Grammar check: further or farther – do you get it right?

I recently hesitated when I wrote the phrase “look no further,” referring to a search for Thanksgiving recipes. Was that correct? I thought back to the old rule reminding me that farther meant physical distance and further, well it’s different, but I couldn’t remember exactly why.

Jump to Grammarly, which explains it in detail, yet I’m still a little confused. Here is what seems clear to me about further and farther:

Farther connotes distance, but it can also refer to a more advanced point.

Both further and farther are adverbs, but further can also be a verb, as in, “She furthered her career” as well as an adjective, such as, “pursuing further information.” Still okay, but now things get murky:

Grammarly poses the question, “How do the definitions of farther and further overlap? Can you use further or farther away in the same way?” The answer:

“Some usage guides disagree, but both terms have been used interchangeably to describe physical distance.”

The following examples of confused me even more:

“The further from one another, the nearer one can be.”—August Strindberg, The Road to Damascus

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now . . . Come further up, come further in!” —C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle

I felt a little better after I read further (haha, get it?).

The Chicago Manual of Style defers to Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary, which says:

“Farther and further have been used more or less interchangeably throughout most of their history, but currently they are showing signs of diverging. As adverbs they continue to be used interchangeably whenever spatial, temporal, or metaphorical distance is involved. But where there is no notion of distance, further is used.”

Their final tip is to remember that only further means moreover.

I’m probably going to do what I usually do when I’m unsure of correct usage, which is to rewrite the sentence so I don’t have to deal with it!

Do you have the further/farther rule down? What’s your secret?

By the way, when I ran the Spelling & Grammar check on this post, Microsoft Word gave me a 90%. That’s one of their new, annoying features.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite Jackson Browne songs, Farther On.

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Free or For Free???

I’ve been thinking a lot about which is correct: “free” or “for free.”  

Grammar Monster says “Strict grammarians will tell you that ‘for free’ is grammatically incorrect because ‘free’ is not a noun, and this means it cannot be preceded by ‘for’ (a preposition). In their view, something is ‘sold for nothing’ or is ‘sold free.’ However, through common usage, ‘for free’ has become acceptable.”

Collins Dictionary, My English Teacher, and StackExchange back this up. What do you think? Leave a comment!

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Grammar check: inbetween, in between, in-between or just plain between?

On the question of inbetween, in between, in-between or just plain between, which is correct? First off, inbetween is not a word, so let’s throw that in the bad grammar bin right away.

But when/if should you use in between, in-between and between?

Catherine Traffis of Grammarly confirms my first statement and says:

  • In between should always appear as two words. Although inbetween is common, it is a misspelling and does not appear in any English dictionary.
  • Unnecessarily adding in to between is also a common grammatical mistake.
  • As a compound adjective, in-between should be hyphenated.

This Business Writing blog post by James Smith explains further:

  • Inbetween is an improper form of the word and should not appear in writing.
  • In between is generally accepted in speech, but when writing, eliminate “in” and use the more concise “between” instead.
  • In-between is grammatically correct when the word is used as an adjective, indicating an existence between two abstract intermediary stages.

In summary, instead of in between, just say or write between. And when you’re describing the middle part of something, use in-between. Eliminating all use of inbetween is easy to remember and getting rid of the in when you really just mean between is also easy. If you’re still not sure about in-between, here’s an example

My once-short hair is at that awkward in-between stage where it’s both too short and too long!

Make sense?

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Common grammar mistakes that make a bad impression

Image: Pixabay

When my kids were little, they liked to play an arcade game on our computer. This was before the age of cell phones and tablets for every person over 5, so the family computer was where they played. The game had been a birthday present for one of them and was a low-budget addition to something else they’d received. The first time they played, when the game was over, the results appeared on the screen: “Winner” or, if things didn’t go well, “Looser” – that’s right L-O-O-S-E-R. I’ve always thought it was pretty harsh to call someone a loser, but we had a big laugh over how the makers of the game needed a spelling/grammar lesson. Years later, this little joke still comes up in conversation.

This article on cnbc.com about common grammar mistakes (written or spoken) made me think about that computer game and sure enough, lose vs. loose is on the list. Here are some very basic explanations. Some may be obvious to you, but I like having a refresher!

  • UNNECESSARY APOSTROPES: Resist the urge to add an apostrophe just because a word ends in “s.” Apostrophes are for contractions like can’t or to show possession. “I can’t go to the movies because I have to pick up my sister’s dress at the store.” I don’t usually go wrong with this one, except when showing possession for a person whose last name ends in “s.” Then it seems as if anything goes. Some people put an apostrophe with no “s” and other people put an apostrophe and another s. As in Ross’ book or Ross’s book. Which is it? Is that a regional thing?
  • EVERYDAY VS. EVERY DAY: This one’s not too hard. “These are my everyday shoes, as in the ones I wear every day.”
  • I VS. ME: Use I when it’s the subject of the sentence. Use me after a preposition. “I went to the store.” “Those cupcakes are for Joe and me.” Now, here’s a question for you: do you say, “It is I” when you’re calling someone or knocking on their door? It sounds so formal! I break the rule and say, “It’s me” and hope the grammar police aren’t on the other side of the door!
  • IT’S VS. ITS: For this one, think contraction vs. possession. Back in the days of yore when the landline rang and you were expecting a call, you’d run to the phone before anyone else could get it and on your way you’d call out, “I’ve got it. It’s for me!” Use its with no apostrophe to show possession, as in, “The storm reared its ugly head.”
  • LESS VS. FEWER: The general rule is to use fewer when it’s something that can be counted. Think about the signs at the express lanes in the grocery story. They often say “20 items or less” but that’s wrong. They should say “20 items or fewer.” Use less when the number can’t reasonably be counted (like snowflakes in a snowstorm) or when the number is part of a total unit like “less than 50 percent.” 
  • LIE VS. LAY: I’m not gonna lie 😉, I work hard to avoid using these words altogether, especially lay. But here’s what to do. Say “I want to lie down” if you’re tired and need a rest and “Lay that book on the table” when you’re referring to an object.
  • LOSE VS. LOOSE: Lose refers to a competition or simply misplacing something. Loose means the opposite of tight.
  • THAT VS. WHO: That refers to things and who refers to people. What about book characters? Are they people or things? Does anyone know the rule for that?
  • THEN VS. THAN: Then refers to a period of time. Use than when you’re comparing things.
  • THERE/THEIR/THEY’RE: This one’s easy. There shows direction, their shows possession and they’re is a contraction for “they are.”
  • YOUR VS YOU’RE: Also easy. Your shows possession and you’re is a contraction for “you are.”

I often refer to Grammarly, a free site that helps me set things straight. If you’re looking for more, you can check out this article, “15 Best Online Grammar Checker Tools for 2022” from firstsiteguide.com. Some of these are free but others are paid.

I always had a hard time with grammar and tenses when I studied French. I can’t imagine keeping this straight if I were learning English as a second (or third) language. Have you had the same experience when learning another language?

I’ve made many grammar mistakes over the years, including a recent misspelling in a literacy tweet I did for work. Talk about embarrassing. I think I caught it before anyone noticed, but I’ll never know for sure. If it ever comes up, my plan is to blame it on autocorrect! Would anyone else like to join me on the grammar/misspelling wall of shame? Leave your confession in the comments! And if you see an error in this post, typo or otherwise, let me know in the comments and I’ll fix it!

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Happy National Punctuation Day!

Did you know that today is National Punctuation Day? Who knew there was whole day set aside to think about punctuation?

I could probably use a brush-up on these rules. One of my kids recently told me that he got major points off an essay I had checked because of a run-on sentence. I guess I didn’t catch a misused comma or semicolon! So much for bragging about being an English major in college…

To celebrate this big day, I grabbed these grammar and punctuation books at the library. I’m going to flip through them and try to nail down some of my comma weaknesses!

Here’s the full list, with links to Goodreads.

Gwynne’s Grammar: The Ultimate Introduction to Grammar and the Writing of Good English by N.M. Gwynne

The Associated Press Guide to Punctuation by Rene J. Cappon

Semicolon: The Past, Present, and Future of a Misunderstood Mark by Cecelia Watson

Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer

Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris

In case you were wondering, National Punctuation Day was founded in 2004 by a guy named Jeff Rubin (nationalpunctuationday.com). You can learn more about Jeff here.

What are your biggest punctuation weaknesses?

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Grammar check – dos and don’ts or do’s and don’ts?

Image: Pixabay

How do you feel about adding that apostrophe to dos, even though it’s technically wrong and only there to make things look better?

I mean, if you add an apostrophe to do’s, to be consistent, you’d need to an extra apostrophe to don’ts so that it looks like:

do’s and don’t’s

That looks weird. And on this everyone seems to agree. But the grammar and style experts disagree about that extra apostrophe.

The AP Stylebook says do’s and don’ts. We happened to have a copy here, so I looked it up.

The Chicago Manual of Style recommends dos and don’ts (I don’t have a copy to check and you need an online subscription to access).

The rule across the board is whichever style you prefer, stick with it. If you need more info, here’s a post from vocabulary.com about the dos and don’ts on do’s and don’ts.

Which do you prefer? I prefer dos and don’ts. It seems more pure to me. And by the way, is it correct to say more pure or purer? I’ll tackle that on a different day!

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Grammar check – lay low or lie low?

Image: Pixabay

I recently read a book in which many of the characters were advised to lay low because danger lurked and they didn’t want to be found out. This is a commonly used phrase and we all know what it means, but did you know that the correct advice would be to lie low?

I talked about the lowdown on lay and lie in a post a couple years ago, but not specifically about laying low or lying low.

Merriam-Webster says lay low is a transitive verb and that it means “to bring or strike to earth or to knock out of a fight or out of action.”

So the person on the other end of laying low is not exactly staying out of danger, maybe just the opposite!

LawProse offers more explanation and sites some examples from a documentary that got it wrong and a journalist who got it right.

Which way do you say it? If we all know what it means to lay low, should it matter? I like to follow the rules, so I vote for lie low. But maybe saying lay low is more authentic to a character in a book. I don’t know. Leave a comment and tell me what you think.

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Grammar check – past tenses of dream, learn, dive, loan and lend – what are they?

Images: Pixabay

Ever use the past tense of one of these words and wonder, “Did I get that right?” And have you wondered if there’s a difference between loan and lend?

The answer is technically no, with a couple explanations. Here’s a rundown of the past tenses of these words, plus a quick explanation of loan and lend.

Dreamed and dreamt – they’re both right, but dreamed is more common in both American and British English. It’s okay to use dreamt, though, especially if you’re a poet or songwriter and need something to rhyme with exempt. Check out the full explanation on writingexplained.org.

Learned and learnt – also both right, but most Americans and Canadians use learned and, according to Grammarly, the rest of the world uses learnt.

Dived and dove – both are correct. Dived is more traditional choice and dove is the more modern usage (from the 1800s though). This, all according to merriam-webster.com.

Loan and loaned vs lend and lent – guess what? Loan and lend mean the same thing when they refer to supplying someone with something. Loaned is the past tense of loan and lent is the past tense of lend. So either word, in present or past is fine in this context. But the word lend has a lot of other definitions. Check out the explanation on dictionary.com.

Me? I say dreamed, learned, dove and loaned. What do you say? Leave a comment and let me know!

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Grammar talk: misspelled words and other confessions

Images: Pixabay

Everyone makes mistakes and I’ve made many over the years. Misspelling or misreading words can certainly get us into trouble, but they are also good opportunities to laugh at ourselves. Here are my top five:

  • I went a long time before I knew how to spell Connecticut correctly: it wasn’t until I was nineteen and got a job in a bank on Connecticut Avenue in Washington, D.C. – that’s when the head teller set me straight!
  • I always thought the proper way to describe my neighbors in the next house was to say “next store neighbors.”
  • When I had my own desktop publishing business, I designed a brochure for a small trust company, with a lighthouse as their logo, and misspelled “Beacon” on the cover.
  • Once I took a shower at a summer rental, misread the shampoo label and washed my hair with dog shampoo.
  • Recently, when serving applesauce at dinner, I put the shaker of cumin out instead of cinnamon.

What funny mistakes have you made? Leave your best ones in the comments section!

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Grammar check – three word mistakes – let’s admit we aren’t perfect!

Images: Pixabay

I’m all for getting words right, but I also admit that I’ve gotten things wrong over the years. Here are three commonly misused words or pairs of words. Let’s have a full confessional – have you made these mistakes, or ones like them?

Intensive purposes – what does that mean exactly? Strong or extreme purposes? What you’re really trying to say is “for all intents and purposes,” meaning practically speaking.

Gauntlet vs. gamut – You can run both the gauntlet and the gamut, but they mean different things. A gauntlet used to be a punishment where you got hit when you ran through two rows of people (no thanks!) and a gamut is a range of options. I think I’d rather run the gamut. How about you?

Flout vs. flaunt – They don’t mean the same thing. Flout means to ignore the rules. Flaunt means to show off.


Bonus bogus words and phrases that are catching on:

I’ve spent a lot of time listening to youth sports talk and have noticed that kids (and adults) have begun using these phrases interchangeably:

Out of bounds and out of balance – as in, “That ball was way out of balance!” In our little world, that means out of bounds.

Versing – as in, “Next week, we’re versing the blue team!” I hear this all the time and I’ve even heard it on TV sports. I think this is one word that will definitely morph into legitimate usage.

Do you have other examples of misused words?

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