Passed and Past

This is another one of those sets of words that I don’t quite understand why there is all the mix-up.

Passed

Use passed if you are using a form of the verb “to pass.” If you can write the sentence in the present tense using pass, you want to use passed for the past tense.

The teacher learned that none of the students passed the test.

The teacher suspected that none of the students would pass the test. See?

Amy passed the Brussels sprouts.

After a long illness, the woman passed away.

Past

Use past when you are referring to a time or a distance.

The team performed better during past seasons than they are now.

The girl walked her dog past the school.

In the past, people used more horses than automobiles.

So, to recap:

People aren’t past away; they passed away.

You don’t walk passed the library; you walk past the library.

Who or Whom?

Do you use who or whom? There is a lot of confusion about these two pronouns. The answer is you use who if it refers to the subject of the sentence and whom if it refers to the object in the sentence. Clear as mud, huh? It may be hard to remember those days of diagramming sentences in English class (do they even do that anymore?), but actually this is quite simple.

Who

When you’re using who, the person you’re talking about is the one doing something in the sentence.

Who cleaned up the table?

Whom

When you use whom, you are talking about someone as the object in the sentence.

Georgia invited whom?

Georgia is the subject of the sentence, and whom is the object because you want to know who she invited.

Quick Trick

If you can restate the sentence using the words him or her, use whom.

Georgia invited him.

Remember the m on the end of both him and whom and you’ll do all right. :)

Putting Your Best Foot Forward

What you write represents you to your readers. In other words, if you don’t make a good first impression, they may put down your book or click away from your website. Misspellings, grammatical errors and other problems with your writing can send people running away as fast as they can. If you want to be taken seriously in your field, don’t write with any errors. Too much pressure, you say? Ah, this is where your friendly, neighborhood editor comes in.

It is the editor’s place to make you look your best. They polish up your writing and present you as shiny and clean as your mother did when you were a child. No spelling mistakes, no writing errors. It is the equivalent of washing the barbecue sauce off your chin and combing your hair.

Let’s say you have a website where you offer your educated opinion in your niche market. Do you really think anyone will take you seriously if you don’t have all your T’s crossed and your i’s dotted?

What about submitting a manuscript to an agent? If you don’t clean it up and tighten up your writing, you have a good chance of ending up in the slush pile that no one reads.

Have an editor go through your writing. Don’t choose your friend, the English teacher… s/he means well, but they have not been trained in editing material for conciseness and grammatical correctness. Pay the fee and hire a real editor. They come in a wide range of pay scales online. Choose one you get along with that you can afford. Let them do their job and you’ll look perfect to your readers.

Which Witch?

One error that really bothers me, and I see it in emails all the time, is which and witch. Again, this one should be obvious, right? You wouldn’t say, “Witch one do you want?” Yet, people do. This is one of those errors that makes me want to slam my head into my desk.

Witch

Witch, witchcraft, witches at Halloween, witches in books…. this is nothing more nor less than a name for a type of person. Whether they are modern witches who practice paganism or witches of yore in stories, this word describes a particular type of person. With the popularity of Harry Potter, you’d think that this meaning would be even clearer.

Hermione was the brightest witch of her age.

Which

Which is a word that offers us a choice. Which one do you want? This is the correct usage. Which lets us know what our options are.

Which sandwich do you prefer; chicken or beef?

Please, please, please don’t use witch when you should use which.

Weather or Whether?

This should be a no-brainer, but alas, it isn’t so. I see it all the time in emails and blog posts. When do you use weather versus whether?

Weather

Well, the word weather obviously should be used if you are talking about how sunny it is outside, or how the rain is pouring down. Thunderstorms, rainbows and starry nights all relate to weather.

Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful…

Whether

Whether indicates that there is a choice to be made.

He didn’t know whether to go with the chicken or the roast turkey for his sandwich.

Please, if you’re writing about a choice, don’t use weather! Use whether!

Wether

For you livestock fans, there is a third choice. Luckily it isn’t a term in common use among the majority out there or we’d probably have this in the mix, too. Wether is a neutered male sheep or goat.

The wether nuzzled against her hand, looking for a treat.

Irregardless is Redundant

It’s true. While many people use the word “irregardless” when they speak and you can actually find this word in many dictionaries now, it is not a proper word, or as the dictionaries say, it is nonstandard. Most of our dictionaries today are descriptive rather than prescriptive; they reflect words in common usage rather than suggest what usage should be.

Let’s take a look at the word.

Irregardless.

It is often mistakenly used instead of the word “regardless.” Regardless already means “without regard.” So, adding the suffix -less turns the word regard into a negative. Adding the prefix ir- makes it a double negative. This makes irregardless mean “without without regard.”

I seriously doubt most people who say irregardless mean without without regard. So does that mean they do have regard for the topic at hand? 😉

So, if someone says the word irregardless to you, you can ask them to clarify their stance, as they are being redundant.

They were looking forward to attending the game, regardless of the outcome.

Doesn’t that sound better?

Could of, Should of, Would of… Wrong!

When we talk, it is common to use the words could, should and would. We naturally contract these words when we talk to make conversations flow better. For example, I would’ve gotten another color, but this is all they had.

The problem comes in when people try to write it out. They hear it in their heads and write would of instead of would’ve. It works the same way with could’ve and should’ve.

The old adage, Could’ve, Should’ve, Would’ve… is correctly written here. This is because each of these words is the contraction for could have, should have, and would have.

There is no such phrase as could of or would of or should of. Yes, it sounds like it, but it is really have. This also occurs with must’ve, which is a contraction of must have, not must of. Of is not a verb, while have is. Just try to conjugate “of” and you’ll find you can’t, while you can say I have, He has, She had, etc.

Wow, I could’ve had a V-8.

I should’ve double checked my spelling before I handed in my essay.

I would’ve chosen an apple instead.

Why not commit this to memory so your next letter or memo to the boss doesn’t contain this nonexistent phrase? :)

Used To or Use To?

Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of people writing “use to” when they should have added the d to the end. I’ve even had this discussion with my own husband. Some people think the d is not used here because they don’t hear it… the d and t sounds kind of meld together when we speak. However, in most cases, it is proper to say “used to” because of the intent of the sentence.

Used to can be used as an adjective in a sentence like this: I am used to eating on the run.

In this instance, the phrase “used to” means you are accustomed to something.

Used to can also be used as a verb in the past tense, since it is used in conjunction with “to be.” I used to enjoy climbing trees as a child.

Use to is also a verb used for the past tense, but you don’t need the d if you have the past tense of to be is used instead. I didn’t use to like mushrooms.

Because I used “didn’t” in that sentence, which is a past form of “to be,” I don’t need to add the d on use.

This may take a little practice, but you’ll be fairly safe using “used to” in most cases. Most of the time, it is proper to add that d.

Your or You’re

I see this all the time. What’s more, I get it from my MS Word spell checker that invariably tells me I need to use the other one. It’s wrong! How they can program it wrong in Word is beyond me. Yet, when I’m writing an article and I say something like “get your pan…” it wants me to change it to you’re. Sigh. Sometimes I can’t help but wonder why these things happen except to exasperate me and others like me who appreciate a good piece of writing.

Your

Your is a possessive adjective. You use it when you want to say something belongs to someone.

Pick up your toys.

This implies that the toys belong to the person with which you are speaking.

You’re

You’re is a contraction of the words ‘you are.’ You only use this when you want to put those two words together.

You’re the love of my life.

You are the love of my life.

Get it? If you can’t replace you’re with you are, it is incorrect.

Keep this in mind, and your writing will improve by leaps and bounds. People will take you and your opinions more seriously if your writing is of good quality without these kinds of mistakes.

Than or Then

I can’t tell you how many times I see than and then mixed up. Yes, they sound similar… not exactly alike, but similar. Than rhymes with pan and then rhymes with pen. See? Two different, separate words. Most of us use them correctly when we speak…. just not when we write. How do we remember which is which? It isn’t too hard.

Than is a conjunction (Remember “Conjunction Junction… what’s your function?” from Schoolhouse Rock!) that is used when you are comparing something. I like cheesecake better than strudel.

Then is is an adverb (Remember “Lolly Lolly Lolly Get Your Adverbs Here – Schoolhouse Rock!) that deals with time. You use it when you want to tell the order in which something happened or that you should do things. You see it a lot in recipes. Plate up the noodles and then add the sauce.

All you really need to do when you are stuck in the Than or Then quandry is ask yourself if you are comparing something or telling the order in which something occurs. If you find you are not making a comparison, use then. If you are, use than.