The single most annoying thing that has arisen in recent years is the deliberate and systematic removal of perfectly serviceable words that perform precise tasks and permit fluid reading, with a jarring pair that almost stutter as they are read together.
The deadly culprits are listed below, so ¡trigger warning! those of a nervous disposition should look away now.
These only apply when speaking generically; if the person’s sex is known, then of course you would say “Can you ask if s/he has found a key?”, because you are referring to a single person.
|Can you ask if he or she has found a key?||→||Can you ask if they have found a key?|
|Is the key his or hers?||→||Is it their key?
Is the key theirs?
|Does the key belong to him or her?||→||Does the key belong to (either of / any of) them?|
|Does the key fit his or her lock(s)?||→||Does the key fit their lock(s)?|
Presumably the reason why sentences are being mangled in such an awkward manner is allow the socially-constructed narrative of binary hetero-normative cis-gendered categories (rigid = male = bad) to be fluid (flowing = female = good) and thus redefined at will. No, wait, it actually doesn’t, does it? Binary gender is actually being enforced by these grammatical gymnastics, so it’s utterly pointless and even discriminates against those who do not identify with either gender.
“Its” vs “It’s”
“Whose” vs “Who’s”
“Apostrophes are headstones for dead letters,” is what we were taught in the days when such things were known at all, and bear in mind this was in the 1960s so this occurred at Primary school.
As always in such matters, the simplest way to determine whether or not an apostrophe should be used is to replace the missing letter(s) and see if the result still makes sense, or imparts the intended meaning.
|It’s too big to fit in the space.||→||It is too big to fit in the space.|
|Its too big to fit in the space.||→||Meaningless.|
|Whose is that car?||→||To whom does that car belong?|
|Who’s that car?||→||Meaningless.|
|Who’s that loud person?||→||Who is that loud person?|
|Whose that loud person?||→||Meaningless.|
Singular & Plural Possessions
Who owns or possesses what? What belongs where?
|The computer’s fan was noisy.||→||The fan of a particular computer was noisy.|
|The computers’ fans were noisy.||→||The fans of many computers were noisy.|
|John’s computer was old.||→||The single computer belonging to John was old.|
|Jane’s computers were old.||→||The many computers belonging to Jane were old.|
|John said he would meet Jane in an hour’s time.||→||A single hour is being referred to.|
|John said he would meet Jane in a couple of hours’ time.||→||More than one hour is being referred to.|
Who(ever) vs Whom(ever)
The rules for this are simple: if the question can be rephrased to include (or the answer contains) he/she/they, then use who; otherwise use whom.
|Who said that?||→||Did he/she/they say that?
He/She/They said that.
|Who likes whom?||→||Does he/she like him/her/them?
He/She likes him/her/them.
Do they like him/her/them?
They like him/her/them.
|To whom does that belong?||→||Does that belong to him/her/them?
That belongs to him/her/them.
|Whom(ever) can I trust?||→||Can I trust him/her/them?
You can trust him/her/them.
|Whoever wrote that?||→||Did he/she/they write that?
He/She/They wrote that.
An easy (though very non-PC) way to remember this is to match the ‘m’s: whom → him/them.
Affect vs Effect
What influences or changes something else?
|Gravity affects mass by …||→||Gravity has an effect on mass.|
|The effect on mass by gravity is …||→||Mass is affected by gravity.|
Through vs To
If I tell you I am travelling from London to Edinburgh through (via) Liverpool, it makes sense and informs you both of my final destination and any intermediate locations. If, however, I inform you I am travelling London through Edinburgh, the obvious question remains: where exactly am I going to end up?
Another way of putting it: listing the whole numbers 1 to 10, will hopefully give ten results. However, when listing numbers 1 through 10, where do I stop… 11? 1100?
Now, it might be argued that in this context “through” is being used as a lazy contraction of “through to”, but if so it still doesn’t make sense, for if I say I am travelling from London through to Edinburgh, the question still remains: through where, exactly? If it isn’t important where I am passing through, why bother mentioning it at all and merely state you are travelling directly from London to Edinburgh?
Ought vs Aught
Two completely different words which happen to be homonyms; the first is related to “should”, the second to “anything”.
|They ought to do as they are told.||→||They should do as they are told.|
|Aught else?||→||Anything else?|