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Handy Grammar #2

Updated: Jan 25

Here's a quick guide to some of the most frequently misused (and misunderstood) rules of grammar.

A dog reading a book that is held by human hands.

If you grew up during the seventies and eighties (as I did), English grammar wasn't featured in the school curriculum. Today, the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction. Children of primary school age are expected to learn the technical terms of grammar. (The jury's out on whether it turns them into better writers.)

Many people are guided by their intuitive knowledge of grammar. They usually know what's right, but they're not sure why. When a sentence doesn't look or sound right, it can be tricky to correct unless you're able to apply the rules of grammar.

Handy Grammar is my way of drawing attention to the common grammatical errors I notice day to day. Enjoy!

Past year vs last year

  • Use past when referring to the preceding 365 days, e.g. "We've had many successes over the past year".

  • Use last when referring to the last calendar year and any preceding years, e.g. "We've had many successes in the last three years".

Affect vs effect

  • Affect is usually a verb: alcohol will affect your judgement. Effect is a noun: the effect was charming.

Hour's vs hours' (or month's, months', year's, years' etc.)

  • One hour: in an hour's time. Many hours: in three hours' time.

Subject-verb disagreement

  • Where the subject is singular: a box of chocolates was in the bin. (Not were.)

  • Noun plus 'or' plus noun: red or blue is her preferred colour of choice. (Not are.)

  • A singular verb follows neither, either, someone, no one, anyone, everyone, each: neither of the politicians is convincing. (Not are.)

Dependent vs dependant

  • In UK English, dependent is an adjective, and dependant is a noun: we have become less dependent on our vehicles; she has no dependants.

May vs might

  • Use may for something that's likely to happen: a stressed-out pig may tuck its tail between its legs.

  • Use might for something that's unlikely to happen: pigs might fly.

Lie vs lay

  • Lie (present tense): lie down and watch the clouds go by.

  • Lie (past tense): I was tired, so I lay down for a nap.

  • Lay (present tense): lay the rug on the ground.

  • Lay (past tense): I laid the book on the table.


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