- Grammar rules are often overlooked in the daily flow of English conversation.
- Stepping back and thinking about your message can help you use the appropriate grammar when speaking or writing.
- Here are nine grammar rules you’re probably breaking without even realizing it.
As the executive editor at Avenue, a luxury lifestyle magazine in New York City, I see the value of grammar on a daily basis. Proper grammar and usage are important for clear communication.
There are a number of English-language nuances that are often overlooked. For example, many words or phrases sound alike, but have different meanings (like the infamous there, their, they’re). In these cases, it’s important to choose wisely. Otherwise, your message can get lost.
Though reading the sentence aloud can help you determine whether you’re using the appropriate phrases, be careful not to choose a word or phrase because it “sounds right.” Some rules just require memorization.
Read on for nine grammar rules you may be breaking without even realizing it.
1. ‘Each’ is singular
Remember: “Each” is a singular noun, and it therefore takes a singular verb. Consider the sentence, “Each of my brothers is very talented.” Although “brothers” is a plural noun, the verb “to be” modifies “each,” not “brothers,” which is a part of a prepositional phrase. “Each of my brothers are very talented” is incorrect.
2. ‘Less’ vs. ‘fewer’
You may have seen this common mistake while at the grocery store: The sign for the “10 items or less” line should actually read “10 items or fewer.” “Fewer” is used when the subject is quantifiable (that is, if you can count it).
For example, “I have fewer books than you” is correct usage.
“Less” refers to a more abstract idea that doesn’t have a true plural. “If I go home after work, I am less inclined to go to the gym.”
3. ‘A lot’ is two words
Never use”alot.” A lot should always be written as two words. “Allot” means “to assign as a share or portion.”
4. Could’ve, would’ve, should’ve …
The contractions “could’ve,” “would’ve,” and “should’ve” are all legitimate words. They indicate that you “could have,” “would have” or “should have” done something.
When spoken out loud, however, they sound like “could of,” “would of” and “should of,” and many people confuse that with the correct spelling.
5. Overuse of ‘literal’
The adverb “literally” is used a lot in speech, but more often than not, the word is exaggerated beyond its actual meaning. “I am literally dying of thirst” is not grammatically correct unless you are truly dying of thirst.
6. ‘Historical’ vs. ‘historic’
“Historic” and “historical”are also frequently confused. “Historical” events are events that happened in the past. “Historic” events are ones that are particularly significant or memorable.
People also often confuse whether “a historic/historical” or “an historic/historical” is correct. As a rule of thumb, “an” is used preceding a vowel sound, thus “an hour” is correct. Because you pronounce the “h” in “historic/historical,” “a” is the correct indefinite article.
7. ‘Compliment’ vs. ‘complement’
It’s also important to note that there is a difference between compliment and complement. A compliment is a nice word or phrase used to describe someone. “She complimented my outfit at the wedding, saying that I looked stylish.”
To complement something is to add to it and complete it. “A delicate silver necklace complemented the outfit I wore to the wedding.”
When something is “complimentary,” that means it is free.
8. ‘Everyday’ and ‘every day’ have different uses
What’s the difference between “everyday” and “every day”? “Everyday” is an adjective. “Everyday tasks can be mundane.” “Every day” is an adverb that refers to each and every day. “I run every day.”
9. Saying ‘I could care less’
People often confuse “I could care less” with “I couldn’t care less.” Which phrase is correct?
“I couldn’t care less” indicates extreme apathy. You are unable to care less about a certain situation. “I couldn’t care less” is correct. “I could care less” means that you have the mental capacity to be even more indifferent than you already are.
10. Being vague in your writing
Many writers trust that a reader will know the intended meaning of a sentence without considering if the phrasing is clear. For example, look at the sentence, “When the girl saw her friend, she was excited.”
Who is excited? Is it the girl, or is it her friend? In this case, you need to rewrite the sentence for clarity. “The girl was excited when she saw her friend.”