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Death to Common Grammatical Errors - 5 Top Mistakes!

Updated on November 21, 2013
Learn to use language correctly
Learn to use language correctly | Source

Commas, quotation marks, apostrophes, sentence structure, word choice: These all constitute some of the tricky elements of writing, which require much study in order to be perfected. Whilst some grammar rules are straightforward and are taught carefully due to their importance within the language, some are largely neglected to the extent that the rule itself has faded into obscurity, meaning that grammatical errors are, in some cases, considered to be correct by the majority of the public. Let's take a look at five of these common grammatical errors, and attempt to correct them.

Tip

  • Remember that 'of' is a preposition, generally referring to an association between two things, as in, 'I'm proud of my cousin for graduating from her course.' Here, we can see the association between pride and graduation.
  • 'Have', on the other hand, is a verb, and so will be paired with a subject ( I, you, him, her, us, they). One would therefore say, 'I could have done better' or 'I could've done better', as it's paired with a subject ('I') in the conditional form of the verb 'can'.

Would of, Could of, Should of ...

Should have corrected that grammatical error before it drastically reduced the professionalism of your piece of writing. It's unfortunate, but it seems that many people still confuse the correct spelling of these words, extending the contracted form of, for example, 'should've', to 'should of', due to their phonetic similarity. Just remember, however, that should of is never acceptable in the English language, despite perhaps seemingly making sense at first glance. If we think of the correct usage of apostrophes in order to contract words, we know that we need to insert the apostrophe between the first word and the contracted ending of the second, so it would make absolutely no sense to turn 'should've' into 'should of'. Instead, it's clear that 'should've' is a combination of 'should have', and indeed the 'have' ending is correct in the extended form of all ' 've' words.

An example of a split infinitive
An example of a split infinitive | Source
Verb
Split - Incorrect
Correct
To pace
To angrily pace
To pace angrily
To sing
To loudly sing
To sing loudly
To dive
To artistically dive
To dive artistically

Split Infinitives

I used to get pulled up on this one quite a lot, likely due to poor editing, but probably also to a poor foundation of the understanding of verbs and infinitives in general. An infinitive verb is simply a verb in its original form, before conjugation. If, for example, we conjugate the verb, 'to walk', we end up with:
'I walk'
'You walk'
'He/She walks'
'We walk'
'They walk'
The original form of the verb, however, is simply 'to walk', and it is considered incorrect (or at least highly undesirable) to ever split an infinitive by separating the word 'to' from its following verb. Surely splitting an infinitive in this way would sound odd, you might think, but you'll probably be surprised at just how normal it can sound, which will perhaps provide a deeper understanding into the question of why this error is so common: it's often difficult to identify without very close inspection. For example, the sentence, 'You must try to carefully listen to all the instructions,' perhaps sounds quite normal, but when we pay closer attention we can see that we have in fact split the infinitive 'to listen' with the word 'carefully', and that a more correct form of the sentence would read, 'You must try to listen carefully to all the instructions,' as this keeps the infinitive intact.

Tip

  • Try to remember that if you're writing a proper noun, even words that would ordinarily function as common nouns must be capitalised. This situation is frequently seen with words like 'mountains' and 'king' in the case of official names and titles, including 'Balkan Mountains' and 'King Henry VIII'.
  • Also try to remember that the titles of relatives, like 'mum' and 'dad', need only be capitalised in the case of a title or the replacement of a name, like 'Uncle Jack'. If paired with a pronoun (my, your, his, her, its, our, their), as in the sentence fragment, 'Our uncle Jack,' 'uncle' need not be capitalised, for if we removed the name the phrase would simply read, 'Our uncle', with 'uncle' operating as a common noun.

Capitalisation

I'm fairly confident that most people reading this will understand the basic principles of capitalisation. You start a sentence with a capital letter, you begin speech with a capital letter, and all proper nouns have capital letters. It's that simple, right? Well, not quite. A lot of people struggle with the concept of capitalising certain titles. For example, the word 'mountains' is a common noun, and would therefore not receive capitalisation in a sentence like, 'The mountains were snowy,' but if the word 'mountains' forms part of a proper name, as in, 'The Balkan Mountains were snowy,' we would capitalise both words. Similarly, words like 'mum' and 'aunt' are common nouns, and therefore do not require capitalisation in sentences such as, 'My mum often drives me to school' or 'She was the mother of my best friend.' In these cases, 'mum' plays the part of an ordinary noun. However, as with the 'mountain' situation, if the word forms part of a proper name, as in the sentence, 'We always think that Aunt Jean is the best of fun,' both words would need to be capitalised. Similarly, if these words take the place of a name, they also function like a name, gaining capitalisation. Consider the speech, 'Can I go out tonight, Mum?' In this case the word 'mum' is functioning like a name, and is therefore capitalised.

Don't let your participles dangle!
Don't let your participles dangle! | Source

Dangling Participles

Be wary of this one, as it's a little difficult to grasp for some people, and can drastically reduce the quality of your writing. Just to refresh: A participle can be used in the present or past tense, but when used in the present it always ends with an '-ing', and often looks like an adjective, as it modifies a noun. For example, consider the sentence, 'Drifting slowly in one long spiral, the feather floated to the ground.' Here we can see that 'drifting' is the present participle, as it adds the '-ing' to the verb 'to drift' and modifies the noun, in this case 'feather'. We can see that the participle, 'drifting', is directly linked to the noun, 'feather', so the subject of the sentence is clear. However, when we dangle a participle we pair it with a subject that makes no sense as its accompaniment. Take a look at the sentence, 'Reading the book, the cat leapt onto the couch.' This sentence implies that the cat has been reading the book, which is almost certainly not my intention, so I would need to modify the sentence by saying something like, 'Reading the book, Amy watched as the cat leapt onto the couch.' In longer, more complex scenarios where Amy has perhaps been mentioned earlier in the sentence, it can be more difficult to identify dangling participles, so be sure to always edit your work carefully.

Tip

  • If in doubt as to whether your thanks is a verb, always think about whether you could extend your phrase to 'I thank you'. If you can, you know that you're using a verb, as 'to thank' is a doing word. If ending a formal cover letter, therefore, you would use 'thank you', as this is just a shortened version of 'I thank you', which you might see in a sentence like, 'Thank you for your consideration of this application.'
  • As we've already established, 'thankyou' and 'thank-you' (as it can also be written) operate as nouns and adjectives, so simply think about whether your 'thankyou' is a thing, or whether it describes a thing, as indeed it does when one says, 'I offered a hearty thankyou/thank-you to my mother' (noun) or 'I hope she likes my thankyou/thank-you card (adjective). If we try to extend these forms as we did with the first example, we can see that 'I offered my mother a hearty I thank you' and 'I hope she likes my I thank you card' don't really make sense, so we can safely assume that they're not verbs.

Thankyou, Thank you, Thank-you

I know what you're probably thinking: This isn't really a big issue in terms of writing, so why cover it here? Perhaps you're right, but what about situations in which you're ending an important letter or email for, say, a job application. Perhaps you want to thank that person for their consideration, but 'thanks' is too informal and you're not sure which form of the extended word to use. Instead of skating around the situation, it might be helpful to learn the correct usage of these words, words that many people probably aren't even aware serve different purposes in the first place. So what is that difference?

  • 'Thank you' comes from the verb 'to thank', and is followed by the object, 'you'.
  • 'Thankyou' is a noun and an adjective.
  • 'Thank-you' is a compound noun serving the same purposes as 'thankyou', and both forms are acceptable and used in English today.

Many people are under the impression that 'thankyou' is not a word, and indeed it is often registered as unacceptable on services like Spell Check. However, due to the natural evolution of language, both forms are considered correct, although it is important to note that this may be be affected by the grammar rules preferred in individual countries and dialects.

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So there we have it: Five common grammatical errors that are easy to fix, with the result hopefully permanently improving your writing. Master these and I'm confident that you'll boost your ability to handle the English language in general, but if you're struggling, don't worry! English is, at best, a convoluted language. Best of luck!

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    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 3 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Excellent! Now I have to go check my work.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 3 years ago from United States

      This is a very useful hub as it is so easy to make mistakes. Thanks for addressing these particular issues.

    • Harishprasad profile image

      Harish Mamgain 3 years ago from India

      These five common mistakes seem to be so normal that nobody takes them seriously. Samwrites21, you have illustrated everything about them very clearly. I have noted them down and will be cautious when I write something. You deserve a very big thankyou from me.

    • Eric Calderwood profile image

      Eric Calderwood 3 years ago from USA

      These are great explanations. I can use all the grammar help I can get.

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