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Dodge the grammar traps
Ten serious grammar mistakes
1. Stop runaway sentences
RIGHT We have received your order. We will despatch the plants this afternoon.To find where you need a period or a comma, read your own writing aloud, exaggerating the pauses. Ask a colleague for help, if necessary.
2. "However" needs a cap and a comma
RIGHT June was mostly fine. However, July was rainy.EASY FIX
Always put "However," at the beginning of a new sentence, complete with comma. Then you're sure to get it right.
(If you put "however" in mid-sentence, there's a high chance of making a grammar mistake.)
How do you know when "its" needs an apostrophe? You must get this right, and you can!
The other family has no apostrophes:
To check whether you need an apostrophe, run through the family tree.
He's fine. She's fine. It's fine. (Apostrophe required.)ANOTHER EASY FIX
"It's" (with apostrophe) is always short for "it is" or "it has". Always. The apostrophe replaces the missing letters.
It's your turn. It's been too long.
4. Put apostrophes in their place
An apostrophe (or an apostrophe+s) goes after the exact word or phrase in the [brackets].
the obligations of the [employee]
5. Trap the wandering "only"
Only the new manual confused the PA. (The old one didn't confuse her.)Each sentence above is grammatically correct and each has a different meaning. The problem is, people can take the wrong meaning very easily.
When speaking, your emphasis and tone of voice shows exactly what you mean by "only" - regardless of word order. Therefore in conversation, it doesn't matter if "only" is in the "wrong" position. Indeed, the correct version often sounds klunky when you say it aloud.
However, when the same sentence is written, suddenly the position of "only" can change the whole meaning. There is no tone of voice on the page. But readers often imagine a certain tone of voice in their mind, and that can override the grammatical meaning of the sentence.
You get no brownie points for being grammatically correct if people persist in misunderstanding. If you have the slightest doubt, use the easy fix.
EASY FIXOther wandering adverbs can also be troublesome, e.g. "just", "still" and "even". Again, the simplest solution is to remove the word from the sentence.
6. Me me me, not I myself
WRONG Please send a list of staff addresses to Paul and I.Many people try to avoid the issue by writing "myself" or "yourself".
That's equally bad, if not worse! It's grammatically wrong, and (oops!) is interpreted by some people as a sign of a poor education.
WRONG I'll send a list of staff addresses to Paul and yourself."Myself" and "yourself" are correct in only two situations:
7. Items on a list must be a matching set
A list always has either a heading or a stem. The stem is the start of a list, and every item on the list must finish the sentence perfectly. (This is true regardless of whether you use bullets.)
WRONGAs you see, even a short, simple list can go wrong --and trouble is almost inevitable when you write a long or complex list.
Write the sentence with bullet points (just as a test) and then make sure the first words of all the bullet points rhyme grammatically. In this example, the words "ordered", "ordered" and "arranged" are parallel, or rhyme.
To achieve parallel construction, this list needs an extra word to start the second bullet item: • ordered 50 dictionaries...
The need for parallel construction applies even in sentences with only two items. Accidents happen when the writer is striving for a literary effect or when the main thought is interrupted by extra phrases.
WRONG You can choose between increasing the heat or, on the other hand, to reduce the quantity.
8. Each and every one is singular
When we use words like "each", "every", "everybody","nobody" or "anybody", we're thinking about a number of people or things. But all those words are grammatically singular: they refer to just one person or thing at a time.
And unfortunately, if you change the verb to correct the grammar, you create a pedantic phrase like "he or she" or "his or her".
WRONG Everyone must clean their shoes."Neither" and "either" present a similar problem.
WRONG Neither of my shirts were clean.
9. Get tricky subjects to agree with their verbs
RIGHT The committee has approved expenditure of $11,000.
Some subjects seem plural but in certain kinds of sentences are really singular. Trust your instinct. Write what you'd say when talking.
RIGHT Ten dollars is plenty.Sometimes the subject of a sentence has two parts: a singular phrase and a plural phrase. Again, write exactly what you would say.
Provided English is your first language, your instinct will usually be correct. You'll naturally match the verb to the phrase immediately before it - in which case the grammar will be correct.
RIGHT Neither the topsoil nor the plants have arrived.
10. Make sure your starter phrase refers to the very next word
If you get this wrong, you can accidentally write a very silly sentence. This error causes more red faces than miscommunication. Still, not a good look.
WRONG Sprinkled with chopped coriander, kids love these potatoes.
And that's all?