5 Common Examples of Bad Grammar and How to Fix Them

Posted on November 1, 2019 by in Marketing | 28 comments

5 Common Examples of Bad Grammar and How to Fix Them

Whenever you write anything online, there’s a high probability of someone going through it with a fine-toothed comb. Sometimes that’s to glean more out of it, to learn more from your research, or — unfortunately — to find something wrong about what you wrote. Or maybe more often: the way you wrote. You can steel yourself against these grammar police, though, by understanding a few of the most common examples of bad grammar, what makes them bad, and how to fix them.

Grammar vs Mechanics

Very briefly, we want to point out a sticking point that a lot of people get stuck on. People think of the term bad grammar, and very likely assume it includes everything from misused homonyms/homophones, misspellings, improperly placed commas, run-on sentences, fragments, dangling modifiers, and so on. It does not. This misconception is because many folks don’t know the difference between grammar and mechanics.

Grammar is the structure of the language. It’s how you put the words together. You form coherent and understandable thoughts based on this structure.

Mechanics is the set of rules that govern the structure. These rules may tell you how and where to put punctuation, what words to capitalize, or how to spell those words.

These are two distinctly different sets of skills to master. They can be broken up into high-order and low-order concerns. Grammar tends to be high-order in that you can’t simply look in a book to always be correct. These are structures you have to internalize and learn to use because the context and word choice and goal of the writing might shift how the grammar needs to be. Mechanics, on the other hand, is made up of mostly low-order concerns because you can learn how to spell the words, what words to capitalize, where to put commas, and so on…and you will be objectively right all most of the time.

In a nutshell, grammar is what you have to think about on a case-by-case basis, whereas mechanics are mostly one-size-fits-all solutions.

With that in mind, we are mostly going to talk about bad grammar, and not misused mechanics in this post. Not because mechanics aren’t important, but because getting a handle on bad grammar can have more of a learning curve. There will be some examples that cross the streams, though, which is just something that happens with language.

1. Subject/Verb Agreement (Number)

Probably the biggest and most glaring example of bad grammar is when the subject of a sentence and the verb don’t agree in number. What this means is that you need to have a plural noun and a plural verb. Or a singular noun and a singular verb.

Example: The boy runs, and the girls jump. There’s one boy. So he runs. There are multiple girls, so they jump.

The simple way to make sure that you have these in agreement is this:

  • Singular nouns generally do not end in S. Singular verbs generally do. (ex: boy/runs)
  • Plural nouns generally do end in S. Plural verbs generally do not. (ex: girls/jump)

While there are irregularities in this formula (because language is not logical), the majority of the time, this can help you keep things in agreement.

2. Tense Shift

There are three (basic) tenses in English. Past, Present, and Future. Tense indicates when things occur. They either occur in the past, are occurring presently, or will occur in the future.

What comes into play with bad grammar in this case is not keeping the same tense within the same paragraph or the same document. Sometimes within the same sentence.

Example: We ate chocolate on the couch last night. We will be sick when we eat too much chocolate. The chocolate is not good for us, but we will eat it anyway.

My question to you is this: when are those people eating that chocolate?

The first sentence is past tense, the second has future tense verbs, and the third has both present and future. None of these are wrong. Even the third one. They are, however, bad grammar.

What grammar does is clearly communicate your idea. This idea is obfuscated by the tense shift across the sentences. You can have a document with all three tenses, but each tense needs to be explained and used purposefully so that your readers aren’t confused about what you’re trying to say.

A fix for this could read like this, by shifting the sentences into past tense and rewording the middle one for clarity: We ate chocolate on the couch last night. We were sick this morning because we ate too much chocolate. The chocolate wasn’t good for us, but we ate it anyway.

3. Dangling Modifiers

One of the most common examples of bad grammar is the dangling modifier. This error happens when you have a modifying phrase that is not attached to the subject of the sentence (or really, any noun in the sentence).

It is so common because it is so incredibly easy to do without realizing it. When we write, we understand what we’re trying to say. That gives us bias in our word choice. Because of that bias, we take for granted that other people don’t have that same understanding out of the gate. Which causes us to omit words or write sentences that literally don’t make sense because they seem logical based on our bias.

Example: After looking at the wedding venue, the choice was still not clear.

The modifying phrase is after looking at the wedding venue. But who is the subject of the sentence? If you answered the choice, you’d be correct. Unfortunately, the choice is not who looked at the wedding venue. Who did? Based on this sentence, the readers have no idea. Because the modifier is dangling with nothing to modify.

The fix for a dangling modifier is simple: After looking at the wedding venue, the couple remained undecided about their choice.

Now, we have the couple looking at the wedding venue as the subject of the sentence, and they remain undecided. They are the subject because the sentence is about them. They perform the action here. Not the choice as in the first example. Voila, no more bad grammar.

4. Active vs Passive Voice

One of the Yoast SEO plugin‘s favorite red flags is active vs passive voice. We all make this mistake in every single post or article we write. And that’s okay. It’s not always bad grammar. But when it obfuscates the message of the writing, it moves into that territory. Using too much passive voice tends to create a much harder reading experience, which is why Yoast points it out so often and asks you to limit your usage.

Active voice is when the subject of the sentence is performing the action of the verb.

Example: The couple sends wedding invitations.

Passive voice is when the subject of the sentence has an action performed on it (not by it).

Example: The wedding invitation was sent by the couple.

The couple is still the noun performing the action, but in the second sentence, they are not the subject. (They’re the object of the preposition by, and the object of a preposition can never be the subject of a sentence). The wedding invitation is the subject and passively receives the action from the verb.

5. Parallelism

Parallelism is the idea that anything in a series (clauses, adjectives, verbs, etc.) is consistent in style and tense (or grammatically) with the rest of the series.

Example of an unparallel sentence: The children love eating, coloring, and to play with their toys.

The verbs eating and coloring are parallel because they are both in the -ing (present participle) form. To play, however, is in its infinitive form. Even if you don’t recognize those verb forms and their technical meanings, you probably see that the sentence is kind of awkward to read. Even though you understand what it means.

Example of a parallel sentence: The children love eating, coloring, and playing with their toys. Or The children love to eat, color, and play with their toys. Or The children love to eat, to color, and to play with their toys.

Pretty simple, right? Just make sure that when you line things up, that you line them up straight. One of the best ways to notice issues with parallelism is to read your work aloud. In general, we don’t speak out of parallel, so the difference is striking when spoken.

Wrapping Up

These are some of the most common examples of bad grammar out there. Whether it’s academic writing for a freshman comp class, a PhD dissertation, or a travel blog about your vacation to Italy, these issues will invariably arise. You don’t have to be an English teacher to recognize bad grammar and to fix it. You just have to be aware of it and your purpose in writing. To make things even easier, we love using the Grammarly browser extension. Even the free version can catch many of the above issues. (Be warned, though, that any automated grammar checker will be wrong sometimes. Grammar is simply too subjective to be caught by software 100% of the time).

What examples of bad grammar do you catch yourself making the most? How do you fix them in your own writing?

Article featured image by Morphart Creation / shutterstock.com

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28 Comments

  1. My all-time favourite is using “that” instead of “who” when referring to people.

    • It seems that they don’t get it.
      Equal for me is “less” instead of “fewer.”
      Also, putting the close quote before the period.

      • 🙂
        Agreed!

    • Hmmm

  2. Man, this is elementary school stuff.

    • Yeah, but this is the stuff everyone always forgets about.

  3. Another example of bad grammar is when you use “is when”. “Is When” is simply an impossible construction.

    • Yes, I was being ironic with my statement.

  4. Your story-telling style is witty, keep
    up the good work!

  5. The internet reveals how extensive illiteracy is in all its (ugly) glory – (note: ITS not it’s)

    If you get on Facebook for 5 minutes, for example, I guarantee you’ll come across a “your” which should be “you’re”, and plurals with apostrophes (she took her book’s to school).

    I am sick of looking at it and have cut down my time on Facebook drastically because of the extent of the problem.

  6. I am adding a section on my site, clients logo. So I want to write the title little different and I rounded of “Companies which made us successful”.
    But I am not sure about the correct grammar.
    What will be correct sentence?
    “Companies who made us successful?” OR
    “Companies which made us successful?”

    • Technically it is “which” as “who” should be used for persons and “which” for objects(or more generally non-person) 😉

    • The answer is neither. The correct word is “that.”
      A company is not people, thus you would not use “who.”
      “… made us successful…” is a defining clause. You know because if you removed it the sense of the sentence/statement would disappear. Defining clauses require the word “that.”
      “Which” is used (frequently with a comma before it) when the clause is not-defining : if you remove it the meaning of the sentence/clause would remain intact.
      “A company, which is what we are, makes their clients successful.” Take out the clause, which non-defining, and the sense of the sentence remains (as it would in the sentence I just used).

      And if you need proof, just google “which vs that” and you can find authoritative support, which is what you want.

      • Randy, I had scrolled down to hit reply and you beat me to it. I’d absolutely use “that” instead of either choice. Good show! 😉

        My big call (and it’s not an official rule) is to use “that/which” as you indicated and only use “who” when there’s an actual person involved. Not even something being personified or anthropomorphized (as in this case with the company).

      • keep
        up the good work!

  7. Great article. I always struggle with the past, present and future tenses.

    • Yes @carl, that was my main problem when compiling some articles for my community but after reading this i got to change my modus operandi

  8. Seems to me, it’d be “poor” grammar, vs. “bad” grammar (article title). Although I imagine that’s subjective.
    And, am I the only one here who’s being driven nuts by everyday vs. every day? Sheesh!

  9. Great tips. I do a lot of writing on my Samsung Note 8, is there a Grammarly alternative for android…?

  10. Great post Now day you can use Grammar correction tools available on Google freely

    thanks

  11. Hi there,
    Such a great post, its true that most of us don’t even know about difference between grammar and mechanics.
    and “Tense Shift” i think its most important thing to learn. because right in this most of the people make mistake including myself.

    Thanks for such a post…

  12. The free Grammarly version is good but they really push you to pay with the huge number of “premium edits”.

  13. English is my second language and that is why I am not confident while writing a blog in English. But someone I learnt this language and now I started blogging in both languages. I think English is not so tough. Just start making friendship with English speakers. BTW great article.

  14. Great Stuff, Grammarly free version is enough sometimes to correct mistakes and google has got so many free things for us.

  15. Grammarly has helped me a lot in this regard. I write all my blogs using Grammarly Free Version. And I think it is a feat/achievement when I don’t get any errors/premium alerts after I have written the article! In a nutshell, I have managed to tick all the points mentioned in this article with the aim of having Zero Errors in Grammarly!

  16. The fifth example,

    5. Parallelism

    is faulty. It starts with the example

    The children love eating, coloring, and to play with their toys.

    and then claims

    The verbs eating and coloring are parallel because they
    are both in the -ing (present participle) form.

    “Eating” and “coloring” in this sentence are not verbs; they are not even present participles. They are gerunds, which are nouns. The only verb in sight is “love.” To be sure, the example shows improper parallelism, but the explanation is specious.

  17. I am new to the blogging industry, I started blogging a few months back, a few weeks later one of my friends suggested Grammarly it helped me a lot in writing the blog, though I am using the free version still it benefited me to improve my grammar. After I write my blog in Ms Word I used to upload that word file to Grammarly to check the blog thoroughly before publishing my Website. Grammarly also provide overall writing score based on writing skills. It is one of the best free tool that I can recommend you for Blogging.

  18. I respectfully disagree with a statement in the fifth paragraph under the tense category. “None of these ARE…” should be “None of these IS…”. None means “not ONE”. Therefore, it would be “(n)one IS” instead of “(n)one ARE”.

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