It’s easy to get frustrated with the complexities of the English language, especially when it becomes clear that many native speakers still struggle with certain words and phrases. How is a non-native speaker supposed to handle herself with the language when the supposed experts can’t? So native and non-native English speakers alike - be aware of this (very) common usage problems:
“Their” means MORE than one.
It’s fun to spot the misuse of “their” in articles, websites and posts of very respectable writers – I’ve even caught myself on this one once or twice, and there’s no telling how many mistakes slipped by unnoticed into my work. Here’s the problem:
Everyone should grab their pens and get busy.
Let me repeat:
EveryONE should grab their pens and get busy.
One person is not “their”. “Their” is plural pronoun referring to more than one. “Every” is singular. “Everybody” doesn’t work here either because “everybody” also means each individual body present, or just one. What you need is a singular subject if you’re so desperate to use “their.”
Everybody should grab their pen and get busy.
Every writer should grab their pen and get busy.
All writers should grab their pens and get busy.
Everyone should grab his or her pen and get busy.
Everyone should grab her pen and get busy.
Do we make this error when we speak? Sure. In casual English you toss off “their” right and left and nobody blinks an eye. Does that mean it’s okay? Probably not. Personally I prefer to sound like I actually know a semblance of the language I teach during the day light hours, so I do my best to avoid usage errors like that one. But hey – nobody’s perfect when working on their English. Oh wait! There it is again – it’s like I slipped that one in on purpose!
Here are a few more common errors that get the best of us at times:
I accept your apologies. I’ll accept all apologies except his.
Bright lights really affect my vision. I love the effect of the purple light on the white wall.
I plan to invest all of my capital. While in Washington D.C., I plan to visit the Capitol building.
I can’t believe all of this illicit drug trafficking. The crime certainly elicits a response from me.
It’s important to be principled when dealing with investments. The principal ran the school with strict discipline.
You look like you’re tired today. Maybe you should rest in your bed.
Is English tricky? Absolutely. But the more you use and read it correctly, the easier these annoying elements will be to use in your work and conversation.