Common Grammar Mistakes to Avoid
Do you love writing but hate grammar? Like it or not, good grammar can make or break the written word. That’s why familiarizing yourself with common grammar mistakes can help you improve your existing content.
Maybe you think grammar is best left to the pros, such as journalists or editors. While it’s true that a strong writing practice defines certain professions, everyone from college students to business analysts can benefit from better writing habits. Clearer written communication in the form of better grammar habits may translate to better grades or excellent job performance.
Last but not least, know that easing in is an option. There’s no need to memorize every rule or become obsessive. Instead, check out a few of the most common grammar mistakes to avoid — like they’re/their/there, you’re/your, and it’s/its — to reform your writing.
Improve Your Writing by Avoiding These Common Mistakes
When it comes to good writing, avoiding common pitfalls is often the best place to start. Some frequent offenders include misplaced punctuation marks, incorrect homonym usage, and grammatical inconsistencies. Here are a few of the most common grammar and punctuation mistakes to avoid to refine your writing.
They’re, Their, and There
Before you blow this off completely, remember that even silly mistakes happen. How often have you reread your paper only to find you missed an obvious typo? Don’t worry, you’re not alone! That’s why it’s never too late to brush up on the basics.
To start with the obvious, all three words in this list are valid and commonly used in English. They’re is a contracted form of they are, their is a possessive pronoun like his or hers, and there is most often a noun or an adverb describing a place. The problem comes in because all words sound identical, and programs like Spell Check in Word don’t always catch grammar mistakes. Here’s an example of a sentence gone (terribly) wrong:
Their over they’re.
As you can see, this sentence is doubly problematic. Let’s fix the issue by using alternative words to check whether the sentence is logical.
They’re [my friends + are] over there [in the car].
In this case, we see that “My friends are in the car” is definitely a normal sentence. Taking another moment to contextualize your writing using similar replacements will help you identify potential grammatical errors.
You’re and Your
As in the previous example, common grammar mistakes aren’t always complex by nature. You’re and your are common words and homonyms in the English language. You’re means you are, while your is an adjective describing something belonging to you. Here’s how these two distinct words are often mixed up in practice.
Your sure you’re order isn’t ready?
In the above example, both words are swapped for the incorrect version. Try filling in the sentence with placeholders like in the previous examples.
Your [belongs to you] sure you’re [you are] order isn’t ready?
Nope. Let’s try it again with the homonyms reversed.
You’re [you are] sure your [belonging to you] order isn’t ready?
This time, the word sequence makes sense from start to finish. Replacing questionable words with alternatives helps prevent any unnecessary errors.
It’s and Its
Grammar is very often an issue of understanding punctuation. In this case, it’s and its are pronounced the same way and written exactly the same except for an apostrophe. That’s probably why this mistake comes up over and over again.
Like all other contractions, remember that it’s is a shortened version of it is. What reads as a single word actually refers to a noun and a verb. By contrast, its is an adjective describing possession by someone or something. Its describes a noun, whereas it’s contains a noun.
Here's an example of a common mistake involving these homonyms:
Its quarter to three.
In this case, its is an adjective. Try using a similar word in its place to see whether the sentence still holds and reads correctly.
Its [big] quarter to three.
In this case, “Big quarter to three” sounds off, so we can guess the version is incorrect. Here’s what the sentence sounds like with it’s instead.
It's [it is] quarter to three.
Using the expanded version or a similar word instead helps test for grammar. In this case, we see “It’s quarter to three” sounds right and is, in fact, the correct version.
Capitalization doesn’t always follow one rule, though it’s fair to say that incorrect capitalization demonstrates poor grammar. That’s because inconsistencies in writing show uncertainty on the part of the writer. Here’s an example of capitalization gone slightly wrong:
Why I’m Afraid of The dark
In this case, let’s assume the example is a title based on its length and structure. That means it’s correct for many of the words to be capitalized. However, there are still a few capitalization mistakes, like a lowercase d in dark. Since all of the other main words (i.e., words other than of, on, the, etc.) are capitalized, dark should use the same capitalization.
Next, capitalization of titles normally includes the capitalization of all main words OR of every word in the title. With that in mind, of and the should both be capitalized or begin with lowercase letters. A mix of the two is inconsistent and, therefore, incorrect. Here’s how to write the aforementioned title using both capitalization norms:
Why I’m Afraid of the Dark
Why I’m Afraid Of The Dark
In either case, this grammar mistake is a matter of inconsistent capitalization. Not all grammar is as hard as you think!
Let the Professionals Correct Your Grammar
Checking your own work for potential oversights and grammar mistakes is one way to hone your craft. If you’re working on something very important like a thesis or conference presentation, hiring a professional can further elevate your content. Editors or proofreaders correct grammar and punctuation for accuracy and clarity beyond most writers’ capabilities.
Writers of all levels are encouraged to practice good grammar, though it’s fair to say some rules are more complex than others. For example, if you’ve ever asked, “Is syntax the same as grammar?” that’s probably because it’s a more nuanced grammatical issue. Merriam Webster defines syntax as “the way in which linguistic elements… are put together to form constituents” and “the part of grammar dealing with this.” Simply stated, syntax is considered a part of grammar, though it is not its only component. It's also a more advanced area of grammar best left to professional editors.
Other grammatical issues are easier to deduce. For example, you may have wondered, “Is misspelling a grammatical error?” In that case, a misspelling may refer to a homonym, such as several of our earlier examples. What might otherwise qualify as a typo is also a grammatical error because of the difference in meaning.
Another common grammar question is, “What is the most common grammatical mistake in the English language?” According to Oxford Royale Academy, misplaced apostrophes take the cake. However, what it categorizes as a single error actually represents many mistakes attributed to one punctuation mark. You may not know everything there is to know about correct apostrophe usage, though that's what the professionals are for.
Reviewing common grammar mistakes can help you identify and correct mistakes in your own writing. Issues like incorrect homonyms, misspellings, or inconsistent capitalization are fairly easy to resolve.
If you’re looking for a more thorough assessment, we’d be happy to oblige. Check out our resources page for more information on grammar and writing, or contact us if you have questions. In the meantime, thanks so much for stopping by, and we hope to see you again soon!