Let’s test your grammar skills. With a communication quiz!
Fix the Grammar and Usage — or Not
Figure out if these sentences are fine or if you can make them better.
1. Our office can turn to a deep bench of notary publics.
2. She did it for Mary and me.
3. The doctor asked him to lay down on the examining table.
4. We see alot of people making this mistake.
5. ABA is the acronym for the American Bar Association.
6. The investor showed up twice a year for biannual meetings.
7. The County made systematic changes to its program for public fine assessments.
8. There are three reasons this Court should reconsider its ruling.
9. The firm’s bills included numerous discreet entries at .1 hour.
10. Counsel’s elegant argument enthralled the jury.
1. Our office can turn to a deep bench of notaries public.
Like attorneys general or courts martial, this is one of those tricky plurals. English grammar usually positions an adjective before the noun it modifies. Logically, we would refer to public notaries. Conversely, French grammar usually positions the adjective behind the noun it modifies. English has adapted many foreign words to fit English grammar, but in this case, the word order for a notaire publique has survived.
2. She did it for Mary and me.
This sentence is correct. Were you tempted to change it to “She did it for Mary and I”?
Prepositions define a relationship between words or phrases in a sentence. “For Mary and me” is a prepositional phrase. “Mary” and “me” are the objects of the preposition “for.” Therefore, the correct pronoun is “me,” the objective case for the first person singular. If the sentence were “She and I did it for Mary,” “She” and “I” would be the subjects of the sentence and “I” would be the correct pronoun.
Here’s a simpler way to think about it. When you are tempted to write or say “and I,” think of how that sentence would sound if you reversed the words or phrases on either side of “and.” You surely wouldn’t say “for I and Mary.”
Incorrect use of “and I” is one of the most common grammar errors. Using “and I” when the grammar is wrong doesn’t make you sound smart or sophisticated. The opposite is true.
3. The doctor asked him to lie down on the examining table.
Confusion over “lie” versus “lay” abounds.
If someone told a falsehood, they lied. That’s the easy version.
The confusion comes when we are talking about positioning something. When we are in the present tense, you would say, for example, “The guard dog is lying [not laying] in the doorway.” The past tense of lie is lay. “The guard dog lay in the doorway all last night.”
Lie is an intransitive verb; it doesn’t do something to something else. Lay, on the other hand, is a transitive verb; there has to be a thing on the other side of that verb which is being moved. “The physician said to lay the surgical instruments on the tray.”
When you go to bed, you lie down, not lay down, because nothing is being acted on. You could also say you laid yourself down. “Yourself” is the direct object of the past tense verb “lay.”
Does this grammar minutia make you anxious? Then you can relate to when the future, present and past walked into a bar. It was tense.
4. We see a lot of people making this mistake.
This one’s simple. Despite this being a common mistake, there’s no such word as alot. Spellcheck will normally correct this for you.
5. ABA is the abbreviation for the American Bar Association.
An acronym is a specific type of abbreviation, one that can be pronounced as a word. If the abbreviation for the American Bar Association was a homonym for the Swedish singing group ABBA, then ABA would be an acronym. Alas, no matter how many times the term “acronym” is used incorrectly, any reference that enunciates the letters that stand for words is still just an abbreviation. You could also call this type of abbreviation an initialism, but then you would just be showing off.
6. The investor showed up twice a year for semi-annual meetings.
Biannual means every two years. People find these terms so confusing, it may be best to avoid them and specify exactly the timing you intend, such as “Board meetings shall occur each year on the first Tuesday in January and June.”
7. The County made systemic changes to its program for public fine assessments.
An organized method is systematic. An issue affecting an entire organization is systemic.
8. The Court should reconsider its ruling for three reasons.
This is a usage issue rather than incorrect grammar. “There are” is a weak sentence starter. “There” is not pointing to a place in this sentence. “There” stands for the real subject of the sentence, “reasons.” The writer is saying three reasons exist.
“Are” is weak, too. In the most powerful writing, every word packs meaning. Using “reconsider,” an action verb, instead of “are,” a linking verb, produces a more concise sentence. The substitute sentence takes the direct form: subject (court), verb (reconsider), direct object (ruling.)
A linking verb, like all forms of “to be,” connects a subject with information about the subject. When Maria sings “I Feel Pretty,” “feel” is the linking verb that connects the adjective/description (pretty) to the subject of the sentence, pronoun/I (Maria). We see that Maria is pretty.
With “there are,” nothing is being linked because the subject is on both sides of the verb.
9. The firm’s bills included numerous discrete entries at .1 hour.
“Discrete” means separate. “Discreet” means circumspect or decorous.
10. Counsel’s eloquent argument enthralled the jury.
An eloquent speaker uses forceful and appropriate speech. An elegant person has excellent taste in dress and style.
How Did You Do?
Only one of the quiz sentences was correct. Keep reading Get To The Point for more help perfecting your speech and written communication.
Find more good ideas for improving your legal writing and communications skills in “Get to the Point” by Teddy Snyder.
Subscribe to Attorney at Work
Get really good ideas every day for your law practice: Subscribe to the Daily Dispatch (it’s free).
Teddy Snyder, author of Women Rainmaker’s Best Marketing Tips, has designed a journal that is ideal for tracking marketing and BD activities, ideas and inspiration. Undated pages give you the flexibility to start today.