Common Hypercorrections in Grammar


1/22/20241 min read

Very often, we hypercorrect ourselves because our former teachers might have been a little hypercorrective in a different sense. “I don't know. CAN you go to the restroom?”

While we don't often hear people accidentally using "may" when they mean "can," that doesn't mean there aren't other ways in which many of us have learned to overcompensate...

Between He and I

If you’re like me, you saw “he and me” in some grammar exercise on the chalkboard at the beginning of nearly every day of kindergarten and first grade.

Unfortunately, some of us held on to some kind of grammar trauma, and we hold to “he and I” regardless of the context.

We corrected our subject uses at the beginnings of sentences (“He and I went to the store”), but we often apply the same principle to object cases.

As the object of the preposition between, we should use object pronouns for both (“between him and me”). We don’t say “Go with he,” after all.

Who or Whom

Whom is just the equivalent of him and her. These are object pronouns as opposed to the subject pronouns (I, we, he, she, they).

If a pronoun is on the receiving end of a verb, it’s an object. “To whom did I give my sandwich?”

The most common hypercorrection with whom is when it starts a clause serving as an object of a preposition. But remember: only look at its function in its immediate clause.

“I will give this sandwich to whoever wants it.”

Adding -ly to Flat Adverbs

Flat adverbs take the same form as their corresponding adverb, which means they don’t usually end in -ly (as in the joke “Working hard, or hardly working?”).

Oftentimes, you’ll come across these, and it will just sound off, like if someone says “drive safely” instead of just “drive safe.”

Or “dress smartly" as opposed to “dress smart.”

“Play nicely” immediately requires the person speaking to be an elderly nanny in my mind, and probably with a British accent.

Side Note

Don't ever feel the need to hypercorrect—or even just correct—yourself around me. Being an English teacher and book editor seems to scare people into this, but I love language, and I love how real people use it! That said, new hypercorrections can be amusing...