It’s amazing to think that it’s 6 years since I wrote this eBook and despite the fact that only a few thousand of you (well, quite a few thousand) have bought a copy, many of my lovely readers are still getting sh*t like this soooo wrong.
Common grammar mistakes: why do we still make them?
In a word – well, a few words – it’s because the English language has mental health issues. Ergo, it’s nuts. There are so many exceptions to rules in English that it’s hardly worth studying the actual rules.
All the same, for those mere 1.5 billion people who speak English as a first or other language, we need to get the basics right as far as is humanly possible. Here, now, are some excerpts from my earlier writings, distilled down into the main areas where we still screw up…
Apostrophes … these probably cause more anxiety than any other form of writing in English, and it’s utterly needless. As a general rule, you use an apostrophe 1) to show possession, e.g. “Suze’s book” and 2) to create a contraction, e.g. “it’s” for “it is.” (“It’s” and “its” are especially confusing, unless you remember that “it’s” is always a contraction of “it is,” and “its” is the possessive.) You do NOT use an apostrophe for plurals of any kind – you just stick an “s” (or in some cases “es”) at the end of the word. See the next bit…
Apostrophes for plural nouns with an “s” or “es” on the end … ah, yes, this is another little quirk of the English language. If the noun is plural, e.g. “parents,” you put the apostrophe after the “s,” not before, e.g. “parents’ responsibility.”
Apostrophes for plural nouns without an “s” on the end … yet another delightful quirk of the English language. With words like “people,” “children,” etc. you revert to the original format and put the apostrophe before the “s”, e.g. “people’s,” “children’s.” Well, I never said English was simple, did I?
Capitalisation … another one that trips up so many people, it’s not funny. No matter how important you think nouns may be, there’s no need to give them a capital first letter unless they are “proper” nouns – official names of people, places, organisations, countries or continents. I know that right now it’s fashionable to capitalise every word in a headline or title but trust me, it’s hard to read and very irritating. Do yourself a favour and capitalise only proper nouns and the key words of a headline. Remember that just because a word seems important to you and so deserves a capital letter, it probably isn’t as important to others, so just keep it all in lower case unless there are proper nouns involved.
Infinitives, splitting … this is an old argument and one at which folks in the USA have stuck their noses up for some time. In theory (according to British English wallahs at least) you shouldn’t add an adverb between the “to” and the verb in an infinitive, e.g. “to seriously consider,” instead sticking the adverb either before the infinitive (“seriously to consider”) or after (“to consider seriously.) However most North American writers split the infinitive all the time and think British English-speakers are being old fuddy-duddies to dispute it. Did it all start with Star Trek and “to boldly go?” Hmmmm.
For more articles and tutorials on how to get English grammar, spelling, punctuation and syntax just about right, click here on HTWB…
Me – I … popularly goofed when associated with another person, e.g. “Howard and me went shopping” – no! It’s “Howard and I went shopping.” When in doubt, remove the other person and focus on your part in it – “me went shopping?”
Who – whom … oh, that one again! Who = subject pronoun, e.g. “who is going to the party tonight?” … whom = object pronoun, i.e. when person is the object of the sentence, e.g. “whom did we invite to the party?” There’s a good tutorial on this here: http://www.englishpage.com/minitutorials/who_whom.html
And for our most popularly goofed-up words …
Comprise – Consist Of … something either comprises XYZ, or consists of XYZ – never comprises of
Dissappointed … nope. Correct = disappointed
Foreword – Forward … foreword (n.) = introduction to a book … forward (adj. and adv.) = eager, going ahead
Fracture – Break … medical, as in bones – they mean the same thing = there’s no difference.
Irregardless … this word doesn’t exist! It’s either regardless, or irrespective
Lay – Lie – Lye … lay = to lay something down … lie = to lie down yourself, but past is “I lay down” (or “I laid down.”) Confusing, huh. Plus lie (n. and v.) can = an untruth, or to tell an untruth. Then there’s lye = caustic soda
Lightening – Lightning … lightening = reducing weight or load … lightning = flash of sharp light caused by thunderstorm
Lose – Loose … lose (v., pronounced “looz”) = to misplace or be deprived of something … loose (adj., pronounced with a soft “s”) = free from attachment. Spellings often cause confusion, but then so does much of the English language…
Pore – Pour … pore (n.) = tiny opening in your skin … pore (v.) = to study or examine very closely and carefully … pour (v.) = (usually re: a liquid) to release from container, e.g. “pour yourself a glass of milk”)
Rain – rein – reign … rain = precipitation … rein (n.) = part of horse’s bridle (also used as verb e.g. “to rein in) … reign (n. and v.) = governance or office of royal person, act of doing so … another trio of very common, classic goofs in English
What common grammar mistakes irritate you most?