Common grammatical mistakes
Nouns and Pronouns
Nouns and pronouns are ‘naming’ words. They identify what it is we are talking about – for example, contract, client, him, she, Jennifer. Every sentence must also have a predicate, which can either be just a verb (‘He retired’), or a verb and an object (‘He chaired the meeting’). The verb tells us what the subject did, and the object tells us what the subject did it to. This object will also always be a noun or a pronoun. So in the above example, ‘he’ is the subject, ‘chaired’ is the verb, and ‘the meeting’ is the object.
Inappropriate use of capital letters
Only proper nouns (those that name specific people or places) should begin with a capital letter. So you would say ‘James Hunter’, ‘Birmingham’, ‘Thailand’, ‘Dorset County Council’, ‘the Sales Director’, but you should not say ‘the Balance Sheet’, ‘the Product’, ‘the Sales Figures’. Some people use capital letters for emphasis, but that is wrong – there are other ways of emphasising particular words, as we have seen
Some words can be either proper or common nouns, depending on the context. You might, for example, write about ‘the Government’ but ‘a government’. In the first instance you are talking about a particular government, so the word is a title – a proper noun. In the second you are talking about any government, so it is a common noun.
Collective and compound nouns
These are singular – they are one entity, even though they consist of several individuals. A committee of ten people is singular, because it is only one committee. Jones & Peterson is singular because, although Jones and Peterson are two people, they form one company. So all these collective or compound nouns should take singular verbs: ‘The Board has decided to appoint a new director’ not ‘The Board have decided …’; ‘Jones & Peterson owes us money’ not ‘Jones & Peterson owe us money.’ This rule is no longer as strictly applied as it was, however.
Pronouns are words that take the place of nouns. They are extremely useful little words; without them, our communications would be clumsy and difficult to follow. Consider the following passage: ‘Jennifer Jameson has the draft contract. Peter Denton will ask Jennifer Jameson to give the draft contract to Sarah MacDonald so that Sarah MacDonald can check the draft contract to make sure that Jennifer Jameson has not overlooked any errors in the draft contract.’ This is very long-winded and difficult. How much simpler it is when you use pronouns: ‘Jennifer Jameson has the draft contract. I will ask her to give it to you so that you can make sure that she has not overlooked any errors in it.’
Confusion over the use of subjective and objective pronouns
Some people have a problem with the different forms of the personal pronoun. There are two forms: subjective and objective. ‘I’, ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘they’ are subjective forms. As their name suggests, they are used when they are the subject of a sentence. ‘Me’, ‘him’, ‘her’, ‘them’ are objective forms, and are used when they are the object of a sentence. Most people can differentiate between them when using them on their own, but many get into difficulties when they use them in combination. For example, can you see what is wrong with these sentences?
– Our Sales Manager and me will call on you tomorrow. –
The Managing Director would like to see you and I at ten o’clock tomorrow.
They both use the wrong form of the pronoun. In the first, the pronoun is part of the subject, so it should be in the subjective form. And in the second, the pronoun is part of the object, so it should be in the objective. The best way to ensure that you use the correct form is to use the pronoun on its own. So in the first sentence you would drop ‘Our Sales Manager’. What would you say if you were calling on the client on your own? You would say, ‘I will call …’ Similarly in the second sentence, if it were just you the Managing Director wanted to see, you would say, ‘The Managing Director would like to see me …’ So you should use the same forms in combination with the accompanying nouns.
In the first sentence, the subject is ‘aim’ not ‘proposals’, so the verb should be singular. The confusion arises because the noun nearest to the verb is ‘proposals’. And in the second, the subject is ‘expenses’, not ‘allowance’, so the verb should be plural. If you are in doubt, you can check what the subject is by saying ‘what?’ before the predicate. So in the second sentence, the answer to the question ‘What is attached?’ is ‘my expenses’, which is plural