6 key differences between spoken and written grammar goofs

grammar,spoken speech,written,writing,bloggingMost 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.

2.Could/would/should of

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:

I wasn’t

You weren’t

S/he wasn’t

We weren’t

They weren’t

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

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English




  1. Great post Suze, reminds me about the joke I heard recently.

    Teacher to class, “Hands up who can give me a sentence beginning with the word ‘I'”
    Anna’s hand shoots up and shouts “I is….”
    Teacher quickly interrupts “No, Anna never begin a sentence ‘I is’ it is ‘I am'”
    Anna hesitates and whispers “I am the ninth letter of the alphabet”

  2. It is particularly splendid to find someone who promotes and teaches good writing as clearly and effectively as you do. The Internet is a wonderful tool, not least for the way that encourages self-expression, but it does sadden me that so much thereon is poorly written and poorly focused. I hope that you feel moved to continue your good work for the foreseeable future.

    I am, in a fashion, following your journey in reverse – in that I was born and brought up here, but intend – in a couple of years time – to retire to Canada. This somewhat extended emigration has encouraged me belatedly to start blogging myself, and I am grateful for all the helpful advice that I can glean from those that have gone before.

    Thank you.

    • Hi Andy and thank you so much for your very kind words.

      Whereabouts in Canada are you intended to settle? If it’s Ontario do let me know – suze@suzanstmaur.com – as I have a large family and many friends there and would be happy to help/guide you if you need it.

      • Thank you. That is most kind. My wife is Canadian but from BC, and she has gone back to Victoria recently to take up a new post there. I will join her there, but that must wait until I retire in a couple of years time.

        I am sure that I will get to see Ontario at some point, but all my visits to this point have been to the west coast.

        Thank you again.

        • Ah, the West Coast is lovely so I’m told. I have never been there but my son and I are planning a trip “out west” this year to see it for ourselves. The climate there is rather less harsh than in Ontario, which you might find helpful, too!

          • I fell in love with the west coast the first time I went there, and much as I love England I am really looking forward to retiring to BC. I am sure you will have a wonderful trip… There are some wonderful things to do on the island.

          • I have a cousin who is a Police Officer in Nanaimo and although she comes from “back east” she loves it out there. Can’t wait to see it all.

  3. I was hoping to see something about the use of “then” and “than”. Incorrect use of those two words drives me insane!

  4. Shoal Creek says

    You used “every since” and “ever since” in the first sentence? I’m not sure I should follow this blog for any writing advice. I understand how quickly typing something out and then proofreading poorly could lead to this; however, ever since I learned to speak, I knew that “ever” dealt with a continuous period of time and “every” dealt with an entire collection of distinct objects. To rephrase, we could say that “ever” deals with an infinite number of moments in time while “every” deals with a finite collection of items. Because my brain could grasp the concept when I was 2 or 3 years old, I have a very difficult time understanding why other native English speakers cannot understand the difference as adults.

    • Thank you so much for your English lesson, Shoal Creek… That use of the word “every” was the deliberate mistake I sometimes include in my articles, just to prove that I’m human! 😉 Well spotted – I have now corrected the mistake for the benefit of some native English speakers who, according to you, may not understand the difference between “every” and “ever,” although I can’t imagine there are too many.