A Lesson in Spelling and Grammar

Basic spelling and grammar skills are quickly becoming a “lost art.”

by S4B0T4G3FIRE | January 16, 2020, 8:00 AM EST

Many people would argue that there are circumstances where “proper” spelling and grammar are unnecessary (for instance, on social media), but I would argue that these language components are always necessary, especially on social media. Taking a moment to add just a couple of commas or to verify the spelling of a word before making a post or reply will go a long way toward bettering people’s understanding of what you are trying to say. Doing so will also lead to fewer misinterpretations by those people, and less clarification needed from you, in the future. In other words, you may as well take a few seconds to proofread your posts because it will usually save you the time and effort of having to clarify, later on, what you actually meant.

In this article, I will discuss the basic rules and fixes for some of the most common writing mistakes that social media users make.

Disclaimer: Every time I go back to read one of my previous pieces of writing, I notice numerous mistakes that I never thought I would make. This is not to say that my (or anyone else’s) spelling and grammar skills should be perfect, or even close to perfect, but rather to say that we are all in a constant state of improvement, and a little guidance from others along the way should be taken open-mindedly and appreciatively. Similarly, we should not always assume that people who correct others’ spelling and grammar mistakes are trying to be “toxic.” Some people truly are just trying to help you (even if you are not seeking help), so you should not automatically assume that their intentions are harmful, nor should you take everything personally. There are polite ways of saying, “Thank you, but your help is not needed right now.”

Lesson 1: Pluralizing Nouns

Mistake: Using apostrophes to pluralize nouns.

Example Set 1:

Incorrect and Correct ways to pluralize basic nouns

Explanation: Plain and simple, plural nouns are never spelled with apostrophes. Apostrophes are only used in contractions, possessive nouns, and (sometimes) plural letters (which are technically nouns as well, but these are special cases). Let us consider the noun, “potato,” in the following example:

Cases where adding an apostrophe -s to a noun is correct

Contraction (ownership): You can shorten “the flavor of the potato” to “the potato’s flavor” by adding an apostrophe -s to “potato” and moving “flavor” to immediately after “potato’s.” Though people do not normally make a mistake here, it is important to understand that this is one of only two circumstances where adding an apostrophe to “potato” is correct.

Contraction (replacing a dropped vowel): You can shorten “the potato is ready” to “the potato’s ready” by joining “potato” and “is” together… and then replacing the ‘i’ in “is” with an apostrophe. Once again, a mistake is not common here, but it is still important to note that this is one of only two circumstances where adding an apostrophe to “potato” is correct.

Recap: Adding an apostrophe -s to make “potato” plural is never correct. “Potato’s” is not a plural noun, so do not write it this way when referring to more than one potato. Instead, write “potatoes.”

Example Set 2:

As mentioned before, pluralizing letters of the alphabet oftentimes requires the use of an apostrophe -s.

Correct ways of pluralizing letters

Explanation: It is correct to use an apostrophe when pluralizing the following capital letters: “A,” “I,” “M,” and “U.” Therefore, the plural of these four (4) letters are “A’s,” “I’s,” “M’s,” and “U’s,” respectively. This is important to avoid confusion with the preexisting words, “As,” “Is,” “Ms,” and “Us.”

As for the other capital letters of the alphabet, none of them form words when combined with an -s, so the apostrophe is not needed. For example, “Ts” is not a word, so it is not necessary to add an apostrophe.

With lower-case letters, on the other hand, it can be confusing to have two lower-case letters together (like “ps” and “hs”), so the apostrophe should be added to imply plural (“p’s” and “h’s”).

Your turn! Are the uses of apostrophes correct in the following sentence?:

When my brother and I receive straight A’s on our report card’s, it’s traditional for our parent’s to throw us party’s to celebrate!

**Answer can be found at the end of this article**

Lesson 2: Spelling

Mistake: Misspelling words (to where they have no meaning, or to where they become different words with different meaning)

Note: In this lesson, I will ignore words like “licence/license,” “absence/absense,” and any others that are dependent on the country/region they are being spelled in. For those cases, I would encourage you to look up the correct spellings for your specific region.

Example Set 1:

Some of the most common spelling mistakes people make on social media include the following:

Commonly misspelled words and their correct spellings

The best way to avoid misspelling these words is just to memorize them. The more you write them correctly, the less you will make a mistake. If you are still uncertain, look them up again and again. This repetition will lead you to memorize them correctly. For instance, every time you misspell “definitely” by writing “defiantly,” look at what you are actually saying:

  • Definitely — adv. without any doubt or uncertainty
  • Defiantly — adv. with resistance and refusal to do something

Lesson 3: Punctuation

Mistake: Commas where semicolons are needed, and question marks where periods are needed.

Example Set 1:

Correct uses of semicolons and periods

Semicolon: The semicolon in the example above is correct because it separates two independent clauses, and because the contents of both independent clauses are related to each other.

Note: If you wish to avoid the semicolon, you may use a period to separate the two independent clauses. “Sean Connery is my favorite actor of all time. He was great as James Bond.” is a correct alternative to the semicolon.

However, “Sean Connery is my favorite actor of all time, he was great as James Bond.” (with a comma) is entirely incorrect because a comma is not enough to separate two independent statements. If you really wish to use a comma in this sentence, you would have to use a conjunction word as well, which you can learn more about in Example Set 2 of this Lesson.

Period/Exclamation Point: This one is simple. “Guess” is not an interrogative word; it is a command. By saying “Guess who/what/when/where/why,” you are commanding someone to do something. You are not asking them to do something. If you really wish to use a question mark here, something like “Can you guess who is visiting us tomorrow?” is correct. In my opinion, though, it is easier to avoid the interrogative word altogether by simply adding the period to “Guess who.” because it correctly accomplishes the same thing with fewer words.

Example Set 2:

Now, let us return to the idea of commas with conjunction words. Conjunction words are commonly addressed using the acronym, “FANBOYS” where each letter stands for “For,” “And,” “Nor,” “But,” “Or,” “Yet,” and “So,” respectively. Briefly, going back to the previous example set, let us consider the incorrect use of the comma in “Sean Connery is my favorite actor of all time, he was great as James Bond.” This sentence can be made correct without replacing the comma simply by adding the appropriate conjunction word. Consider the following correct examples of commas with coordinating conjunctions:

Coordinating conjunctions where the use of commas is correct

Explanation: Once again, the reason why the conjunction words are necessary is that a comma is not enough to divide two independent clauses. Let us consider the first sentence, “Sean Connery is my favorite actor of all time, for he was great as James Bond.” You should be able to realize that there are two independent clauses in this sentence. They are “Sean Connery is my favorite actor of all time.” and “He was great as James Bond.” In Example Set 1, we learned that a semicolon is enough to combine these two independent clauses. However, if we instead wish to use a comma, we must add a coordinating conjunction such as “for” because the comma alone is not enough.

Lesson 4: Homophones

Mistake: Using the incorrect homophone.

Example Set 1:

Homophones are words that sound the same (when spoken) but have different meanings. There are many homophones in the English language, but a few commonly misused homophones include the following:

Commonly misused homophones

Let us expand on the most common mistake, “your” versus “you’re.” Here are some basic definitions for each of them:

Your — belonging to someone you are talking to

You’re — telling someone about himself/herself; (a contraction for “you are”)

There is no good advice to be given here other than the fact that knowing the definitions and becoming familiar with the uses of these words will help you avoid misusing them in your writing. Some basic advice that I can give is to separate “you’re” into the two words that make it up. This might help you identify cases where it should be used instead of “your.” Consider the following thought processes:

  • “Your smart.” Wait. No. “You are smart,” so it would be “You’re smart.” Yes.
  • You’re dog is cute.” Wait. “You are dog is cute.” No. So, it would be “Your dog is cute.” Yes.

When in doubt, sound it out! If “you are” is correct in the sentence, then you may say “you’re”… but never “your.”

Bonus Lesson: Who versus Whom

Mistake: Using “who” when “whom” is correct, and vice versa.

The easiest way to remember when to use “who” is to see if “he/she” would be grammatically correct in the sentence or the reply to the sentence. The easiest way to remember when to use “whom” is to see if “him/her” would be grammatically correct in the sentence or the reply to the sentence. If this sounds confusing at first, things should be clearer after considering the following example:

Example 1:

  • Question: Who/Whom are you going to the theater with?
  • Answer: I am going to the theater with Brad.

If you have not already done so, try looking at the answer to the question. More specifically, pay close attention to the direct object, “Brad.” Briefly, if you do not know what a direct object is, it is the recipient of an action. For instance, if the sentence was “The outfielder caught the baseball,” the baseball would be the direct object because it is being acted upon (“caught”) by the outfielder.

Similarly, “Brad” is the direct object because it is the recipient of the subject’s action, “going (with).” With help from what we learned in the first paragraph of this lesson, try replacing “Brad” with “he,” and then try replacing “Brad” with “him.” Which makes grammatical sense?

  • I am going to the theater with Brad.
  • I am going to the theater with he. (if this is correct, use “who” in the question)
  • I am going to the theater with him. (if this is correct, use “whom” in the question)

If you realized that “him” makes grammatical sense, and “he” does not make grammatical sense, then you have arrived at the correct conclusion that “whom” is grammatically correct in this context. Therefore, “Whom are you going to the theater with?” is the correct use of “whom.”

Example 2:

Now, consider this question:

  • Question: Who/Whom did their homework?
  • Possible Answer 1: She did her homework. (if correct, use “who”)
  • Possible Answer 2: Her did her homework. (if correct, use “whom”)

Does “Her did her homework” make sense? No. Does “She did her homework” make sense? Yes. Therefore, “Who” is correct in this case.

These are very basic examples of “who” versus “whom,” but hopefully they help you identify when to use “who” and when to use “whom” in the future!

Answer to LESSON 1 EXAMPLE SET 2 “Your turn!” Question:

Initial Statement: “When my brother and I receive straight A’s on our report card’s, it’s traditional for our parent’s to throw us party’s to celebrate!”

Solution: “When my brother and I receive straight A’s on our report cards, it’s traditional for our parents to throw us parties to celebrate!”

Explanation: “When my brother and I receive straight A’s (this is correct; the apostrophe is needed to avoid confusion with the word, “As”) on our report cards (no apostrophe needed; just add -s), it’s (this is correct since it is a contraction combining the words, “it” and “is”) traditional for our parents (no apostrophe needed; just add -s) to throw us parties (no apostrophe needed; drop the ‘y’ and add -ies) to celebrate!”

Did you get it correct? Comment below!

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this article! I had a lot of fun writing it! If you are trying to better your understanding of some basic rules in English writing, then I hope you found this resource useful to you! English can be a very tricky language to learn. If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to comment below or on my social media!

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