Avoiding common usage errors in the English language

by | Sep 8, 2010 | Grammar & Spelling

Alexis Bonari is joining me today as a guest blogger here at In Our Write Minds. Today, Alexis shares some helpful tips on commonly confused—and misused—words.

It’s difficult for any teacher to contradict the overwhelming number of usage errors in everyday writing, but English students should be taught how to discern correct from incorrect word usage.

Errors from billboards, magazine articles, and even television captions can have a profound effect on a child’s understanding of the English language.

The following are some of the most common usage errors found in today’s written communication, so help your students identify the mistakes to keep them out of their own writing.

Went vs. Gone

Many errors involving this pair of words include “have went,” which is incorrect. The word “went” should never be used in conjunction with “have.” If you need to communicate a past-tense version of “go” with the word “have,” the correct choice is the past participle: “have gone.”

Than vs. Then

When comparing two different things, people, or ideas, the word “than” is useful. For example, you could say, “Those apples are riper than the peaches.” A comparison should not involve the word “then,” which is used to specify time or sequence. A correct use of this word would be “She peeled the apples first, then the peaches.”

Have vs. Of

The phrases “should of,” “could of,” and “would of” are always incorrect. The word “of” is a preposition that often indicates the relationship of a part to a whole, as in “Grandma ate the last piece of pie.” In order to make the incorrect phrases above correct, the word “have” should be substituted for “of”: should have, could have, would have.

Loose vs. Lose

Learning the difference between these two words is relatively simple: “loose” is an adjective and “lose” is a verb. The former describes something, as in “He didn’t like to wear loose clothing when playing tennis.” The latter is used as a way to convey a sense of action, so you could say, “They always lose when they play Monopoly.”

Fewer vs. Less

One way to decide which of these words is appropriate is to figure out whether or not the items being described are countable. With tangible, countable items, the word “fewer” should be used, as in “There were fewer girls than boys at the party.” When describing a more abstract concept, use “less.” For example, “He was less apprehensive about his interview once he had taken a few deep breaths.”

Bio: Alexis Bonari is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

Photo: Public Domain


  1. Kylie

    I find the issue with loose vs lose is not that people don’t know the appropriate word to use but that they can’t spell. Both the oo and the o make the same sound while the se represents /s/ and /z/ respectively. If you don’t know how to spell the words correctly, sounding them out doesn’t really help and so loose and lose are interchanged.

    • Kim

      That’s a great point, Kylie. Both poor spelling and unfamiliarity with terms trip people up on a regular basis. Thanks for taking a moment to comment!

  2. JoJo Tabares

    Indeed! The sign struck me funny, though. Maybe she does want the door close. If the door opens out, it could be too far away. lol


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