More tips to help your writing:
You almost never mean: Brother-in-laws, runner-ups, hole in ones, etc.
You almost always mean: Brothers-in-law, runners-up, holes in one, etc.
Why: Plurals of these compound nouns are formed by adding an s to the thing there's more than one of (brothers, not laws). Some exceptions: words ending in ful (mouthfuls) and phrases like cul-de-sacs.
You almost never mean: Try and
You almost always mean: Try to
Why: Try and try again, yes, but if you're planning to do something, use the infinitive form: "I'm going to try to run a marathon." Commenting on an online story about breakups, one woman wrote, "A guy I dated used to try and impress me with the choice of books he was reading." It's no surprise that the relationship didn't last.
You almost never mean: Different than
You almost always mean: Different from
Why: This isn't the biggest offense, but if you can easily substitute from for than (My mother's tomato sauce is different from my mother-in-law's), do it. Use than for comparisons: My mother's tomato sauce is better than my mother-in-law's.
You almost never mean: Beg the question
You almost always mean: Raise the question
Why: Correctly used, "begging the question" is like making a circular argument (I don't like you because you're so unlikable). But unless you're a philosophy professor, you shouldn't ever need this phrase. Stick to "raise the question."
You might say: More than
You can also say: Over
Why: The two are interchangeable when the sense is "Over 6,000 hats were sold." We like grammarian Bryan Garner's take on it: "The charge that over is inferior to more than is a baseless crotchet."
You almost never mean: Supposably
You almost always mean: Supposedly
Why: Supposably is, in fact, a word—it means "conceivably"—but not the one you want if you're trying to say "it's assumed," and certainly not the one you want if you're on a first date with an English major or a job interview with an English speaker.
You might say: All of
You probably mean: All
Why: Drop the of whenever you can, as Julia Roberts recently did, correctly: "Every little moment is amazing if you let yourself access it. I learn that all the time from my kids." But you need all of before a pronoun ("all of them") and before a possessive noun ("all of Julia's kids").
Final part next week.