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Friday, May 29 12:00 AM ET

5 Farther Grammar Tips You May Not Have Known

By Brian Briggs

The growth of Internet communication like e-mail and instant messaging has exposed many new people to the joy of writing.  Some of these people probably shouldn't be writing, but if you've got a computer and a modem nothing can stop you.  This guide aims to help those people learn some of the more difficult rules of style and grammar, so the rest of us don't have to cringe every time we see an abuse of the English language.

Our first two lists were so popular that I've come up with five more grammar tips that you may not have known.

#1 Affect and effect – Even top grammar pros have trouble with this one, but here's a mnemonic device to help you remember which to use. For affect, just remember A Feral Ferret Eats Corn Tacos. For effect, it's Every Furtive Ferengi Edits College Times. See how simple that is?

#2 Than and then – Yet another one where only an "a" and an "e" make the difference. Like school grades it's the difference between passing and failing. Use "than" when the sentence has a positive (passing) connotation. Use "then" when it has a negative (failing) connotation. A sentence with a neutral connotation? It doesn't exist.

Yes: You won? We're going to get ice cream than.
Yes: I have more broken bones then unbroken ones
No: I'm going to walk outside then.

#3 Their, there, and they're – More flamewars have begun over this one then any other grammar mistake including the "Great Grammar Throwdown of 2003" which resulted in five hospitalizations and two deaths. It's as easy as 1-2-3. Use their when talking about one thing, there when talking about two things and they're when talking about three or more.

Yes: If I had one place to pick to go on vacation, it would be their.
Yes: There two people you don't want to mess with; Batman and Cher.
No: They're two reasons to go to war; oil and ice cream.

#4 Using commas – Like the semicolon in programming, it's almost impossible to use a comma incorrectly, but with the million monkeys on the Internet some still screw it up. Here are three good rules of thumb for comma placement. First, wherever you would naturally pause in a sentence, put a comma there. Second, whenever you blink your eyes when, writing a sentence, put a comma there. Thirdly and lastly, always put commas after words ending in the letter "p."

#5 Accept or except – What is it with these "a" and "e" words? It doesn't seem like anybody can keep them straight. This one's pretty easy. Accept comes from the Latin word "accio," which means to "bring here." You may be familiar with that from the Harry Potter series of books. Except comes from the Russian word "excepski," which means "he who has goats." That's all you need to know, but I'll give you some examples anyway.

Yes: Bring me all those magic wands accept for Harry's.
Yes: The goatherder excepted the prize for best farmer in the valley.
No: The father worried a lot about incest.

Using improper grammar on the Internet will open you up to ridicule and make you seem dumber than you really are. Memorize these tips and soon you'll be correcting others instead of being corrected urself.

Farther Reading: 5 Grammar Rules You May Not Have Known

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