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Suhaib Mohammed: 5 Grammar Goofs (And How to Avoid Them)

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dreamstime_m_6602173Let’s face it: English grammar is tough, especially for us – the non-native speakers. While it’s forgivable to make one or two errors when speaking in your community, chatting with friends on Facebook, or writing an email to loved ones, it’s a capital crime to write a bad grammar for your readers or clients. It will cost you lifelong negative feedback, and tarnish your credibility in the marketplace.

After a bit of research, beginning with myself, I gathered 5 common grammar mistakes that we often make when writing. I’ll also share tips on how to avoid them.

Dangling Modifiers
A dangling modifier is one of the grammatical blunders which we repeatedly make when writing. Because some of us don’t know the rules, we often overlook it and end up writing silly sentences, that leave our readers dangling in the middle of nowhere.

A dangling modifier is a word, phrase, or participle that fails to logically connect to the words it intends to modify. Let’s look at the following examples:

A: “After reading much about freelance writing, the business seems profitable.”
B: “After reading much about freelance writing, I find the business profitable.”

Sentence B is the correct one because the phrase: “after reading much about freelance writing,” is logically connected to the pronoun:  “I find the business profitable.

But in the case of example A, there is no logical connection between the phrases: “After reading much about freelance writing…” what happen afterward? The loyal reader is left confused here. Who finds the business profitable? It seems that no one finds anything because the sentence didn’t modify the right phrase.

Tip: Always ask the question who? And place your answer immediately after the phrase.

He Has Arrived or He Arrived?
Okay, I’m not a fan of tenses. I really have struggled with them. Nah…not anymore; so I’d say, I struggled with them instead (in the past).

Back to our question: “he has arrived” or “he arrived” – which one is correct?

“Has” and “Have” are present perfect tense. Arrived is past tense.

Tip: Use present perfect when:

  • You don’t know the time that an action has taken place.

Example: He has finished his exams a long time ago (we don’t know when).

  • The actions haven’t finished… yet (usually used with “for” and “since”).

Example: Maryam has been living in London for 5 years. (She’s still living in London).

  • The information is recent, new, or current.

Example: He has arrived. (Meaning he has (just) arrived; new information).

Use past tense when:

  • You know the time at which an action has taken place

Example: He finished his exams on Friday (we know exactly when – on Friday).

  • The action is finished

Example: Maryam lived in London (she’s no longer living in London).

  • The information is not new

Example: He arrived last week (old news).

A Computer or The Computer?
I often see people putting an “a” in place of “the” on Nairaland. Understand that both “a” and “the” are determiners, and in English language, countable, singular nouns have to carry determiners.

So in this case, you can say either a computer or the computer, depending on what you want to say.

Tip: Use the definite article – “the” if you want to distinguish a particular computer from other computers. If you say the computer, this computer might be distinguished from other computers in the café; for example, or because it’s the only computer you mentioned earlier in the conversation.

Use the indefinite article – “a” if you don’t want to be specific. If you say a computer, this computer might be any computer in the café, or because you never mentioned it before in your conversation.

That, Which, and Who
Seriously? What‘s the difference? Before I started writing, I thought you can use any of these as you wish… I was wrong.

Tip: “Who” is always used when referring to people.

  • Example: The girl who wrote that letter is clever.

That and which are used to refer to inanimate objects.

We use that to introduce restrictive clauses and which to introduce non-restrictive clauses.

A restrictive clause is very important to a sentence – if it’s removed, the sentence will change.

  • Example: Dogon Yaro trees that are planted in the city of Sokoto are greener than others in the region.

This sentence “restricts” only the Dogon Yaro trees in Sokoto city. In order words, other Dogon Yaro trees that are not in Sokoto are not as greener as the ones in Sokoto.

A non-restrictive clause, on the other hand, is not so important to a sentence: sentence still makes sense even if a non-restrictive clause is left out.

  • Example: Dogon Yaro trees, which are everywhere in Northern Nigeria, are effective in treating chicken pox.

See? The clause “which are everywhere in Northern Nigeria,” doesn’t change the sentence. You can remove it, and the sentence will still make sense.

  • Example: Dogon Yaro trees… are effective in treating chickenpox.

Tip: Double check the subject of your sentence to know if it’s introducing people or objects, and use the pronouns where necessary.

Advice or Advise?
Sometimes, even native speakers slip on this one. I have since included it in my proofreading list to make sure I get it right anytime I’m writing. Let’s get the tricky words straight:

Advice is a noun meaning a suggestion or recommendation to a beneficial course.

  • Example: May I give you some advice?

Advise, on the other hand, is a verb, meaning to offer somebody a suggestion – to advise someone.

  • Example: I was advised to stop writing general headlines.

Tip: I advise you to take a test on these tricky words, and read more examples, along with other grammar advice, to improve your English.

These are some of the common grammar mistakes that make your writing look silly. But make no mistake: with learning comes perfection. If you can devote 30 minutes to an hour every day, you can polish your grammar and perk up your credibility in the marketplace.

Do you make these 5 mistakes when you write? Are there other grammatical difficulties you’re struggling with that are not mention here? Share with us in the comments below.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Ross | Dreamstime.com

Suhaib Mohammed is a freelance writer and digital marketer. His website SuhaibMohammed teaches the art of writing compelling content that builds businesses. Wanna power your business with compelling content? Hire him now. You can also follow him on Twitter.

28 Comments

  1. Spunky

    November 1, 2016 at 8:54 pm

    I am not understanding…please come again.lol!

    • Odi

      November 1, 2016 at 9:37 pm

      Lmaooo

    • Suhaib Mohammed

      November 2, 2016 at 12:15 pm

      LOL! Read again …

  2. LOL

    November 1, 2016 at 11:32 pm

    My all time favourite has to be ” it really dirint wot it”
    Like seriously?

    • aunty

      November 2, 2016 at 2:16 am

      LOOOOL! my brother and i love “it doesn’t worth it” …. I’m more amused than upset

  3. Nedoux

    November 1, 2016 at 11:41 pm

    Excellent article Suhaib,

    Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Suhaib Mohammed

      November 2, 2016 at 12:16 pm

      Thank you, Nedoux. Glad that you liked it.

  4. Missy J

    November 2, 2016 at 2:08 am

    This was really helpful.
    Can you please make one on ‘will,would’, ‘can, could’ . Those things confuses my destiny.
    Thank you!

    • Missy J

      November 2, 2016 at 2:41 am

      Lol…[email protected] blunder. Abegi!!
      I was just thinking…,”Dogon Yaro trees that are planted in the city of Sokoto are effective in treating chicken box” . Is that sentence correct? Why I asked is because if “that are planted in Sokoto” is removed the remaining sentence will still make meaning i.e “Dogon Yaro trees are effective in treating chicken box”.
      Thank you!

    • Iris

      November 2, 2016 at 4:39 am

      I have to comment on this one because I see it everywhere and it drives me crazy. ‘Would’ implies that your action is dependent on something else happening. For instance, you should say ‘The list will be available soon.’ If you say ‘The list would be available soon’, the sentence is not complete.
      You can say ‘The list would be available soon if I knew how to make it.’ In that case, the list being available is dependent on you knowing how to make it.

    • Missy J

      November 2, 2016 at 5:58 am

      Lol…thanks alot Iris. Ermmmm….”may” , “might” nko??

    • Suhaib Mohammed

      November 2, 2016 at 12:29 pm

      They are somewhat complicated. Another rule for using them is that WILL is used in present situations and WOULD in the past. I’ll write on them too.

    • Suhaib Mohammed

      November 2, 2016 at 12:25 pm

      Sure. I can see that a lot of people are saying the same thing; so I’ll write on them. Maybe next week.

  5. Debia Samson

    November 2, 2016 at 5:54 am

    Grammerly is your friend. A powerful app that corrects your grammar on the fly. Check it out!!

    • Mama

      November 2, 2016 at 9:45 am

      That grammerly, I’m a little suspicious of it for academic work. Any drawbacks I should know about? Will appreciate a response.

    • Suhaib Mohammed

      November 2, 2016 at 12:33 pm

      Get a great editor, Mama. All those apps aren’t perfect.

    • Ahem

      November 2, 2016 at 1:57 pm

      *none of those apps is perfect” or “those apps aren’t perfect” 🙂

    • Suhaib Mohammed

      November 2, 2016 at 12:32 pm

      Grammarly is a very nice app, but it is not perfect. The closest you can get to perfection is when you purchase the Premium version of the app, which costs $27 I think. Still, it’s not 100% perfect. Only a great (human) editor can perfect written English.

  6. Ahem

    November 2, 2016 at 7:53 am

    You CANNOT write to Nigerians about grammar blunders without discussing the difference between will and would. The misuse of those words literally makes my skin crawl. And it is EVERYWHERE!!!!

    And then we need to address me vs I. Ie: “I” is not used to make you sound more intelligent….

    • Nitomeya

      November 2, 2016 at 10:01 am

      Please tell us the solution. No need to tell us the problem if you are not going to proffer a solution.

      @Suhaib Thanks for this write up, especially the Advice/Advise bit.

    • Suhaib Mohammed

      November 2, 2016 at 12:34 pm

      Thank you, Nitomeya. Glad that you liked it.

    • Suhaib Mohammed

      November 2, 2016 at 12:35 pm

      I’ll try to read on these. Thank you for pointing them out.

    • Ahem

      November 2, 2016 at 1:52 pm

      Me vs I:

      1st, when talking about yourself and others, you always come last. Ie: ” Susan and me/I”, never “me/I and Susan” or “you and me/i” , never “me/I and you”

      2nd, remove the other people in the sentence, see if I or me makes sense. Ie:

      “The cake is for Tope and me” is right because “The cake is for me” makes sense and “The cake is for I” does not. “The cake is for me and Tope” is wrong, because “me” should come last.

      “You and I should go on vacation” is right because “I should go on vacation” makes sense and “Me should go on vacation” does not. “I and you should go on vacation” is wrong because “I” should come last

  7. tunmi

    November 2, 2016 at 1:27 pm

    Thank you for writing without coming across as condescending. Also, thanks for the examples

    • Suhaib Mohammed

      November 2, 2016 at 1:35 pm

      You’re welcome, Tunmi. We’re all learning, so the reader must be respected.

  8. LEM

    November 2, 2016 at 2:30 pm

    Thanks for this Shuaib. Especially the advice and advise, I usually get them mixed up. Another one I hope you can address is the difference between ‘am’ and ‘I am/I’m’. So many people confuse those two alot. For example, someone writes ‘Am coming over now’ when it should be ‘I am coming over now’. ‘Am’ usually starts in a sentence if its a question i.e Am I pretty? Am I supposed to attend the meeting? etc.

  9. Priye

    November 2, 2016 at 6:23 pm

    “IN” “ON” a plane. That one kills me. Please which is correct biko?

  10. Maxine

    November 2, 2016 at 11:18 pm

    Who and whom nko?? Used to give me major headache (which reminds me of a major pet peeve- “I’m feeling headache…” arrrggghhh!!!!) But… I digress….
    Anyway, i got a very useful tip on the correct usage of who and whom… If you invert the statement so to speak, and you can replace with ‘him or her’, then whom is the correct word to use. If however, you can replace with ‘she or he’ then who is the correct word. Eg To whom it may concern…. It concerns her….
    Abeg English doesn’t follow logic at times… Lol!

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