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How To Be A Grammar Nazi (While Knowing Only A Few Basic Rules)

So, you want to be a grammar Nazi but you didn’t pay attention in elementary school and now you feel lost? Not to worry, my friend! Memorize these simple rules and you’ll be able to correct pretty much everyone, pretty much all the time.

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1. Commas

COMMAS ARE IMPORTANT. (I figured I would put it in caps, just for emphasis, so that I wouldn’t have to repeat myself.) It’s astounding how often even people who know the rules misuse these innocent marks of punctuation. Let’s examine a few common cases.

1.1 Commas in lists

If you're listing things to do, for example, you have to put commas in between the deeds. I have to clean my room, wash the dishes, fix the windows, and vacuum the living room, the dining room, and the bedroom. (There is some controversy over whether or not a comma before "and ___" is needed. My advice to you is this: if in doubt, don't comment.)

1.2 Commas in addresses

I see this mistake too often. A wall post on Facebook reads, "Happy birthday Fred!" Looks fine, right? Look again. There should be a comma before Fred, after birthday. Same goes for "Go to bed Jack" and "shut up smartass." (If somebody tells you via internet to "shut up smartass," just fire back with your new knowledge of commas. It won't reinforce the other person's idea of your smartassness, I promise.)

1.3 Identification

Consider the following quote: "I went to see a movie with my friend, Alex." Assuming the speaker is not addressing Alex, this sentence is unlikely to be correct. As it is, the speaker is claiming that Alex is his or her only friend. In my experience, people usually have multiple friends, so that comma should not be there.

1.4 Splices

Comma splices happen when two independent clauses (that is, grammatical units that each contain a subject and a verb and that could stand alone as sentences) are linked with a comma. Here's an example: She used to buy beer, now she buys wine. To fix this, insert a period or a semicolon in place of the comma, or correct it to "She used to buy beer, but now she buys wine."

2. Your vs. You're

This is an especially common mistake on the internet. Your indicates possession. That is your pudding. That is not your bag. It’s your life. I could go on. You’re is a contraction of you are. You wouldn’t say, for example, “Remember you are appointment.” Only use you’re where you could use you are. Also, don’t let anyone forget the apostrophe!

4. Affect vs. Effect

This is an important one! If you see someone mixing these two up, correct them! Effect is a noun. The effect of greenhouse gases on climate is being debated. Don’t mix it up with affect, which is a verb. Your score will affect your chances of succeeding.

5. Nauseous and Nauseated

This might be one of the most common mistakes encountered in daily life. Contrary to popular belief, “I’m nauseous” doesn’t actually mean you’re sickened. It actually means you possess the ability to sicken others (that is, produce nausea in others). Yeah. If you want to say you’re disgusted by something, you should claim you’re nauseated. Let the next person who informs you they’re “nauseous” know exactly what they’re saying.

6. Its vs. It's

Unless you only socialize with English professors from Ivy Leagues, you’re going to catch people making this mistake in their writing. Its indicates possession. The dog chewed its toy with vengeance. As with point 2, it’s is a contraction of it is. You would not say, “The dog chewed it is toy.” You can, however, say, “It’s raining outside,” because you could just as easily say, “It is raining outside.”

7. Then vs. Than

Than can only be used in comparisons. This apple is bigger than that apple. On the other hand, then can have a variety of meanings. It could be used in temporal comparison (First it rained, then it snowed) or it could replace “in addition.” This isn’t as common as some of the others, but if you see a friend making this mistake, correct them nicely. If you see an enemy doing it, correct mercilessly.

8. Me, Myself, and I

This is my personal pet peeve, if only because this mistake is so common that it borders on the obscene. I’m sure you’ve heard people say things like, for example, “Me, my mom, and Sam are going to the mall.” This is not correct. The correct version would be this: “My mom, Sam, and I are going to the mall.” If you are the subject of the sentence, own it: use “I.” If you are the object (an action is being done to you), use “me.” For example: “Sam pushed me into the lake.” Another way of looking at it is the following: if in an instance such as the first you take out the other people and it sounds weird, it’s wrong. If you tested that first sentence, it would look like this: “Me am going to the mall.” Correct mercilessly.

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