CZ's Grammar Page

CZ's Grammar Page

This page lists English usages that people often find confusing.


"Its" is a possessive telling what something belongs to. "It's" is an abbreviation for "it is."

        The software passed its beta test.
        It's going to be a beautiful day.
When in doubt, try replacing "it's" with "it is." If the sentence doesn't make sense, you should use "its" instead.


Like "its," "your" is a possessive telling who something belongs to. "You're" is an abbreviation for "you are."

        You did well on your performance evaluation.
        You're an excellent employee.


"There" is an adverb telling where something is. "Their" is a possessive telling who something belongs to. "They're" is an abbreviation for "they are."
        The book is over there.
        OpenView is their best-selling product.
        They're going to the movies tomorrow.
"There" is also used in sentences like "There are three books on the table."


"Then" is an adverb telling when something has occurred or will occur. "Than" is a conjunction used when comparing things.
        Our friends will come over then.
        Our product is better than theirs is.
In the first example, "then" describes when our friends will come over. In the second example, our product is being compared to theirs.


When choosing between "that" and "which," use "that" to introduce a restrictive clause and "which" to introduce a nonrestrictive clause. Restrictive clauses limit the possible meaning of a preceding subject. Nonrestrictive clauses tell you something about a preceding subject, but they do not limit, or restrict, the meaning of that subject. Compare the following examples.

Correct restrictive use: The store honored the complaints that were less than 60 days old.

Correct nonrestrictive use: The store honored the complaints, which were less than 60 days old.

These sentences have different meanings as well as different punctuation. In the restrictive sentence, the store honored only those complaints less than 60 days old, but not those over 60 days old. In the nonrestrictive sentence, the store honored all the complaints, all of which were less than 60 days old.

When writing a restrictive clause, do not place a comma before "that." When writing a nonrestrictive clause, do place a comma before "which."

(This discussion was adapted from the Law Student's Guide to Good Writing, copyright © 1994 by Marc A. Grinker.)


"Lie" and "lay" are tricky because they are two different verbs, but the present tense of one is the same as the past tense of the other.

"Lie" is a verb that does not take an object (an intransitive verb). When it means "to put oneself in a reclining position," it has these forms:

Present tenseI lie down on the floor when I'm tired.
Past tenseI lay down on the floor last night.
Present perfectI have lain down on the floor every night this week.

(When "lie" means "to tell an untruth," its forms are "lie," "lied," and "have lied.")

"Lay" is a verb that takes an object (a transitive verb):

Present tenseI lay my wallet on the dresser when I come home at night.
Past tenseI laid my wallet on the dresser last night.
Present perfectI have laid my wallet on the dresser every night this week.

In this example, "wallet" is the object of the verb "to lay."


"Lose" is a verb." "Loose" is an adjective.
        He wants to lose weight.
        His pants are not loose enough.


In the most common usages, "affect" is a verb and "effect" is a noun.
        The reorganization will not affect our project.
        It may have an effect on morale.
Occasionally "effect" is used as a verb meaning "to bring about, accomplish," as in "The new management staff will effect change in the organization," but this is uncommon and probably best avoided.

different from

"Different from" is the correct usage. "Different than" is almost never correct, so stay away from it.
        Their culture is different from our culture.


"Irregardless" is not really a word. (The dictionary calls it "a substandard or humorous redundancy for regardless.") Use "regardless."
        Regardless of the consequences, we will take a long lunch.

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