are.
  • Amount used instead of number. Amount is uncountable and number is countable. The number of people there was surprising.
  • Should of/would of/could of instead of should have/would have/could have
  • Apostrophes to denote plurals. I have three Filofax’s 
  • on tender hooks instead of on tenterhooks

And the worst thing for me is, the perpetrators of these mistakes (I call them mistakes as they are permanent, rather than errors which are intermittent) are not non-native speakers of English. They are native speakers of English. Who have probably spent more time watching television than reading books. Non-native speakers generally either do not use these terms at all or use them correctly – their main problem is irregular verbs and subject-verb agreement. And they are definitely not dyslexic as dyslectics tend to have problems with writing in general, not just certain expressions.

Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

5 thoughts

  1. I am not a native English speaker. You are right about we don’t make the mistakes you mentioned in this post.
    One more common mistake for non native English speaker though – gender! I speak English since the age of 3 but still I make mistake on he/she. I know he is for male and she is for female, trust me, but since my language doesn’t have gender, my brain is somehow wired in such a way that I don’t think about gender when I am speaking. For a long time, I thought it’s only a problem for Chinese speaker, but then I notice my Estonian friend who speaks perfect English since young age has the same problem! I asked her and she said they don’t have gender in their language either, ha!

    1. Yes you are right – Estonian does not have gender so they have difficulties with it. Japanese people tend to have difficulties with pronouns as well. Russians have a problem with word order and Polish people have a problem with articles (the and a).

  2. I feel your pain! I lecture journalism in a university and I have a pointy stick of doom to deal with students who write should of/could of … And alright is never all right. All right!

  3. And when did “gift” and “author” become verbs? Worse still, why all the apostrophes everywhere? People, if something isn’t possessive or a contraction, it doesn’t need an apostrophe.

    Rant over.

    (Love your blog.)

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