Five Common Usage Mistakes to Avoid – Sheet 2 of 8
#1) Less vs. Fewer, Many vs. Much
Use “fewer” when comparing things that can be quantitatively measured (or counted), like rocks, dollars, friends. Use “less” when comparing things that cannot be counted, like stone, money, popularity. Similarly, “many” is used when you can count the noun that follows it, “much” is used with nouns that cannot be counted (I have much love for many people).
#2) A lot
There is no such word as “alot,” so stop using it. And do not let “allot” (an actual verb meaning “to assign or to distribute”) sneak into this debate. Furthermore, “a lot” is synonymous with “much” and should NOT be used to describe something that can be counted.
#3) Among vs. Between
Commonly this is taught thus: Between is for 2 and Among is for 3 or more. This is mostly true, and is what the SAT expects you to know. It is always wrong to use ‘among’ when there are only 2 people or things present (e.g. Dale and Mike split the candy among themselves), but you can use between for a group if the members of the group are being treated as individuals, rather than as a pack. For instance, “the treasures were found hidden among the many villages, and the responsibility for giving it back to its owners was divided between China, Japan, and Cambodia”. Oh, and “amongst” is British English.
#4) Good/Well, Bad/Badly
This one is filled with exceptions, but here are the basics. Good and bad are (usually) adjectives and should be used to describe nouns (It’s never a good day to be a bad gambler). Well and badly are the adverb forms of these adjectives, and should describe verbs, adjectives or other adverbs (He ran well, while his opponents stumbled badly). NB: “Well” can also be an adjective, meaning “healthy”, which causes some confusion. You may respond to “How are you?” with “I am good” OR “I am well” and be correct, but if someone asks “How are you doing?”, you cannot say “I am doing good” – that means you are performing charitable acts, like Spiderman. Also, some confusion arises with “I feel bad” vs. “I feel badly”. “I feel bad” is correct, as “feel” acts as a linking verb in this sentence. “I feel badly” means “I fail at feeling objects” (consider the difference between “I smell bad” and “I smell badly”)
#5) Clearly & In Conclusion
Two common essay problems: Do not presume that stating “clearly” is a substitution for real proof. Clearly, Burlington is going to be taken over by Vikings later this year. Not very convincing, is it? Be very cautious about using this adverb in your writing, because it is quite likely being used as a cop-out for real analysis. And the least creative way to start a concluding paragraph is with “In conclusion”. You don’t begin essays by saying “To begin with,” so why end them with “In conclusion…”?