Usage in English Grammar (+ List of Examples)

If the English language were a summer blockbuster, then grammar would be the superhero, and usage would be the trusty sidekick. They work together to fight language chaos, yet, like all great duos, they’re very different from one another.

As a writer, author and editor for over a decade now, I’ve seen many people mix up what grammar and usage really are. And, while they seem like different words for the same thing, I promise they’re not, and it’s important to understand that. So, I’ll break down the important details about grammar and usage right here.

What Is Usage in English?

Usage in English Grammar List of Examples

Usage refers to the way our language is used by people who speak or write it when one word, phrase or sentence structure is preferred over others. Think of it as the set of unwritten rules, the street smarts of the English language, if you will. It’s like the cool kid who doesn’t necessarily play by the established rules but somehow manages to sound good doing it.

What Is Grammar?

So many people think grammar and usage are the same thing. But grammar is the straight-laced, rule-abiding citizen of the language world. It’s the structural rules that oversee the configuration of sentences and words in any given language.

Grammar is the reason why “I goes to school” makes English teachers cringe, while “I go to school” gets a nod of approval. With grammar, we set the framework that helps us understand how words and their parts combine to make meaningful sentences.

So, how does it compare to usage? Stick with me; I’ll throw them together and show you.

Differences Between Usage and Grammar

Okay, I want to break this down as simply as possible. Think of grammar as the rule book and usage as the playbook.

While grammar lays out sentence construction’s dos and don’ts, usage takes those rules and adds a layer of real-world application. Usage navigates the nuances of language, slang, regional dialects and colloquialisms that make English rich and vibrant.

But grammar is more black-and-white—it’s about right or wrong. If grammar was a hard set of rules, usage would be the loopholes.

Some Common Usage Examples

Allow me to explain with some visual examples to see what I’m trying to get at.

  • “Can I go to the party?” This sentence, while perfectly grammatically correct, isn’t ideal when you’re seeking permission. The preferred usage is “May I go to the party?” This is because can implies a physical ability to do so, and may implies asking for permission.
  • “I feel bad” vs. “I feel badly.” According to standard usage, “I feel bad” is the right choice. “I feel badly” would mean your sense of touch isn’t working correctly—quite a different meaning, right?

Examples of Bad Word Usage

Sometimes, the misuse of a word can lead to hilariously wrong sentences. Here are a few examples to laugh at.

  • “My sister’s husband’s ex-wife’s cousin is my ex-husband.” Here, poor usage of possessives makes the family tree sound like a knotted mess. Instead, I’d say something like, “My ex-husband is distantly related to my brother-in-law.”
  • “I literally died laughing.” Unless you’re a ghost typing this, you’re likely misusing the word literally, which pretty much every millennial and younger does these days.

Improper vs. Good Word Usage

Usage in English Grammar List of Examples 1

With improper usage, you can confuse readers or listeners and obscure your intended message. For instance:

  • Improper: “She done good on her tests.”
  • Proper: “She did well on her tests.”
  • Improper: “I ain’t got no candy.”
  • Proper: “I don’t have any candy.”

Tips for Using Grammar and Usage the Right Way

  • Always proofread your work. Look for any grammatical errors and ensure you’re using words correctly.
  • Learn the rules of grammar, but also pay attention to how people actually use language.
  • Whenever you’re unsure, just consult a dictionary or style guide.
  • Take advantage of helpful programs like Grammarly and ProWritingAid to help find grammar and usage inconsistencies in your writing.

Rules About Usage

While usage can be more fluid and nuanced than grammar, it does have a few rules you should think about.

  • Always keep your audience in mind: Using slang or regional dialects might not be appropriate in all contexts. Like the word wank; it has entirely different meanings in the UK and the US.
  • Try to be consistent whenever possible: If you choose a particular usage style, stick with it throughout your text.

The Bottom Line

So, there’s your crash course on grammar, usage and the fine line that distinguishes them. Though different, these two facets of language work hand in hand to shape how we communicate.

With a solid understanding of both, you’ll be a dominator of language in no time. Keep learning, keep practicing, and most importantly, have fun with it because language is a playground!

List of Usage Examples