How you speak and write plays a big part in your level of success in life. Use words improperly and others will instantaneously--and often unintentionally and subconsciously--judge your intelligence or education. Check out this list of common, embarrassing errors even smart people make.

1. "Me" as the first word in a sentence.

I live in a state with a well-educated population. Even so, I hear people saying things such as "Me and Brandon met at Starbucks this morning" all the time, even though it's always wrong. "Brandon and I met at Starbucks this morning" is correct.

2. "I" as the last word in a sentence.

This mistake is remarkably common, yet a correct example would be "Karlee talked with Brandon and me." The trick to getting this one straight is to take the other person's name out of the sentence and see if your personal pronoun choice still sounds right. "Karlee talked with I" is awkward and incorrect.

3. I could care less.

"I couldn't care less" is what you would say to express maximum apathy toward a situation. Using the incorrect "I could care less" conveys that you have some care remaining that could be allocated to whatever is happening.

4. Prostrate cancer.

Certainly no one intends to talk about a kind of cancer which involves lying face down on the ground. The extra "r" here is the culprit. The correct spelling is "prostate."

5. Must of, should of, would of, and could of.

All those "of"s should be "have." The proper versions were corrupted by contractions such as "must've."

6. Make due.

When something is due, it is owed. To "make due" would mean to "make owed," but the phrase "to make do" is short for "to make something do well" or "to make something sufficient." When life gives you lemons, you make do and make lemonade.

7. Unthaw.

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 result you intended, which is to "thaw" it.

8. Hot water heater.

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

9. Shoe-in.

It's easy to see why people use this incorrect idiom because it suggests the door-to-door sales practice of moving a foot into the doorway to make it more difficult for a prospective client to close the door. Yet "shoo-in" is the correct way to indicate someone is a sure winner. To "shoo" something is to urge it in a direction, just like you could shoo someone toward victory.

10. Wet your appetite.

This expression is more often used incorrectly than correctly, yet the correct way to write it is "whet your appetite." Many people don't understand that "whet" means to sharpen or stimulate, so to "whet your appetite" means to awaken your desire for something.

11. The first-year anniversary.

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

12. Worse comes to worse.

This should be "when worse comes to worst," which indicates something has degraded from one negative plane to the lowest possible.

13. Irregardless.

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."

14. Overuse of exclamation points.

Using too many is disingenuous. In fact, writer Elmore Leonard believed a person should never use more than two or three exclamation points per 100,000 words. And never use more than one at a time. One will suffice if you reserve an exclamation point for times of genuine excitement.

15. Literally.

My 12-year-old daughter sprinkles this word throughout much of her storytelling, but it's one that should be reserved for when something actually is happening. I like how the Grammarist blog explains it: "[W]hen someone says, 'I am literally foaming at the mouth,' this literally means real foam is coming out of his or her mouth."

16. Starting a sentence with "hopefully."

"Hopefully" is an adverb that means "full of hope." At the start of a sentence what you really mean is "I hope" and you should just say it that way.

17. Tow the line.

"Toe the line" is the correct spelling. It means to do what you are expected to do or to follow the rules and is derived from runners who put their toe to the line before starting a race.

18. Improper use of apostrophes.

These little guys are ubiquitously misused. 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. "FAQs," for example, should not have an apostrophe. Also, people often make a mistake with their own 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." Another big one: Decades should not have apostrophes. For example, "1980s" is correct but "1980's" is not.

19. Subject and pronoun disagreement.

Take the sentence, "A person who smokes is damaging their lungs." See anything wrong there? You should. "A person" is--obviously--one person. But "their" is a word you would use if you were referring to more than one person. Correct sentences could either read:

"People who smoke are damaging their lungs."


"A person who smokes is damaging his or her lungs."

In the first bullet, "people" is more than one person and now agrees with "their." Note, however, that messing around with pronouns affects verbs, as well. In this instance "is" had to change to "are."

In the second bullet, the use of "his or her" can be awkward, so you can also just pick one or the other as long as you're sensitive to any gender issues a reader might raise.

20. Chock it up.

"Chalk it up" is correct, and comes from keeping score on a chalkboard. To chalk something up means to attribute it to a particular cause.

What other grammatical blunders drive you crazy?