Common Grammar Problems

Copyright © By Ben Whisman. All Rights Reserved.

Version History:

The first version of this was written sometime between and , but the original date has been lost.

  1. To, Too, and Two
  2. Sit versus Set
  3. Lie versus Lay
  4. Burst versus Busted
  5. Used To
  6. Contractions
  7. Possessives and Plurals – Nouns
  8. Possessives and Plurals – Pronouns
  9. Informal Pronouns
  10. Titles
  11. Capitalize Kinship Terms
  12. Quotation Marks
  13. Apostrophes
  14. Comma Usage
  15. Hyphenation
  16. Ellipses
  17. Dashes
  18. Numbers
  19. Spelling
  1. To, Too, and Two:
    1. Two = 2;
    2. To = at, toward; to you, to the tree, to do something;
    3. Too = also, and, more; too much, include him too;
    4. She wants to (listen) too.
    5. He brought two horses to the corral too.
  2. Sit versus Set:
    1. To sit, sits, sat, sat, sitting;
    2. To set, sets, set, set, setting;
    3. He sits but he sets something on something else. If it would make sense to put or place something somewhere, then it would make sense to set it there. Sit is called an intransitive verb, because it doesn’t transmit the action to an object: He sits. Set is called a transitive verb, because an object takes the action of the verb: He sets it. She sets it on the table.
    4. Exception: A setting hen is sitting on her nest.
  3. Lie versus Lay: * Note: This one gives me trouble too; I looked it up.
    1. To lie, lies, lay, lain, lying;
    2. To lay, lays, laid, laid, laying;
    3. He lies down but he lays something down on something else. If it would make sense to put or place something somewhere, then it would make sense to lay it there. Lie is called an intransitive verb, because it doesn’t transmit the action to an object: He lies; he lies down.  Lay is called a transitive verb, because an object takes the action of the verb:  She lays it on the bed.
    4. Expression: A laying hen lays her eggs in her nest, so this fits the rule.
    5. (Mature Audiences Only) Yes, to lay, to lay with, to get laid takes a person as the object of the verb’s intimate action.
  4. Burst and Busted:
    1. Only use “busted” in speech; it’s casual, not formal writing like a narrative. Technically, it’s “burst” for the past tense. Yes, I know, it’s being picky.
  5. Used To:
    1. Correct: We used to (verb).
    2. Incorrect: We use to (verb).
    3. Correct: We use (noun). We used (noun).
    4. “Used to” is a fixed verbal expression for a continuing past action that someone may or may not do now.
    5. “Use” is a general purpose verb, and various prepositions (by, for, with, etc.) may appear with it.
  6. Contractions:
    1. Always use apostrophes.
    2. you are/were → you’re;
    3. it is/was → it’s;
    4. they are/were → they’re;
    5. there is/was → there’s;
    6. who is/was → who’s;
    7. had → -’d;
    8. should/would → -’d;
    9. shall/will → -’ll;
    10. should/would have → -’d’ve;
  7. Possessives and Plurals – Nouns:
    1. Always use apostrophes.
    2. The plural possessive is -s’: both parents’ signatures; many boys’ laughter.
    3. Exceptions for plural possessives: people’s, men’s, women’s, children’s, oxen’s, brethren’s.
    4. Singular possessive: -’s: Codey’s pen.
    5. Exceptions for singular possessive: Nouns already ending in s add -’, such as Jesus’ sandals.
    6. Plural subjects or objects: -s: The horses are neighing and whinnying.
    7. Singular subjects or objects: --: Ride a painted pony.
  8. Possessives and Plurals – Pronouns:
    1. Never use apostrophes, except for: one’s, someone’s, anyone’s, everyone’s;
    2. my/mine, archaic: (thy/thine), his, her/hers, its,
    3. our/ours, your/yours, their/theirs; whose;
    4. That is its strength.
    5. Here is its cover.
    6. Is that yours or his? Oh, it’s (it is) your notebook.
    7. Whose CD is that?
  9. Informal Pronouns
    1. In dialectal or very informal speaking and writing that copies it, the forms of you have special spellings.
    2. These are dialect and not for formal or business writing.
    3. Singular ya comes from old ye or you.
    4. Singular yer comes from old your.
    5. Singular you will, you had, you should/would become ya’ll, ya’d, ya’d, with the apostrophe after the ya.
    6. Dialect plural you forms vary by region.
    7. Plural you-all is widely accepted in the Southern and Southwestern USA. It is spelled y’all by convention. It is plural and thus considered fundamentally different from singular ya’ll, you will.
    8. Plural you all is so widely accepted that you may see and hear, y’all’s for you-all’s.
    9. The group specifier, we-all may also appear, but it does not have a contraction to w’all, and we’ll still means only we will.
    10. Dialects such as the Northern USA may use the plural you form, youse from you + -s.
    11. The possessive of youse is then youse’s, but there is usually only one s pronounced as a z.
    12. The archaic forms, thou, thee, thy, thine are rarely used, and when used, usually only for speaking to God and Biblical quotes. As such, these are almost formal-you forms, the opposite of their original usage as either general singular you or familiar-you.
  10. Titles:
    1. Titles of series, books, discs, symphonies, and names of ships are in Italics and Capitalized.
    2. Titles of parts, chapters, sections, episodes, and songs or tracks on disc are put in “Double Quotes and Capitalized.”
  11. Capitalize Kinship Terms:
    1. Capitalize Dad or Mom or any kinship term when you’re using it as their name, either alone or as a title, but don’t capitalize it otherwise. Examples:
    2. Capitalized, used as their name or title:
      1. This is Gramps, he’s my grandfather.
      2. That’s Uncle Kyle; he’s more like a brother.
      3. Hey Mom, please pass the fried chicken.
      4. Ask Aunt Janet to throw you a biscuit and see what happens.
    3. Lowercase, used as a general word, often after a pronoun:
      1. My uncle, Kyle, is younger than I am.
      2. That’s my aunt and those are my cousins.
      3. Ask your dad when he gets home.
  12. Quotation Marks:
    1. End a quoted sentence with a comma instead of a period when there is a speaker cue or other ending remark: “That’s how to do it,” he said.
    2. If the quote ends in an exclamation point or a question mark, leave it as is: “Is that how we should write it?” she asked. “Now I know!” he grinned.
    3. Double quotes enclose an outer quotation. Single quotes enclose an inner quotation. It’s best not to nest them further, but if you do, then alternate them as double, single, double, single.
    4. Double quotes are for a spoken quote. Single quotes are more often used in order to quote directly a character’s thoughts or inner dialogue.
  13. Apostrophes:
    1. The apostrophe is always [ ] and not [ ].
    2. The apostrophe is used for possessive nouns, not pronouns.
    3. The apostrophe indicates a contraction or omitted letters.
  14. Comma Usage:
    1. Use a comma before addressing someone: “Yes, sir.” “Aye, captain.” “Good morning, Dave.” “Cut it out, dork, I'm busy right now.”
    2. Use a comma before or after confirmations:
      1. “Yes, that’s right.”
      2. “No thanks, I already finished.”
      3. “OK, if you’re sure you’re done.”
      4. “You understood that, didn’t you?”
      5. “You are OK now, I see.”
    3. Use a comma when inverting the usual sentence structure.
    4. Use a comma between the if-clause (the condition or proposition) and the then-clause (the statement part or conclusion).
    5. Use after an introductory word or phrase: Well, if you say so.
  15. Hyphenation:
    1. Hyphenate compound adjectives.
  16. Ellipses:
    1. Singular: ellipsis; Plural: ellipses;
    2. Use for a very long or dramatic pause, to indicate an incomplete action.
    3. Use sparingly. Usually, a comma or nothing at all is required.
    4. Mid-sentence: 3 dots; Just a minute…there, now I’ve got it.
    5. End-sentence: 3 dots + { ‘.’ or ‘!’ or ‘?’ }; Once upon a time, there was a handsome prince…. Put this where…? Oh, not again…!
  17. Dashes:
    1. Long dash or em-dash: Use for a very sudden or dramatic pause, or an interruption, to indicate a change in topic without a new complete sentence.
    2. Short dash or en-dash: Use for “through” or “to,” to show a range, such as, pages 1 – 100.
    3. Minus sign: uses en-dash or minus sign.
    4. Hyphen: used between words.
  18. Numbers:
    1. Spell out numbers below 100, unless used for a math equation, date/time, number sequence, or grade. Don’t start a sentence with a number in digits. Either spell it out; or if it’s long, use an “an” or “the” in front; or rewrite the sentence.
    2. Hyphenate numbers from 21 to 99: twenty-one, ninety-nine.