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Are You Making These Four Common Grammar Mistakes?

18/05/2015 8:04 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Fewer grammar errors correlate to more promotions.

Then guess what numerous grammar errors would correlate to?

If you ask me, I hate grammar. All of it. I find it useless.

Okay maybe not entirely useless, but most of it. After all the subtitle of my book is A No-Grammar Guide to Good Writing.

I've tutored students for many years here in India and I've encountered a paradox.

Schools which obsess over English grammar usually produce students who can't write even a grammatically correct paragraph while schools which teach little or no grammar have students writing flawless sentences. What's going on?

The reason is that the latter teach the language through short stories, poems, and novels which I believe is the best way to teach it. Why care for the dangling participle or the past perfect continuous tense when you can get lost in a Ruskin Bond story?

Stephen King put it nicely in On Writing:

One either absorbs the grammatical principles of one's native language in conversation and in reading or one does not. What Sophomore English does (or tries to do) is a little more than the naming of parts.

But I'm not here to decry English grammar. Words, whether in speech or in writing, must obey the rules of grammar. Else confusion and chaos will arise.

In my writing career I've come across the works of thousands of writers. I've seen a lot of them making some common grammatical mistakes. So I thought I'll put down a list on some of those errors and their rectification.

1) "Its" And "It's"

"Its" is a possessive determiner. The word is used for association. For example, "You can't use the phone, its battery is dead." Here "its" is associating "phone" with "battery".

On the other hand "it's" is the short form of "it is" or "it has". Examples:

It's [read: It is] a long book.

It's [read: It has] been a tiring day in office.

It's quite surprising to see how many writers make this mistake. A dictionary and its use--that's all they need to avoid this error.

2) "There" And "Their"

"There" can mean many things including a reference to a place or position. Examples can be:

Your bat is lying there.

Look the sun is rising there in the sky.

"Their", like "its" above, is a possessive determiner and is used to relate things. Examples include:

The team members were annoyed with their boss.

The students must carry their IDs with them.

There are a lot of writers who confuse one with the other in their writing. Please don't be one of them.

3) "Loose" And "Lose"

"Loose" means something which is not tightly fixed in place. As in "His jeans were so loose in the waist that he had to pull them up again and again."

"Lose" is used when you can't find something or become deprived of something. Examples are:

You will lose all your money if you will invest in that scoundrel's company.

Many people lost their jobs during the recession.

I will go to the gym and lose 20 kg of weight.

But perhaps I won't go to the gym in this part of the year as it's too hot. In fact I'm wearing a loose T-shirt as I'm typing this so that I may not lose my mind.

4) "Lie" And "Lay"

This one's confusing.

"Lie" has two meanings. Its one meaning is a false statement. Example: "The witness' testimony was proved to be a lie by the defense council."

This meaning and usage is trivial so I won't discuss it any further.

Its second meaning is the resting position of somebody or something. Example: "I had to lie down on my bed because of high blood pressure."

So far so good.

Now the other word "lay" also means the resting position of someone or something but the important difference between using "lie" and "lay" is as follows.

"Lie" doesn't require a direct object but "lay" does.

So in "I had to lie down on my bed", there's no direct object involved but in "I lay the newspaper on the table", the newspaper is the direct object.

Confused? I'm sorry but this is just the beginning.

Real confusion occurs when using the past tense of "lie". Because the past tense of "lie" is ... "lay"! And the past tense of "lay" is "laid". (See why I hate grammar?)

So an example of the past tense of "lie" would be, "When the earthquake occurred, I lay down under my bed."

And an example for the past tense of "lay" is, "I laid down the newspaper on the table yesterday."

If you've liked what you've read and are looking for more advice, check out these books on writing which I recommend.

And now if you'd please excuse me, I need some rest. I shall lie down on my bed, lay down my laptop before me, and watch Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge the 50th time or so. I'm not lying.

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