Five Uncommon Grammar Errors To Avoid

Grammar is a huge PITA.

It’s like your lawn. You know you need to keep it well-maintained, but there are little trouble spots that give you fits. Sometimes there are spots you don’t even know you missed, until it overgrows and the neighbors start complaining.

There are plenty of “grammar error” posts that will point out the obvious errors that most people make, like the there/their/they’re or its/it’s errors. But these are a few of the lesser-known errors that you may be making and not even realize it.

Photo of a mean teacher

I feel like a grouchy teacher when I write these posts.

1. Who/That

Other than a fun little cheer for the New Orleans Saints, this is a common one people make when referring to people or companies.

  • Wrong: Companies who practice green manufacturing can get government grants.
  • Wrong: People that like peanut butter and bologna are weird.
  • Right: Companies that practice green manufacturing can get government grants.
  • Right: People who like peanut butter and bologna just have different tastes, that’s all.

2. Singular vs. Plural Matching

This is always a tricky one for me. I always get tripped up when a phrase uses both a singular and plural item, like neither of these sandwiches. In other words, is it “Neither of these sandwichesis” or “Neither of these sandwiches are vegetarian?” My first inclination is to make “sandwiches” match the verb “are.”

But I would be wrong. According to Purdue’s Online Writing Lab, since “neither” is singular, treat “neither of these sandwiches” as a singular noun and make the verb match — “neither of these sandwiches is vegetarian.”

3. Not all adverbs need to end in -ly.

On an episode of Celebrity Apprentice, Donald Trump wrongly corrected Cindy Lauper when she said “I feel bad.”

“Badly,” corrected Trump. But he was badly mistaken.

Action verbs will often add -ly to the end of a verb: “He sings badly.” “She writes sloppily.” “They argue loudly.” But adverbs that modify linking verbs — like “to be” (I am, you are) — don’t use ly. In other words, you wouldn’t say “He is tiredly” or “She lies downly.”

When Cindy Lauper said “I feel bad,” “feel” was a linking verb. The easiest way to tell if a verb is really a linking verb is to substitute “am” with the verb in question. If the sentence still works — “I feel bad” = “I am bad” — then the verb is a linking verb, and the adverb should not end in -ly.

In fact, the only time you would say “I feel badly” is if you have lost the ability to touch things with any kind of dexterity or success.

4. Good vs. Well

This is another tricky one, because people use”good” and “well” interchangeably.

    • Wrong: I sing good.
    • Wrong: Dinner tastes well.
    • Right: I sing well.
    • Right: Dinner tastes good.

The difference is whether well/good is an adverb or an adjective. Good is an adjective, but well is an adverb. Remember, an adverb modifies a verb — How do I sing? I sing well — but an adjective modifies a noun — What tastes good? Dinner tastes good. That’s because an adjective will also follow sense-verbs and be-verbs, so you can look good, smell good, feel good, be good. But you don’t look well, smell well, feel well, or be well, unless you’re discussing your ninja-like prowess at these skills.

5. Me vs. I

This one drives me crazy, not because people use the wrong word (okay, that too), but because the rule is still erroneously taught in our schools.

Which is correct:

    • “Would you like to go to lunch with Doug and I?”
    • “Would you like to go to lunch with Doug and me?”Believe it or not, it’s Doug and me. Here’s another one.
      • Doug and me went to lunch.
      • Doug and I went to lunch.

      That one is a little easier. It’s Doug and I.

      I could explain the rule about how it all has to do with who is the subject and who is the object of the sentence and blah blah blah. But that doesn’t matter. Here’s the easy way to figure out whether to use I or me in a sentence:

      Take out “Doug and,” and see what sounds correct.

      • “Would you like to go to lunch with me?”
      • “I went to lunch.”The problem is, we have been hammered to say “Doug and I” by our elementary school teachers for so long that the rule is firmly, but mistakenly, wedged into our brains (and they’re still doing it). Just remove the “_____ and” in your head, and you’ll have your answer.
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    About Erik Deckers

    Erik Deckers is the President of Pro Blog Service, a content marketing and social media marketing agency He co-authored four social media books, including No Bullshit Social Media with Jason Falls (2011, Que Biz-Tech), and Branding Yourself with Kyle Lacy (3rd ed., 2017, Que Biz-Tech), and The Owned Media Doctrine (2013, Archway Publishing). Erik has written a weekly newspaper humor column for 10 papers around Indiana since 1995. He was also the Spring 2016 writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, FL.

    Comments

    1. Thomas Glenn says:

      Great grammar post. If possible, could you also post somewhere that all the world can see (at least to the ones who blog or have threads on different forums), the correct usage of “there”, “their”, and “they’re” No matter how many times you see it used, the wrong way is almost always chosen. Also, and I have yet to be able to figure out how it is ever misused, “then” and “than”.Just a rant. Thanks!.

    2. Thanks everyone, for the great comments. I appreciate it.

      And Randy, no, I would never red-pencil any comments. I’ll never look that gift horse in the mouth — I appreciate comments and to edit or critique them would be utter d-baggery on my part. :-D

    3. Great post, Eric, and thanks for sharing. The power of effective communication is SO important, and like anything, it’s quite an art. I find unnecessary words (with no thought behind them) and cliches to be frustrating. My fav on your list is the “Me vs. I” rule, which is overlooked so often.

      Preach it, brother!

    4. Great post. I’m happy that someone out there is trying to correct the mistakes that drive me up the wall. Thanks again!

    5. This goes in my how to write/grammar folder. Thank you.

      I do have to say, I am a little afraid of commenting on your blog now. Will you get out the red pencil?

    6. The second one trips me up sometimes too. You and I ….er, I mean you and me think alike. You done good!
      (wait…)

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