Happy 101st Birthday Johnnie Mae Hall Brown

In honor of the 101st anniversary of Johnnie Mae Brown’s birth, which is today, November 18th.  She was a highly revered, student-centric high school teacher of the English language, particularly the use of proper grammar.  Even as a young child, I became a student.

Given my inherited bent for the proper use of English grammar, some of my mother’s teaching are remembered here:

Veterans Day:

Not Veteran’s or Veterans’ Day.

The holiday is not a day that “belongs” to one or multiple veterans, which an apostrophe implies.


Affect or effect:

Affect is usually used as a verb.  Effect as a noun.

Affect – to act upon, alter, express an action

Effect – the outcome, the end result


Alumnus, alumna, alumnae, alumni,:

Alumnus – used of a man in the singular

Alumna – used of a woman in the singular

Alumnae – used of women in the plural

Alumni – used of men in the plural; and male and female in the plural


That or which:

That introduces an essential phrase, not offset by commas.

Which introduces a non-essential phrase that is set off by commas.


Accept or except:

Accept is a verb meaning to take or receive.

Except is a preposition meaning to exclude or leave out.


Ensure, insure, and assure:

No one can ensure the contract is binding.

We insure our valuable assets.

I can assure you of her sincerity.


Counsel, council:

Counsel refers to advice or guidance.

A council refers to an assembly for discussion.


Compliment or complement:

A Compliment is a statement of praise.

To complement means to go well with, complete, or perfect


Allusion or illusion:

An allusion is an indirect reference.

An illusion is a fantasy, a dream, or a misconception.


Principle or principal:

A principle is a rule or standard.

A principal is a person serving in an important role.


Elicit or illicit:

Elicit brings out or evokes.

Illicit is illegal.


Emigrant or immigrant:

An emigrant is one who leaves his native country to settle in another.

An immigrant is one who enters and settles in a new country.


Lie or lay:

Lie means to recline on a surface; its principal parts are lie, lay and lain.   

Lay means to place or put; its principal parts are lay and laid.


Desert or dessert:

Desert means to abandon or dry area.

Dessert is sweet food.


Discreet or discrete:

Discreet is hush-hush, private.

Discrete is separate, divided or distinct.


Site or cite:

Site is a location or place.

Cite is to quote or reference something else.


Stationary or stationery:

Stationary is immovable.

Stationery is paper used for writing.


Fewer or less:

If you can count it, use fewer if “you have fewer than ten items,” not “less than ten items.”


Quotation marks:

Commas and periods are placed inside quotation marks.  Question marks are as well when ending a sentence.

“Why me?”



Not a word, but a portmanteau of regardless and irrespective. Regardless of how you feel, such is objectively the wrong decision. Everyone gets a vote, irrespective, regardless of their position.




Carey Brown

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15:28 07 Feb 20
I have been working with The Benefits Company for more than 3 years and our organization has been a client for many... more. Every member of the team is very responsive and professional. The often present to our C-Suite and the C-Suite values the partnership.TBC goes above and beyond with any request that we have as it pertains to our benefits or HR programs. Every year they present us with various considerations to consider for the next year. John Hearn is has great knowledge industry. Our account manager, Stacy Cook, is very responsive and is an extension of my team.read more
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