How you speak and write plays a big part in your level of success in life. Use a word improperly and others will instantaneously--and often unintentionally and subconsciously--judge your intelligence or education. Clearly, it's a possibility that worries people. My recent story, 20 Embarrassing Phrases Even Smart People Misuse, surfaced a slew of reader comments regarding their grammatical annoyances. Here they are, plus a few more.

Begs the question

Don't use this phrase if you really mean "raises the question." The use of "begs the question" is wording that stems from formal logic. "It's a translation of the Latin phrase petitio principii, and it's used to mean that someone has made a conclusion based on a premise that lacks support," writes Grammar Girl, who explains the complicated subject well in her blog.

Must of, should of, would of, and could of

All those "of"s should be "have." As one reader points out, the proper versions were corrupted by contractions such as "must've."

Per say or persay

Both are incorrect because the Latin phrase which means "in itself" or "intrinsically" is spelled "per se." My advice for clear and concise communication: Use an unpretentious English equivalent instead.

All the sudden

While there's some debate about whether this phrase should be "all of a sudden" or "all of the sudden," the important preposition "of" must be involved either way. According to Grammarist, the idiom dates back to Shakespeare and is merely another way of saying "suddenly."

The first year anniversary

The use of the word "year" is redundant. "The first anniversary" or "the 50th anniversary" suffice.

Worse comes to worse

Another reader points out this should be "when worse comes to worst," which indicates something has degraded from one negative plane to the lowest possible.


Think about this one for a minute. How exactly is it possible to un-thaw something? Putting the item in the freezer would work, but probably won't produce the results you intended, which is to "thaw" it.

Hot water heater

As a friend of mine points out, "If anything, it's a cold water heater." Just use "water heater."

(Someone) and I

You probably know to use the other person's name first when it comes at the beginning of a sentence, such as "Brandon and I put the presentation together." But many people don't understand that when you're talking about yourself and someone else toward the end of the sentence you should use "me" instead. For example, it would be "The CEO awarded bonuses to Brandon and me." An easy way to remember this: If you remove the other person's name it would sound weird to use "I," right?


Spell check should catch this one, but it won't help you with verbal communication. Just know "irregardless" is not a word. It's simply "regardless," as in "Regardless of what you think about grammar, you'll look silly if you use it incorrectly."

What other grammatical annoyances drive you batty?