Mar 1, 2017 | Rajrupa Ghosh
Show me one person who likes grammar and I will show you ten who loathe it with vehemence. For, no matter how many long hours people spend in learning grammar at school, some areas of grammar remain problematic for even the most prolific of writers. You could say grammar is tricky, but when you need to write for your work or for pleasure, you need to be careful and make sure that you use correct grammar at all times.
No matter how your flow of language is, wrong grammar can put off even the most indulgent of readers. So, the only way to write is to use grammar well. There are quite a few issues that most writers stumble at while writing. Let us try to make a list of five such mistakes or confusing areas in grammar, such that a cheat sheet will help you along nicely, the next time you fumble. So, here goes.
1. The Use of Who vs. Whom
I will not be exaggerating if I say that most of us stop at this confusing issue at some point or other in our writing careers. So, when do you use ‘whom’ and when do you use ‘who’? Just remember that you use ‘who’ for any sentence’s subject and ‘whom’ for any sentence’s object.
And how do you know where to use which?
My rule of thumb: If I can substitute it with ‘she’ or ‘he’ or ‘any other noun’, then that is the proper case for using ‘who’, and not ‘whom’.
On the other hand, if you can use ‘him’ or ‘her’ instead of the word in question, then remember to use ‘whom’ and not ‘who’.
Let us consider this example:
The singer, for ‘who’ the audience went wild, was a young boy.
- Is this correct? Let us consider this part ‘for who the audience went wild’. So, does the audience go wild for ‘him’ or for ‘he’? Obviously, you know, it is ‘him’. Following that logic, it should be ‘whom’, and not ‘who’. So, the sentence should read:
The singer, for ‘whom’ the audience went wild, was a young boy.
Now let us consider this sentence:
The judge called out to the young boy, ‘whom’ appeared to be crying on stage.
In this case, ask yourself, what can you replace ‘whom’ with – ‘he’ or ‘him’. It is ‘he’, so the correct sentence should read:
The judge called out to the young boy, ‘who’ appeared to be crying on stage.
2. The Use of ‘Fewer’ vs. ‘Less’
The rule here is that ‘fewer’ is to be used when you are talking about objects or things that you can count – things to which you can assign a particular number.
For example, look at this sentence:
There are fewer sailboats in the bay this morning than yesterday.
Or consider this one:
Fewer people are expected to attend the conference this year, as many people might be off on their summer vacations by that time.
In both cases, you can assign numbers – that is, number of sailboats and number of people.
Now let us look at the next two examples:
I would like less milk in my coffee.
A little less pride might have helped to keep him grounded.
So, in these examples, you see that you cannot count ‘milk’ or ‘pride’. Hence, ‘less’ is appropriate here.
3. The Use of Subject and Object Pronouns
The next grammar issue we will deal with is the usage of ‘me’, ‘my’, and ‘I’. Many pronouns in the English language have varied forms that point to the role they play in a sentence. While the word ‘I’ is the subject form of the pronoun, ‘me’ is the object form.
Let us consider the subject form first, by looking at the following examples:
My mother and me will go on a vacation together.
Here, ‘my mother and me’ together is the subject. Now, look at the sentence, after removing ‘mother’ and only you as the subject. Ask yourself whether you can say ‘…me will go on a vacation…’? No, of course not, as ‘me’ cannot be used as a subject. So, replace it with ‘I’ – a subject, such that the correct sentence reads:
My mother and I will go on a vacation together.
Now let us take a look at the following sentence and think about the usage of pronouns.
The taxi driver was very helpful to my mother and I when we got lost in Darjeeling.
Here, the taxi driver is the subject and ‘my mother and I’ can be taken together as the object. Now, ‘I’ is a subject pronoun. To make it clearer, say it aloud, by breaking it up: ‘The taxi driver was very helpful to ‘I’ when we got ….’
Now, this will sound wrong. So, the correct sentence will read:
The taxi driver was very helpful to my mother and me when we got lost in Darjeeling.
So, remember, the correct usage of ‘I’ is as a verb’s subject. The object form of the same is ‘me’, which is used as a verb’s object.
4. The Use of ‘That’ Vs ‘Which’
It looks so easy to use ‘that’ and ‘which’ interchangeably, but in most cases, you cannot and should not. Remember that ‘that’ is a restrictive clause while ‘which’ is a non-restrictive one. Now, that the nomenclature is out of the way, let us get down to business. So, what is a restrictive clause? If you understand the meaning of this term, it will help you to identify the proper situations in which you should use them.
A restrictive clause is a part of any sentence which you cannot eliminate as it particularly restricts another part of the same sentence. What does that mean practically? To understand that well, let us consider the following examples:
The real estate conglomerate, which has those famous architects, is based out of Tennessee.
The real estate conglomerate that has those famous architects is based out of Tennessee.
Let’s take the first sentence first. It talks about a ‘particular’ real estate conglomerate. The audience knows which conglomerate is being discussed. So, even if you leave out ‘which has those famous architects’, the meaning of the sentence still remains the same. The information about the famous architects merely adds more information for the audience. The crux of the sentence lies in the understanding that that particular real estate conglomerate is based out of Tennessee.
In the second sentence, the ‘that has those famous architects’ is restricted to the ‘real estate conglomerate’. It suggests that the audience and the speaker were talking about multiple conglomerates, and the conglomerate with those famous architects is based out of Tennessee. If you remove ‘that has those famous architects’, then it is not known which conglomerate you are talking about.
The rule of thumb for easy usage is to consider the context. If the information you are providing after the ‘that’ or ‘which’ is removed and that changes the meaning of the sentence, then remember, you can use only ‘that’. On the other hand, if removal of the part after ‘that’ or ‘which’ does not change the meaning of the sentence, you use ‘which’.
5. The Use of Dangling Modifiers
This is another area in which you will find many write-ups faltering. To get it right, the crucial thing to remember is that modifiers should be placed as close as possible to the element they are intended to modify. A dangling modifier, which you should avoid at all costs, is a phrase or word that modifies a not-so-clearly stated element in the sentence.
Let us look at the following sentence:
After trying their amazing first album, the second one will also be rather exciting.
This sentence garners so many questions: Whose album? Who listened to the first album and found it amazing? Who will listen to the second one and also find it rather exciting?
You must, therefore, modify the ‘After trying their amazing first album’. The correct sentence could read like this (there could be many other variations):
After I tried their amazing first album, I have a feeling I will find their second one exciting as well.
Remember, the clause with which you start a sentence should have the same subject as the sentence itself. Here, that subject is ‘I’.
Let us consider another example:
Driving around in the storm, the palm trees had been uprooted in many areas of the city.
This sentence tends to tell us something like this: the palm trees were driving around in the storm and got uprooted in many areas of the city.
To correct it, you have to introduce the subject you started the first clause with and make it the subject of your sentence itself.
So, your sentence should read:
Driving around in the storm, the Mukherjees noticed that the palm trees had been uprooted in many areas of the city.
Other Common Grammar Mistakes to Check for
Some more common grammatical errors we tend to make and that we should be careful about would include the following:
a. Use of ‘who’ vs ‘that’
This is easier than trying to remember the ‘who’ versus ‘whom’ confusion. Here, just make sure that you use ‘who’ for people and ‘that’ for everything else.
She is the one who will be the ring-bearer.
This is the wedding dress that she was interested in.
You get it?
b. Use of Irregular Verb Forms
For most verbs in the English language, we simply add ‘-ed’ to the basic form to create the past and past participle. For example:
talk, talked, (has) talked
cook, cooked, (has) cooked
However, there are, in the language, a few verbs with irregular forms in the past sense. Some of these verbs that occur with high frequency include:
come, came, (has) come
go, went, (has) gone
run, ran, (has) run
Let us consider some sentences, shall we?
Pritam loves to argue, has ran for mayor, and has a subtle way of promoting himself to people.
This sentence is incorrect. It should be:
Pritam loves to argue, has run for mayor, and has a subtle way of promoting himself to people.
Another sentence to check out:
Greta is thought to have came to volunteer at the students’ centre, with clockwork regularity every day.
Again, this sentence is incorrect. The correct version should be as follows:
Greta is thought to have come to volunteer at the students’ centre, with clockwork regularity every day.
c. The Use of Reflexive Pronoun Forms
Before we look at examples of sentences, let us first talk a little about reflexive pronouns. A reflexive pronoun ends in -self or -selves and refers to a personal pronoun or noun that appears somewhere else in the same sentence. These include words like herself, himself, itself, yourself, myself, and themselves. It will help you to remember that a reflexive pronoun will never be a sentence’s subject, that is, it will never be the individual or being who is performing any action in the sentence. You will always have to use a reflexive pronoun as the object of your sentence, that is, it will always be the element in the sentence that will have something being done to it. A very common mistake is to replace a personal pronoun with a reflexive one.
Now let us look at some sentences to check this issue in detail.
Julie and ‘myself’ loved to have an ice-cream after school.
When you look at a sentence like this and wonder whether you have used the reflexive pronoun correctly, then try to think of the sentence with only you in it.
For example, in this case, leave ‘Julie’ out and read the sentence with only you as the subject. So how will it read like?
‘Myself’ loved to have an ice-cream after school.
This clearly does not sound right. So, your use of reflexive pronoun is wrong here. The correct sentence would read like this:
Julie and I loved to have an ice-cream after school.
Let us look at another example.
The company did a lot for myself and my family during the tsunami.
Does this sound right? To check, remove the family aspect and read the sentence aloud.
The company did a lot for myself ….during the tsunami.
So, no. The sentence is not correct. It will be correct when you construct it like this:
The company did a lot for my family and me during the tsunami.
Note the use of ‘me’ after the ‘family’. It is polite to place yourself at the end of the sentence/thought.
No matter how great you are with your language, there are times when you still miss the grammar bus and end up with silly errors. To be safe, I would like to recommend the use of any of these terrific online tools. Though the good ones are paid, you will also find the free version of some (for eg: Grammarly).
There are other tools as well. You can find links to some of the other nifty ones in this blog published on Mention.
This brings us to the end of this post. That does not mean this is where our errors end! There are many more common errors or error-prone issues that many of you may have come across while writing. Let us know or add to our list in the comments section below.
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