Most of the rules of grammar and speech are fairly simple and even logical. So there is really no excuse to sound ignorant when you are trying to express yourself. Just avoid some of the most common errors that people make by remembering the simple rules.
Subject of a sentence. This is by far the most common grammatical error most people make. “Me and John went to the store.” The secret to avoiding this error is to mentally take the other person out of the sentence. Only a two year old would think of saying “Me went to the store”. Just because John joined you, the subject should be the same, and you need to say “John and I went to the store.” But sometimes a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and often those who know that it should be John and I think the rule applies in all cases. When you and John are the object of the sentence, you can’t use “I”. Nevertheless, you will often hear someone, trying to be overly correct, say “She gave a lovely gift to John and I.” Using the same trick, just take John out of the sentence and ponder whether you would say “She gave a lovely gift to I.” “I” is used as the subject, and only the subject of a sentence.
Past Tense. This seems to be another area where, by trying to improve their vocabulary, many people overcorrect and come out wrong. We can all cite countless examples of people who “had went” to the store. Without exploring the vagaries of the pluperfect and the past pluperfect, it is important for you to understand that the proper construction is “I (or he, she, you, John) went to the store. It happened on one particular occasion in the recent past. If the shopping trip was in the further past and denotes a specific event, it is correct to say “I had gone to the store.” In no case is it ever correct to combine the two and say you “had went.”
Verbal crutches. These are phrases that people use in place of actually saying anything of importance. They are very annoying and make the speaker sound unsure of himself and even downright dumb. The most common verbal crutches that are in use today are “You know” and “like”. The dumbest and most annoying is of course, “Like, you know.” I watched a television interview with a sports figure once, where I counted 18 “you knows” in a two minute speech. Avoid these crutches like the plague; they strongly mark you as unsophisticated and uneducated. Slow down your speech and find the right words that you want to express so that you do not have to sprinkle your conversation with “Like, you know”.
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