aren’t I/am I not

The expression aren’t I is often used in place of am I not, particularly in conversational speech.

Example 1 (incorrect usage): I’m going with you on vacation, aren’t I?

Although the use of this phrase is widespread, it is atrocious English that could be considered equivalent to you is, a phrase which most educated people abhor (although for some reason, these same people have no qualms about saying aren’t I). The correct form of the sentence in Example 1 is as follows:

Example 2 (correct usage): I’m going with you on vacation, am I not?

If you read this sentence aloud, it probably sounds awkward and formal, perhaps even a bit hoity-toity. However, it is correct English. If the phrase aren’t I is converted from a question to a statement, I aren’t, it becomes obvious that it is indeed grammatically incorrect.

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could of/would of/should of

Each of these three sentences is incorrect because of the should of/would of/could of construction:

I should of been better prepared for the exam.

I would of brought a jacket if I had known it would be cold.

I could of tried working harder.

How should these sentences be written instead? They should use could have, would have, and should have (or the contractions could’ve, would’ve, should’ve).

Because have (or the contraction form) sounds like of when spoken quickly, it’s common for writers to use the word of instead of have or its contraction. But it’s grammatically incorrect to use the could of/would of/should of construction.

Never, ever write could of, would of, or should of. I suggest staying away from the contraction form, too, and writing out both words instead—could have/would have/should have.

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different from/different than

I read this sentence recently in a book, and it immediately struck me as awkward and incorrect.

Curiosity is different than other ways of being fulfilled…

Shouldn’t it be “different from“?


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Drug is often used as the past tense of drag, as in the following example:

Example: I drug myself out of bed this morning.

The past tense of drag is actually dragged, not drug. This error is particularly common in speech. Even Bill Clinton once made this blunder on national television, returning to bad habits he developed as a youth growing up in Arkansas.

Remember that the word drug should never be associated with any kind of pulling action. It should only be used when referring to some type of medicinal substance.

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irregular verbs

There are approximately 200 irregular verbs in the English language. These verbs form the past and past participle (have + verb) tenses differently from the present. These irregularities can be a nagging source of confusion for many writers and speakers of English.


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Less and fewer have essentially the same meaning, but they are used differently according to what they modify. Less is used with mass nouns, while fewer is used with count nouns. Look at the following example:


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Lie and lay are two words that seem to cause some of the greatest confusion, even among those versed in English grammar. Lie means to recline; lay, on the other hand, means to put or place something.Lay is a transitive verb, meaning that there is always an object after it. (Lay the book on the shelf. Book is the object.) The principal parts of lie and lay are listed below.

lie: lie, lying, lay, (have) lain
lay: lay, laying, laid, (have) laid


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like/as though/as if

The word like should never be used before a clause.

Example 1 (incorrect usage): It looks like it will rain.

Like should be used before a noun only, as in the following example:

Example 2 (correct usage): The girl looks like her mother.

Take a close look at the two sentences above. Do you see the difference in how they are used? In the first sentence, like is followed by the clause it will rain. In the second sentence, like is followed by her mother. Whenever a subject and verb follow, remember to substitute like with either as though or as if, as illustrated in the final example below.

Example 3 (correct): It looks as if it will rain.

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myself (used instead of I)

Myself is a reflexive pronoun, which is a type of pronoun that refers back to another word in a sentence; in the case of myself, the other word is I. If a sentence uses I, then myself can be used later in the sentence to refer back to I; otherwise, myself has no place. Here is an example of how myself is commonly misused:

Susan, Bob, and myself attended the event together.

In the example sentence above, myself isn’t referring to I somewhere else in the sentence, so the use of the reflexive myself is grammatically incorrect, and I should be used instead of myself. The following are examples of myself used correctly. In each example, myself is referring back to I used earlier in the sentence:

I went to the event by myself.

I reward myself with a dessert after a hard gym workout.

My sister travels overseas frequently, though I myself have never traveled outside the United States. (In this example, myself is used for emphasis.)

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only: misplaced modifier

The adverb only should be placed as close as possible to the word it modifies in a sentence. Consider the following two sentences:

Example 1: The band only sang five songs at the concert.

Example 2: The band sang only five songs at the concert.

Example 1 indicates that the band sang, rather than played, five songs. The sentence in Example 2 indicates that the band sang five songs, rather than eight or ten or any other number. There is a distinct difference in meaning. However, it is common for only to be misplaced in a sentence, making the meaning of the sentence ambiguous.


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