Here are just three of the 349 easy-to-follow tips:
Its or It’s
Confusing these two (mostly using ‘it’s’ for ‘its’) is the probably the most common error made. If you learn nothing else from reading this website or my book, I shall be happy if you never make this particular mistake again!
Let’s learn this the easy way first:
1. All you have to do is to ask yourself: am I writing ‘it is’ or ‘it has’ in an abbreviated form?
Two simple ‘yes ’ examples:
It’s (it has) been raining all day.
It’s (it is ) the best book I’ve ever read.
2. If the answer is ‘no, I’m not writing ‘it is’ or ‘it has’, then I must write ‘its’.
Just learn steps 1. and 2. above, and you’ll have mastered the commonest mistake on or off the Internet! This has been enough instruction for many to stop making this mistake. If you’re happy with what you’ve learned in the two steps above, go straight to the Notes at the end.
For those who are curious to know more, look at how these words break down into grammatical units:
It’s: personal pronoun plus verb (contracted form of ‘it is’ or ‘it has’)
Its: possessive adjective
Are you aware that an apostrophe showing possession is only used with a noun (the computer’s memory, Jack’s future)?
Yes? But in case this is still not firmly stuck in your brain… I repeat: the apostrophe to show possession is only used with NOUNS.
Remembering this will stop you ever putting an apostrophe in ‘its’ (belonging to it). I repeat: ‘its’ is a possessive ADJECTIVE.
Note that the error is made far more often this way round:
This printer is the best of it’s kind.
The book is in it’s sixth edition.
This printer is the best of its kind.
The book is in its sixth edition.
– Notes –
Writers both experienced and inexperienced think they’re proving that they know that an apostrophe is used where there’s some sense of belonging. Yes, it is; but what they don’t know is that this is only true of NOUNS!
I’ll leave you with a simple example using both in the same sentence:
Where’s the parcel? It’s on its way.
Fewer or Less
‘Fewer’ is used when the number of things can be counted.
There are fewer chocolates in this box than there were last night!
‘Less’ is used when the number of things or qualities cannot be counted. ‘Less’ links with ‘amount’.
I have less need of money now than I had twenty years ago.
Confusing these two is very common, usually by saying ‘less’ for ‘fewer’ rather than the other way round. A rough guide, if you’re not sure, is to use ‘less’ with singular nouns (less food, less money) and ‘fewer’ with plural nouns (fewer leaves, fewer books).
Sat or Sitting
To write or say ‘I was sat’ is a grave error that is now so commonplace that hardly a day goes by without my hearing it. It’s quite possible that you don’t make this mistake – but a lot of people do – and it grates on me!
It took me a while to work out what was wrong, but here goes…
Let me show you two incorrect examples first:
Time sat in a traffic jam can be used for…
I was sat in my house, looking at…
Let’s correct these:
Time (spent) sitting in a traffic jam can be used for…
I was sitting in my house, looking at…
This is a continuous/progressive use of the verb; in other words, the action goes on for some time. These tenses are formed from the present tense (sleep, swim, lose, etc.) plus –ing (with sometimes a slight change in the last letter):
I was sleeping, you were swimming, they were losing
I was sat?
I was sitting.