I find it sad that moms don't emphasize grammar in their children's speech they way the stereotypical 19th century mother did in films and TV. It's not that hard, but even my own children who were raised by two English teachers, are still heard to say things such as, "Me and Jonny are going to the movies." Alas. So, if you're wanting to improve your grammar for whatever reason, I congratulate you! Following are a few common but easily fixed problems and, where necessary, their solutions:
#1 "a lot" is two words.
#2 "Mrs. Anderson is a lovely women." Frequently, I find people writing about "a wonderful women," and I shake my head every time. That's like me writing, "I have a wonderful web sites," or even, "All my web sites is helpful." It's a common problem, but the solution is simple: One man = one woman - Two or more men=two or more women.
#3 "Me and John went to a movie." In English, when the speaker is included as part of his or her own compound subject, the person who is NOT the speaker is listed first. Further, the word "me" is objective not subjective. That is to say, the word "me" is not used as the subject of a sentence; the word "I" is a subject. No one would write, "Me went to a movie," right? One would write, "I went to a movie." the subject remains consistent when it is made compound. Written correctly, the above sentence should read as follows: "John and I went to the movie."
#4 "Her and her friend have colds." or "Him and his friend went for a walk." Both "her" and "him" are objective terms; that is, they are used as objects in sentences not as subjects; "She" and "he" are subjects. You wouldn't write, "Her has a cold." or "Him went for a walk." You would write "She has a cold." and "He went for a walk." The subjects remain the same when you compound the subject. Correctly written, the two sentences should reas as follows: "She and her friend have colds." and "He and his friend went for a walk."
#5 "God loves you and I." While I can't deny the basic truth of the above idea, I do take exception to its construction. The word "I" is incorrectly used as an object of the sentence, when it should be used as an subject. You wouldn't write, "God loves I." You would write, "God loves me." It remains consistent when you have a compound object: "God loves you and me" would be the correct construction.
#6 "The group of dogs are barking." I recently heard the following sentence used in an interview with a singer: "All of the songs on your new CD is beautiful." Yes, I cringed. What exactly is "beautiful" in the previous sentence? Is it the songs or the CD? Isn't the speaker discussing the songs? Of course. So, in brief, what the speaker said was, "All of the songs is beautiful." *Sigh* Beware prepositions. Let them set off alarms for you. A verb (action word) must be conjugated according to the subject of the sentence, and the subject can never be the noun after a preposition, even though lots of people try to make it so. A prepositional phrase begins with a preposition and ends with a noun. Here is an important rule: The subject of a sentence can NEVER EVER be found in in a prepositional phrase. You know that rule that says that there's an exception to every rule? Well, the former rule (above) is the exception to the latter rule: there are no exceptions! It can't happen! The subject of the sentence, "The group of dogs is barking," is "group," not "dogs." The verb (are), then, must be conjugated according to the word "group," which is singular, so the sentence written correctly should read as follows: "The group of dogs is barking." Whenever you see the word "of" cross out the noun that follows and look for the noun that precedes it. Chances are the earlier noun in the sentence is the subject; conjugate your verb according to that. Note: a preposition is any word that indicates where something is in relation to something else: "above the fence," "below the fence," "around the fence," "against the fence," "near the fence," "in the fence," "from the fence," "before the fence," "after the fence," "with the fence," "to the fence," and so on. The underlined words are all prepositions. Wikipedia has an exhaustive list of prepositions.
#7 "Every student is to bring his own book." In the 1970's and going back, the above sentence would have been considered perfectly acceptable even if 99% of the students were women, despite the clearly sexist construction: there is no indication that all the students being discussed are male, yet they are all addressed as "his." (Had there been 100% women, it would have been correct to say, "Everyone must bring her own book.") There is neither need nor benefit for language to make preferential treatment of either gender. The common solution, however, was--and still is--considered horrifically incorrect: "Every student is to bring their own book." The problem with this solution is that the word "student" is singular (as is the word "every") and the word "their" is plural, so the first and second parts of the sentence are not in agreement. In our times, it is better to make one of the following corrections: "Every student must bring his or her own book." or "Every student must bring her or his own book." or "All students must bring their own books." Note: The word, "books," must also be plural because otherwise the sentence suggests that all students together own and share a single book, rather than each student owning a book.
#8 When do I write out the words for numbers and when should I just use numerals? Good question because no one agrees. One rule says write out only the numbers between one and ten, inclusive, while another says write out all the numbers between one and one hundred, inclusive. Another rule teaches us to write out the words if the number has three or fewer syllables, and yet another says write the words until the number becomes unwieldy (Yeah, that's clear.) It is best to find out what your teacher or the person in authority over you prefers. If that person has no preference, then be consistent with yourself, whichever rule you choose to follow.
#9 "Never use a preposition (see the note on #6) to end a sentence with." While it is true that prepositions are more commonly used at the beginning of phrases, and it, therefore, seems contradictory to put them as the last word in a sentence, I can assure you, it is perfectly acceptable, UNDER CERTAIN CIRCUMSTANCES to conclude a sentence with a preposition. In the old days, it would have been correct to ask, "With whom did you go to the movie?" The problem with this construction, though, is that it makes the speaker sound snooty and unnecessarily verbose (wordy). So go ahead and rewrite the sentence to end with the word "with:" "Whom did you go to the movie with?" The closing preposition is fine AS LONG AS THE PREPOSITION IS NEEDED FOR MEANING. If you don't need the preposition to make your question or statement clear, then drop it. In the above example, "Whom did you go to the movie with?" you need the word "with" because without it, the question reads, "Whom did you go to the movie?" and it makes absolutely no sense. However, in the question, "Where did you go to?" the preposition "to" is unnecessary; without it the question is, "Where did you go?" Meaning is not hindered without the preposition, so get rid of it.
#10 Don't let yourself get tricked into thinking that rules of grammar are always clear and always make sense. Such a conclusion, I can assure you, would be distinctly over-generalized. For example, it is considered correct for people to say or write something like this: "I'm correct, aren't I?" But consider what the word "aren't" means; it's a contraction for "are not," so the previous example can be correctly re-written without the contractions: "I am correct, are I not?" The construction with the contractions, following the rules of grammar, forces you to conjugate the plural verb "are" with the singular subject, "I." And why? For some reason that no one knows, as far as I can find out, the contraction "ain't" is considered incorrect, and what does "ain't" mean when it's not written as a contraction? It means "am not." (Please don't ask me where the "i" came from in "ain't." I don't know, but contractions aren't always clear combinations of their parent words. The phrase "will not" as a contraction becomes "won't," and where did the "o" come from? I ain't informed in that area.) So, in this instance, the rules of English grammar force writers and speakers to construct a sentence ungrammatically simply because some dude, probably during the Renaissance, arbitrarily concluded that "ain't" isn't a word. Had we been allowed to keep it, the construction would have been "I'm correct, ain't I?" And this construction, again, without the contractions, would follow the more consistent rules of grammar: "I am correct, am I not?" Having said that, it might be wise to consider the rule to be merely an over-generalization. The word "ain't," when it is used in our society, is sometime used to replace "isn't," and it would be clearly incorrect to say, for example, "She ain't going to the movie." "She am not going . . .?" Seriously? So perhaps it's all just a misunderstanding, but where grades are important, despite the obvious ignorance, avoid the use of the word, "ain't." Alas.
#11 "Who" vs. "Whom" I remember one elementary school teacher telling me that the distinction between "who" and "whom" is the same as that between "a" and "an:" If the next word begins with a consonant, then use "who;" if it begins with a vowel, then use "whom." I am here to point out to you that if this is your conclusion, you are INcorrect, plain and simple. And yet, the number of people I meet who actually know the difference between these two words is shrinking dramatically. So here it is: "Who" is subjective and "Whom" is objective. (Fine. What'd he just say?) Allow my to clarify in steps. Step 1) "Who" is used as the subject of a sentence or clause, while "Whom" is used as the object of a sentence or clause. Better? (Uh, . . . no.) Very well. Step 2) "Who" is the same part of speech as "He," "She" and "They" while "Whom" is the same part of speech as "Him," "Her" and "Them." How's that workin' for ya? (Hmm, a little more light, perhaps?) Alright. Step 3) If you're writing a sentence in which you need to use either "Who" or "Whom," and you're not sure which one is correct, try using "He," (if you're discussing a male) "She" (if your discussing a female) or "They" if you're discussing more than one person. If any one of these three words work, then "Who" is the correct choice. Step 4) If you're writing a sentence in which you need to use either "Who" or "Whom," and you're not sure which one is correct, try using "Him," (if you're discussing a male) "Her" (if your discussing a female) or "Them" if you're discussing more than one person. If any one of these three words work, then "Whom" is the correct choice. Step 5) If you have trouble which works in which context, the just remember that "Him," "Them" and "Whom" are all the same part of speech, and they all end with an "m." AN ANECDOTAL MNEMONIC: One of my university instructors gave this example to me years ago. In response to the title of a newspaper article entitled "Whom Should be Laid off First?" one angry but educated reader wrote the following to the editor: "'Whom should be laid off first?' I'll tell you whom! Whom wrote that article, that's whom! Him doesn't know enough about the English language to have the job him has." When you're talking about people, it is always best to use either "who" or "whom" rather than "that." Using "that" to refer to a person, you're actually dehumanizing that person. It doesn't matter if you're talking about Judas, Hitler, Bin Laden or your very worst substitute math teacher, people are referred to as either "who" or "whom," NEVER "that." Even if you use "who" when you should have used "whom" (which is a far better choice than the reverse) it is better to err on the side of referring to a person as a person rather than as something less than human.
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