Updated: Jun 8
We all make mistakes when we speak. Sometimes, these mistakes become part of accepted speech. Now, before you say "Alex said grammar mistakes don't matter," allow me to stress this point: In professional and academic settings, you should always strive for correct grammar. In casual situations, correct grammar is desirable as well. However, there are some mistakes that almost everyone makes in informal settings, and that only a grammar perfectionist would point out in the moment.
The following are mistakes that you should try to avoid, but which you shouldn't feel too bad about making if you are in an informal speaking situation.
"There is" vs. "There are"
You know the rule. Use "There is" for singular subjects, and "There are" for plural subjects. However, I can almost guarantee that you've heard or said "There is" for plural subjects as well. Specifically, we often tend to use the contracted "There's" in casual situations even when we are talking about plural subjects. Take a look:
"There's a lot of people here today."
"I don't know if there's any extras."
"He told me there's two of them in the car."
"There's some extra pancakes on the kitchen counter if you want another one."
"There was" vs. "There were"
This is the same mistake as above, but made in the past tense. Try to avoid it, but know you are not alone if you say...
"There was a lot of them."
"There was a bunch of people in the store."
"Did you know there was 3 extra copies?"
"How was the carnival?" "It was good. There was a lot of fun rides for kids."
"Less" vs. "Fewer"
This might be a new one for you. We are supposed to use "less" for uncountable nouns (electricity, water, pepper), and "fewer" for countable nouns. (tables, roads, reasons) However, because most 1st language English speakers never think about the existence of count and noncount nouns, they use "less" when they should be using fewer. Note these accepted mistakes:
"We have less problems than we did a week ago."
"The express aisle is for 10 items or less."
"How many questions have you completed?" "Less than 10."
"I have less T-shirts than you do."
"Me" vs. "I"
This relates to pronoun order. We should use "I" when we are referring to ourselves as the subject, and "me" when we are referring to ourselves as the object. Also, when there is more than one subject, it is customary to put "I" and "me" in the final position. However, I'm sure you've heard or said something similar to one of these sentences:
"Me and Jack are going to the store." ("Jack and I...")
"Her and me are really close." ("She and I")
"You and me need to get on the same page." ("You and I...")
"That's between him and I." ("him and me")
"Between you and I" vs. "Between you and me."
If you read the final example above, you might be wondering why I wrote "between you and me." The fact is, "between" is a preposition, and prepositions are followed by objects, which means you need to use the object pronoun "me." "Between you and I" sounds fancy, but it is grammatically incorrect. Still, don't feel too bad if you find yourself saying...
"That's between you and I."
"Between you and I, I didn't like the food."
"Let's keep this between you and I."
"There are a lot of issues between you and I."
"Who"/"Whom" vs. "That"
We know that "who" and "whom" refer to people, and that "that" refers to objects. Using "that" to refer to a person can be offensive to some people, as it can make the subject sound and feel subhuman, but we do it quite frequently in informal situations. See for yourself:
"Is she the one that you told me about?"
"He's the one that did it."
"That's the man that she married."
"Do you remember the guy that we were talking about yesterday?"
"Should of" vs. "Should've"
This is more of a writing mistake than a speaking mistake. In speaking, "should've" sounds like "should of," but is actually the contracted form of "should have." When you're writing, make sure to write "should've" or "should have" depending on the formality of the situation. NEVER write "should of" if you can help it. However, if you're in a casual speaking situation and you're imagining the words "should of," it's actually fine because it sounds exactly like "should've." Check out these correct examples:
"You should've called me."
"We should've left earlier."
"You should've told me!"
"She thinks we shouldn't have posted that article." (pronounced as "shouldn't of" in contracted speech)
"Farther" vs. "Further"
Both "farther" and "further" can be used to refer to physical distance. However, only "further" is supposed to be used to refer to figurative or non-physical distance. It's a subtlety that most English speakers do not even know, so they use "farther" in cases where "further" is technically correct. Honestly, you shouldn't worry about this one too much, but if you can remember to do it, try to use "further" in cases such as these:
"You'll get farther in life if you're honest with people."
"You keep pushing me farther and farther away."
"I want to get farther in my career."
"I'm almost finished my degree. I just need to go a little farther."
"In regard to" vs. "In regards to."
"In regard to" is the correct form here. "Regard" is an uncountable noun in this case and therefore cannot have a plural form. Nonetheless, some of us insist on saying "regards." Don't feel too bad about it, but try to change your habit to saying (and writing!) "in regard to." The following sentences are technically incorrect, but accepted because most people simply do not know the rule or do not have the time to think about parts of speech:
"I talked to him in regards to his apartment."
"In regards to what?"
"I don't know if that's in regards to me or someone else."
"Are you sure that's in regards to her?"
"Lie" vs. "Lay"
In short, "lay" is a transitive verb, which means it needs an object ("Lay your head on my shoulder."), while "lie" is intransitive, which means it is not followed by an object.
Why do we mix up these words? Probably because of their conjugations. Check out their present, past, and past participle (used in sentences such as "I have lain in bed for 9 hours") forms.
lay - laid - laid
lie - lay - lain
With that in mind, the popular Snow Patrol song "Chasing Cars" has it right when the singer says "If I just lay here, would you lie with me." This is the second conditional, which uses the past simple verb form (lay) for the if clause, and the present verb form (lie) after the would result clause. (Think of the sentence "If I had a million, I would buy you a house" to better understand how this works.)
It's no wonder we make mistakes! Note the following grammatically incorrect (but accepted) sentences:
"Don't just lay there. Get up!"
"I've laid here for 4 hours."
"Did you lie it down somewhere around here?"
"I just want to lay here for a while."
That's all for today. As you can see, we all make mistakes. I encourage everyone, including myself, to try to avoid these ones. However, in informal situations, very few people will correct you if you make one of these mistakes--Chances are, they probably don't know what's right and wrong either, or they know that pointing out mistakes in the moment is rude and adds nothing to the conversation.
Until next time, I wish you success in your studies. For more English learning resources, check out my video lessons on engVid.com. See you there!