Common Grammar Mistakes I

Guest blogger of Common Grammar Mistakes I, Tyrone Couch, is a Queensland University of Technology student. He's completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts, majoring in Creative Writing. Tyrone undertook a 100-hour internship with Gail Tagarro in 2021.

Hello and welcome! This is the first in a series of articles intended to identify and demystify some of the most common grammar mistakes that writers make, valiantly kept at bay by their trusty editing companions.

Two people's hands with pen and paper for blog common grammar mistakes I

English is an incredibly complex language made up of many moving parts, and this is most apparent in its grammar. For almost every rule, there is a caveat or exception just waiting to catch you and your manuscript off-guard. Though this can be frustrating at times, it can also be leveraged to bring depth, complexity and order to your prose. In future articles, we will take a closer look at some of the ways this can be achieved.

For today, however, our goal is to tackle some of the simpler matters that often catch even the most diligent of writers unawares. Are you guilty of making any of these functional faux-pas in your writing practice? Read on and find out!

i.e. versus e.g.

Writes often use these two abbreviations interchangeably to clarify the statement that came before them. But did you know they have completely different functions?

i.e. stands for ‘id est,’ a Latin phrase translating roughly to ‘that is’:

The king was not fond of the common folk, i.e. he hated them with a passion.

On the other hand, e.g. stands for ‘exempli gratia,’ or ‘for example’:

The king often made sport of the common folk, e.g. forcing them to dance for hours.

In the first example, i.e. provides an alternative phrasing of the initial statement. In the second, e.g. gives a direct example of the initial statement. The best way to remember the difference between the two and know when to use them is to think of i.e. as in other words, and e.g. as for example.

Misplacement of Apostrophe in Possessive Nouns

True to its name, a possessive noun is a noun that possesses (or owns) something. When a noun is in possession of a single entity, this is indicated by adding ’s to the end of it:

I went to watch my daughter’s soccer game.

In this example, it is implied that the speaker has one daughter participating in the soccer game. It is common for authors to misrepresent this by instead following the noun by s’:

I went to watch my daughters’ soccer game.

Placing the apostrophe after the s (as opposed to before) changes the meaning of the sentence. It indicates that the speaker has more than one daughter participating in the game. (Note that if the speaker did have multiple daughters playing in the same game, this would be a perfectly valid statement.)

Here are some rules to follow to ensure the apostrophe is placed correctly:

  • If the noun is singular, place the apostrophe before the s, e.g. the woman’s glasses (there is one woman)
    • A notable exception to this rule is when the noun ends in the letter s, e.g. the actress’ reflection
  • If the noun is plural, place the apostrophe after the s, e.g. the womens’ glasses (there are various women)

Passive Voice

The passive voice is less black and white in terms of its status as an error, as sometimes it is appropriate. However, generally, it should be used sparingly and only when necessary. To better understand the passive voice, let us first define its opposite, the active voice. In the active voice, a subject performs a verb’s action:

David appreciates Julie.

On the other hand, the passive voice occurs when a subject is acted upon by a verb:

Julie is appreciated by David.

As you can see, the meaning of the statement is unchanged but it is more clearly and succinctly communicated in the active voice example. Also, the focus of the statement changes depending on whether it is said in the active voice or the passive voice. In the active voice example, David’s feelings towards Julie are foregrounded. In the passive voice example, Julie becomes the subject, and David’s feelings for her are made secondary.

While the passive voice example is still grammatically correct, the active voice is encouraged in most types of writing: it is less awkward and it does not distance the reader from the writing.

The passive voice is often used on signs and in instructions: Entry forbidden (short for 'entry is forbidden'), Masks must be worn, No smoking allowed, Trespassers will be prosecuted. In these situations it is perfectly acceptable and correct. To use the active voice would sound very strange.

That’s all for Common Grammar Mistakes I. Tune in next time for Part II, where we will cover:

  • En Dash vs Em Dash
  • Use of Semicolons
  • Incomplete Comparisons

See you next time!

Acknowledgement: Image by Liza Ulyanova from Pexels

Some Resources

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

The Australian Editing Handbook, Third Edition, 2014, by Elizabeth Flann, Beryl Hill and Lan Wang. Wiley, Qld.

The Hero’s Journey by Joseph Campbell audiobook

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