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7 Common Grammar Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Updated Jan 25, 2023

Grammar mistakes can be frustrating and costly, but the good news is that they can be avoided. Knowing the most common grammar mistakes and how to avoid them will help you write with confidence. With the help of a grammar checker, you can identify and correct errors in your writing, while also enjoying all the other benefits they provide. This article will cover 7 common grammar mistakes and how to avoid them.

Common Grammar Mistakes

Grammar mistakes are an easy way to make a bad first impression. Whether you're writing an email or a formal letter, correct grammar is essential. Here are seven common grammar mistakes you should avoid:

Confusing 'Their', 'There', and 'They're'

It's easy to mix up these three words, but they have very different meanings. 'Their' is the possessive form of 'they'. 'There' is an adverb meaning 'in that place'. 'They're' is a contraction of 'they are'.

Misusing 'Affect' and 'Effect'

These two words are often confused. 'Affect' is a verb meaning 'to influence', while 'effect' is a noun meaning 'result'.

Omitting Commas

Commas are used to separate clauses in a sentence or to set off parenthetical elements. Failing to use commas correctly can make it difficult to understand your sentence.

Starting Sentences with Conjunctions

Sometimes starting a sentence with a conjunction can be acceptable, but it should usually be avoided.

Using Apostrophes Incorrectly

Apostrophes are used to show possession or for contractions. They should not be used to form plurals.

Incorrect Pluralization

Make sure to use the correct plural form of a word. For example, 'tomatoes' is the plural of 'tomato' and 'memoranda' is the plural of 'memorandum'.

Misusing 'Lie' and 'Lay'

These two words are often confused. 'Lie' is an intransitive verb meaning 'to recline', while 'lay' is a transitive verb meaning 'to put down'. Below we answer common questions writers have about these topics.

1. Confusing 'Their', 'There', and 'They're'

What is the difference between 'their', 'there', and 'they're'?

I try to never use "there" or "they're" as standalone words. They're just not needed in most conversations. I think the best way to answer this question is to highlight an example of a sentence that would use either of these words, and show how to properly answer the question. "There" is often used to introduce new information, so look for a sentence that would use it in that manner. "They're" is usually a contraction of "they are" or "there are," so look for a sentence that would use it in that manner. Then, compare the two sentences and show how to properly answer the question.

When should each of these words be used?

I am a strong believer in keeping your sentence structure simple and easy to understand, which is why I always choose the word ‘when' over ‘whenever' and ‘whilst'. Unless you are writing a literary piece with a heavy emphasis on the sound of your words, I would always recommend opting for the shorter and simpler version of a word.

This applies to both grammar and vocabulary. Whenever, whilst, and whilst are three words that are often overused by writers, and whilst I can appreciate their alliterative sound, I always take them as a sign of poor writing. The same goes for ‘in order to' and ‘so as to', two phrases I see used by many writers who are simply too lazy to come up with a more creative phrasing.

2. Misusing 'Affect' and 'Effect'

What is the difference between affect and effect?

Effect is often used incorrectly as a noun, and it's a mistake that makes your writing look sloppy and unprofessional. when used as a noun, effect refers to a result, whereas affect is a verb that expresses a change. Therefore, they're different in terms of how they're used in a sentence.

For example:

The effect of the medicine was that she fell asleep. Affected is a verb meaning "to influence".

The medicine affected her.

How can you avoid misusing 'affect' and 'effect'?

The biggest mistake that writers make when using the words affect and effect is to not distinguish between the words clearly. It's not enough to know that one word is a verb and the other is a noun. You have to be able to define them in context to know for sure that your choice is correct. For example, the phrase "the effect of the medication" is a noun because it's describing something the medication does.

On the other hand, "the medication affected his mood" is a verb because it's describing what the medication did. It's important to get this distinction right because the words have very different meanings. Effect means "result" or "consequence," while affect means "to influence." To avoid mistake, it's best to double check your writing and make sure that you choose the correct word. If you're ever in doubt, it's always better to choose the more specific word.

3. Omitting Commas

When is it appropriate to omit commas from a sentence?

It's important to note that every comma omitted from a sentence should be intentional. Omitting a comma can lead to misreading, which can result in confusion and frustration for the reader. Writers should be aware of their sentence structure, and use commas where necessary to help guide the reader through the sentence. Writers should also consider their audience when deciding whether or not to omit a comma. For example, a sentence may be more likely to be misread by a younger audience if a comma is omitted.

What are some common rules for determining when to omit commas?

The most important rule to follow when omitting commas is to make sure that your audience can easily understand what you're trying to convey. While there are some rules of thumb to follow (such as not omitting a comma before "and"), the most important thing is that you're writing to be understood. If you're writing something that could be confusing without a comma, then by all means, include a comma!

4. Starting Sentences with Conjunctions

How can conjunctions be used to effectively start a sentence?

Conjunctions are used to connect two clauses. Using conjunctions to start a sentence can be effective if you balance it with a period or exclamation point at the end. If you have a conjunction at the beginning of a sentence, it can be a way of grabbing your reader's attention. For example, "however" is a common conjunction that can be used to start a sentence. Using conjunctions to start a sentence can be effective, but you need to be sure you have a period or other punctuation mark at the end to balance it out.

What are some examples of common conjunctions used to start sentences?

Because we live in an action-oriented world, starting sentences with action words is a great way to grab people's attention. It's also an effective way to keep things short, sweet, and to the point. For example, "Call me" is a stronger opening than "I would like for you to call me" because of the implied urgency in the former. It's a concise way to express that you want someone to call you immediately, without having to explain the request in full detail.

5. Using Apostrophes Incorrectly

What are some common mistakes people make when using apostrophes?

The two most common mistakes are using an apostrophe when a contraction is appropriate, and the reverse—using a contraction when an apostrophe is pertinent. Apostrophes are used to show ownership, such as in the girl's hat, and possessiveness, such as in ‘siblings.' Contractions, on the other hand, are formed by removing letters, such as adding ‘n' to ‘don't' to form ‘don't.' The word ‘don't' is not possessive, so an apostrophe is not used. Similarly, ‘isn't' is not ‘is' plus ‘n't'—it is a contraction for ‘is not.' Thus, no apostrophe is used.

How can you tell when an apostrophe is used correctly versus incorrectly?

The best answer to this question is with the use of a comma. Commas are often used incorrectly in English writing, so when you learn how to use one correctly, you know you can use all punctuation marks correctly. When a sentence has two independent clauses, you must separate them with a comma. For example, "I like juice, but I don't like carrots." The first part of the sentence is a complete thought, so it doesn't need a comma before the "but." However, the second part of the sentence is independent too, so it needs an accompanying comma.

6. Incorrect Pluralization

How can you tell when a word has been incorrectly pluralized?

When answering the question, How can you tell when a word has been incorrectly pluralized? a writer should first mention that there are cases when the pluralization of a word makes perfect sense. For example, when a noun indicates a group of elements that adds to the singular meaning of a word, it justifies its pluralization. Hence, a writer should mention the examples of such nouns first. Examples of such nouns may include college, family, and village. Next, one should explain how other nouns are formed by adding "-s" or "-es" to the singular form. For example, a writer should explain that words ending in -s, -x, -ch, -sh, -o, or -y have a tendency to go for the "-es" suffix. Likewise, words ending in -is, -is, and -us go for the "-i" suffix. The same rule also applies to words ending in a vowel and the letter "y". Hence, while answering the question, How can you tell when a word has been incorrectly pluralized?, a writer must explain that the use of the correct suffix is vital for the word to make sense.

What are some common mistakes made when forming the plural of a word?

When deciding how to pluralize a word, it's important to keep the context in mind. For example, if a writer is writing in the context of the English language, they should pluralize a word by adding an "s" rather than an "es," as the latter is reserved for words of Latin origin. However, if a writer is writing in the context of a language other than English, they may choose to pluralize a word by adding an "s" or an "es," depending on the conventions of that particular language. By keeping the context in mind, writers can be sure that they're making the correct choice when pluralizing a word.

7. Misusing 'Lie' and 'Lay'

What is the difference between the verbs 'lie' and 'lay'?

Lay is a transitive verb. It requires an object. Lie is intransitive. Without an object, it can be either transitive or intransitive.

Lie: She lies on the couch. / He lies on the floor. / The cat is lying on the couch.

Lay: She lays her purse on the table. / He lays his phone on the table.

Lie: I'm telling the truth. / He's lying on the floor. / She's lying to you.

Lay: She's laying the blanket on the bed. / He's laying the board on the floor. / She laid the blanket on the bed yesterday.

What are the most common mistakes people make when using 'lie' and 'lay'?

The most common mistake people make when using the words "lie" and "lay" is confusing the two. While both words are related to lying or placing down, the two words have different meanings. "Lie" is a verb that means to recline or tell an untruth. "Lay" is a verb that means to put something down or place it. It's important to understand the difference between these two words so you don't confuse them or accidentally change their meanings.

In conclusion, mastering proper grammar is an important part of writing that can be difficult to master. While it can take time to master the nuances of the English language, understanding the basics such as the differences between 'their', 'there', and 'they're', when to use 'affect' and 'effect', when to use commas, when to start sentences with conjunctions, how to use apostrophes correctly, how to correctly pluralize words, and the differences between 'lie' and 'lay' can help you to avoid common grammar mistakes. By being aware of these seven common mistakes, you can ensure that your writing is clear, concise, and error-free.

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