Most of us native English speakers have had English grammar shoved down our throats ever since we started school; and non-native speakers have experienced a similar thing ever since they first started learning English as a second (or third, fourth, etc.,) language.
As we all know (or soon discover) English is an utterly lunatic language with so many “irregulars” and inconsistencies it’s not in the least bit funny. But once you’re speaking (and writing) English with reasonable ease, there are still a few common pitfalls to watch out for. Here are a few that I come across most frequently, and how to get them right…
Many people I know, especially in the UK, confuse the past tense of a verb with its past participle. This is especially true in the case of the London and south-east England cultures: they will tend to say “I have spoke about (whatever)” … when they should say/write, “I have spoken about (whatever.)
In spoken speech, and even in written speech, to use the former (grammatically incorrect) version is totally acceptable within the local culture. However given that English is spoken internationally – in other cultures and countries as well as those whose first language is English – for you to use this grammatically wrong form when you’re writing, will just make the other cultures think you’re ignorant. Sad, but true.
So commonly spoken and written, but sadly wrong. If you’re talking about something in conditional terms, you need to say “I could have … would have … should have.” The use of the word “of” instead is incorrect and despite it sounding right when you speak it, should not be used in your writing if you want to be correct.
3.Me and so-and-so
A common goof, yet it’s so easy to get right. “Me and my friend went to the restaurant” is something any of us might say, but if you strip out your friend, you’re left with the raw truth: “me went to the restaurant?” Uh-uh. You need to talk about yourself as “I” here, and being polite, it’s better to say or write “my friend and I went to the restaurant.” (“I and my friend” sounds wrong, anyway.)
4.Weren’t, wasn’t (and similar)
This is a particular common whoopsie in the UK. You need to remember your school days when you learned verbs – so it goes:
Once again, using the wrong word here – e.g. “we wasn’t,” “I weren’t,” etc. is an accepted part of spoken speech for many people. However when you see it written down it just looks, well, ignorant and wrong.
5.You or yourself?
I cringe when I hear my son respond to the question, “how are you” with “fine thank you, and yourself?” Let’s not get into the grammatical nitty gritty here, but forget “yourself,” OK? It’s YOU. “Fine, thanks, and you?” That’s all it takes. And that point is all the more relevant when it gets written down on screen or paper.
6.Don’t let your verbs argue with your nouns
Make sure your verb agrees with the subject of a sentence.
So, where’s the problem with something like this … “We are concerned that the effect of the recession on some of our business activities, and the influence of current financial outlook, is somewhat depressing considering what we have been told about the healthy market growth of our sector in China…”
You got it: ARE somewhat depressing. (And aren’t they just.)
There are loads more grammar gremlins in the English language, but these are some of the most common … please share your favourites with us here!
Want more help with spoken and written grammar?
“Super Speeches”…how to write and deliver them well
“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write
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