Three common cases of misused words in college and scholarship application essays

July 27, 2012

Grammatical mistakes are common. People tend to write like they talk - which isn't always a bad thing as it gives the writing rhythm and a natural flow - but people don't tend to speak with perfect grammar. This is why it's imperative that students reread application essays over again and share with peers and teachers to comb out even the tiniest of grammatical mistakes that may catch the eyes of scholarship or college admissions readers. There's no greater shame than missing out on scholarship opportunities because you consistently misuse "lay" and "lie."

So if you're embarking on your college application process or have begun applying for scholarships, be sure to know these three cases of misused words inside and out. With the rules under your belt, you'll find proofreading easier than ever.

1. Lay and lie. Why not start with the above example. The main difference between "lay" and "lie" is that the first is transitive and needs an object and the second is intransitive and doesn't. If that's too confusing, think of it this way. You always lay things down, while you (and animals, other objects) lie on their own. Thus, "I lay the paper down," but "I lie down." With "lay" you need to have the paper, with "lie" no object is necessary.

2. Envy and jealousy. Commonly considered synonyms, these terms actually mean two different things. Put simply, you envy other people for the stuff they've got - "I envy him for his car/girlfriend/astounding karaoke skills." Jealousy is different and revolves around the fear that you will lose something to someone else - "I was jealous of how much my girlfriend congratulated him on his astounding karaoke skills." With jealousy there is an air of fear, anxiety and competition.

3. Fewer and Less. Once you have this one down pat, you'll never be able to walk through a grocery line again without wincing. Use "fewer" for an actual countable number of items, such as those in your cart. While you might not want to count them, or the stars in one hemisphere of the sky as opposed to the other, you can. We use "less" when things cannot be quantified so easily. "There are fewer leaves on that tree" as opposed to "There is less possibility of rain today than yesterday."

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