Common Grammar Problems and Their Solutions
IN AN AGE OF COMMUNICATION, it is amazing to me how many people don’t know middle school grammar. Newscasters and politicians, who should both know better, continue to misuse the English language, causing confusion in the worse case and distraction in the best case.
I vs. Me
My pet peeve is when people mix up their cases and use “I” when they should be using “me.” Contrary to popular belief, it is NOT always correct to use “I” when referring to two or more people including you. And it’s really quite easy to figure out if the pronoun should be I or me without having to understand grammar rules.
Just drop the other person.
Would you say “It is for I” or “It is for me”? Obvious, isn’t it? So don’t say “It is for Liam and I.” The same is true when trying to decide if you would say “her” or “she.” Drop the other person and try it with a single pronoun. If you would use “her” alone, then you should also use “her” in conjunction with another person. “Her” and “him” always goes with “me.”
There, They’re, and Their
Another problem I see when I’m reading is the misuse of “their, they’re, and there.” “Their” is possessive. It means that something belongs to someone. It is their possession. “There” is a place. “They’re” is a contraction meaning “they are.”
Affect and Effect
Do you know the difference between “affect” and “effect”? Generally, affect is a verb and effect is a noun. That means that affect does something and effect is something. “The movie had a great effect (noun) on me,” and “The movie affected (verb) me.”
It’s vs. Its
Then there is the oft-confused “its” vs. “it’s.” Since we are used to adding an apostrophe to form the possessive form of a word, it would seem logical that “it’s” is possessive. Only it isn’t. “It’s” is the contracted form of “it is.” Therefore, when you want to show possession, you need to use “its.”
Whose and Who’s
A similar problem is when to use “whose” and “who’s.” As above, “who’s” is a contraction of “who is,” and “whose” is possessive. Hey, I didn’t write the rules!
Your vs. You’re
There’s that persnickety apostrophe again, out to cause us trouble. “You’re” is a contraction of “you are,” while “your” is possessive.
Referring to a Brand or Entity as They
A brand or entity, such as a business, is not a “they.” It’s a thing, an “it.” So when you write or say a sentence like the following, it’s wrong. “If Motorola needs more people, they will hire some.” Motorola is an entity, not a person, so say, “If Motorola needs more people, it will hire some.” I know that sounds tough, because it’s people at Motorola who do the hiring. Yet the sentence refers to the company, not people. You could rightly say, “If Motorola needs more people, human resources will hire some.” Although it’s essentially the same (human resources being an entity within Motorola), it relieves our anxiety about an entity doing something as opposed to humans doing something.
Who vs. That
Here’s one that gets misused a lot. “Who” always refers to a living being. “Shelby is a girl who will go far one day.” Use “that” when referring to an inanimate object. “It’s sugar that makes the kids hyperactive.”
There are a gazillion ways to misuse the English language, and I’ve presented only a few. For a more involved treatment of the faux pas of our mother tongue, try Grammar Girl or Grammar Police. To quickly check a paragraph you’ve written, copy and paste it into Grammar Check.
Here’s to better, clearer writing!