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Common Grammatical Errors

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No matter how well educated or well read we are, most writers make grammatical errors from time to time. Usually such errors are the result of rushing to meet deadlines, as opposed to ignorance. But, whatever the reason, we look bad and are embarrassed when our mistakes show up in print!

One common error involves subject-verb disagreement, which can occur when prepositional phrases come between the subject and the verb in the sentence. Example: “The letter written by several of the victim’s relatives explain the motive for the crime.” (news syndicate writer) Obviously, the subject of the sentence is the word “letter” and not the word “relatives,” which is the object of the proposition.

Tip: Disregard the propositional phrases when proofreading for subject-verb agreement.


Misplaced modifiers also rank high on the list of common grammatical errors. These occur when phrases or clauses appear too far from the words they are supposed to modify. Example: “A wreck occurred this morning on Orange Avenue between a Rural Metro ambulance and a county fire truck.” (network affiliate news reader)

Tip: Always place modifying phrases and clauses as near as possible to the words they modify.


The verbs “lie” and “lay” confound both speakers and writers. “Lie” means to recline (lie, lying, lay, have lain) and does not take an object. Example: “She lay out beside the pool yesterday.” The word “lay” means to put or place (lay, laying, laid, have laid) and does take an object. Example: “He laid the hammer down somewhere.”

Tip: Memorize the darn things!


If your grammar is shaky in some areas, find a good reference book such as the Associated Press Stylebook or the Chicago Manual of Style to keep on your desk.

Derry Sampey is the senior editor for CertaPublishing.com

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