5 bad grammar examples to avoid
When speaking or writing, grammar is one of the most powerful representations of intelligence and authority. Right or wrong, people will form opinions based on the way you present yourself—similar to the way a well-tailored business suit helps project competence. If you want people to note your opinions rather than your bad grammar examples, avoid these common errors. You can also take our online course and spend a bit of time learning English grammar.
1. Subject–verb agreement errors
One basic rule of English grammar is that the subject (the one performing the action) must agree in number with the verb (the action or state of being). For example, in the sentence “Matt plays the guitar,” both Matt and plays are singular, so this subject and verb agree. However, most sentences, especially in academic writing, aren’t so straightforward. Descriptive phrases can get in the way, making it difficult to determine if the subjects and verbs agree. When this happens, eliminate all intervening information to get to the meat of the sentence.
- Incorrect: The girl with the black and white puppies have a ball.
Because puppies is right before have, this bad grammar example is easy to overlook. Ask yourself who the sentence is about (the girl), and eliminate the rest:
- Correct: The girl has a ball.
2. Pronoun–antecedent agreement errors
Like subjects and verbs, pronouns must agree with their antecedents, the nouns they replace. They must agree in both number and gender. Typically, this is easy, as in the following example:
- Correct: Yolanda has her notebook.
However, with certain words, it is more difficult to determine whether they are singular or plural. For instance, indefinite pronouns (such as someone, anyone, few, none, or everyone) confuse many English speakers, as in this bad grammar example:
- Incorrect: Everyone needs to bring their pencil.
Here, everyone is singular, so the pronoun before pencil must be as well. It would be more grammatically correct to say:
- Correct: Everyone needs to bring his or her pencil.
Note that many modern English speakers use the plural their to avoid gender-biased language, especially in informal speech. If writing an academic paper, consult your style guide or professor to determine whether this is acceptable.
3. Sentence errors
To be a complete sentence, a group of words must begin with a capital letter, have ending punctuation (a period, question mark, or exclamation point), and express a complete thought. While most people understand the first two requirements, it’s the third that causes problems, with errors often resulting in sentence fragments or run-on sentences. Consider these bad grammar examples:
- Incorrect: Because I wanted to go on a picnic.
- Incorrect: When Al gets here.
- Incorrect: Lisa went to the concert, she saw the band.
The first two bad grammar examples are incorrect because they don’t express complete thoughts: What happened because the speaker wanted to go on a picnic? What will happen when Al gets here? To correct this error, you must add an independent clause to complete the thought.
- Correct: I brought a blanket because I wanted to go on a picnic.
- Correct: When Al gets here, we can start making dinner.
Adding the independent clause completes the thought, facilitating understanding. The third bad grammar example is a run-on sentence; it provides too many complete thoughts without connecting them appropriately. To correct this, add a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) after the comma, change the comma to a semicolon, or make two sentences.
- Correct: Lisa went to the concert, and she saw the band.
- Correct: Lisa went to the concert; she saw the band.
- Correct: Lisa went to the concert. She saw the band.
4. Descriptive phrase errors
Descriptive phrases can add depth and clarity to writing, but can also result in bad grammar examples. When writing, be sure your descriptive phrase is attached to the right word, and be sure to put your work through editing to avoid these common mistakes.
- Incorrect: Smelling like rotten fish, my sister took the trash out.
- Incorrect: Watching from the airplane window, the volcano erupted.
The first bad grammar example, implying that your sister needs a bath, involves a misplaced modifier. The phrase should be describing trash.
- Correct: My sister took out the trash, which smelled like rotten fish.
The second bad grammar example leaves readers wondering who was on the plane—because it sure seems like the volcano was having a great trip. To correct this dangling modifier, add an appropriate subject:
- Correct: Watching from the airplane window, I saw the volcano erupt.
While the above errors are sometimes difficult to catch, the bad grammar examples below can be a little bit more obvious (though they can still stump even experienced editors at times!)
Certain pairs or groups of words are confusing because they are similar but have different meanings. Review the following homonyms to avoid appearing lazy or uninformed and infusing your writing with more bad grammar examples.
It’s/Its: It’s is a contraction meaning It is or It has. Its is a possessive pronoun.
- Incorrect: Its going to be a long day. Does the car need it’s oil changed?
- Correct: It’s going to be a long day. Does the car need its oil changed?
There/Their/They’re: There is either a place or a pronoun. Their is a possessive pronoun. They’re is a contraction meaning They are.
- Incorrect: Their goes my freedom. There going to bring they’re suitcases.
- Correct: There goes my freedom. They’re going to bring their suitcases.
Your/You’re: Like the above examples, your is a possessive pronoun, while you’re is a contraction for you are.
- Incorrect: Your going to need you’re notebook.
- Correct: You’re going to need your notebook.
Affect/Effect: Most of the time, affect is a verb, and effect is a noun.
- Incorrect: That medicine effects my ability to sleep. Have you heard of the butterfly affect?
- Correct: That medicine affects my ability to sleep. Have you heard of the butterfly effect?
Note: While this is an easy distinction, in certain cases, affect can be a noun, such as in psychology, and effect can be a verb meaning to accomplish.
Homonyms can be tricky even for experienced English speakers, so make a list of the ones you confuse most and check for them each time you write.
That’s all, folks!
By watching out for all these errors, you can present yourself in the best possible light, whether you’re writing an informal email or a university dissertation. If you don’t want your speech or writing to provide the world with even more bad grammar examples, check out GrammarCamp, the online course that will help you learn English grammar.
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