There are many kinds of grammatical errors made by students and professionals alike. Granted, many people make grammatical errors because they are short on time, or because grammar and language are not their forte. The purpose of this article is not to judge those who do not speak or write as well as others. Rather, it is here to bring attention to some common grammatical errors which can be avoided with just a little care and attention.
Whether we like it or not, the way we speak and write affect how we are perceived as individual members of society, as students, and as professionals. Thus, a basic understanding of grammatical rules conveys a basic sense of credibility and literacy.
Employees are representatives of their companies when they are on the job, and out in their communities. There are some professions in which correct grammar is less important. However in most business settings, the ways employees speak and write quickly expose their grasp of the English language. Employees who make basic grammatical mistakes signal employers and clients that they may not be credible or trained in their area of expertise either.
For those who are interested in preserving a consistent image of credibility, I have created a list of seven common grammatical errors. Included, are examples of proper usage, and some pointers on how these errors can be quickly recognized and corrected in day-to-day life.
- They, their, they’re
“They” is a pronoun that refers to a group. Ex: They want to go to the mall.
“Their” is a possessive pronoun referring to a group which owns something. Example: Their car is parked on the other side of the parking lot.
“They’re” is a contraction which means “they are”. Example: They’re leaving without you.
- Verb tense esp. see, saw, has/have seen
“See” is a present tense verb meaning what you can look at now. Example: I see the sign now.
“Saw” is a past tense verb meaning what you looked at in the past. Example: I saw it yesterday.
“Seen” is a past progressive verb which is always paired with a form of the verb “to be”, which includes: is, has, have.” Examples: I have seen him stop by here from time to time. Example 2: He has been seen here from time to time.
Note: Using “seen” as a past tense verb without either “has” or “have” is never correct. Do not say, “I seen it.” This may be colloquial, but it is grammatically incorrect. Most people who hear this recognize those who speak this way to be uneducated.
- Less vs. fewer
Contrary to many grocery checkout lines, these words are not interchangeable. “Fewer” should be used whenever the items in the sentence can be counted. Example: There are fewer people in the room than there were yesterday. Example 2: This line is for customers with 10 items or fewer. “Less” is used to compare amounts that cannot be counted. Example: Tom is less hungry than he was before he ate his sandwich. In this example, “hunger” is a concept, and is not a countable accumulation of items. If you really want to pair “fewer” with “hunger”, for example, you could say that Tom has fewer hunger pangs than before he ate. The pangs can be counted.
- I, me, and myself
The word “I” is a personal pronoun which always belongs in the subject part of a sentence. Example: I am going to the store. In this sentence, “I” is the subject, because it is “I” that is performing the action verb of “going.” The store is the object of the sentence, because it is what the action verb “going” is affecting. It answers the question, “Where is the subject “I” going?
The personal pronoun “me” is always the object of a sentence. Whenever the word “me” is used, something is happening to the person referred to as “me.” Example: The prize was awarded to me. Note: No one would ever say “The prize was awarded to I.” That being said, many people incorrectly say things like “Me and David went to the party.” This is incorrect, because the speaker is trying to use the object personal pronoun in the subject of the sentence.
This is a common mistake, especially whenever people are speaking. One thing which helps me remember which pronoun to use whenever there are two people or things in the subject, is to leave the second part of the subject out and see if the sentence still makes sense. If you take the “and David” part out of this sentence, it would read, “Me went to the party.”
No one except for Cookie Monster talks like this. Cookie Monster may be endearing, but most interviewers would never hire someone who speaks like Cookie Monster into a professional office position, let alone assign him responsibilities. The sentence should be expressed as “David and I are going to the party.”
The word “myself” is a reflexive pronoun and always belongs in the object part of the sentence. Example: I can read the book all by myself.
Note: I have often heard people say things like, “Myself and Bob went to the meeting,” often in an attempt to sound more professional. Note: It is never correct to begin a sentence with the word “myself.” If you are in a work environment in which people know correct grammar, beginning a sentence with the word “myself” will make you seem instantly less credible.
- Its, it’s
The word “its” is a possessive pronoun meaning that something belongs to a thing. Example: A cat licked its paws. The paws belong to the cat.
The word “it’s” is a contraction which combines the words “it” and is.” Example It’s raining outside.
These words can be confusing for many people because an apostrophe (‘) usually means that a word is possessive. However, in this case, that is not true.
If you are writing, and are unsure whether to use “its” or it’s”, try substituting the words “it is.” If “it is” makes sense in the sentence, then you should use “it’s.”
- Than vs. then
The word “than” is a word used to compare two nouns (people, places, or things). Example: Mike is taller than Jim. In this sentence, the heights of Mike and Jim are compared to one another.
The word “then” is a word to denote time order. Example: First we went to the restaurant, and then we went home.
- Every day vs. everyday
These words are different. The words “every day” mean that something happens literally every day. Example: Pete forgets his book for class every day.
The word “everyday” is a more general word that may not literally mean every single day, but is a regular occurrence. Example: Pete’s forgetfulness is an everyday occurrence.
This differentiation can still be confusing. A good way to tell the difference is to substitute the word “regular” and see if the sentence still makes sense. Example: “Pete forgets his book for class regular” makes no sense. However, the sentence: “Pete’s forgetfulness is a regular occurrence” does make sense.