English is not an easy language to learn to speak or to write. Even life-long speakers of the language have challenges with writing.

Let’s take a look at three areas where many mistakes in writing occur so you can avoid making them in your writing.

The Principal Parts of Verbs

One area in which English is often challenging is with what is known as the principal parts of verbs. This includes the present tense (eat), the past tense (ate), and the past participle (have/had eaten).

The Past Participle

The past participle can serve in a few ways and is used commonly in English.

For example, we can say:

I have already spoken to her.

Here, we are using the past participle of the verb “to speak.”

Forming the Perfect Tense

We can form the present perfect tense using past participles. Don’t put too much energy into memorizing the names of these tenses. The important point is to know how they function and to be able to use them correctly.

Forming the present perfect tense requires the auxiliary verb or “helping verb” to have. This is not the verb that means “to possess something,” such as “I have an idea that may help in this case.” It’s a specific type of verb that works with other verbs.

When you have given as much to the community as she has, of course you are going to feel an attachment to your work.

I have been working at that school for 10 years now.

There is also a past perfect tense. It uses the past tense of the helping verb: had.

I had been working at that school for 10 years at the time.

The verb form for both the present perfect tense and the past perfect tense is the past participle.

Generally, for regular verbs, the past participle is formed just like the past tense:

to look -> looked

to ask -> asked

If I have looked in that drawer before, I sure don’t remember it.

However, there are so many exceptions to this rule that in most cases, we just have to memorize the forms of the past participle as well as the simple past tense.

If a verb does not follow the rule of how we form the past tense or past participle, it is known as an “irregular verb.”

Used as Adjectives

We can also use past particles as adjectives. Remember, adjectives describe nouns.

Sherika knew that the written instructions would help people complete the task.

Be sure to thaw the frozen dinners about an hour before you want to eat.

Not every past participle makes a good adjective. Some of the ones that do include:

blown, broken, chosen, driven, fallen, forgiven, frozen, risen, shaken, taken, torn, worn, written

Take care not to use the simple past tense of words when you need to use the past participle. The following mistakes are very commonly made in English.

Incorrect: James informed us that he was the one who had wrote the message. (Simple past tense = incorrect)

Correct: James informed us that he was the one who had written the message. (Use the past participle instead.)

Incorrect: I had went there Tuesday to buy enough food for the party. (Simple past tense = incorrect)

Correct: I had gone there Tuesday to buy enough food for the party. (Use the past participle instead.)

However, also be careful of making the opposite mistake, that is, using the past participle when you need to use the simple past. Here are two commonly made errors:

Incorrect: Mr. Chan was sure that he seen his neighbor at the meeting last week. (Past participle = incorrect)

Correct: Mr. Chan was sure that he saw his neighbor at the meeting last week. (Use the simple past instead.)

Incorrect: A few of my colleagues come over for dinner last night. (Past participle = incorrect)

Correct: A few of my colleagues come over for dinner last night. (Use the simple past instead.)

Writing with Parallel Structure

OK, this one may sound more like something you would see in a geometry book than in a post about writing improvement. However, this is a commonly made mistake, so let’s see how to fix it.

Take a look at the following sentence:

Loretta likes to read, swim, and hiking.

In this sentence, we see that Loretta likes to do three different activities. Thus, we have three verbs here: to read, to swim, and to hike. However, notice that the first two verbs are in the simple present (or the infinitive, or simplest form, of the verb), whereas the last one, hiking, is in the progressive form (ending in “-ing”). 

This means that the sentence is not written with parallel structure. Here is the correct way to write this sentence:

Loretta likes to read, to swim, and to hike.

Now all three verbs are in the infinitive form. Verbs in infinitive form have the word “to” in front of them, such as “to speak,” “to drive,” “to complain,” etc.

Here is another example of an incorrectly written sentence:

My brother went to the market to buy eggs, milk, and cash in a lottery ticket.

Here, we have three items separated by commas, which is all fine and well so far. However, we suddenly switch from the verb “to buy” to the verb “to cash.” How can we write this sentence more correctly?

My brother went to the market to buy eggs and milk and to cash in a lottery ticket.

Now, we have a smoother shift from the verb “to buy” to the verb “to cash,” and it is more clear right up front what my brother did at the store.

Incorrect Use of Pronouns

We have been conditioned to always say or write, for example, “Daniel and I.” This is indeed correct if used as the subjects of a sentence. “I” and “we” are always subjects, that is, the person doing the action in the sentence.

I will take your tickets as you enter the theatre.

I am the “doer” of the action, which is “to take.” I am the one who takes your ticket.

We will take your tickets as you enter the theatre.

However, when I (or we) become the object of the sentence, we must switch from “I (or “we”) to “me” (or “us”).  Objects are the receiver of the action.

Please hand your ticket to me as you enter the theatre.

In this sentence, I am no longer the doer of the action here. Who is doing the action?

It’s “you.” We call this an “implied subject.” Even though the word “you” doesn’t appear in the sentence, “you,” is still the subject.

Here, “me” is the object, that is, the receiver of the action.

“Us” is the plural form for “me.”

Please hand your ticket to us as you enter the theatre.

This is all pretty clear, but where writers often make mistakes is when, for example, we have a combined subject. Here is an example of an incorrectly written sentence:

Daniel and me will take your tickets as you enter the theatre. 

This uses the object “me” instead of the subject “I.” The correct version is

Daniel and I will take your tickets as you enter the theatre. 

Interestingly, the opposite issue often trips people up, that is, using the subject form “I” when they need to use the object form “me.”

Please hand your ticket to Daniel and I as you enter the theatre.

Here, the subject is “you.” It is you who will do the action, that is, pass the salt. So Daniel and the speaker (the “I”) in the sentence are the objects. So, the correct form is “me.”

Please hand your ticket to Daniel and me as you enter the theatre.

Remember, when writing or speaking of the object, the receiver of the action, we must use “Daniel and me,” the object form.

The following table shows the subject form and object form for each pronoun.

Subject Form Object Form
I me
we us
you you
he him
she her
it it
they them

 

The following sentences serve as examples and show the subject in bold and the object in bold underline.

I wish you would have informed me.

We wish you would have informed us.

You wish he would have informed you.

She wishes you would have informed her.

They wish you would have informed them.