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10 Common Grammar Mistakes Even Smart People Make

Not a grammar geek? Doesn't matter. Using words incorrectly can make you look bad. Here's some help.
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How well you use words can make a lasting impression on people. Wield those words skillfully and people may perceive you in any number of positive lights--as intelligent, poised, persuasive, funny, to name a few. But even one little grammatical slip can have the opposite effect.

It's a topic that worries lots of people. Inc. columnist Jeff Haden recently pointed out 30 Incorrectly Used Words That Can Make You Look Bad, which readers shared more than 75,000 times on social networks. Here are 10 more to add to the list.

Irregardless and unthaw

These are not words. "Regardless" and "thaw" are sufficient and don't need any senseless prefixes mucking them up.

Bring and take

When using these words as commands think in terms of direction. People bring things toward you and take things away from you. Correct examples: "Please bring your report to my office;" and "Please take this report to the receptionist."

Alot and a lot

Fortunately spellcheck catches this one most of the time, but know this: If you're trying to say you have an abundance of something there should be a space in "a lot."

I, me, and myself

The question of how to refer to yourself along with other people is commonly misunderstood. Most people know to say the other person's name first when it happens at the beginning of the sentence; "Mark and I went to the meeting." But when this same phrase happens at the end of a sentence people get confused, often thinking the same usage of "I" is appropriate, which it isn't.

Instead, it should be "The CEO met with Mark and me." The easy way to remember this one is to imagine removing the other person's name. It would sound weird to say "The CEO met with I," right?

As for "myself," only use it if "me" or "I" would sound awkward in its place, such as "I kept the secret to myself." Saying "Mark and myself will attend the meeting" only makes a speaker look silly when a simple "I" would have sufficed.

Impact, affect, and effect

Using "impact" as a verb has become so ubiquitous I've pretty much given up on this one, but if you want to say things like "The cutbacks greatly impacted the bottom line" know that the grammar geeks of the world may cringe. Why? Because "affected" is what you really mean and once upon a time "impact" was used strictly as a noun. Maybe you've never mastered the difference between "affect" and "effect" and use "impact" just to be safe. If that's you, it's time to understand these words now. "Affect" is a verb that means to do something that causes an "effect," which is noun. Just think of the "a" in "affect" also is used in "action," which is what verbs do.

Loose and lose

The first one means your dog escaped his kennel, your change is clinking in your pocket, or your clothes are too big. "Lose" is what happened to you when you can't find your keys, you have to settle a bet, or were beat in a game.

Overuse of apostrophes

Apostrophes indicate one of two things: Possession or letters missing, as in "Sara's iPad" and "it's" for "it is" (second "i" missing). They don't belong on plurals. When you have more than one of something there's no need to add an apostrophe. Same thing with your last name. If you want to refer to your family but don't want to list everyone's first name write "The Johnsons" not "The Johnson's." Years also shouldn't have apostrophes. For example, "1980s" is correct but "1980's" is not.

Principle and principal

These words are easily confused. One definition for "principle" is "a moral rule or belief that helps you know what is right and wrong and that influences your actions," according to Merriam-Webster.com. As for "principal" think of the person who presides over a school--someone who's first in rank. Here's a trick for keeping the two straight: The "a" in principal is first in the alphabet, just like a principal is someone who's first in rank.

Lay and lie

Generally, if you can replace the word in question with some variant of "put" or "place," use "lay." If not, use "lie." So, it should be "I need to lie down" and "He laid his keys on the table." "Lying down" gets confusing when you're talking about doing it in the past, however. For example, it should be "Mark lay on the bed after coming home from work yesterday." Take heart, even Grammar Girl has a hard time with this one. Check out her advice for navigating this minefield.

Borrow and lend

Some people incorrectly use the word borrow instead of lend. It would be wrong to say "He borrowed me his car for the afternoon" or "Can you borrow me a dollar?" The correct way: "He lent me his car" or even "He loaned me his car," although be warned that some grammar snobs take issue with using loan as a verb.

Someone doesn't borrow something to someone, but from someone, as in "I borrowed her calculator." Likewise, lending is something only a giver does. Just remember, the person doing the giving lends and the person receiving something borrows it.

Want more advice on speaking and writing eloquently? Check out 6 Words to Drop From Your Vocabulary and 7 Tips for Better Business Writing.

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