Top Ten Common Grammar Mistakes
Roses are red,
violet are blue.
The days’ lovely and so is you.
You craft the 99.99% original poem above as a birthday gift to one of your special friends. You excitedly anticipate their reaction for days. Exactly three days after receiving your gift, your friend sends you back the poem with bloody red marks and an attached note saying “Save the world from your idiotic poetry and work on your English.”
Yes, nothing can be ruder than your friend’s behavior. Yet this wouldn’t happen if you had a solid grasp of English grammer, uh, grammar. At least you can take consolation in the fact that you’re not alone: a lot of English speakers out there are guilty of committing errors in both spoken and written English.
Now one of the first steps in setting yourself in the right path of grammar is knowing the common mistakes committed by other people. You can easily avoid them yourself this way. Here is the list of top ten mistakes in English grammar that hopefully won’t find their way into your poems and other writing in the future.
10. Using a double negative in a sentence
"Regretting the past won’ t do nothing."
After all, English sentences apply almost the same principles as in Mathematics when it comes to combining positives and negatives.
If math tells you to cancel out the negative sign when two negative numbers are added, the same happens if you’re using two negative words in a sentence. If you add a negative word to another one, the sentence then adopts a positive meaning.
In the sentence above, instead of conveying the idea that nothing happens when you regret things, it says that having regrets does something. That’s why it’s better to say “Regretting the past won’t do anything,” or “Regretting the past would do nothing.”
9. Using "good" for "well"
How are you doing? How many times have you heard this question in the past? On how many occasions have you answered this question? What was your answer each time? Please don’t say you always reply, “I’m doing good.” No matter how right this statement sounds to you, it’s just plain wrong.
“I’m doing well” is actually the right reply. Why? It’s simply because the sentence calls for an adverb. “Good” is an adjective and “well” is an adverb, making it the appropriate word for this sentence. Of course you can also substitute other adverbs like “great”, or "badly", depending on how you feel. The key here is to use adverbs and not adjectives.
8. Using "lay" for "lie" and vice versa
While the verb "lie" may mean not to tell the truth, it also means to recline. The second meaning is the one you likely confuse with lay, a verb meaning to put something down. Here is a basic table showing the present, past and past participle forms of lie and lay.
Present/Base Form Past Past Participle
lie lay I lain
lay laid laid
By keeping in mind the forms of each verb, you’ll find it easier to use the right one called for by an idea. In case you have a bad case of mild amnesia or simply poor memory, it helps to have a basic understanding of how each verb is used in a sentence.
Remember that the verb "lie" simply means positioning oneself in a reclining position. Thus, you create a complete thought just by telling a pet, “Lie,” or “Lie down.”
With the word lay, you cannot say, “I’ll lay.” Since the word itself means you’re acting upon something or someone, you have to mention the object or person you’re referring to. Are you laying a basket of fruits on a table? Perhaps you want to lay a child down on the floor? Again, keep in mind that your idea is incomplete unless you mention the object or person that receives the action.
To get a more in-depth understanding of the use of both lie and lay, check out the following sentences.
Present tense: I lie here thinking of the day ahead of me.
Past tense: I lay in bed almost the whole day yesterday.
Past participle: I had lain in that mat before.
Present tense: I lay the cards on the table as Jim explains the rules of the game.
Past tense: I remember I laid your bag on that corner.
Past participle: She had laid the broom and mop on the floor before the housekeeper came in.
7. Using "irregardless"
This is what has happened with “irregardless”. While another example of a double negative word, it is a common mistake borne out of many people misusing it. It may actually be a fusion of the phrases “irrespective of” and “regardless of”. Since these phrases have similar meanings, “irregardless” has easily become a grammatical error phenomenon
6. Using "they’re" for "their" and interchanging "their" for "there"
"Funny how there life became such a tragedy after the huge money they earned their in that town."
"Are you their? Their already here."
Use the sentences above repetitively in a piece of work and you have a perfect recipe for an editor’s headache. While failure to proofread your work would likely cause this kind of mistakes, some people may not be aware at all of the differences among these words.
Check out the following explanations if you’re having difficulty differentiating between "they’re," "there" and "their."
They’re – a contraction of the phrase "they are." For example: "They are best friends from college" becomes: "They’re best friends from college."
There – a word you use to convey the idea that a person or object is in a certain place. For example: "There are millions of fish in the ocean." "See you there tomorrow evening."
Their – a reflexive pronoun of "they" that you use to show ownership. For example: "Their house is perched on a hill overlooking their farm."
5. Interchanging "it’s" and "its"
No amount of thoughtfulness can save you from the horrors of grammatical errors. If you have basic knowledge of the differences between “its” and “it’s,” then you probably just need to work on proofreading your work.
Now the case of interchanging “its” and “it’s” is the same as confusing “their” for “they’re”. You have to understand that while “its” shows ownership, “it’s” is simply a contraction of the phrase “it is”. If you’re still dumbfounded, check out the sentences below.
"The chocolate cake is Andrew’s favorite dessert."
"It is Andrew’s favorite dessert."
"It’s Andrew’s favorite dessert."
"Corn kernels are the parrot’s favorite food."
"Corn kernels are its favorite food."
4. Using dangling participles or misplaced phrases
"The beggar watched as tourists, lying frail and cold on the pavement, flocked inside the cathedral."
"Tourists sure know how to appreciate scenery even with empty stomachs, eh?"
"Michelle thought about her science homework munching on a chocolate donut due the next day."
As with most mistakes in grammar, the key here is in proofreading your work to make sure that your long sentences convey the right message. Though it would be quite the sight, Michelle’s homework won’t be munching on a chocolate donut.
3. Interchanging "you’re" and "your"
"Your not going to the party with you’re fiancé, are you?"
Need we say more? This case is basically the same as the mistakes in 6 and 5. Again, just keep in mind the differences between these two words. You’ll also stay out of trouble by always proofreading your work. Remember: "You’re" is a contraction of "you are," and "your" demonstrates ownership.
2. Using apostrophes incorrectly
In general, you use the apostrophe for three reasons. One is to form possessive nouns. Two is to stand for the omission of letters or the contractions of phrases. Three is to show the plural forms of lowercase letters. Here are examples of these uses:
Possessive of a noun – Bryan’s friends are coming over.
Contraction of a phrase – It’s too good to be true.
Plural form of a lowercase letter – There are two b’s in that word.
Remember to add “’s” to a singular noun when showing its possession, even if it already ends in “s”. One example is writing “Joss’s phone” instead of “Joss’ phone”.
1. Interchanging "that" and "which"
The gift that she crafted for her Mother was a project for her Art class.
The gift, which she crafted for her Mother, is in the trunk of the car.
Note that the sentences above are almost the same except for the last clauses. In the first sentence, it is important to mention that she crafted the gift because the last clause states that it was a project for her Art class.
However, in the second sentence, if you omit the second clause, you’ll come up with the sentence, “The gift is in the trunk of the car.” See? Your sentence still has a complete idea even without the clause introduced by "which".
Back to Basics
If you’re at a loss and you find mostly everything here confusing, we suggest you buy a good grammar book. It also pays to be a wide reader of books. After all, learning rules in grammar through memorization is incomparable to acquiring them naturally through exposure to good literature.