More Irky Things

Some expressions are so commonly used that we have come to accept them as correct, when they really are not.

Different than” is one of those. I see it used all the time, but the correct form is “different from.” If you are comparing things and one differs from another, it is different from the other. It doesn’t differ than. It differs from.


Now we have one that is so commonly used that many people are accepting it as correct, but it is NOT.

 “You better” should be “you had better” or “you’d better.”

Better is not a verb unless you mean “to improve,” as in to better yourself. So rather than saying, “You better be careful,” what you should be saying is, “You’d better be careful,” or “You had better be careful.”

In song lyrics, we hear “you better” used often (you better watch out, you better not cry), but I’m willing to bet that originally the words were “You’d better watch out, You’d better not cry.” Regardless, in song lyrics we allow a lot of grammatical horrors. Country music is full of double negatives and misused words but that’s what gives the music its flavour. (Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone.)

Flavour up your music if you like, but if you’re doing formal writing, you had better use the correct forms of the language.


Finally, I find that I need to make one more plea to the news anchors to stop misusing “regard/regards.”

Regards are what you send to a friend or relative when you want to send them a greeting. “Please give my regards to my Aunt Mary.”

One news anchor uses it so much that you can almost count on it popping up at least once in each news item. When she’s interviewing someone, she often uses it to segue to the next question.

With regards to the president, how to you think he will handle this situation?”  Why does she have to send the president greetings before she asks about him? Maybe they know each other well?

What she meant to say was, “With regard to the president … blahblahblahblah.”

I’m so glad I got that out of my system again. I find it awful to have to listen to people in jobs way above my paygrade misusing the most common expressions.





Confusing Possessives and Contractions

Contractions are all about words that are made shorter by putting an apostrophe in the space where letters are missing.

One of the most common mistakes in making contractions is with you’re. It is often misspelled as your. You know I like gimmicks for remembering things. Well, two things remind me of the right way to spell these words.

you’re – This stands for you are, but the “a” is taken out.  If you are trying to say you are, then you’re is the word you want.

your – This word means that something belongs to you. I try to think of something that belongs to us as our “something,” so for something that belongs to you I use your. Notice that your has our in it?


Another real pain is whether to use its or it’s.

Think of the letters that are missing when you say it is. If you want to say it is, take out the “i” in is and put an apostrophe instead.

If you just remember that, then you will know that the other meaning for its (the possessive) has no apostrophe.

It’s (it is) time to visit the horse and brush its (ownership) coat.


they’re, there, their

The apostrophe in they’re tells you that a letter is missing, and it means they are.

To remember there, as in over there, think of not here. You will see the word here in there.

The last one, their, is an odd one to remember, but it is the possessive. “They” own something. I often see this word misspelled as thier. If you get the letters mixed up, think of their as having the word the in it. We all know how to spell the.

Losing the Punch

Many sentences in our writing have the potential for packing a punch. It all depends on the choice of words and sometimes the punctuation. One of our goals, as writers, is to keep the reader turning pages. We need to choose our words carefully to achieve this.


The tension in a scene can be lost if you don’t pay attention to maintaining the emphasis and focus on what you are trying to say. Losing the punch in your writing can leave the reader feeling like this fellow (above), deflated and less inclined to continue reading.

One way to lose your reader is to drone on, explaining too much. Don’t repeat a point once you’ve made it.

A dull way to express yourself is to use the passive voice. The word “passive” itself tells us that not much action is taking place. Here are two examples of how you can change a sentence from passive to active.

The Passive Voice


The wobbling bike rider was hit by the car.


The car hit the wobbling bike rider.


The burglar was bitten in the leg by the snarling dog.


The snarling dog bit the burglar’s leg.


Overused exclamation points dilute the impact of an otherwise exciting scene.

Keep the use of exclamation points to a minimum. A good rule is to save them for one or two-word expressions.

Run! Hurry! Jump! These one-word expressions warrant exclamation points.

I think you should run! This longer sentence is no better off with the exclamation points. On the contrary, it looks amateurish to use exclamation points in an effort to make a dull, long phrase sound more exciting.

Overused Adjectives and Adverbs

When used to enhance writing, these words often do just the opposite. Avoid them as much as possible. Here is a list of some of them.

  • awfully
  • beautiful(ly)
  • certainly
  • exciting
  • extremely
  • fantastic
  • highly
  • perfectly
  • pretty (much)
  • really
  • richly
  • so
  • such
  • super
  • swell
  • too
  • tremendous(ly)
  • very
  • wonderful(ly)

The list is far from complete, but you’ll recognize words like these when you look for them and take them out of your writing.

“Short and punchy” is more interesting than a long, droning narrative.

Similar Words – Different Meanings

Here are some more words that are easily confused. The spellings are close, but the meanings are not.

Tortuous – Torturous  (just one letter makes a difference)

A winding road could be called tortuous (with twists and turns).

Suffering through a painful ordeal could be called torturous.


Memento – Momento

A memento is an item (a souvenir, for example) that serves as a reminder of something in the past. It need not always be of a good thing. It could be something that triggers a good memory or a bad one.

Momento is simply the Spanish word for moment, and is sometimes incorrectly used when memento is meant.


Alternate – Alternative

Alternate means every second one in a series, or it can mean a substitute.

Alternative refers to one of two choices.

In a team sport, you might have an alternate player to replace one who gets tired or injured. Players can take turns and alternate.

If you have no substitute players available, you might have no alternative but to play shorthanded.


Personal – Personnel 

A conversation can be personal (private, confidential). Medical conditions may be considered to be personal.

The staff or employees of a business are sometimes referred to as the company’s personnel.

In the word “personal,” the accent is on “per,” there is only one “n” and the ending is “al.”

In the word “personnel,” the accent is on the “nel,” there are two “n”s and the ending is “el.”