Usage Mistakes (Part 3)

Common mistakes in English Usage: imply / infer, in / on, less / fewer, lend / loan / borrow, Miss / Mrs / Ms, mankind / humankind, people / persons, there is / are, these / those, waiting on / waiting for.

1. imply / infer

The verb imply means to suggest a meaning. The person who implies something hints at it without saying it directly. The verb infer means to take meaning from. The person who infers draws a conclusion by interpreting words or actions. For example: Because you are always late, I infer that you don't want to work here.

INCORRECT: His use of that word infers that he doesn't trust you.

CORRECT: His use of that word implies that he doesn't trust you.

2. in / on

The use of prepositions in English is frequently idiomatic. General guidelines exist, but they cannot cover all the expressions involving prepositions. In denotes "state of being somewhere within." On indicates "proximity and position, above or outside.

INCORRECT: The ship is sailing in the water.

CORRECT: The ship is sailing on the water.

3. less / fewer

Less is used with uncounted nouns: less soup, less intelligence, less forage. Fewer is used with countable nouns: fewer voters, fewer apples, fewer commercials.

INCORRECT: This box contains less fire crackers.

CORRECT: This box contains fewer fire crackers.

4. lend / loan / borrow

The verbs lend and loan both mean “to grant the temporary possession of a thing." The verb borrow means “to take a thing with the intention of returning it.” In a business transaction, lend, loan, and borrow all imply an exchange of money and securities.

INCORRECT: Will you loan me a pencil?

CORRECT: Will you lend me a pencil.

In a non-business context, lend and borrow do not imply the existence of a financial transaction. May I borrow the car for the evening? Will you lend me a pencil? However, for many speakers, the connotation of lending for hire clings to the word loan. For that reason lend is preferable to loan in an informal situation.

5. Miss / Mrs / Ms

Miss, denoting an unmarried woman, is an honorific no longer considered acceptable in common use because it identifies a woman according to marital status. Mrs., denoting a married woman, is considered unacceptable for the same reason.

Ms. is an honorific that pertains to any woman, without indicating marital status.

INCORRECT: Address the letter to Miss Jones.

CORRECT: Address the letter to Ms. Jones.

In American usage, both Ms. and Mrs. are written with periods. In British usage the periods are omitted.

6. mankind / humankind

The word mankind has been used for many generations with the meaning of "all humankind." In recent years, however, many English speakers have come to feel that mankind excludes women. Modern usage prefers the use of the word humankind.

7. people / persons

Although the word person has the plural persons, in most non-legal contexts people is the preferred plural of person.

INCORRECT: I don't know any of the persons in this room.

CORRECT: I don't know any of the people in this room.

8. sooner than / when

Modern usage prefers than to when as the conjunction to be used in this expression.

INCORRECT: No sooner had the dogcatcher turned his back when the boy released the stray.

CORRECT: No sooner had the dogcatcher turned his back than the boy released the stray.

9. there is / are

There's is a contraction of "there is." When the word there used to begin a sentence, the verb that follows it should agree with the true subject of the sentence. For example, There is a cat on the fence. ("cat" is the true subject) There are some children at the door. ("children" is the true subject.)

INCORRECT: There's some children at the door.

CORRECT: There are some children at the door.

10. these / those

These is the plural of this. Used as either a demonstrative adjective or a demonstrative pronoun, these indicates objects or persons nearby.

Those is the plural of that. Used as either a demonstrative adjective or a demonstrative pronoun, those indicates objects or persons at a distance.

Used together, the words these and those indicate contrast or opposition: Do you want these or those? Note: The same is true of the singular forms this and that: Eat this, not that.

INCORRECT: Do you see these books over there?

CORRECT: Do you see those books over there?

11. waiting on / waiting for

The expression wait on means "to serve," as in a business establishment: The woman waited on the customer. Wait for implies expectation or anticipation. The child is waiting for Santa Claus.

INCORRECT: We waited on the bus, but it never came.

CORRECT: We waited for the bus, but it never came.