On National Teacher’s Day, it’s customary for younger students to bring their teachers an apple or a more modern gift. Of course, the best way to thank teachers is by using the information they’ve taught us. As is evident from the show “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?,” we are still occasionally missing the mark.
In honor of National Teacher’s Day this year, let’s revisit some of the most important writing lessons we learned in elementary school, and look at which ones have been most abused later in life.
Pronoun Number Agreement with Indefinite Pronouns
The basic rule here is that pronouns must agree in number with the noun to which they refer. Visit Grammarly Handbook for a more detailed definition.
Sometimes sticking with this rule is really easy because the pronoun and the noun are close together in the sentence and the usage is clear. Other times, we fail miserably because things aren’t so simple, as is the case with indefinite pronouns like neither, anyone, or all.
Let’s look at an example: “All of the children brought their backpacks, but neither Jack nor Justin remembered his lunchbox.”
In this case, “neither” is an indefinite pronoun that is always singular and is a shorter way of saying: “Jack didn’t remember his lunchbox and Justin didn’t remember his lunchbox.”
“Me” vs. “I”
We were all trained not to say things like “Jill and me went to the store.” We know the correct usage is “Jill and I went to the store.” The problem here is that we tend to overuse “I” instead of “me” in places where we don’t need to do so
Have you ever heard something like, “Please save a seat for both Jack and I”? Does this sound correct to you? If so, you might be one of the frequent offenders. Here’s a quick and easy trick to make sure you always get this right. All you have to do is look at the noun (in this case, “Jack”) and the pronoun (“I” or “me”) individually by temporarily removing each from the sentence.
“Please save a seat for Jack.” “Please save a seat for … ”—what sounds right here? Yep, that’s right, “me.” So the correct usage above is “Please save a seat for both Jack and me.”
For a more complete, but still simple, explanation, check out the eLearn English Language website.
That vs. Which
These two words may both be used to introduce an independent clause. The rule comes down to whether the clause is essential to the sentence. If it’s essential, use “that;” if it’s non-essential, use “which.” You even have a trigger that should remind you because when you use “which” – it should always make sense to separate the clause with a comma. When you use “that,” it should seem awkward to add a comma because the clause is essential.
For example: “I organized all of the books that were in the blue box.”
If you tried to use “which,” remember that “which” requires a comma: “I organized all of the books, which were in the blue box.” The sentence no longer says what it said to start, right? We’ve changed the meaning, so “which” is incorrect.
Another example: “I went to my first class, which was a good decision because we had a pop quiz.” Here, the comma makes sense so “which” makes sense. You get the picture.
In this article on Lit Reactor, the author gives 20 examples of common mistakes that we all need to start getting right, including “That vs. Which.”
Check out this handy infographic that the Grammarly team pulled together on the writing skills that students should be learning at each elementary grade level. In looking at your writing, do you find that you skipped a grade?
If not, thank a teacher.