Nobody’s perfect, myself included. We all are bound to make mistakes in our daily lives. However, few things can kill your credibility as a writing professional or reek of unprofessionalism (or can get stuck in a grammar Nazi’s craw) the way that the most common grammar mistakes do.
We get it, though. Mistakes happen (much like the "your" mention in the graphic above — even Batman gets it wrong every now and then!). There are many articles out there that outline what the common grammar mistakes are, but they don’t typically provide a way to help you remember how to keep the terms straight in your head when you’re writing. Luckily, we’re here to fill this need.
Here are a few examples of the top grammar mistakes that you can (and should) avoid and ways to help you remember how to do so:
Types of Common Grammar Mistakes
1. Contractions: Your vs. You’re
Ah, yes. The dreaded contraction. This grammar tool is the bane of many failed elitist internet users who mock others while not realizing their own use of common grammar mistakes. There are memes all over the web mocking the failed uses of contractions.
But some of you may be wondering: what exactly is a contraction?
A contraction is the shortened form of a group of words that creates a word of combined meaning. For example, if you take the words you and are, and turn them into a contraction, you get the term you’re.
This means that if you want to say “you are doing well,” you can say “you’re doing well.” If you want to say that something belongs to someone else, you’d use the word your, as in “I’ve ordered your favorite coffee for you.” The first is a contraction; the other is a possessive adjective.
Some other examples include:
- I am = I’m
- Do not = don’t
- Does not = doesn’t
- It is = it’s (not to be confused with its, which is a possessive adjective much like his or hers, or mine or yours)
- Will not = won’t
- Should not = shouldn’t
- Who is = who’s
If you’re not sure whether you are using the appropriate word, take a moment to say the same phrase in its elongated form in a sentence. Would the sentence read “If you are going to the store, can you grab something for me?” Or, would it read, “If your going to the store, can you grab something for me?”
The first is correct. Taking the extra moment to use the words in their elongated form often can help you to avoid some of these common grammar mistakes.
2. Helping Verbs for Singular vs. Plural vs. Collective Nouns
This is a tricky topic for sure and has led to many debates in newsrooms and marketing departments around the country. And, the rules about select words being used in their plural or singular formats will differ depending on the country in which you reside (or where your content is published, if you’re writing for companies outside your country of residence).
With some nouns — which are “people, places, or things” — it’s seemingly easy to know whether it is a singular or plural word. Words like house vs. houses, branch vs. branches, etc. are easy because they have an s at the end, which implies multiple individual nouns.
But what do you do when you run into collective nouns like equipment, team, board, or family? Do you use a plural or singular verb for each of these terms?
In English, there are no hard-and-fast rules because the use of plural or singular nouns will primarily depend on whether you’re using American or British English. Americans typically treat these types of nouns as single units, so you’re more likely to hear:
- “Our family is traveling next week” over the British version “our family are traveling next week.”
- “The board is meeting tomorrow” instead of “the board are meeting tomorrow.”
- “FSU is beating UF in the college championships” (or the opposite for you crazy college football fans) rather than the British “UF are beating FSU.”
- “Our team of experts is ready to help” vs. “our team of experts are ready to help.”
A good general rule of thumb is to keep these types of specific terms in mind when you’re writing or reading another’s work. If you say “Our experts are ready to help,” this statement is correct.
However, once you insert the collective noun team (in American English) before the word experts, you should use the singular verb to match the collective noun: “Our team of experts is ready to help.”
3. Homophones: Their vs. They’re vs. There
A homophone is a word that sounds the same as at least one other word, but the terms have different spellings and meanings. When you use the wrong homophones in sentences, they are grammar mistakes that standard spell checkers won’t necessarily catch because, technically, they are all valid words that are spelled correctly. They’re just not appropriate for the context.
Examples of homophones include:
- To vs. two vs. too
- Vain vs. vein vs. vane
- Pray vs. prey
- Peak vs. peek vs. pique
- Steal vs. steel
- Air vs. heir
- Tail vs. tale
- Peace vs. piece
One way of trying to remember the difference between the different terms is to create a mnemonic that will help you remember. Using the example peace vs. piece, notice that the second has the word “pie” in it. Think of a piece of the pie, as in a slice of pie or a part of something.
When you think of air vs. heir, remember that the first starts with an a and think of “Ahh,” like you’re falling through the air. For the second, the h is silent, so think of it as a fancy word, and an heir to the throne is typically someone who tries to be elegant.
These are just examples. Develop personalized mnemonics that will help you remember, as these types of memory aids can help you differentiate between homophones in the future.
4. Ending a Sentence with a Preposition
A preposition is a word that is used to connect two nouns. If you’re writing a professional correspondence or for a professional publication, it’s best to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition. However, it has become increasingly common to do so when using an informal writing style.
A questioning sentence like “What are you waiting for?” is one that ends with a preposition and is conversational in tone. However, if you are writing in a style that needs to be more formal, instead use the phrase “For what are you waiting?”
5. I.e. vs. e.g.
Good ol’ Latin. I’ll admit that it can be challenging to remember these two sets of letters in the sense of using each appropriately. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have to ever turn to Google sometimes to get a reminder of which term means what so I can use them in the appropriate way. However, there is one small trick that has helped me to remember.
I.e. stands for id est, which roughly translates to mean “that is.” E.g., on the other hand, stands for exempli gratia, which roughly translates to mean “for example.”
Wondering how you’re supposed to remember which term means what? As weird as this may sound, for example, think of someone trying to pronounce the word example while drunk, making it sound like “egg sample.” Since e.g. is the one that most closely resembles the word “egg,” you’ll be able to use this memory aid to help you remember that e.g. means example.
While many other common grammar mistakes can be highlighted — who vs. whom, affect vs. effect, than vs. then, etc. — I can’t cover them all in one post (unless you plan to keep reading the same article for a few more hours). If there are any specific grammar mistakes or issues you’d like for another writer or me to clarify, or if there is a content-related topic you’d specifically like for us to address in future articles, please be sure to share them in the comments section below.
My last recommendation for business professionals, students, and virtually everyone else is to use a service like Grammarly. While it may not catch all grammar mistakes — and, sometimes, you may need to correct or reject its recommendations — Grammarly is a tool that can help you find and fix many of the most common grammar mistakes. You can either use the free version of the tool or pay for a subscription plan.