My Pet Peeves: Mistakes in English I Hate

Hope you saw my last post on avoiding mistakes in written language. Here are some pet peeves of mine—the incorrect usages that I hate to see in English. So many people are used to these errors either in speech or in writing. Some of these errors are confined to India, my country, but certain others may be universal.

  1. Using It’s instead of Its: This is a very common mistake in English. Many are prone to this. Here, I will try to clarify where to use ‘It’s’ and where to use ‘Its’.

‘It’s’ means ‘It is’ and this usage comes whenever a subject is mentioned in the third person pronoun, it:

It’s bad to interchange ‘Its’ and ‘It’s’.

On the other hand, ‘Its’ is similar to ‘his’, ‘her’, ‘their’, ‘Tom’s’, ‘Kathy’s’ etc. This is a possessive form. Example:

The dog recovered and ate its meat.

As good writers, always make sure you use the correct form in your writing. The rule of thumb to remember is “The apostrophe always hints auxiliary verb.”

  1. Use of Only to Emphasize: This mistake is mostly in the Indian context, perhaps limited to South Indian city of Chennai. I found people using ‘Only’ to give emphasis in many contexts. For instance:

“I only purchased the equipments.” When the person actually means: “I myself purchased the equipments.”

Another more deplorable example is:

“I dropped it here only.” When the person means actually: “I dropped it here itself.”

This use of ‘only’ is highly pervasive here. Avoid such uses. ‘Only’ has several meanings according to contexts, but none of them specifies that it can be used to give emphasis. Here are some examples of the correct use of ‘only’:

Only I was present at the seminar (means I was alone).

I could only watch the cruelty (means merely watch and no action).

Only if you do this, I will do that (a condition).

She landed only last week (something that happened very recently).

He has only one girl (single something).

Do not use ‘only’ to mean anything else. Also, make sure you put ‘only’ right before the word that it modifies. For instance:

“Only I brought an umbrella” as opposed to “I only brought an umbrella” or “I brought only an umbrella.” All of these sentences are correct, but they all mean different things.

In the first sentence, no one other than I brought an umbrella. The second sentence means that I brought an umbrella but didn’t use it. The third sentence means I brought an umbrella and nothing else.

  1. Even Instead of Also: This is something that I forgot recently. Fortunately, someone here in India recently reminded me by messaging to me something similar to: “I find that you are doing this. Even I am doing the same thing.”

But what he actually meant was “I am also doing the same thing.” He used even to mean also. I found so many people are prone to this error. So, let me put this down here:

Even is used to specify the greatness of something. As in sentences:

“I couldn’t recognize even my wife.” Would you say, “I couldn’t recognize also my wife” in this context? The sentence roughly means that ‘I’ am under some great memory loss that ‘I’ couldn’t recognize ‘my wife’.

Also means ‘in addition’. “I also did the same thing” means I am one of the people who did something. On the other hand, “Even I did it” means I did something humanly not possible to me, or I achieved something great that I could not have normally.

  1. Isn’t it: Many Indians are very prone to this very error. They tend to make sentences like:

Akbar is the father of Shah Jahan, isn’t it?

Shah Rukh Khan will be the greatest Indian film star, isn’t it?

These sentences exploit the general rule of question tags. Here is my post on using question tags correctly. In these sentences, the tag ‘isn’t it’ is a universal one. Many Indians tend to feel that this is correct everywhere, but it is not so. As a substitute for ‘isn’t it’ in these sentences, you can universally use ‘isn’t it so’ as in sentences:

Akbar is father of Shah Jahan, isn’t it so?

Otherwise, on using correct question tag, the sentences would be:

Akbar is the father of Shah Jahan, isn’t he?

Shah Rukh Khan will be the greatest Indian film star, won’t he?

More of the pet peeves will be added in any of the coming posts. Please voice your comments in the comment section and let me know if you have any similar linguistic or writing peeves that you want people to know of.

Copyright © Lenin Nair 2008

4 Opinions:

  1. My dear. There's an error at the very start of your piece. You say:

    ‘It’s’ means ‘It is’ and this usage comes whenever a subject is mentioned in the third person pronoun, it:

    The dog was sick. It’s legs twitched.

    Of course, you're correct that "it's" means "it is." But look at your example. "The dog was sick. It is legs twitched." ???

  2. Dear dear Elizabeth, thanks for pointing me to this error. See? I always tell my readers that I am a very lousy editor myself. Though I give them correct usage, I make the same errors. I am the culprit here. I have just made a change to that little example.

    Dear readers, as Elizabeth has pointed out, I had made a riddddiiiiculous mistake of an example in her comment. Please let me know if you find any more of such errors. This is a recurring issue with me sadly. Elizabeth, many thanks for pointing me to that error. Thanks for reading.


  3. What about using "I" instead of "me"? "That is a picture of My Sister and __(A)___." "Harvey and __(B)____ went to the river." I was taught to use the word that fits if you take the other person away from the sentence. In which case it would be:
    A - me / B - I
    Am I correct? I see people using the wrong word all the time and I feel like asking them if they even read it in their mind before posting. :/

    1. You are absolutely correct Earthgal. If a pronoun is in the objective form in a sentence, it has to be him, me, etc. For instance, some people robbed Joseph and me. But in subjective form, it has to be I or he. Ex: Joseph and I robbed some people.


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