How to Avoid Common Grammatical Errors
The use of correct grammar in writing or speaking can indicate that the writer or speaker is intelligent, educated and conscientious. It may not be difficult to learn the basics of English, but English grammar is complex and full of irregularities. For example, the English language prohibits the use of the double negative, whereas the double negative indicates emphasis in other languages. Few native speakers can avoid grammatical errors, and some mistakes are common in writing. But learning the rules of grammar is a lot like learning the rules of a game: If you master the rules, you can be a winner at the game of communication.
Subject and Verb Agreement
A sentence talks about one singular subject or plural subjects, and the verb or action of the sentence should take the same form as the subject.
For example, if one dog runs down the street, the subject is the singular “dog” and the verb is the singular “runs.”
On the other hand, if two dogs run down the street, the subject is the plural “dogs” and the verb is the plural “run.”
The singular form of the verb “runs” ends in an “s” and the plural verb "run” does not, while the singular subject “dog” and plural ”dogs” follow the opposite forms.
Words that sound alike can be a source of much confusion in English. “You’re" and "your” are often used incorrectly, but if you break “you’re” into its parts -- “you are” --it’s easy to see the difference between “your hat” and “you’re welcome.” One way to approach such word-usage problems is to use mnemonics or memory tricks.
For example, the word “hear” contains the word “ear,” with which you hear, but “here” does not. The sentence “To have two cats may be too many for Mary, too” shows the uses of “to," "two" and "too.”
Remember that too has more than enough o's and can mean also, too. “There” contains the word “here,” a reminder that it indicates a place, but “they’re” is the contraction of “they are,” while “their” is the possessive of “them.”
Plurals and Possessives
Plurals often end in “s” and possessives (showing ownership) often end in an apostrophe followed by an "s.” For example, “two dogs occupied one dog’s bed.” Two dogs may possess individual beds, as well, which requires an apostrophe after the “s.”
So you might say, “The cats were sleeping on the dogs’ beds.” Then you might say, “It’s going to be a noisy house for all its occupants,” because, unlike regular plurals and possessives, “it’s” is the contraction of “it is” and “its” is the possessive of “it.”
Read, Listen and Practice
A wealth of information on correct grammar is available online, in local bookstores and libraries and in stylebooks like the "Associated Press Stylebook" and the "Chicago Manual of Style."
It is worth studying these materials, referring to them when you have questions and committing rules to memory. Listening to and reading communication styles can help pinpoint problem areas in your own writing and speaking.
Your computer’s grammar checker and online tools like Grammarly can be valuable for improving writing skills. Remember the corrections and practice them.
- Larry Beason: Ethos and Error -- How Business People React to Errors
- Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers: Professional Communication Society -- Common Grammatical Errors
- Frankfurt International School: How to Learn Grammar
- Oxford Royale Academy: Helpful Mnemonics and Essential Memory Aids for Tricky English Language Rules
- Purdue University, Online Writing Lab: Parts of Speech Overview
- Oxford Royale Academy: Homophones -- The Most Confusing Words in English
- The Atlantic; The Wrong Way to Teach Grammar; Michelle Navarre Cleary
- Vsellis: How to Learn Grammar and Improve Your Writing Fast -- Grammarly Review
- Business Insider; The 11 Most Common Grammatical Mistakes and How to Avoid Them; Christina Sterbenz
Dee Shneiderman, former librarian and paralegal, has been writing for 40+ years. Published in Compute! Magazine, she helped found The Crescent Review literary magazine. Owner of Frugal-Foto Photography, she holds a Bachelor of Arts in English, a Master of Library Science and a North Carolina Truck Driver Training certificate.