I am not a perfect writer. After ten years of blogging, I’ve made my fair share of common grammar mistakes, those typos and errors that leave me annoyed to have written the magnum opus for the week only to have the first comment be someone pointing out where I failed.
Mistakes happen. Sometimes our conversational English, which sounds fine when speaking, is way off the mark as written English, and we forget this. Sometimes our brain is working far ahead of our hands, and we can’t type fast enough.
I’m a fairly forgiving reader when it comes to minor typos and common grammar mistakes. I’ve never been a fan of using a blog’s comments section to point out such errors publicly. I know, as you’re writing a post, how easy it is to not see a typo because you’ve been staring at the post too long. I often catch my own typos when I go back after a post has been published.
Homophone Accidents vs. Bad Grammar
Homophones are words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings. Spellcheck won’t catch these errors. Here are a a few of the most common:
We know that “their” is a possessive and “there” indicates a place or is used in instances such as “there are many reasons” but when we are intently typing, fingers don’t always type what the mind is thinking. Here’s another:
This is common, and I do it a lot. I think, as I’m writing quickly, that I’m using the correct method to show possession for “it” but then I have to backtrack and think of the words that make up the contraction (it is) and see if it makes sense. While the phrase “She grabbed it’s head” looks correct according to our rules of possession, the moment you replace it with “She grabbed it is head” you’ll know something is amiss.
Again, use the full contraction and if “you are” makes no sense, go with “your.”
More than once I’ve read my own work, shocked at how many times I’ve typed an incorrect homophone because my mind was racing and my fingers were stumbling.
Second Cousin Homophones
What I call “second cousin” homophones, such as effect vs. affect, are a bit trickier. They aren’t technically a homophone (don’t have identical pronunciation). You have to know what the words mean. And no, spell check won’t catch these, either. They don’t sound precisely the same, but are close enough to trip us up. For example:
Again, contractions are getting us a bit confused. No one would mistake “could have” for “could of” but it’s easy to hear “could’ve” become “could of.”
Sometimes we hear the wrong thing and don’t even know how wrong we are.
It wasn’t until I was 22 that I realized the lyrics to the AC/DC song Dirty Deeds were “dirty deeds done dirty cheap” and not “dirty deeds and the dunder chief.” (Don’t even ask; it makes no sense, I know.) The same goes for Men At Work’s song “Down Under” in which I heard “gave me a bite of my sandwich” instead of “gave me a Vegemite sandwich.”
What do song lyrics have to do with writing? We don’t always hear things correctly and they become ingrained in how we talk and how we write.
Several months ago, Garrett had written “for all intensive purposes” in a blog post, which I corrected to “for all intents and purposes”; he was shocked. He had no idea he’d been saying and thinking of it incorrectly his entire life.
You’re not going to know you’re doing something wrong until someone informs you. Take it gracefully, and work on using the correct version until it becomes as ingrained as the old way.
Plurals And Singulars
If your subject is singular, your verb is plural. Technically, it’s referred to as subject and verb agreement, and what I’ve just said is completely wrong, but on the battlefield I remember it better this way. Let me show you an example:
“My friend” is singular, and technically the verb “arrives” is considered the singular form. But we see the “s” and think how nouns often use an “s” to be plural. So the real rule says that the singular noun has a singular verb, though the singular form of the verb sometimes happens, inconveniently, to look plural.
Here the subject is plural; there are two people. So the plural form of the verb is “arrive” and that seems strange coming right after a singular noun. You have to take the subject as a whole, and not just the word preceding it.
The good thing here is that most native English speakers do this naturally. The difficulty arises when we write complex sentences with phrases which make it seem as if the subject is plural when it isn’t. For example:
That’s a pretty clunky sentence and not the greatest example. The point is that the plural noun “candies” placed right in front of the verb can throw us off and make us think the subject is plural and so the verb should sound nice next to the closest noun.
Nope. That makes a complicated sentence even more confusing to the reader. Always go back to the real subject (“my friend”) and use that to determine the verb. This is a crude and surface stab at this particular issue. It is, however, one that often crops up in writing and can subtly throw off a sentence.
Kill Common Grammar Mistakes
These are just a few of the many errors and common grammar mistakes I find myself tripping over in my own writing. Most of the time, I know better, but in the hurry to write, the errors creep in. The best way to learn great grammar and writing? Read good books or articles with complex language. Do that, and you’ll find that good grammar becomes second nature.