In this lesson we’re going to look at a few more of the most common grammar errors that native English speakers routinely commit. These are the sorts of mistakes that native speakers hear growing up and end up unconsciously repeating. Learn to identify these errors, and make an effort to avoid incorporating them into your own speech and writing.
In English, people and objects can only be compared to similar things in similar ways. Faulty comparisons are extremely prevalent in informal English because native speakers can usually figure out from the context of the conversation what the comparison is actually supposed to be. Consider the following example:
I like sushi more than my brother.
A native speaker would probably assume that this sentence means that of the two people mentioned, I have a greater affinity for sushi. Taken literally, however, this means that I prefer raw fish over my own brother. You can fix this a couple of different ways. Both of the examples below have the same meaning. However, the latter choice is generally preferred because it is shorter and less repetitive:
I like sushi more than my brother likes sushi.
I like sushi more than my brother does.
Native speakers also routinely make the mistake of directly comparing something to itself:
Alaska is bigger than any state.
Because Alaska is itself a state, it doesn’t make sense to compare it to all states. A native English speaker hearing this from another native speaker might not even notice the error. He or she will just assume that the speaker meant the following and unconsciously correct for it:
Alaska is bigger than any other state.
Either/or and Neither/nor
“Either” can only be used with “or” and “neither” can only be used with “nor.” The two pairs of words cannot be mixed together, but native speakers often do exactly that. An either/or expression is the same as saying “one of these.” A neither/nor expression is another way of saying “none of these.”
I want either the blue or the red car.
I have been two considering buying a car. I have narrowed the choice down to two cars. One car is blue and the other is red.
I want neither the blue nor the red car.
I do not want the blue car or the red car. I am going to keep looking for a car until I find one that I do want.
It’s important to note that mixing neither/or is far more common and is usually understood to mean either/or. While either/nor is extremely care, I have actually heard native English speakers use it on a couple of occasions. Unlike with neither/or, there is no way to make a reasonable guess as to what a speaker actually means when he or she uses either/nor.
In any event, you should strive to avoid mixing either/or and neither/nor when speaking. You don’t want this error to unconsciously creep into your formal writing (as it does with a surprisingly large number of native speakers) and end up writing a sentence such as the following in a formal document:
Neither the Cobb Galleria or the Georgia World Congress Center is available to host our June conference.
Subject-Verb Agreement with Whole Groups
This one occurs because native English speakers tend to have a visceral reaction against using “it,” the singular pronoun for objects, to refer to people. For grammatical purposes, however, English treats an entire group of people or objects a singular, collective thing:
The team plays its final game of the season next week.
It’s worth noting that you don’t actually have to break a grammar rule to avoid referring to a group of people as an “it.” You can get around this issue entirely by making the collective noun a descriptive object rather than the antecedent:
The members of the team play their final game of the season next week.
I versus Me
Native English speakers often get confused when a compound subject or object includes both a noun (Harry) and a singular, first person pronoun (I or me). The way native speakers are often taught to handle this is to remove the noun from the sentence and see which pronoun “sounds” correct. Obviously, this advice is considerably less helpful for non-native speakers.
The easiest way to decide whether you should use I or me is to ask yourself how a pronoun is being used in a sentence. I is a subject pronoun. It should only be used as the subject (or part of the subject) of a sentence. Me, on the other hand, is an object pronoun. It should only be used as part of or in place of the object of a sentence:
Harry and I [subject] went to the movies.
I [subject] went to the movies.
Joan [subject] went to the movies with Harry and me [object].
Joan [subject] went to the movies with me [object].