I don't read as much as I write. I read the newspaper every day, but rarely indulge in a book or anything longer than a magazine article. I suppose it's my child of the 60s-induced short attention span that limits my interest to anything shorter than an average television program, whose length has grown shorter over the years as well.
I recently purchased the first season DVDs of Newhart, the Bob Newhart sitcom where he owns an Inn in Vermont. I watched a few episodes (before becoming interested in something else) and noticed that the commercial-free programs were between 24 and 26 minutes long. By contrast, DVD episodes of last season's Parks and Recreation are around 21 minutes long. Both programs occupied a half-hour of network air time, but have gotten 5 minutes shorter over the span of 22 years. How long will it be before the program is shorter than the commercial breaks? By those standards, it will take 44 years. Lucky teen aged readers have that to look forward to.
Because I am selective about what I read (selective is how I rationalize not reading trashy books and other lengthy nonsense) I tend to notice that writing is more casual now than it was, which includes this space. I also have noticed that a large group of people have little or no idea of the most simple grammatical standards.
I remember being in grammar school and seeing exasperated teachers struggle with students over the differences between their, there and they're and to, too and two. You'd think (or at least I would think) that the differences are self-explanatory. But to the struggling kid (or now struggling adult) knowing that they're means "they are" and that their is possessive are easier to explain than the process of nuclear fission.
The convenience of spell check combined with the laziness of writers is a match made in Hell. A recent article on the Internet (capitalized) reviews some common errors, which I hope you will take to heart. Feel free to anonymously send a link to your friends who have difficulties with the language. Chances are, they have no idea they are using the wrong words, even though they see the correct usage every day. It is a similar condition to drivers' ignorance of basic traffic laws. Until someone tells them, they go merrily onward, irritating those of us who know and understand the rules.
According to a copy editing instructor for California-based copy editing service provider Edicetera, confusing “its” and “it’s” is the most common error in the English language. That one minuscule apostrophe (or lack thereof) drastically changes the meaning of the entire sentence. “It’s” is a contraction of “it is,” whereas “its” refers to possession. Also, watch out for “your” versus “you’re.”
Affect versus Effect. There is a lot of confusion around this one but here’s the rule: “Affect” is a verb and “effect” is a noun. It’s as simple as that.
Would have NOT would of. The subtlety in pronunciation leads to the rampant misuse of this phrase; however “would of” is never correct and may make you appear as if you are not well-read.
Then versus than. Six is more than five; after five then comes six. “Than” refers to a comparison, while “then” refers to a subsequent event.
Supposed to NOT suppose to. “Suppose” is a verb, meaning to think or to ponder. The correct way to express a duty is to write, “I was supposed to…”
Their versus There versus They’re. OK, once and for all: “Their” is possessive; “there” refers to distance; and “they’re” is a contraction of “they are.”
Farther versus Further. While both words refer to distance, grammarians distinguish “farther” as physical distance and “further” as metaphorical distance. You can dive further into a project, for instance, or you can dive farther into the ocean.
You're on your own.