Dear Facebook Post-ers Everywhere:
I offer this kindly advice hoping to raise your awareness about the hazards that attach to your posting on Facebook. Failure to proofread before clicking POST can reveal 1) lack of education or deficits in it, or 2) lack of care with the language, or 3) word sloth (laziness about accuracy because you “know” readers will understand what you mean).
The most common mistakes occur with usage, the topic often discussed in this column. Usage and spelling go hand-in-hand, so here are some alerts about the errors that Facebook writers commit regularly:
Advice/advise: The first is the noun; the second, the verb. These words are pronounced differently, -vice rhyming with -ice and -vise rhyming with wise. You can ask fellow Facebookers their advice about paint colors for your living room. Some will advise you, giving their opinion, but you must decide if their advice has value.
Their/there/they’re: Note the use of “their” in the last sentence. It means “the opinion of them,” the opinion belonging to them. Their is a possessive pronoun not to be confused with the word there, which can be an adverb showing direction or a sentence introducer, as in “There are many leaves falling already,” a more wordy way to say, “Many leaves are falling already.” Neither of these words does the same job as they’re, a contraction of they plus are or they plus were.
It’s/its: Another contraction and another possessive pronoun: The first is a combination of it plus is while the second is the pronoun meaning “belonging to it,” as in “The dog is chasing its tail” or “The cat is cleaning its paws.” Facebook assumes writers need it’s every time, so it’s a chore to have to return to the word to remove the unneeded apostrophe.
Affect/effect: These words have different pronunciations, too, and they are different parts of speech, the first usually a verb and the second, usually a noun that can also be a verb in specific situations. To be influenced by anything is to be affected by it; it has an effect on us. Some effects of the pandemic, for example, have been masking, distancing, and being vaccinated.
Affect can be a noun, however, when it is used as a psychological term to refer to “the facial expressions, gestures, postures, vocal intonations that accompany emotion.” Here is an example from Merriam-Webster: “Some victims of schizophrenia sometimes lapse into a flat affect.”
To confuse even further, effect can be a verb when it means “to put into action” or “to cause to come into being,” as in “I will effect a settlement of the dispute.” Effect has been in use since the 14th century in its most common meaning of “to bring about.”
Who’s/whose: Again, a contraction is confused with a possessive pronoun. The first word combines who plus is, but the second word means “belonging to whom.” I ask students to break the contraction into its two parts to see if it expresses the meaning we want in a sentence. For example, if we separate who plus is in this sentence, we hear that it doesn’t make sense: “Who’s car has the most gas in it?” Who is car has the most gas in it? This sentence contains two verbs now and makes no sense. Replacing who plus is with the possessive pronoun that means “belonging to him/her/them” — whose — does make clearer meaning: The car belonging to whom has the most gas, and as a question, “Whose car has the most gas?”
Accept/except: The first means “to take into” while the second means “to leave out of.” The prefix ex- is key here as we see it used in ex-spouse, ex-con, ex-president or unhyphenated in exterritorial and exchange. If a church sponsors a billboard that shouts, “Except Ye the Lord!” it may not be sending the correct message.
All right/alright: All right is the preferred spelling, but some dictionaries may recognize the second spelling.
Then/than: The first is an adverb that tells time (not now but then), but the second is a joining word that I hear misused constantly when people are speaking, as in “Jake is taller than me.” Some speakers and writers will incorrectly use me instead of the correct “I.” When we compare, we join two ideas: He is tall. I am tall. Jake is taller than I [am tall.].
Lead/led: The big problem with these two words is that they sound identical in certain usages: I led the band using my lead pencil as a baton. The parts of the verb lead (rhymes with reed) include these forms and meanings: Today I lead the band, Yesterday I led the bad, I have led the band for two years. Note that lead as in lead pencil is an adjective, and lead is a noun when it means the metal.
Lie/lay: What will future dictionaries and grammarians do about the confusion of these two verbs? Few people ever get it right, but maybe these helps will result in correct use. Lie, of course, can mean “to utter a falsehood, tell an untruth; its forms in that case are regular: add -ed to the base verb to create lie, lied, lied. The problem comes when we need the verb forms that mean “to rest” or “to recline.” Historically, those forms include lie, lay, lain: Today I lie down for a nap, Yesterday I lay down for a nap, and I have lain here napping for too long.
The second word, lay, means “to put” or “to place” [SOMETHING]. It takes a direct object, the thing we have put or placed. Its forms include lay, laid, laid, just like a regular verb. Today I lay the table, yesterday I laid the table, I have laid the table three nights this week. Note that the verb set can replace lay in these sentences.
There you have it, Facebook users, reminders that we convey more than our words when we communicate on social media.
Liz Meador is a retired English instructor from Wayne Community College and an adjunct at North Carolina Wesleyan College.