Gotta Love Grammar… Or Not

GovLoop Featured Contributor BadgeEnglish grammar usually isn’t the most popular subject in a school curriculum and, if the current state of online writing is anything to go by, it appears to be even less so in the era of mass information consumption.

Proper usage may be of little consequence to some but there are many who still cringe when they encounter the most basic grammatical errors. I count myself among that number.

It only takes a misplaced apostrophe or incorrect word usage for a writer to lose credibility with an audience.

Below are the top five entries on my list of most frequently encountered grammatical gaffes. Yes, there are exceptions to the rules, so the examples should be used as basic guidelines.

I vs. me

If your parents or teachers corrected you to say Joe and I are going out to play instead of Joe and me are going out to play, that lesson may have influenced the use of I in just about every instance where me should be used instead.

He shared his findings with Mary and I is incorrect.

If you remove Mary from the sentence, the result is

He shared his findings with I. Sounds awkward, no?

I should be used when it’s the subject of the sentence. Me is used when it’s the object in a sentence:

Mary and I read his findings.

He shared his findings with Mary and me.

Less vs. fewer

I was pleasantly surprised to read a sign that said 12 items or fewer at a supermarket cash register. They got it right!

If you can count the items, use fewer: fewer apples, fewer dollars, fewer people, etc.

If you’re referring to something that can’t be counted, use less: less water, less sand, less time.

Subject-Verb Agreement

The subject and verb of a sentence must agree in number and person.

A series of events have triggered new displacements in the first six months of the year alone.

A series of events HAS triggered new displacements in the first six months of the year alone. The subject is series, hence the singular form of the verb.

Sometimes it’s just easier to reword the sentence:

The majority of our teachers regularly reads the notes (not read).

Most of our teachers regularly read the notes.

Using an apostrophe to denote the plural

Incorrect: There were lots of bird’s on the island.

Correct: There were lots of birds on the island.

Apostrophes are most commonly used to show possession and to form contractions:

Possession: Jane’s dog, Fred’s hat

There is an exception – the pronoun it forms its possessive with no apostrophe. With an apostrophe, it’s a contraction of it is.

It’s important to recognize its significance.

Those pesky homophones

  • they’re is the contracted form of they are and you’re is the contracted form of you are
  • there is an adverb denoting place
  • their denotes ownership, as does your
  • Whose asks to whom something belongs while who’s is the contracted form of who is

They’re going to enjoy their time there.

You’re bringing your dog there.

Who’s coming tonight? vs. Whose book is that?

Reference Links

  • Grammar checking tools can be a great help. The free version of Grammarly works well for me
  • ProWritingAid – a grammar checking tool and manuscript editor (subscription required)
  • After the Deadline – checks spelling, grammar and makes style suggestions
  • WhiteSmoke – checks spelling grammar and style (subscription required)

Style guides are also very useful. Whether you choose AP (, Chicago (, MLA ( or even your own writing resource, be sure you and your colleagues refer to it whenever you’re uncertain about grammar, usage, punctuation, spelling or style.

Leslie Labrecque is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). See more Featured Contributor posts

You can follow Leslie on Twitter.

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