Your words are the most powerful weapons, and yet it’s easy to undermine yourself in written communication by violating simple rules of punctuation. It takes a single tweet or text for you to reveal flaws. Homophones – words that sound alike but are spelled differently are particularly tricky.
These are 28 of the most common grammar mistakes:
1. Periods and commas
Almost never do this: “Almost never do this”. A period or comma goes inside the quote, “like this.”
2. Commas and semicolons
Use a semicolon when you want to link two independent clauses; otherwise, you probably want to use a comma. By virtue of definition, a semicolon links two independent clauses that are related in thought.
If using a typewriter (or if specified), use two spaces after a period. Otherwise, a single space will do.
4. ! – exclamation point
One is more than enough. Sometimes the saying goes, “quality is more important than quantity.” Same applies here.
5. :) or emoticons
Emoticons are definitely cute, but are not punctuation. Do not use this in an essay. You will probably fail!
6. It’s and Its
“It’s” is a contraction of it is. “Its” on the other hand signifies that “it” possesses something.
Ex # 1: The dog chewed on its bone.
Ex # 2: It’s raining.
In general, if you can rewrite the sentence to say “it is” then “it’s” is suitable. Otherwise, you want to use “its”.
7. Then vs. Than
“Then” conveys time. “Than” is used for comparison.
Ex # 1: We left the party and then went home.
Ex # 2: We would rather go home than stay at the party.
9. Close-minded, and closed-minded
This is a trick question. “Closed-minded” seems logical. It is considered a correct spelling but the original spelling of this word is “Close-minded.” The same goes for “close-lipped” and “close-mouthed.”
10. Affect vs. Effect
“Affect” is a verb. “Effect” is a noun.
There are however, rare exceptions. For example, someone can “effect change” and “affect” can be a psychological symptom.
Example: How did that affect you?
Example: What effect did that have on you?
11. Your vs. You’re
“Your” is possessive; it is a possessive pronoun. On the contrary, the latter is a contraction of you are.
Example 1: You’re pretty.
Example 2: Give me some of your whiskey.
In general, if the sentence can be rewritten to say “you are” then “you’re” is appropriate. Otherwise, “your.”
12. Which and That
This is one of the most common mistakes out there, and understandably so. “That” is a restrictive pronoun. It’s vital to the noun to which it’s referring. e.g., I don’t trust fruits and vegetables that aren’t organic. Here, I’m referring to all non-organic fruits or vegetables. In other words, I only trust fruits and vegetables that are organic. “Which” introduces a relative clause. It allows qualifiers that may not be essential.
I recommend you eat only organic fruits and vegetables, which are available in area grocery stores. In this case, you don’t have to go to a specific grocery store to obtain organic fruits and vegetables. “Which” qualifies, “that” restricts. “Which” is more ambiguous however, and by virtue of its meaning is flexible enough to be used in many restrictive clauses. Example:
The house, which is burning, is mine. e.g., The house that is burning is mine
Contrary to common misuse, “moot” doesn’t imply something is superfluous. It means a subject is disputable or open to discussion.
The idea that commercial zoning should be allowed in the residential neighborhood was a moot point for the council.
14. Envy and jealousy
The word “envy” implies a longing for someone else’s good fortunes. “Jealousy” is far more nefarious. It’s a fear of rivalry, often present in sexual situations. “Envy” is when you covet your friend’s good looks. “Jealousy” is what happens when your significant other swoons over your good-looking friend.
15. Continual and continuous
They’re similar, but there’s a difference. “Continual” means something that’s always occurring, with obvious lapses in time. “Continuous” means something continues without any stops or gaps in between.
Example: The continual music next door made it the worst night of studying ever.
Example: Her continuous talking prevented him from concentrating.
“Nor” expresses a negative condition. It literally means “and not.” You’re obligated to use the “nor” form if your sentence expresses a negative and follows it with another negative condition. “Neither the men nor the women were drunk” is a correct sentence because “nor” expresses that the women held the same negative condition as the men. The old rule is that “nor” typically follows “neither,” and “or” follows “either.” However, if neither “either” nor “neither” is used in a sentence, you should use “nor” to express a second negative, as long as the second negative is a verb. If the second negative is a noun, adjective, or adverb, you would use “or,” because the initial negative transfers to all conditions.
Example: He won’t eat broccoli or asparagus. The negative condition expressing the first noun (broccoli) is also used for the second (asparagus)
Undoubtedly the most common mistake I encounter. Contrary to almost ubiquitous misuse, to be “nauseous” doesn’t mean you’ve been sickened: it actually means you possess the ability to produce nausea in others. e.g., That week-old hot dog is nauseous. When you find yourself disgusted or made ill by a nauseating agent, you are actually “nauseated.” e.g., I was nauseated after falling into that dumpster behind the Planned Parenthood. Stop embarrassing yourself.
18. Irony and coincidence
Too many people claim something is the former when they actually mean the latter. For example, it’s not “ironic” that “Barbara moved from California to New York, where she ended up meeting and falling in love with a fellow Californian.” The fact that they’re both from California is a “coincidence.” “Irony” is the incongruity in a series of events between the expected results and the actual results. “Coincidence” is a series of events that appear planned when they’re actually accidental. So, it would be “ironic” if “Barbara moved from California to New York to escape California men, but the first man she ended up meeting and falling in love with was a fellow Californian.”
20. Fewer and less
Another common mistake, “less” refers to quantity and “fewer” to a number. For instance, Facebook has fewer than 5,000 employees, but I got less sleep than you last night.
21. Whether and if
Many writers seem to assume that “whether” is interchangeable with “if.” It isn’t. “Whether” expresses a condition where there are two or more alternatives. “If” expresses a condition where there are no alternatives. e.g., I don’t know whether I’ll get drunk tonight. e.g., I can get drunk tonight if I have money for booze.
22. Run-on sentence or comma splice
A run-on sentence is a sentence that joins two independent clauses without punctuation or the appropriate conjunction. A comma splice is similar to a run-on sentence, but it uses a comma to join two clauses that have no appropriate conjunction.
Fixing a run-on sentence or a comma splice can be accomplished in one of five different ways:
Separate the clauses into two sentences.
Replace the comma with a semi-colon.
Replace the comma with a coordinating conjunction–and, but, for, yet, nor, so.
Replace the comma with a subordinating conjunction–after, although, before, unless, as, because, even though, if, since, until, when, while.
Replace the comma with a semi-colon and transitional word–however, moreover, on the other hand, nevertheless, instead, also, therefore, consequently, otherwise, as a result.
Incorrect: Rachel is very smart, she began reading when she was three years old.
Correct: Rachel is very smart. She began reading when she was three years old.
Correct: Rachel is very smart; she began reading when she was three years old.
Correct: Rachel is very smart, and she began reading when she was three years old.
Correct: Because Rachel is very smart, she began reading when she was three years old.
Correct: Rachel is very smart; as a result, she began reading when she was three years old.
23. Misplaced modifiers
To communicate your ideas clearly, you must place a modifier directly next to the word it is supposed to modify. The modifier should clearly refer to a specific word in the sentence. For example:
Incorrect: At eight years old, my father gave me a pony for Christmas.
Correct: When I was eight years old, my father gave me a pony for Christmas.
24. Pronoun Errors
Pronoun errors occur when pronouns do not agree in number with the nouns to which they refer. If the noun is singular, the pronoun must be singular. If the noun is plural however, the pronoun must be plural as well. For example:
Incorrect: Everybody must bring their own lunch.
Correct: Everybody must bring his or her own lunch.
Many people believe that pronoun errors are the result of writers who are trying to avoid the implication of sexist language. Although this is an admirable goal, correct grammar is still important.
It isn’t a word. “Impact” can be used as a noun (e.g., The impact of the crash was severe) or a transitive verb (e.g., The crash impacted my ability to walk or hold a job). “Impactful” is a made-up buzzword, colligated by the modern marketing industry in their endless attempts to decode the innumerable nuances of human behavior into a string of mindless metrics. Seriously, stop saying this. Impact is a noun, not a verb. A plane can crash on impact. You can have an impact on something. But you cannot impact something. (When you are tempted to use “impact” as a verb, use “affect” instead; see #1.)
26. Care less
The dismissive “I could care less” is incorrect. If you could care less about it, then you’re saying you could care less about the topic, and you’ve lost the impact you meant to have. To use this phrase correctly, insert the word “not” after the word “could,” as in, “I could not care less.”
This word doesn’t exist. The word you should use is “regardless.”
28. Apostrophe usage
Apostrophes are used to show possession. However, you do not use an apostrophe after a possessive pronoun such as my, mine, our, ours, his, hers, its, their, or theirs. For example:
Incorrect: My mothers cabin is next to his’ cabin.
Correct: My mother’s cabin is next to his cabin.
In the case of it’s, the apostrophe is used to indicate a contraction for it is. For example:
Incorrect: Its a cold day in October.
Correct: It’s a cold day in October.