Paul's Blog

Common English Grammar Mistakes, Part 2

In the previous blog post, the American accent training team at Pronunciation Workshop deconstructed some of the most common grammatical mistakes in the English language. We’ll continue on that topic here, with even more mistakes to be aware of so you can become a better English speaker!

4. Adverbs and “ly”

“The road to hell is paved with adverbs” according to world-renowned novelist Stephen King—but they’re an essential part of the English language whether Mr. King likes them or not. An adverb modifies a verb to make it more descriptive—after all, there’s a big difference between speaking softly and speaking loudly.

The biggest grammatical mistake surrounding adverbs isn’t that those learning english misuse them—it’s that they use adjectives where adverbs should be. Let’s take a look:

INCORRECT: The wide receiver moved quick to catch the football.

Quick is supposed to modify the verb in this sentence—however, the adjective does not accomplish this task, as adjectives are used to describe properties of nouns.

CORRECT: The wide receiver moved quickly to catch the football.  

Doesn’t that sound a lot better when you say it? The verb is in place, and the adverb modifies it effectively. However, in defense of Stephen King, you could avoid the adverb altogether by replacing it with a single verb that is more descriptive and carries the same meaning as the verb-adverb combo. Maybe instead of “The wide receiver moved quickly” you could say “The wide receiver sprinted.” These two sentences basically mean the same thing—but as you’d expect from the school of Mr. King, the second sentence is a little more exciting.

5. Linking Verbs Taking Adjective Form

This is where adverbs and adjectives get a little bit tricky. There are certain instances where, in an attempt to correctly place an adverb, someone uses an adverb where an adjective should be—all because they’ve incorrectly assessed what the true subject is in the sentence. That might sound complex to you, so let’s dissect it for better understanding:

INCORRECT: The milk smells sourly.

This would be a grammatically correct sentence—that is, if milk could smell. We’re guessing you’re trying to say that the milk smells sour to your nose, not the milk’s nose.

CORRECT: The milk smells sour.

This sentence basically says “The milk smells sour to me” but the “to me” part can be inferred because you’re the one saying it. An adjective is required here instead of an adverb because sour is used to describe the milk itself (a noun) instead of the an action the milk is taking.

6. May/Can

Even professionals bloggers have problems with this one. Most people use these terms interchangeably without much flack from the grammar patrol—but in our expert opinions, the grammar patrol should crack down on this mistake.

It’s simple enough to remember: may is a word of permission, and can is a word of ability. 

INCORRECT: Can I go to the bathroom, please?

Of course you can go to the bathroom—if you’re physically able to go to the bathroom, you can make it happen.

CORRECT: May I go to the bathroom, please?

Yes, you may—now that you’ve finished reading this blog.

That’s it for Part 2 of our series on the most common English grammar mistakes. Stay tuned for Part 3, and catch up on our other blogs in the meantime!

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