The 3 Vs | Pronunciation | Intonation | Articulation Disorders | Englishisms | Indianisms | Grammar Disorders |
Usage Catastrophes
| American Idioms | Hinglish |
Desi English | Opinions on Trite phrases | Common Errors | Vids | Links | Home

Common grammar and usage mistakes in English

Me, Myself & I | Past perfect | its vs. it's | Um, fillers! | Subject-Verb Disagreement

I, Me, and Myself are often confused.

This is a problem in the US, UK and in India. Many people forget how to speak English (properly) when referring to themselves, the moment someone else is involved in their sentence. Many educated people confuse these. In the US, there is often a tendency for people to avoid "Me" at all costs. Even our articulate President Obama has a problem with this! Uhhh, listen to this 20s snippet from, uh, Barack Obama's first, um, news conference, 7 Nov, 2008.

Common Examples:

Formula for improvement:

If speaking about yourself and someone else:

  1. Remove the other person from the situation.
  2. Say the same sentence.
  3. If it sounds wrong, it probably is.

Another simple formula:

You can't look at myself, talk to myself, feed myself or visit myself. Only I can affect myself! Similarly, I can't feed YOURSELF or talk to yourself. Only you act on yourself. (both are reflexive; they refer to the originator of the action.)










Use of past perfect tense when simple past tense is intended:

Incorrect usage: "Greg had called for you."

This is incorrect, unless you are reporting something else that happened since the call, such as: "Greg had called for you just before you left yesterday." Past perfect tense is used to express that an action had already been completed in the past, before another event (either implicit or explicit) occurred.

Simple PAST tense should be used: "Greg called for you." is correct.

...-3 ..................... -2 ..................... -1 ..................... 0 ..................... +1 ..................... +2 .................. +3
PAST ...............................................................PRESENT ...............................................................FUTURE

Correct usage: The train had left the station, five minutes before I arrived.

Future Perfect tense is used for actions that will be completed some time in the future:










Use of fillers, um, runs rampant.

A pause should consist of silence.

Many people are uncomfortable with any amount of silence when they're speaking. During what should be a pause of silence, noises continue to come from the mouths of many speakers. These filled pauses, or "fillers", act like verbal speed-bumps. The speaker's message becomes unsteady and difficult to comprehend.

It's natural to pause while speaking, as you consider what to say next. Clearly, it's best to be prepared; to know what you're going to say and how you will say it. Knowing exactly what you're going to say is the best way to eliminate fillers. However, this is not always possible. It's common for people to pause as they speak, to struggle for the right word when engaging in unscripted speech. Some of the most common fillers are "um", "uh", and "you know". We also hear "like" and "so" quite often... you know?

At no time has this become more apparent than in the recent months leading up to the 2008 Presidental election. President Barack Obama is clearly a thoughtful, intelligent, and articulate speaker. Hoewever, he has a terrific problem with fillers. Obama's favorite filler is "uhhh". In fact, he began is very first press conference with uhhh! (Here it is.) It does not add value or meaning. It's nothing more than a distraction.

Judge for yourself how much your comprehension goes UP when fillers are eliminated. Listen to this two-minute section of a radio call-in show. The guest not only speaks too fast and stutters, he uses excessive fillers. The host, a radio announcer who is being paid to speak to thousands of people, also muddles his message with constant fillers. For a few seconds he does not use any fillers, but this is only during a brief segment when he reads to his listeners. It's the best part of the show.

Radio Call-In show and interview

President-elect Obama's first news conference, recorded live on Thursday, November 7th, 2008

The first six minutes of the session did not have many fillers, becasue he read a script. I've provided the last 13 minutes' worth which consisted of answers to questions by reporters. Unfortunately, many of the reporters' questions are inaudible.

In Obama's defense, I must say how refreshing it is to finally have a leader who speaks in complete sentences! Obama's Use of Complete Sentences Stirs Controversy.

Soooooo... Mark Zuckerberg has a problem.






It's "its," not "it is!"

This problem ocurrs frequently in written communication. It's a non-issue in spoken communication.

Usually, nouns take on an apostrophe to indicate when the possessive tense is being used.

Example: "The car's color is too dark for my taste, but I love its powerful engine and roomy interior."
Here, "its" is used properly to denote the possessive tense.

Many people understandably get confused and write things like: "The sound of falling rain makes me sleepy, it's pitter-patter soothes my soul and puts me to sleep." This is not written properly because it's literally means it is. "It's raining outside." is correct. (That's also a bit wordy, since it generally doesn't rain inside!)

The root of this confusion is knowing that the possessive tense usually takes on an apostrophe. Hence, "IT" is an exception and is often problematic. It's very easy to become confused by its proper usage!

We have a similar mistake when we see an apostrophe at the end of a pluralized noun. ("There are many car's on the road.") One car; two cars, three cars.... NOT car's. A good/bad example.




Subject-Verb Disagreement

If subject-verb agreement is something we strive for, then subject-verb disagreement is a problem. Subject verb-agreement simply states that a singlular subject demands a singular verb; a plural subject demands a plural verb. When this does not occur, we have what I like to call subject verb-disagreement. Many writers or speakers will match the (singlular/plural) tense use a verb according to a noun that comes immediately before it, instead of matching it to the noun that it actually refers to! See this example: (second paragraph under 'Prices.') "While the value of RECs fluctuate..." Examles are everywhere, from newspapers, to term papers, in email and in snail mail.

Indefinte promouns such as someone, everyone, and everybody may "feel" plural to some, but they are always sigular and take a singular verb.

Everyone is here today. (good)
Everyone are here today. (bad)
Everyone on the team is here today.

Simple, right? Not so fast...
The problem generally ocurrs when there's a noun closeby that differs in tense from the subject of the sentence.

Each of the students are present in class today.
Each of the students is present in class today.

Don't be confused by phrases that come between the subject pronoun and its verb - phrases that may contain plural words!

Each of the team leaders are required to issue a report..
Each of the team leaders is required to issue a report.


How to Use There, Their and They're

Apostrophe Abuse












Comments and questions? Make Contact