I Don’t Know…Can You?


Maybe it’s due to the elementary school I attended, but whenever I hear someone ask “Can I…[fill in the blank],” my mind immediately responds with, “I don’t know…can you?”

Let me explain.

“Can” is formally used when asking about ability while “may” is used when requesting something.

Can May

Thus, if your friend asks, “Can I have another cookie?” you might feel justified to respond with, “I don’t know, can you?” Your friend is clearly requesting seconds while the response is questioning her ability to physically handle another cookie.

So which term is correct?


Sticklers for proper grammar (like myself) will always say “may” when making a request and “can” when asking about ability.

 The Dreaded Exception

Much to my dismay, the English language has evolved to allow the use of “can” when making a request in informal situations. Therefore, the friend asking if she can have another cookie is not technically incorrect. However, if you are writing or speaking in a business or educational situation (such as an email at work, your thesis paper or in a speech), stick with “may” when asking permission and “can” when asking about ability.


If you are not sure if you chose the correct word or you’re worried that you missed something during your initial review, contact Unscripted for a light edit.

Conundrums Welcome


Is there a particular grammatical rule that you just can’t wrap your head around? Do you find yourself struggling with a certain word or phrase over and over again?

Reach out with your conundrums and you just might see them answered in the next blog.

Unscripted wants to provide Tips and Tricks for everyday use. That means providing information that YOU need.

Leave a comment above or contact Unscripted here

Here are a few examples of previous posts based on common human errors:

Five Common Grammar Mistakes 

When to Say I and When to Say Me

I Before E…Right?

Assure, Insure or Ensure?

Quick Guide to Understanding Prepositions

Don’t forget to follow Unscripted’s blog to see if your conundrum appears in the future!

Quick Guide to Understanding Prepositions


You have probably heard someone say, “Never end a sentence with a preposition.” But do you know what that means or why it is a grammatical no-no?

A simple Google search will give you a list of prepositions or prepositional phrases (a partial list is located at the end of this blog). Prepositions show the relationship between two words: the object of the preposition and another word in the sentence.


The preposition in the above example is “in.” To find the object of the preposition, ask “what?” The couple was dancing in what? Rain. The object of the preposition is the rain.

So what makes “in” the preposition? It explains the relationship between the dancing couple and the rain. Without the word “in,” we would not know if the couple was dancing while watching the rain, dancing for the rain or dancing after the rain. We need the preposition to explain the relationship.

How to Spot a Preposition

Consider a chair. Any action that you can take regarding that chair is likely a preposition. You can sit on, walk around, step over, crawl under, stare at, walk between, place something in, reach across, set something on or walk to the chair. These are all prepositions.

Prepositional Phrases

A preposition by itself will often get you into trouble (grammatical trouble anyway). Therefore, understanding prepositional phrases can help you avoid inadvertently ending a sentence with a preposition.

Prepositional phrases typically answer the questions, Where, When, How, How Many, Which One and What Kind?

The first word in a prepositional phrase is the preposition.


People often end sentences with prepositions in common speech. (Example: What’s up?) However, written English is expected to adhere more closely to proper grammar rules.

Now we understand why Winston S. Churchill once said, “This is the type of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put.” He was referring to the confusing rule that one should not end a sentence with a preposition, even when using slang.

 Before sending an email or submitting your manuscript, do a quick check for sentences ending in prepositions. Here is an easy reference guide to help.

List of Common Prepositions

If you’re still not sure whether or not you’re using prepositions correctly, contact Unscripted for assistance.

Assure, Insure or Ensure?

Assure_Ensure_Insure (1)

These might be the most commonly confused words in the English language. Believe it or not, these three words are not interchangeable. (Not even two of them.)


ASK: Are you talking about a person?

Assure means to make someone feel confident about something. The thing to remember about “assure” is that it only applies to a person.

Assure Synonyms: comfort, convince, guarantee


ASK: Are you talking about paying to protect something?

Insure is correctly used specifically regarding insurance. People often confuse insure and ensure. You cannot insure that the customer will be satisfied just like you cannot ensure your car through a Geico policy.

Insure Synonyms: cover, protect

Insure Ensure


ASK: Are you talking about a person or financially protecting something?

If the answer to the above question is “yes” then “ensure” is not the correct word choice. Ensure simply means “to make certain.” Ensure does not refer to insurance and it is not meant to be used in reference to a person. Ensure is often used in business contracts when referring to an informal guarantee.

Ensure Synonyms: certify, guarantee, warrant

If you are not sure which of these three words to use, you have two options:

  1. Ask the questions above to decide which category applies to your sentence.
  2. Choose a different way to state your sentence. There is always another way to say the same thing.

Unfortunately, the spell-check feature on most computers will not catch the misuse of these words.

Unscripted is happy to provide some professional assistance with selecting the correct word choice. Just visit the contact page here.

I Before E…Right?

You have probably heard the phrase “I before E.” You may even know the longer version, “I before E except after C.” If you’re really lucky, you learned the compound version, “I before E except after C and when sounding like A.”

So what does all that mean?

I before E

Most English words that have an “ie” combination are spelled with the “i” first.

I Before E

Except after C

Many words where the “ei” comes after the letter C are spelled with the “e” first.

Except After C

Or when sounding like A

When the “ei” in the word is pronounced as an “A,” the “e” before “i” exception applies.

Or When Sounding like A

Additional Exceptions

The rule should really be “I before E except after C and when sounding like A, E or I and when ending in ING and when the ‘c’ makes a ‘sh’ sound and when used in a comparative/superlative and in some compound words and in other random instances when the English language deems the exception necessary.” In this case, a run-on sentence was necessary.

Random Exceptions

Here is some solid advice from one of Brian Regan’s comedy acts about his time in school:

Brian Regan

Good luck, folks.

If you struggle with this or the many other grammar rules and exceptions, seek help through the Contact page at www.unscriptedllc.com.


When to Say I and When to Say Me

This one is easy, I promise!

A common error in both spoken and written English is mixing up when to say “I” and when to say “me” when referring to yourself and another subject.

Before we get into the details of “I” vs “me,” let’s start with the most important concept: the order of the subjects.

Simple Rule: ALWAYS them and then me, NEVER me and then them. (Always.)

In other words, always say “Tom and I” or “Tom and me,” never “me and Tom.” Think of it as common courtesy to state the other person before yourself.

Now on to the meat and potatoes. When is it Tom and I and when is it Tom and me anyway?

I or Me

Why do you say “I” in the first sentence but “me” in the second?

TIP: Take yourself out of the sentence and see how it sounds.

Would you say, “I am going to the store” or “Me am going to the store?” Put Carrie back in the sentence and you have “Carrie and I are going to the store.”

Would you say, “Would you like to go to the store with me” or “would you like to go to the store with I?” Again, put Carrie back in the sentence and you have “Would you like to go to the store with Carrie and me?”

The complicated answer refers to whether the pronoun (I or me) is doing the action or receiving the action. “I am going” vs. “come with me.”

Luckily, with the trick above, you don’t need to remember things like the relationship between the pronoun and the verb in a given sentence.

People who cannot distinguish between good and bad language, or who regard the distinction as unimportant, are unlikely to think carefully about anything else.   ~B. R. Myers

If you need another set of eyes to ensure that your usage is correct, contact Unscripted today.

Five Common Grammar Mistakes

Charlie Brown

Even grammar Nazis make the occasional error. Here are a few of the most common grammar mistakes so you can avoid making them.

Its or It’s?

This is one of those exceptions that grammar Nazis are always discussing. In most cases, s makes a word possessive. However, with “it” the s makes it a contraction for “it is.” The possessive form is just its.

Its or It's.

There, Their or They’re?

Many people know the difference in these three words but they find themselves accidentally messing them up anyway. Be sure to double-check your usage when you proofread because, like many homonyms, this can be a tricky one for the untrained eye to catch.

There, Their, They're

Personal Pronouns for Entities

Personal pronouns such as “who/whom” or “they” are reserved for humans. Everything else is “it” or “that.”

Personal Pronouns for Entities

In the first sentence, the narrator is looking for a person, referred to as a “whom.” In the second sentence, the pronoun is referring to a company so “it” is the correct term.

Then or Than?

Then is used to reference time. Than is always (and only) used in comparisons.

Then or Than

“Of” Instead of “Have”

This is an error that many people don’t even know they’re making. It pertains to sentences that contain the words should, could or would. You may not think twice before saying something like “I should of gone to bed earlier last night.” However, the correct phrase is “I should have gone to bed earlier last night.”

Of Instead of Have

Think always have, never of.

These are only a few of the most common errors people make in everyday communication.
If you would like a professional to review something you have written for these and other common errors, visit the Contact page at http://www.unscriptedllc.com.