Nobody’s grammar is perfect. No matter how viciously grammatical correctness is drilled into us, we all make mistakes sometimes; and there will always be one or two grammatical rules that we fail to remember.
The following grammar mistakes may seem like they are very easy to avoid, but it’s good to refresh your memory now and then. Plus, if you are at the drafting stage of your writing and have been blessed with a sudden rush of energy and ideas, it is very easy to make them. You have to have them embedded in your brain clearly enough that you will spot them straight away when it comes to the editing process. Good writing is not just about telling a great story; your spelling and grammar has to be tight too, otherwise publishers may not take you seriously.
‘Your’ and ‘you’re’
This is a very common mistake and is notable for starting wars between internet ‘Grammar Nazis’ and n00bz. The difference is simple. ‘Your’ refers to ownership, i.e. ‘your bag.’ ‘You’re’ is an elision of ‘you are.’ Yes, it’s an easy one and yes, it’s one that everybody should know, but the fact is we have all made this mistake. You shouldn’t be ashamed. Well, maybe a little bit …
‘There,’ ‘their,’ and ‘they’re’
Another war-starter. ‘There’ refers to place – ‘over there.’ ‘Their’ signifies ownership – ‘their classroom.’ ‘They’re’ is an elision of ‘they are.’ Again, an easy one and one we should all know by age 7, but slip-ups happen. Just be aware when you’re editing your writing…
‘That’ and ‘who’
This one is so common it’s frequently not even picked up on, and many people aren’t even aware of the difference. The fact is that the sentence ‘the one that likes dogs,’ is grammatically incorrect. When referring to people or animals, it should always be ‘who,’ as in, ‘the one who likes dogs.’ Makes more sense, doesn’t it? Only non-living things are ‘that,’ i.e. ‘the poster that always falls off the wall.’
‘Is’ and ‘are’
The rule of ‘is’ and ‘are’ is governed by the singular and the plural. For example:
‘The duck is walking along the bank.’
‘The ducks are walking along the bank.’
The above is easy. The following not so much:
‘There is a lot of people here.’
‘There are a lot of people here.’
They both sound like they could be correct, but only the second sentence is. ‘Is’ is always singular. ‘Are’ is always plural.
‘Was’ and ‘were’
‘If I was the President’ is not a grammatically correct phrase. The fact is, you are not the president, therefore you are referring to something that you wish were true. So in this case you use ‘were:’ ‘If I were the President, everybody would get free cake.’ Flows a lot better, doesn’t it?
And … and the commas
This one is very easy to slip up on. Many of us were taught in school that you never use a comma before the word ‘and.’ In the case of a list or a long sentence, you most certainly do.
If the sentence is a list, if there are more than three words within that list, then a comma comes before and. For example:
‘I like cats, dogs and pigeons.’
There is no comma because I have only listed three animals. Now see where a comma comes in:#
‘I like cats, dogs, elephants, and pigeons.’
And finally, me, myself, and I…
My personal favourite grammar mistake, very common in not only writing but everyday conversation too (not that the latter matters, of course… ahem.) Although we may be used to saying it, ‘me and my tortoise are going to the bank’ is grammatically incorrect. The sentence should read, ‘my tortoise and I are going to the bank.’ This is because you wouldn’t say, ‘me is going to the bank.’ You would say, ‘I am going to the bank.’ Add another noun to the equation, and the same still applies. This mistake, of course, can be deliberately used in dialogue between characters, because most of us would say this aloud rather than ‘and I.’ In formal writing, or narrative, however – avoid it, unless there is a very good reason not to.