Okay, technically there are no grammar mistakes here, but this made me laugh.


About a year before I began my editing minor in college, someone created National Grammar Day, which is now celebrated on March 4. I'm a little disappointed that I'd never heard of this until today--what gives, editing professors? Granted, National Grammar Day was so new at the time that my professors may not have known about it.

On the other hand, one of these professors started off a course by saying, "Correcting people unsolicited is not a good way to win friends and influence people." So perhaps the editing-department staff intentionally kept my classmates and me in the dark about National Grammar Day so we wouldn't drive everyone else crazy. Well, crazier. 😁

Interestingly, I've found that grammar is one of the most commonly misunderstood aspects of writing among authors. When people ask me to fix the grammar in their work, they typically mean, "Make sure I haven't mixed up things like who and whom or lay and lie."

But in fact, those issues aren't questions of grammar at all. Grammar has to do with how a language is structured. Parts of speech, the correct ways of pluralizing words, the order of words in a sentence ("He threw the ball" versus "Ball threw he the"), and similar issues all fall under the umbrella of grammar.

When people ask me to fix commonly confused words, though, what they're actually looking for is help with usage. Section 5.249 of The Chicago Manual of Style (17th edition) explains it this way:

"The great mass of linguistic issues that writers and editors wrestle with . . . concern usage: the collective habits of a language's native speakers. It's an arbitrary fact, but ultimately an important one, that corollary means one thing and correlation something else. Yet there seems to be an irresistible law of language that two words so similar in sound will inevitably be confused by otherwise literate users of language."

In other words, mixing up nauseous and nauseated isn't a grammar error, despite what your high-school English teacher might have told you. That's because you haven't messed up the structure of your sentence. Instead, you've used a word that doesn't make sense in the context of your message. Thus, what you have is a usage problem:

  • Nauseous means "nausea-inducing"

  • Nauseated means "sick to one's stomach" 

  • The nauseous rolling of the waves made the passengers miserable. (If we used nauseated here, the waves would be the ones feeling sick.)

  • The students became nauseated after trying the mystery meat. (If we used nauseous here, the students would be making someone else feel sick.)

The good news is that grammar and/or usage errors do not a terrible writer make. Everyone messes up sometimes, even people who have a natural gift for remembering the rules of language. That's why I'm here: to worry about your word order and when to use fewer versus less so you don't have to. If you're ready for me to come in with the polish, click "Services Offered" at the top of this page to find the level of service you need.

Write on,