Consider how much of your writing goes out into the world each day. You could be working on a client project, tweeting, emailing, or updating your blog. We put a lot of words out there every single day.
But here’s the thing: Our fingers fly faster than our brains, and sometimes we end up sending an email or document that contains grammar errors. Now, if that email is going to your mom, it’s not a big deal. (Unless your mom is a former English teacher who loves nothing more than to point out your errors. Hi, Mom!) But what if that typo goes out to a potential client? Or goes live on your blog, which is tweeted and Facebooked to a slew of potential clients?
While not everyone likes to sit around diagramming sentences for the fun of it (though it is fun!), there are simple rules that will help you avoid five of the most common grammar mistakes.
That vs. which
On the surface, this one’s a toughie. One simple rule will help you decide whether to use that or which: If the information is nonessential to convey the meaning of the sentence, use which. If the information is required to make the sentence complete, use that. Consider:
The sweaters that have red tags are on sale.
In a store full of sweaters, it’s essential to define exactly which sweaters (those with red tags) are on sale.
The sweater, which my sister bought on sale, is ugly.
In this case, which is appropriate because you can remove that clause and the meaning of the sentence (the sweater is ugly) remains the same.
Its vs. it’s
This is a common blunder, probably because we’re typing too quickly to think it through. It’s means “it is.” Its indicates possessive. The simple rule here is to ask yourself whether you could replace what you wrote with “it is.” For example:
It’s snowing again.
Test the sentence by replacing the contraction with “it is.” It is snowing again. It works, so it’s is correct.
This shovel is useless; its handle broke.
In this case, you can’t replace the its with “it is” (it is handle broke), so its is correct.
Your vs. you’re
I shudder every time I see the phrase “your welcome.” (Or, better yet, “your an idiot!”) This is another one of those cases where our speedy typing gets the best of us. Your indicates possessive, whereas you’re is the contraction of you are. Just like the previous rule, this one can be avoided by mentally replacing the contraction with the full two words.
You’re going to be so excited when you get your birthday present.
You’re is correct because you are going to be excited, and your birthday present belongs to you.
Their, there, they’re
There’s no trick for this one. The only way to differentiate between these three is to think about each definition. Their is possessive (their car). There indicates location (over there) or functions as a pronoun (there are three cars). They’re is the contraction of they are. So:
There are two seats that they’re saving over there for their friends.
Me, myself, and I
The most common error with these guys is replacing me with myself or I. While myself or I may sound like the “smarter” options, me is often the correct choice. Remember: I is the subject of a sentence (I walked the dog. I ski. I hate bananas.), and me is the object of a sentence (She tricked me. He gave me his ticket.). Use myself reflexively, that is when you’ve already referred to yourself at the beginning of the sentence (I wanted to kick myself) or for emphasis (I myself love filing taxes).
It gets trickier with compound nouns; however, there’s one simple step to straightening these out. Remove the additional parties. For example:
Me and Dave went roller skating.
Remove the additional party: Me went roller skating. So, obviously in this case, it should be I.
My sister took my cousin and I out for brunch.
Remove the additional party: My sister took I out for brunch. In this case, it should be: My sister took my cousin and me out for brunch.
The trick with grammar is that if you’re doing it right, no one will notice. But that’s the goal, right? By taking a few extra seconds to apply these rules to your writing, your dazzling content will shine far brighter than any grammar errors.
Maggie Marton serves as the BlogPaws senior editor. When not hiking with her two pit mixes, Emmett and Cooper, or playing with Newt the Cat, Maggie writes about them (and the pet industry) at ohmydogblog.com and maggiemarton.com.