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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 |

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.


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