Writing

Grammatical Bad Habits

These are just a number of the most common mistakes we all do when writing, and, as such, I thought to share them with you in one easy-to-copy primer.

all ready/already; all right/alright; all together/altogether

We were all ready by the afternoon.
I had already written to my accountant.
Do you feel all right now?

(Note: You should only ever use the American slang term alright in dialogue.)

We were all together for my mother’s party.
They kept three cats altogether in the house.

get

Get is one of the most overused verbs in the English language. Try to remember not to use have got for have or possess.

AVOID: She’s got three cats.
INSTEAD: She has three cats.

AVOID: Will you get the prize?
INSTEAD: Will you win the prize?

however

Try not to start a sentence with however. Its best position is second in the sentence, after whatever it qualifies i.e., I must, however, tell you… If placed further along in the sentence it loses its force and simply clouds its function.

AVOID: However, I must tell you that you are breaking the law.
AVOID: I must tell you that you are, however, breaking the law.
BETTER: I must, however, tell you that you are breaking the law.

its/it’s

Remember, the possessive pronouns its, hers, ours, theirs and yours never have an apostrophe. While the contraction of it is always has an apostrophe.

WRONG: The cat licked it’s paws.
RIGHT: The cat licked its paws.

WRONG: Its a problem for her to walk down the stairs.
RIGHT: It’s a problem for her to walk down the stairs.

lay, lie, laid, lain

The verbs to lay and to lie are always getting mixed up. To lay (to put down, to arrange) is a transitive verb donating an action performed by a person or thing; to lie (as in, to recline, to be situated) is intransitive, describing the action of a person or thing.

WRONG: Just lay down there. (Or) Lie her on the couch.
RIGHT: Just lie down there. (Or) Lay her on the couch.

Note also their past participles. To lay is laid; to lie is lain.

WRONG: He had lain his heart at her feet. (Or) He had laid on the sand all day.
RIGHT: He had laid his heart at her feet. (Or) He had lain on the sand all day.

Further confusion also arises out of the past tenses. To lay is laid; and to lie is lay.

WRONG: He lay(ed) his heart at her feet. (Or) He laid on the sand all day.
RIGHT: He laid his heart at her feet. (Or) He lay on the sand all day.

Additional points to remember are, to lie (to tell an untruth) is transitive and has lied as both past participle and past tense. And that to lay (to produce eggs or to wager) is intransitive and has laid as both past participle and past tense.

And lastly, don’t forget the other favourite mistake we all make: their and there. That place over there should not be confused with their car wouldn’t start.

Steal this, print this, and above all, refer to it every waking moment that you write!

8 Comments

  1. I couldn’t agree more, Alex! Those little grammar things can make all the difference in a piece of writing. I need to send this around to my students…

    • La Blonde says

      Oh indeed, we all forget, it’s easy. I have all these primers in a little booklet I made myself so that when I’m writing with a foggy brain, I can flip through it just to remind myself.

      And yes, by all means make a copy of any of these writing tips and primers and share them. 😀

  2. I love this, Alexandra. I used it today! Your assembled booklet deserves space next to Strunk & White’s “Elements of Style.”

    • Alex says

      Ah, I’m so happy you found it useful and used it, Kenny. Then my work here is done. 😉

  3. Another very helpful post, Alex. Thanks! I am sure the grammar police would have me in jail after reading my blog! I just wing along and if it sounds right I’m happy!

    • Alex says

      Thank you, Veronica. And you did make me smile, I don’t think anyone will begrudge you any mistakes on your blog, which you are writing in a second language. In fact, I applaude your ability. I know how difficult that can be. And funnily enough, if it sounds right, it probably is right. So don’t worry!

    • La Blonde says

      Again, you are more than welcome. Blogging is all about sharing and having fun.

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