Grammar Rules: How to Sound Smarter

Think you know how to talk real good? Test yourself: These grammar rules will surprise even the experts.

By Paul Silverman and Sarah Wharton from Reader's Digest Magazine

Grammar Rules: How to Sound SmarterIllustration by Timothy Goodman
In this world of OMG and autocorrect, does grammar stand a chance? Below, our guide to the most confounding rules will restore your love of language.

ROOT RIVALRY

You never mean: preventative You always mean: preventive Why: Grammar sovereign H. W. Fowler banned the long form almost a hundred years ago. So someone who is health conscious might seek preventive care; responsible homeowners might take preventive measures to keep their roof from leaking.

You almost never mean: infamous You almost always mean: famous Why: The rich and famous are widely known (and wealthy). But the rich and infamous have a reputation of the worst kind (… and money, which doubtless has dubious origins). Another way to look at it: Unless Aunt Donna’s chocolate chip cookies are notoriously evil and disgraceful, they are famous, not infamous.

You might say: evoke You might mean: invoke Why: A photograph evokes emotion; a joke evokes laughter—evoke means “to elicit or call forth.” Save invoke for when you mean “to call on a higher power, petition for support, or implement” (for example, “Allison invoked Robert Frost for her first assignment” or “The principal invoked the aid of the teachers”).

You might say: denounce You might mean: renounce Why: The two may sound similar, but their meanings are distinct: Denounce is “to condemn publicly or accuse formally” (“The judge denounced the CEO for insider trading”), while renounce means “to give up or refuse to follow” (“The CEO renounced his not-guilty plea”).

You might say: uninterested You might mean: disinterested Why: Careful speakers who wish to convey a lack of bias want to use disinterested. Speakers who don’t care about such grammatical subtleties are uninterested.

  • Your Comments

    • http://twitter.com/LaylaChloesNana LaylaChloe’sNana

      “talk real good”???

      • http://twitter.com/LaylaChloesNana LaylaChloe’sNana

        Why: Come refers to movement toward the speaker (Henri says, “Come to Paris!”); go denotes the opposite (After you’ve stayed two months, Henri says, “You should go”). But idiomatic use sometimes clouds this rule, as “I’ll come over” is more comprehensible than “I’ll go over.”

        Actually, since it is “movement toward the speaker”, ‘I’ll come over’ seems to be the correct choice, if you are going over to where the speaker is. If you are talking about a different location, ‘I’ll go over’ seems the appropriate choice.

    • BalakrishnanGurumurti

      try to teach your children the positive strokes in language you speak generally,then their life well made out by you as a parent, as you carve their well measured fiture

    • BalakrishnanGurumurti

      sound smarter is a lovely piece. speaking positively unscathed talking!

    • hummingbird

      I like to remind my grandchildren, when they improperly use “me and my friend” or “me and him”… went
      or did some activity, they are, not only using that phrase incorrectly, they are also, seemingly, putting themselves as “more important” than the other person.  They should always put their friend first!!  Then they would remember the correct phrase, “my friend and I” ……went or will go or want to …….whatever!  Remember, you would Never Say “me want  to go or do” something!

    • Anonymous

      all the ghetto people on the court shows need to learn their grammar-they are so appalling and when they say “I axed someone”–it’s just deplorable

    • Priyanka

      Interesting . I have been breaking these rules every single day of my life . Good to know . 

      • Anonymous

         well stop being so lazy and uneducated-

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/VV47LXLBMJIF4C4PCGDTREGYQQ Annie Ireland

      I must be getting extremely  long in the tooth.  I had a very basic education and grew up poor  but always knew the difference between subject and object pronouns.  It seems everyone, including supposedly very well-educated people,  consistently say things like John and me – and her- and him - went to the store – when they would never say me/her/him went to the store.   Something that has seemed to turn up in the last 20 years or so is a change in  when we would use the words “with” or  ”about”  for ”of” and “for”  - I’m bored of it , I’m excited for the concert.  And funner?  Missed the birth of that word completely. 

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/VV47LXLBMJIF4C4PCGDTREGYQQ Annie Ireland

      I must be getting extremely  long in the tooth.  I had a very basic education and grew up poor  but always knew the difference between subject and object pronouns.  It seems everyone, including supposedly very well-educated people,  consistently say things like John and me – and her- and him - went to the store – when they would never say me/her/him went to the store.   Something that has seemed to turn up in the last 20 years or so is a change in  when we would use the words “with” or  ”about”  for ”of” and “for”  - I’m bored of it , I’m excited for the concert.  And funner?  Missed the birth of that word completely. 

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/VV47LXLBMJIF4C4PCGDTREGYQQ Annie Ireland

      I must be getting extremely  long in the tooth.  I had a very basic education and grew up poor  but always knew the difference between subject and object pronouns.  It seems everyone, including supposedly very well-educated people,  consistently say things like John and me – and her- and him - went to the store – when they would never say me/her/him went to the store.   Something that has seemed to turn up in the last 20 years or so is a change in  when we would use the words “with” or  ”about”  for ”of” and “for”  - I’m bored of it , I’m excited for the concert.  And funner?  Missed the birth of that word completely. 

      • hockeyhouse

         Then you must not have had children.  ;o)  Funner is a word that most kids use until they learn proper grammar.  Apparently, many kids were never corrected.

      • Anonymous

         and they are lazier also

    • Anonymous

      This is more about correct definitions than proper grammar.