Language changes all the time. American English, in particular, has so many idioms and phrases that vary across regions, social classes, and cultural backgrounds, it’s hard to keep track of them all! Teachers will often say that you may hear native English speakers saying one thing, but that doesn’t make them grammatically correct. Here are a few examples of phrases that have been said over and over again… and the way they should be said instead!
Why? The prefix “ir-” does mean “without,” but because the suffix “-less” also means “without,” it’s silly to have both! The correct version uses only the suffix.
Wrong: “I could care less.”
Right: “I couldn’t care less.”
Why? The “not” is important because it shows that the issue has so little importance that there is no way you could care less than you do now! If you forget the “not,” then you are saying the issue has some importance because you do care about it (at least a little bit).
Wrong: “to circumvent the globe”
Right: “to circumnavigate the globe”
Why? “To circumvent” means to “escape or go around” (an obstacle or challenge). For example, if your father says “no” to your request, you can circumvent (go around) his response by asking your mother instead. You cannot, however, “escape” or “go around” the planet unless you are in a spaceship and the Earth is blocking your path!
Wrong: the “criteria” / “data” is
Right: the “criteria” / “data” are OR the “criterion” / “datum” is
Why? People are so used to hearing the singular verb with these plural nouns, they simply forget what the singular form of the noun is!
Wrong: “He did good.”
Right: “He did well.”
Why? The adverb “well” should be used here to describe the verb (his doing) and how the action was done. To say someone “does good,” it is a shortened way of saying that person is doing “good things” or “good deeds” to help others. Think of Mother Theresa or Gandhi when it comes to someone “doing good.”
See an example from the TV show “30 Rock”: