Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Top Twenty Grammar Errors: wrong or missing inflected endings

Grammar error number five included a rant about do it yourself car repair and missing commas in a non-restrictive element. For a complete list of the top twenty, you can always revisit the introductory article to this series. Today’s grammar error, number six on the list of top twenty grammar errors is a toughie: wrong or missing inflected endings.


What are wrong or missing inflected endings? Think of them as bits of information, or binary code for language. Take the word he, for example.

he, him, his

We say “He’s a cad”; meaning “He is a cad.” We don’t say “hims chair”; we say “his chair.” And how are these three words different from one and another:

fast faster fastest

Or what is the difference found in these words:

dog dogs dog’s

Obvious That This Is Greek

If you’ve ever studied a foreign language, you may have some idea of what I’m talking about. If you are a native speaker, by this point, you’re probably saying to yourself that I am being obvious.


Word endings are grammatical and language encoding we add to words that change the very meaning of the original words. These endings are fairly consistent—that is, there is a distinct pattern to the use of word endings. Add an s, you turn a single word into many. Add  a ‘s, and you have created a possesive.  Add an ed to the end of almost any verb, and you have now preformed that action in the past. Add a ly to the end of an adverb, and the person doing the action of the sentence is doing it all that much better:

He runs quick.

He runs quickly.

Noun word endings mark number (singular vs. many) and case (whether the noun owns something or not). Verb word endings mark tense and aspect. Adjective and adverb word endings mark comparisons, the comparative word form, and the superlative word form.

Let’s go through each one of these word endings starting with the noun.

Person, Place, or Thing

A noun, as we all know, is a person, place, or thing.

·         Person: man, woman, doctor, Joe, Deanna

·         Place: home, office, town, Germany

·         Thing: table, chairs, banana, music, love, dog, cat

Certain word endings actually mark words as nouns:

·         -ity

·         -ment

·         -ness

·         -ation

·         -hood

Specifically though, we are addressing the word endings for nouns that denote number and case. There are three possible cases for a noun in the English language:

·         Subjective

·         Possessive

·         Objective

There are also two possible cases: singular and plural. Check out the different word endings:



This is less confusing than it looks. The subjective case is used within the subject of a sentence. The objective case is used within the object of the sentence. Here’s a quick reminder:

Here, dog is in the subjective case because it is the subject of the sentence. Cat is in the objective case because it is the object of the sentence. The subject performs the action upon the object.

Notice the word endings in the chart though. They are: s, ‘s, and s’.

S by itself denotes more than one. ‘S denotes ownership. S’ denotes a groups’ ownership. This, of course, is a general rule as exceptions exist such as common grammar error number 20: its versus it’s. However, when we arrive at error number twenty, we’ll see why this exception actually makes perfect sense—well, as perfect as language gets at least.


Verbs describe actions. Word endings for verbs indicate tense and aspect. There are twelve possible verb tenses!


Present Continuous
Present Perfect
Present Perfect Continuous
Simple Future
Future Perfect
Future Perfect Continuous
Future Continuous
Past Continuous
Past Perfect
Past Perfect Continuous
am/are chasing
has chased
have been/has been chasing
will chase
will have chased
will have been chasing
will be chasing
was/were chasing
had chased
had been chasing


I left out of the chart simple present and simple past. They’re pretty straight-forward.

·         Simple present: chase

·         Simple past: chased

A lot of people don’t realize we have this many verb tenses in the English language. They consider am, are, have, has, had, had been, been, will, will have, will have been, will be, was, and were helping verbs.

But notice the word endings: ing and ed. Also, with a verb, no word ending is actually considered a word ending. So you could have:

·         chase --

·         chasing

·         chased

See how the word endings indicate tense?

The endings also indicate aspect.

Aspect is a grammatical category that expresses how a verb relates to the flow of time (Wikipedia). The verb tense labels are directly related to that flow of time.

·         Simple Present: expresses a situation that exist always, usually, or habitually

·         Simple Past: expresses situations that occurred at a particular time in the past

·         Simple Future: expresses events or situations that will occur at a particular time in the future

And it just keeps going like that. For a complete list of the manner of time each tense refers to, check out the online writing center at George Mason University.

Therefore: a verb word ending automatically lets the reader know when something happened.

Adjective And Adverb Word Endings

Adjective describe nouns and pronouns.

The cute dog chased the furry cat.

Cute describes the dog. Furry describes the cat.

Adverbs describe adjectives, verbs, and other adverbs.

The cute dog quickly chased the furry cat.

Quickly describes how the cat was chased.

Adjective and adverb word endings are:

·         er

·         est

·         ly

Er and est compare and contrast.

The dog is quicker than the cat.

The cat is furrier than the dog.

I think fast. You think faster. My brother thinks fastest.

When do you use ly?

That’s a bit more complicated.

Is it

a)      I feel bad about making fun of my brother.

b)      I feel badly about making fun of my brother.

It is A, because you are not physically feeling anything with your fingers. Don’t use ly when the subject of the sentence performs an idea or concept.

The skunk smells bad.

Is the skunk actually smelling with its nose? No, so no ly. However,

Walk more slowly.

Are you actually, physically walking? Yes, so you can use the ly word ending.


That’s It

And that’s it. Word endings as easy as I can make them.

No comments:

Post a Comment