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Home > Publications > Quill > Eliminate 10 common grammar problems


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Tuesday, March 6, 2007
Eliminate 10 common grammar problems

Commentary by Paula LaRocque

Test your knowledge

Several boys, including Tom and I, snuck over the wall and dove into the bushes beside the entry, where we waited for whomever was designated to open the door. Instead, cops rushed up. Some of the boys got away, but the cops handcuffed Tom and myself and forced us to lay face down on the drive. They questioned Tom first, probably because he’s older than me, but anyone who thinks he would rat out the others should have their head examined. Its out of the question — Tom’s one of those guys who plays by the rules.


The passage above contains 10 of the most common grammatical errors. Can you find and explain them?

Below, in boldface, are the problem words and explanations.

* Including Tom and I: “Tom and me” is the correct choice because “including” needs an object. We can verify the desired pronoun form by substituting another pronoun. We would not say “including we” or “including she” — but, rather, “including us” or “including her” — showing we need the objective pronoun.

* Snuck over the wall and dove into the bushes: “Sneaked” and “dived.”

* We waited for whomever was designated to open the door: Whoever. Such sentences are confusing because we need an object for “waited,” yet we also need a subject for “was designated.” In these cases, the subjective pronoun prevails, and the whole clause “whoever was designated to open the door” serves as the object for “waited.”

* Cops handcuffed Tom and myself: We need an object for “handcuffed”: “handcuffed me,” not “handcuffed myself.” Avoid using “myself” as either subject or object; it is a reflexive (I hurt myself) or an intensifier (I myself believe).

* Forced us to lay face down: Forced us to lie face down.

* He’s older than me: “He’s older than I” is the correct choice because we could finish the thought: “He’s older than I am” — showing we need a subjective, not objective, pronoun. (We would not say “older than me am.”)

* Anyone who thinks he would rat out the others should have their head examined: “Anyone” is singular, therefore “his” or “her” head. Or you can keep “their” and make the antecedent plural — “people who think” or “folks who think,” for example.

* Its out of the question: “Its” is a possessive pronoun. We need “it’s,” the contraction for “it is.”

* Tom’s one of those guys who plays by the rules: “Plays” agrees with “one,” but in this case, the pronoun “who” (referring to the plural “guys”) dictates the verb: guys who play. This sentence says: “Among the guys who play by the rules, he is one.”

Next time, we’ll look at 10 common errors in word use.


Useful links

l You can receive a grammar tip of the week from the University of Houston-Victoria by e-mailing leibenspergers@uhv.edu and asking to be put on their distribution list.

l Common Errors in English Usage is a comprehensive and useful Web site that lists common grammar errors and offers other good resources: www.wsu.edu:8080/%7Ebrians/errors/errors.html#errors

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