Elementary Ways to Check Your Grammar
We’ve all met them – those annoying people who correct our grammar. I know, because I’m one of them. It may not be the polite thing to do, but sometimes I just can’t help myself. Ask my son, he’ll tell you. I jump on him like a rabid animal when he utters the word “ain’t”. I absolutely hate that word! Can someone please tell me what two words “ain’t” is a contraction for???
But this article isn’t about words that don’t exist. My intent is to give you some simple ways to avoid the most common grammar mistakes, whether you’re penning your words or speaking them. These elementary tips can save you from frequently consulting Grammarly or looking up your fifth grade English teacher.
Let’s begin with the most commonly misused or misplaced words in the English language:
You know what they are: words that replace proper names; basically I, me, you, he, she, him, her, us, we, and them. These simple words are commonly misused when paired. Let me give you a couple of examples.
Him and I are planning a romantic getaway.
Me and him are going away for the weekend.
Do either of these sentences sound correct to you? Frankly, just writing them grates on my nerves, yet many people actually speak this way and, even worse, write this way!
The proper way each of these sentences should be written or spoken are as follows:
He and I are planning a romantic getaway.
He and I are going away for the weekend.
An easy way to check whether or not you’re choosing the correct pronoun(s) is to eliminate one and re-word the sentence. For instance, eliminate the word “I” in the first sentence and tweak the verb a bit. You’re left with: Him is planning a romantic getaway. See what I mean? It makes no sense and is quite obviously incorrect.
Same with the second sentence. Eliminate either “me” or “him”, tweak the verb, and it’ll be painfully obvious that both pronouns are incorrect.
The same test can be applied to pronouns that appear in the middle or at the end of a sentence. Check this out:
Abuse of any kind greatly affects we humans.
Now, remove the word “humans”. Does the sentence read correctly? No, it doesn’t. Replace “we” with “us” and you’ve got a properly constructed sentence.
Let’s try another one.
When abuse of any kind is witnessed, us humans tend to be affected emotionally.
This time take out the word “humans” and you’re left with: When abuse of any kind is witnessed, us tend to be affected emotionally. As you see, the correct pronoun in this sentence structure is “we”.
Pretty simple way to check the proper use of pronouns, don’t you think?
Let’s see what you’ve learned. Take this little quiz and see how you do.
Grammar quiz for pronoun usage:
Farther versus further
These words are very similar in spelling and meaning, but are misused quite often. Farther relates to distance, whereas further relates to emphasis, gain, or is used as a sentence modifier.
Let’s take a look at the definition of each, according to Merriam Webster.
“Farther (adverb): to or at or to a more distant place or time or a more advanced point.”
“Further (adverb): to a greater degree or extent. In addition to what has been said.”
The two words are so closely related that it’s become acceptable to interchange them, however, “ain’t” is also now in the dictionary. When I was young, “ain’t ain’t in the dictionary” was something I’d often say, but rules sometimes give in to colloquialisms and subtle, yet frequent abuse and, as a result, become bent.
Ask yourself this question when contemplating using “farther” or “further” in a sentence:
Is the subject moving from one place to another in measured or implied distance or is a point being made? In more cases than not, farther is the correct choice in going from point A to point B (physical or proverbial location).
Let’s take another quiz, shall we?
Grammar quiz for farther versus further:
Compound-complex sentences, when structured awkwardly, can leave your reader perplexed and prompt them to read the sentence several times in order to get (comprehend) the meaning. Same with when you’re having a conversation. You don’t want the person to whom you’re speaking to ask you what you mean or misconstrue what you’re trying to say.
Compound-complex sentences are composed by joining two or more independent clauses (thoughts or actions) with a conjunction (and, as, but, however). Rather than have two or three staccato sentences that interrupt the readers’ (or speaker’s) flow, related thoughts are joined together for a more cohesive picture. That is, if constructed in a way that makes sense.
To further illustrate my point, try this sentence on for size:
Mary and Jim trudged their way forward as the rain began to fall and they couldn’t see two feet in front of the windshield on their way to the cinema.
Pretty awkward, huh? To me, this sentence is backwards. Cinema is not the object of the rain, nor is it the result of Mary and Jim’s obstructed vision. A more cohesive way to paint this picture is definitely in order. Consider this instead:
Although the rain had begun to fall and they couldn’t see two feet in front of the windshield, Mary and Jim trudged their way to the cinema.
That makes more sense, doesn’t it? And it’s not an awkward read. You know exactly what’s going on. It’s raining. Mary and Jim can’t see beyond the windshield. They’re on their way to the cinema. Using a compound-complex sentence in the proper context paints a fluid picture of the setting.
I’ll spare you a quiz on this topic. However, it would behoove you when you’re writing a story to read and re-read your long sentences to make sure they flow properly and don’t disrupt the reader’s experience.
Grammar tips to take you from elementary to exemplary
These are just a few of the everyday mistakes we make as writers and conversationalists. Lord knows, there are many more, but the ones I mention in this article are those that irk me the most.
Oh, there’s one more: the use of “that”. Most times it can be eliminated entirely and still make for a properly structured sentence. I learned this from a previous employer. He absolutely hated the word “that” and would strike it from all outgoing correspondence. It’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten. Try it for yourself. You’ll see it’s a completely (most times) unnecessary word. Note: many of you would have written the preceding sentence as such: You’ll see that it’s a completely (most times) unnecessary word. Yet, by eliminating “that” the sentence reads smoothly and you get my point.
Anyway, I’ve meandered a bit (but not really). Save yourself some time – and embarrassment – by following these few simple tips. Granted, proper grammar isn’t always necessary, especially in colorful character dialogue, but if you want to be taken seriously as a writer or as someone who has some semblance of intelligence, it sure comes in handy!
I hope you found these tips helpful and will put them to good use. Until next time…
Shauna L Bowling
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© 2016 Shauna L Bowling
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