Write Pretty, Write Proper: Some common grammar pet peeves that can be avoided


Grammar pet peeves can be interesting. Some are just personal opinions and hardly impact accuracy or understanding. Others are easy to avoid mistakes. So what are some common, or dare I call them, the top 10 grammar pet peeves out there?

Grammar rules exist to provide consistency and clarity in how we communicate through writing. However, with the informality of mediums like texting and social media, many grammar rules seem antiquated and fussy to follow. Still, proper grammar helps ensure that writing is unambiguous and flows smoothly. Certain common grammar mistakes never fail to bother grammar sticklers and editors. These top 10 grammar peeves may irk people, but knowing the rules behind them can elevate writing.

1. Mixing Up “Less” vs. “Fewer”

One of the most common grammar pet peeves or mix-ups is using “less” when the proper term is “fewer.” The basic distinction between these two terms is:

Less refers to singular mass nouns, indicating a concept that cannot be counted. For example, you would have less water, less confidence, or less sand.

Fewer refers to plural countable nouns, indicating individual items that can be quantified. For example, you would have fewer toys, fewer books, or fewer dollars.

It’s incorrect to say, “I have less items in my cart.” The proper phrasing is, “I have fewer items in my cart.” Keeping this rule straight takes a conscious effort for many writers.

2. Confusing “Who” and “Whom”

Do you know when to use “who” versus “whom” in a sentence? Many native English speakers struggle with the distinction. The key thing to remember is that “who” is used as the subject of a verb. “Whom” is used as the object of a verb or preposition.

Examples:

  • Who wrote this book?
  • I don’t know whom to call for help.
  • Who do you think you are?
  • To whom should we address the letter?

Once you train your brain to recognize subjects versus objects in sentences, you’ll be all set.

3. Using Apostrophes for Plurals

Pluralizing a noun does not require an apostrophe. Apostrophes have two purposes: to indicate possession or to indicate omitted letters in a contraction. For example:

  • The dogs’ leashes are colorful. (Indicating plural possession)
  • The leashes don’t match. (Indicating omitted “o” in “do not”)

Pop culture is full of improper plurals like “CD’s,” “1980’s,” or “team logo’s.” These are all incorrect. Simply add “s” or “es” to make regular nouns plural, no punctuation needed.

4. Saying “I” Instead of “Me”

Should you say, “Susan talked to John and I” or “Susan talked to John and me”? This common mix-up comes from a desire to sound formal, but the second option is actually correct. Here’s the rule: take John out of that sentence, and you’re left with “Susan talked to I” versus “Susan talked to me.” Obviously, “me” sounds more natural. The other person always comes first in mention, but sentence structure doesn’t change.

5. Ending Sentences With Prepositions

It’s a fussy grammar rule with plenty of caveats, but traditional grammar requires avoiding ending sentences with prepositions. Prepositions include words like for, with, about, of, after, and between. They indicate relationships between other words. So for formal writing, rephrase sentences that end with prepositions. For example:

  • Where should we meet at?
  • Where should we meet?

This is a tough habit for many English speakers to break. But with practice, you can get good at rewording sentences to avoid ending them with tiny prepositions.

6. Not Keeping Verb Tenses Consistent

Readers expect consistency in verb tenses within paragraphs or sentences. Mixing present tense, future tense, past tense, etc. leads to dissonance for the reader. Consider the intention behind each sentence and then maintain the chosen tense. For example:

  • Tomorrow I walked to the store. (Mixes future and past tense awkwardly.)
  • Tomorrow I will walk to the store. (Keeps consistent future tense.)

With longer pieces, establishing the overall tense is key. Switching between present and past tense at random leads to confusion. Stay aware of your tenses as you write.

Read next: Unlock Understanding: Choosing the Right Words in Communication

7. Saying “Good” Instead of “Well”

You did a good job arranging the furniture. But are you feeling good or feeling well? It’s a subtle difference: “good” is an adjective describing a person, thing, or action. “Well” is an adverb describing how something happens. So ask yourself, does the sentence call for an adjective or adverb? Example mix-ups:

  • You taught the class good. (Should be well.)
  • She is a good singer. (Good is correct; describes the person as talented.)

Mastering good versus well will get your adverb knowledge well on its way!

8. Using “Irregardless”

“Irregardless” is not actually a word, although it has crept into common speech as a mash-up of “irrespective” and “regardless.” Both of those are legitimate words meaning the same thing: “without regard for.” Use “regardless” or “irrespective” rather than trying to sound fancy. And don’t lose sleep trying to remember this one – it’s easier just to eliminate “irregardless” altogether!

9. Saying “Anyways”

Here’s another case where informality has corrupted grammar. The word “anyways” slips out in speech, but it’s not actually a proper word. The correct term is “anyway,” meaning “regardless.” Just remember there is no “s” at the end. Train your ear to catch yourself saying “anyways” and self-correct to “anyway.” It’s a nitpicky error many readers notice.

10. Forgetting the Oxford Comma

Should you use a comma before the “and” in a list of three or more items? This is called the Oxford or serial comma. Consider these two sentences:

  • I love my parents, Lady Gaga and Halsey. (Sounds like your parents are Lady Gaga and Halsey!)
  • I love my parents, Lady Gaga, and Halsey. (The comma eliminates confusion.)

Omitting that last comma is a mistake in formal writing and causes the reader to pause momentarily. Read sentences aloud, checking for clarity. If in doubt, include the Oxford comma.

Conclusion: Mastering the Essentials

With the informality of emails, texts, social posts, and instant messages, English grammar seems to be backsliding at times. However, knowledgeable writers should make an effort to use proper grammar and punctuation whenever possible. Doing so boosts credibility and allows ideas to shine through clearly.

The grammar pet peeves discussed above trip up many people attempting to write well. But they don’t have to trip you up anymore. Absorb these top rules, finesse them through practice, and handle grammar with confidence. When in doubt, default to the formal option. Or give your work an extra proofread to spot issues. With effort, no one will cringe at your grammar again!

And if it’s just too much to deal with, consider hiring a ghostwriter!



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