English is one of the most important languages in the present times because of its mass popularity. It is often referred to as the “world language” because it is the only language that is understood by most people in the world. Therefore, learning to speak and write well in English becomes a necessity. To help with the process, we have compiled some of the most common grammatical errors that people make which is easily avoidable.
- Use of I and Me
This is a common error that springs out of confusion. When you refer to yourself as another person at the beginning of the sentence then you say, “Ram and I went to the playground together”. On the contrary, when you use it at the end of the sentence, it would go like Suresh came to meet Ram and me.
The two personal pronouns I and me are often used wrongly, usually in sentences in which I is being used with another noun. Here are some tips to help you get it right:
- Use the pronoun I, along with other subjective pronouns such as we, he, she, you, and they, when the pronoun is the subject of a verb:
He went to bed.
We waited for the bus.
Clare and I are going for a coffee.
- Use the pronoun me, along with other objective pronouns such as us, him, her, you, and them, when the pronoun is the object of a verb:
Danny thanked them.
The dog followed John and me to the door.
In the last example, the pronoun me, together with the proper noun John, forms the object of the verb follow, so you need to use me rather than I.
- Use the pronoun me, along with other objective pronouns such as us, him, her, you, and them, when the pronoun is the object of a preposition:
Rose spent the day with Jake and me.
Me, together with Jake, forms the object of the preposition with, so you need to use the pronoun me rather than the pronoun I.
An easy way of making sure you’ve chosen the right pronoun is to see whether the sentence reads properly if you remove the additional pronoun:
|✓ I am going for a coffee.||✗ Me am going for a coffee.|
|✓ Rose and I went for a coffee.||✗ Rose and me went for a coffee.|
|✓ The dog followed me.||✗ The dog followed I.|
|✓ Rose spent the day with me.||✗ Rose spent the day with I.|
- Agreement between subject and verb
Subjects and verbs must agree with one another in number (singular or plural). Thus, if a subject is singular, its verb must also be singular; if a subject is plural, its verb must also be plural. Verbs remove an s from the singular form.
It is a common mistake that people forget the relationship between subject and verb. One must keep in mind if it is singular or plural when you use them in a sentence. Basic Principle: Singular subjects need singular verbs; plural subjects need plural verbs. My brother is a nutritionist. My sisters are mathematicians.
- Use of modifiers
The modifier must always be used next to the word it is trying to modify. E.g. When I was 6 years old, I ate a lot of candies. A working definition for the word “modify” is to change or to alter something. This definition is the same when considering the purpose of modifiers within a sentence. A modifier changes, clarifies, qualifies or limits a particular word in a sentence in order to intensify its presence within a body of work.
The great southern American writer, William Faulkner, is notorious for writing with multiple layers of modifiers in order to engage his audience. Consider the following passage from his novel The Sound and Fury:
“He said time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life”.
Like most writing techniques, modifiers can be brilliant when used correctly and effectively. On the other hand, if a modifier is used incorrectly the meaning of the sentence can become blurred or distorted.
- The use of Comma
A comma must be used to join two independent clauses. The common mistake is to insert where it is not required and leave it when it is required. Commas and periods are the most frequently used punctuation marks. Commas customarily indicate a brief pause; they’re not as final as periods.
Use commas to separate words and word groups in a simple series of three or more items.
Example: My estate goes to my husband, son, daughter-in-law, and nephew.
Note: When the last comma in a series comes before and or or (after daughter-in-law in the above example), it is known as the Oxford comma. Most newspapers and magazines drop the Oxford comma in a simple series, apparently feeling it’s unnecessary. However, omission of the Oxford comma can sometimes lead to misunderstandings.
Example: We had coffee, cheese and crackers and grapes.
Adding a comma after crackers makes it clear that cheese and crackers represents one dish. In cases like this, clarity demands the Oxford comma.
We had coffee, cheese and crackers, and grapes.
Fiction and nonfiction books generally prefer the Oxford comma. Writers must decide Oxford or no Oxford and not switch back and forth, except when omitting the Oxford comma could cause confusion as in the cheese and crackers example.
- Words like Complement and Compliment
The word compliment is used when you praise something/someone and complement is used when something works in harmony with another. There is often confusion over the words complement and compliment. They sound similar, but their meanings are very different.
A compliment is an expression of praise. For example: My compliments to the chef for such a wonderful meal.
When I said your eyes looked misty, I meant that as a compliment.
A complement is an enhancement. A complement enhances something else or goes well with it.
For example: Cranberry sauce is a complement for turkey.
The cashew nuts were an excellent complement for the soup.
(The cashew nuts went well with the soup.)
- The use of semicolons
A simple semicolon can be easily used to join two independent clauses. People often misunderstand the usage of a semicolon. A semicolon is used to separate two independent clauses (two separate sentences) that are closely related. Often, semicolons appear before transitional words, such as however, therefore, moreover, furthermore, nevertheless, etc. Semicolons can also be used to separate detailed items in a series. Experienced writers use semicolons infrequently.
Correct: John should enroll in an upper-level sociology class; he has fulfilled all of the prerequisites, and he is interested in the topic.
(The semicolon joins two closely related sentences.)
Incorrect: John should enroll in an upper-level sociology class; he has always wanted to join the swim club.
(The semicolon should not be used to join these two complete sentences because the sentences are not closely related.)
- Words like then & than
This is again a common mistake. “Then” is used to follow a sequence of events and “than” is a word that can be used for comparison. The two are often confused and exchanged with each other.
Then is mainly an adverb, often used to situate actions in time. For example, you wake up in the morning and then have breakfast. It’s also used in if … then constructions such as, “If you wake late, then you might have to skip breakfast.” It also works as a noun meaning that time (e.g., “I wanted breakfast, but then was not a good time”) and as an adjective meaning at that time (e.g., “My then boyfriend was not an early riser”).
Than is a conjunction used mainly in making comparisons—e.g., “My breakfast is better than yours”; “I make breakfast differently than you do.”
To help distinguish between the two words, remember that than has no one-word synonyms. It is a one-of-a-kind word. To illustrate, try thinking of a single word to replace than in “My breakfast is better than yours.” There isn’t one. Then, in contrast, has many synonyms and often bears replacement with an equivalent word or phrase. For instance, “I woke up and then had breakfast” can become “I woke up and subsequently had breakfast.” The exception is in if … then constructions, where the then is usually required. But for these situations, just remember that then, not than, is the correct spelling of the word often paired with if.
- The use of apostrophe
The apostrophe is used in case of possessive words but people commonly make the mistake of using it with a possessive pronoun like mine, ours, his etc.
- Apostrophes indicate possession – something belonging to something or someone else.
- To indicate something belonging to one person, the apostrophe goes before the ‘s’. For instance, “The girl’s horse.”
- To indicate something belonging to more than one person, put the apostrophe after the ‘s’. For example, “The girls’ horse.”
- Apostrophes are also used to indicate a contracted word. For example, “don’t” uses an apostrophe to indicate that the word is missing the “o” from “do not”.
- Apostrophes are never used to make a word plural, even when a word is in number form, as in a date.
How not to do it:
- The horse’s are in the field
- Pen’s for sale
- In the 1980’s
- Janes horse is over there
- The girls dresses are ready for them to collect
How to do it properly:
- The horses are in the field
- Pens for sale
- In the 1980s
- We didn’t want to do it
- Jane’s horse is over there
- The girls’ dresses are ready for them to collect
- Words like It’s or its
This is again a common mistake to misunderstand the usage of “It’s” and “its”. But this is simple to understand. “It’s” is a mix of It and is whereas “its” is a possessive pronoun.
Its = a possessive pronoun. Examples would be: The puppy played with its toy. The computer and its power supply are for sale. Do you know whether my car needs its own inspection?
It’s = contraction of it is. Examples would be: It’s much too hot in July. I think it’s going to rain. I doubt it’s ever going to be the same.
- 10. Words like principle and principal
The usage of principle and principal is also a common mistake. “Principle” means a code or a standard whereas “Principal” means chief or primary. This mistake can be easily avoided by keeping the meaning in mind and with constant practice.
It’s an easy enough mistake to make given how similar these two words look and sound, but there’s a simple explanation to help you remember the difference.
- Affect is a verb – “to affect” – meaning to influence or have an impact on something.
- Effect is the noun – “a positive effect” – referring to the result of being affected by something.
- There is also a verb “to effect”, meaning to bring something about – “to effect a change”. However, this is not very commonly used, so we’ve left it out of the examples below to avoid confusion.
How not to do it:
- He waited for the medicine to have an affect
- They were directly effected by the flooding
12. Incomplete Comparisons
This one drives me up a wall when I see it in the wild. Can you see what’s wrong with this sentence?
Our car model is faster, better, stronger.
Faster, better, stronger … than what? What are you comparing your car to? A horse? A competitor’s car? An older model?
When you’re asserting that something should be compared to something else, make sure you always clarify what that something else is. Otherwise, it’s impossible for your readers to discern what the comparison actually means.
13. Here vs. Hear
Here=adverb, in this place; in this spot. I am here and planning to stay. I wish you were here. It is here in this place that we met.
Hear=verb, to be within earshot; to perceive by ear. I hear you. We do not want to hear the policies one more time. If only she heard what he had to say!
- Colon mistakes
A colon is used after a complete sentence to introduce a word, phrase, clause, list, or quotation. The colon indicates that what follows proves or explains the sentence before the colon.
Correct: Students choose GSU for three main reasons: its urban environment, its diverse student body, and its rigorous academic reputation.
(The list that follows the colon explains the complete sentence that precedes the colon.)
Incorrect: Students choose GSU for: its urban environment, its diverse student body, and its rigorous academic reputation.
(“Students choose GSU for” is not a complete sentence.)
- Inappropriate passive or active voice
The active and passive voice is not grammatically correct or incorrect; however, writers often choose inappropriately which voice to use. The passive voice has the effect of removing the actor from the subject position or from the sentence entirely. This removal is appropriate in certain situations, particularly in science and business. Otherwise, you should typically use the active voice.
Incorrect: I poured the solution into the beaker.
(The active voice would be inappropriate here if this is part of a lab report. In science writing, the person performing an experiment should be irrelevant to the process.)
Correct: The solution was poured into the beaker.
(Using the passive voice, the “I” can be removed from the sentence.)
Incorrect: Native Americans were repeatedly pushed further west.
(Removing the actor from this sentence is inappropriate because it is important here to know who caused this action to occur.)
Correct: European settlers repeatedly pushed Native Americans further west.
(Using the active voice makes it clear who caused the action.)
The above-mentioned mistakes are common in English language usage but if you are careful about them you can improve your English speaking ability and writing skills immensely. To be honest, it is not very difficult to improve on them. You just need to have constant practice and keep these words in mind when you write.