The Write Stuff
March 2024 Volume 20 Issue 3

Stop making “elementary” grammar mistakes

The short-lived game show, “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader,” isn’t as far-fetched as it might seem at first blush. We’ve been inundated with so much new information over our lives—much of it during our school years. Thus, it stands to reason those who are still being educated may have a greater grasp on some things we perhaps have forgotten over the years.With respect to English grammar, when I use we in that last sentence I’m really talking about you. While I certainly don’t recall every grammar rule, since I make my living as a writer and editor I’m quite familiar with the basics. Maybe you are too. But if you’re not, this is for you.

  • It’s and Its. It’s always is the contraction of it is. No exceptions. It’s a real shame the company lost its funding.
  • You’re and Your. Same thing. You’re is the contraction of you are. You’re fortunate if you have a large balance in your retirement account.
  • Me and I. I is subjective while me is objective. Cubbie and I live in San Diego. Cubbie brings me such joy.
  • Who and That. Always use who when referring to people. Those who live here enjoy pretty good weather. (Note: Once you become focused on this one, you’ll constantly see mistakes.)
  • Its and Their. Both determiners, its is singular and their is plural. The company released its annual report. The writers want their fare share of the profits.
  • That and Which. That indicates something specific while which is used to add information and is usually preceded by a comma. That department has 75 employees, which makes it the company’s biggest. (Note: That is also often overused and can be deleted for brevity.)
  • Ensure and Insure. Ensure means “make certain something will occur” while insure means “protect against loss, damage or injury” or “provide or obtain insurance on.” You should ensure you insure your home and car.
  • Affect and Effect. Affect is usually a verb meaning “to produce an effect on” while effect is usually a noun meaning “a change that results when something is done or happens. The pandemic had a huge effect on the workplace. The pandemic affected us all.

Class dismissed!


When writing ranges you need to be careful to use the correct phrasing—and if you start with between and to if you start with from. Both of these sentences are correct:

  • Team members’ experience varies from 10 to 25 years.
  • Our goal is to add between 10 and 25 new clients this year.


Using and is a simple way to connect two clauses in a sentence—but it’s not always the right choice. When you’re referring to people, who may work better.

  • OK: Katy is a manager and specializes in HR.
  • Better: Katy is a manager who specializes in HR.
Published On: March 15th, 2024 / Categories: 2024 /

Recent Posts