Words to Use in Specific Grammatical Form

It is surprising how much ungrammatical writing appears in the public forum—even in
scholarship. Though gross grammatical errors are excluded from this discussion, this
category deals with errors that many people may not have known were grammatical

a/an hypothesis, historical: Use "a" if the word has a sounded "h." Use "an" with an
    unsounded "h." Only people from England or confused Anglophiles say "an hypothesis,"
    "an historical moment," or "an halibut steak."

adjectives used as adverbs: Not only is it true that adverbs modify verbs, but it also is true
    that adverbs modify adjectives. This sentence compounds the felony: "He spoke real
    good;" the expression should be "He spoke really well."

alright: This term is a barbaric misspelling. One should write "The score board displayed a
    bold ‘all right!’" not "The score board displayed a bold ‘alright!’"

alot: Nope. Write "a lot" or "many."

among: See "between."

as: The word is often misused. (1) Do not use it as a substitute for "because" or "since" ("As I
    have not heard from you, I am writing this letter"). (2) Do not use as a substitute for "such

as if: This phrase places writing in the subjunctive mood—a realm of hypothetical situations.
    In these situations, one states "were" each time one ordinarily might write "was." Hence, the
    appropriate expression is "The man looked as if he were frightened," not "The man looked
    as if he was frightened."

between: "Between" means "be twain" and twain means two. Thus, between can be written
    when contrasting two things. When more than two things are involved, substitute "among."
    Thus, do not write "I cannot tell the differences between ethos, pathos, and logos." Instead,
    write "I cannot tell the differences among ethos, pathos, and logos."

bring/take: You bring things to, you take things from.

but: In the nineteenth century people were told never to start sentences with "but." We do not
    live in the nineteenth century.

contractions: Do not use contractions in scholarly writing.

data are: Data is a plural word. For a single piece of data write either "datum" or "a piece of

different than: Things are different from each other, not different than each other.

double negatives: Watch out for double negatives. You may mean them, or you may not.
    You probably do not mean "I don’t have no pencil," which actually means that you have a
    pencil. Yet, you may mean "We were unable to reject the null hypothesis."

either/or versus neither/nor: Get the forms consistent. If you write "either," the related
    conjunction must be "or." If you write "neither," the related conjunction must be "nor."

everyone, everybody, anyone . . . their: "Everyone," "anyone," or "everybody" are singular
    terms. Do not write "Everyone should bring their notebooks." Instead use plurals ("All
    students should bring their notebooks") or use a consistent singular form ("Everyone should
    bring his or her notebook").

for: See "as."

gerunds and pronouns: A gerund is an "ing" word. Pronouns take the possessive form with
    gerunds. Thus, write "I want to extend my thanks for your spending time with me," rather
    than "I want to extend my thanks for you spending time with me."

good: Use this word in the adjective form. Do not say, "He did good," but "He did a good
    job."  But notice, "I feel well" means that one has a keen sense of touch.  On the other
    hand "I feel good" means that one is healthy.  This last example is not a failure to use an
    adverb, but a legitimate use of a predicate adjective. 

graduated: You do not graduate from college. You "are graduated" by the school.

hardly: Be careful. Adding hardly to a sentence makes the sentence into a negative claim ("he
    could hardly believe his eyes" means he nearly disbelieved his sight). Another negation
    changes the meaning entirely ("he could not hardly believe his eyes" means that he believed
    what he saw).

however: Do not use this term as a substitute for "nonetheless," "nevertheless," or "but." Do
    not start sentences with "however" (unless as an adverb, as in "However much I wanted to
    attend, I was unable to get transportation"). Start with a gutsy word instead (such as
    "nonetheless," "nevertheless," or "but"). "However" does not mean nonetheless, but "still" or
    "yet." Thus, surround "however" by commas and put in the middle or at the end of a

have went: Write "have gone" or just "went" but not "have went." Went does not require an
    additional helping verb.

infinitive, split: As an accident of the English language, infinitive forms of verbs use two
    words. For instance, "to run," "to believe," "to try" are infinite forms of the verbs "run,"
    "believe," and "try." In root languages, principally Latin, the infinitive forms were generally
    contained in a single word. Thus, we should treat such phrases as "to think" as though they
    were single words. A split infinitive sticks another word or phrase in the middle of the
    infinitive ("I wish to boldly go where no one has gone before"). Do not split the infinitive in
    formal writing (revised: "I wish to go boldly where no one has gone before").  Some writers
    believe that split infinitives are used so much that they may be employed in acceptable
    speech and writing.  Unfortunately, most people who even know what an infinitive is
    believe that you should not split them.  When all of these opponents of split infinitives are
    dead, you may use them, too.  Until then, don't.

it: Avoid using this word without a specific referent in the same sentence.

I wish I was: No way. This phrase places the sentence in the subjunctive mood. Thus, one
    must say "I wish I were . . . ." See "as if."

me/I/myself: Most people mistakenly avoid saying "me," but do not be fearful of the word.
    "They threw the ball to Tim and I" is incorrect. A way to test for the correct word involves
    casting the sentence into a form that excludes the other person. The appropriate word
    should be fairly obvious. In our case, the sentence should read, "They threw the ball to Tim
    and me" since, if we omitted the other person, the sentence would read, "They threw the
    ball to me." Similarly, do not use the word "myself" as a pseudo-elegant replacement for
    "me" as in the sentence, "You did a great favor for Bill, Betty, and myself." Use "myself"
    when there is a reference back to a personal pronoun appearing previously in the sentence,
    such as "I will fix the car myself."

more, better, greater, larger, harder, etc.: These words require a "than" somewhere in the
    sentence. Thus, it is a sentence fragment to write "Ford has a better idea" (better than
    what? better than nothing? better than the competition?). Most of the time the word may
    be replaced with other words that do not require additional words for comparisons, such
    as "improved," "increased," or "superior."

neither: See "either/or" versus "neither/nor."

none: This word is a pronoun that is a contraction of "no one." Thus, verbs associated with it
    take the singular form. Thus one states "None of us wants to see The Lost World again,"
    not "None of us want to see The Lost World again."

numbers: Never start a sentence with an Arabic numeral (though they actually were invented
    in India, our ordinary numbers are called Arabic numerals to distinguish them from Roman
    numerals). If you must start a sentence with a number, spell out the number (do not write
    "23 students took the test" but "Twenty-three students took the test").

plurals for compound words: If the words are hyphenated or separated, make the plural to
    the first word, such as "fathers-in-law" or "attorneys general."  If the term is one word,
    make the last part of the word plural, such as "spoonfuls."

pronouns: See "gerunds and pronouns."

real: "Real" is an adjective. "Really" is the adverb. Thus, one must write "He had a really good
    time," rather than "He had a real good time."

semicolons: You can get by quite well in life without using semicolons in sentences. Avoid

so: Follow this word with a comparison, such as "It was so cold the icicles had goose
    bumps." Do not use "so" as a substitute for the word "very" in formal writing ("I was so
    happy you came to my party"). Do not start a sentence with "so" as a substitute for "hence"
    ("So, we searched for an alternate route").

subjunctive mood: See "as if." When one is speaking hypothetically, the subjunctive mood is
    used. In such cases the writer should substitute "were" for the place where "was" normally
    would appear.

take: See "bring/take."

that/this: Do not use these words as pronouns unless you follow them with nouns. If you fail
    to follow this rule, the pronoun may refer to any noun or pronoun appearing previously in
    the paragraph. That condition produces what are called "indefinite pronouns."  Thus, do
    not write "This is true," but substitute "This notion is true."

that/which: Reserve the word "which" to introduce nonrestrictive clauses. Thus, write "The
    hypothesis that we tested was supported," but not "The hypothesis which we tested was
    supported."  On the other hand, write "The architect used the gingerbread style as though it
    were going out of style, which it was." Most sentences may be improved by deleting most
    uses of "that" and "which."

unique: Get it straight. Something is either unique or it is not. Something cannot be "more
    unique" than something else, nor can something be the "most unique" among others.

who/whom/whomever: These words give people grief and some grammarians have
    recommended that "whom" and "whomever" be deleted from our language. Until it
    happens, here is the rule. Use "whom" when this word takes the objective form. Thus, use
    "who" unless the following situations emerge: the object of a verb (as in "Whom do you
    trust?"); the object of a preposition ("I want to thank my father, to whom I give the credit
    for my success"). But, sometimes using whom properly requires diagramming a sentence.
    For instance, it is not proper to say "I have brought an extra pencil for whomever does not
    have one," since the object of the proposition is not "whomever" but the entire phrase.
    Thus, the sentence should state, "I have brought an extra pencil for whoever does not have
    one." Similarly, it is not appropriate to use "whom" in parenthetical statements, such as the
    following mistaken example: "Paul Newman admired Margaret Mead, whom he
    considered to be a brilliant woman." Instead, one should have written, "Paul Newman
    admired Margaret Mead, who he considered to be a brilliant woman." Since there often
    are difficulties using "whom" and "whomever" properly, many writers advise people to
    avoid using such terms altogether. Thus, instead of stating "Bill told his bad jokes to
    whomever was around [incorrect]" or "Bill told his bad jokes to whoever was around
    [correct]," one could write "Bill told his bad jokes to anyone around him."