Dr. Belmonte’s Guide for the Grammatically Impaired


1.                  a, an            Use a before words beginning with consonant sounds, including those spelled with an initial, pronounced h, and those spelled with vowels that are sounded as consonants: a historian, a one o’clock class, a university.  Use an before words that begin with vowel sounds, including those spelled with an initial, silent h: an organ, an L, an honor.

2.                  accept, except Accept is a verb meaning “receive.” Except is usually a proposition or conjunction meaning “other than.”  I cannot accept gifts except cash.

3.                  affect, effect Usually affect is a verb, meaning “influence” and effect is a noun, meaning “result.”: The drug did not affect his driving; in fact, it seemed to have no effect at all.

4.                  allusion, illusion An allusion is a reference to something, and an illusion is a deceptive appearance.

5.                  A lot A lot is always two words. 

6.            Among, between               In general, among is used for relationships involving more than      two people or things. Between is used for relationships involving only two.

6.                  assure, ensure, insure assure means “to promise:” He assured us that if we left early, we would miss the traffic. Ensure and insure often are used interchangeably meaning “make certain.”  To ensure that his family was not left destitute, he asked his employers to insure him with a life insurance policy.

7.                   Bad, badly            In formal speech and writing, bad should be used only as an adjective; the adverb is badly. He felt bad because his tooth ached badly.

8.                  Beside, besides            Beside is a preposition meaning “next to.” Besides is a preposition meaning “except” or “in addition to” as well as an adverb meaning “in addition.”

9.                  Bias/Biased  Bias is a noun;  Biased is an adjective.  His bias against students was clear in the biased way he graded their papers.

10.              Bring, take   Use bring only for movement from a farther place to a nearer one and take for any other movement.

11.              Can, may Strictly, can indicates capacity or ability, and may indicates permission: If I may talk with you a moment, I believe I can solve your problem.

12.              Disinterested, uninterested Disinterested means “impartial.” Uninterested means “bored” or “lacking interest.”  As a disinterested observer, he noticed that Professor Belmonte’s class looked uninterested.

13.              Fewer, less            Fewer refers to individual countable items (a plural noun), less to general amounts (a singular noun): Skim milk has fewer calories than whole milk.  We have less milk left that I thought.

14.              Imply, infer   Writers use imply meaning “suggest.”  Readers or listeners infer meaning “conclude.”  The frown on your face implies that you are unhappy that I inferred that you were an alien.

15.              In regards to   This phrase does NOT exist - should be “in regard to.”

16.              Irregardless    This word does NOT exist - should be “regardless”

17.              Ist/Ists  Words ending in “ist” use an “s”  in the plural.  Colonist/Colonists; Terrorist/Terrorists; Imperialist/Imperialists.

18.              Its, it’s    Its is a possessive pronoun: That plant is losing its leaves.  It’s is a contraction for “it is.” If you don’t study, it’s likely you will fail.

19.              Lose, loose            lose is a verb meaning “mislay.” Loose is an adjective meaning “not tight.”  Because the bolt is loose, you may lose the wheel.

20.              Prejudice/prejudiced  Prejudice is a noun; prejudiced is an adjective.  The man’s prejudice was obvious in the prejudiced language he used.

21.              Real, really            real should not be used an adverb; really is the adverb and real an adjective. Popular reaction to the announcement was really (not real) enthusiastic

22.              ‘s, s’, s’s  Using an apostrophe does NOT indicate plurality.  Instead, it denotes possession.  So, if one wanted to refer to two cats, the phrase is cats (with no apostrophe). If one wanted to refer to something that belonged to the cat, the phrase is cat’s (with an apostrophe).  For example, the cat’s pajamas.  If one wants to indicate something that belongs to more than one cat, the appropriate form would be cats’ pajamas.  Finally, the possessive form of a formal name ending in “s” is “s’s” (yes, it looks strange).  For example, John Lewis’s house. 

23.              Their, there, they’re            Their is the possessive form of they: Give them their money. There indicates place (I saw her standing there) or functions as an expletive (There is a hole behind you.)  They’re is a contraction for they are: Get them now – they’re going fast.

24.              To, too To is a preposition, too an adverb meaning “also” or “excessively.” I too have been to Europe.  I find it too expensive.

25.              Use/used Use is a noun; used is a verb or adjective.  The use of a knife is to cut.  Since I couldn’t afford a new car, I bought a used one.  I used to be a man, but now I am a woman.

26.              which, who Which never refers to people. Use who or sometimes that for a person or persons and which and that for a thing or things.  The baby, who was left behind, opened the door, which we had closed.

27.              Who’s, whose Who’s is the contraction of who is: Who’s at the door? Whose is the possessive form of who: Whose book is this?

28.              Your, you’re   Your is the possessive form of you: Your dinner is ready. You’re is the contraction of you are: You’re bound to be late.