The 10 Most Common Grammar Mistakes

I feel very fortunate that grammar and spelling were two things that came pretty naturally to me as a child. My parents used to tell me I should be a newspaper editor because I always found grammatical mistakes when I read our local paper. Alas, newspapers are all but obsolete today and I still find an immense need to use tools (like Grammarly) to double-check my work. So, for all my aspiring writers or bloggers out there, we’re going to spend a few minutes pointing out the 10 most common grammar mistakes and offer some recommendations on how to avoid them.

1. Fragments

Honestly, I still make this mistake ALL THE TIME, which is why it’s #1 on my list. Every correct sentence has a subject and a predicate. For a little refresher, the subject clues the reader into who or what the sentence is about and the predicate indicates something about the subject. Fragments either fail to identify a subject or omit the “something” about the subject that we’re all dying to know!

Incorrect Example: With flair and pizzazz. This is an awesome sentence.

Correct Example: With flair and pizzazz, this is an awesome sentence.

2. Overuse of Apostrophes

Its, it’s, and its’; the prime example of this one, and I still get this one confused all the time. Apostrophes should be used either to signal possession or in the case of a conjunction. You don’t need an apostrophe on plural nouns, and you definitely don’t need them when referring to a specific decade in history (i.e. ‘1990s’, not ‘1990’s’)

Incorrect Example: The function of it’s system is to detect obstacles in the road.

Correct Example: The function of its system is to detect obstacles in the road.

3. Missing Commas

One of the most popular places where people accidentally omit commas is after an introductory element. These are instances in which it is important to give readers pause after an introductory word, phrase, or clause in order to avoid confusion.

Compound sentences are also a common place where missing commas can confuse the author’s intended meaning. In a proper compound sentence, a comma should be placed after the first clause and before the conjunction that separates the first clause from the second clause.

Incorrect Example: As a matter of fact the man and his friends already ran into the house.

Correct Example: As a matter of fact, the man, and his friends, already ran into the house.

4. Subject-Verb Agreement

Whether your subject is singular or plural, your selection of verb tense must match the subject in number. In other words, if the subject of your sentence is singular then your verb must be singular. If the subject is plural, the verb must also be plural.

Incorrect Example: The craziest things about the trip was the weather and the traffic.

Correct Example: The craziest things about the trip were the weather and the traffic.

5. Pronoun References

As writers, we know what we’re referring to as we’re writing. It’s important, however, that you take time to put yourself in the shoes of your readers. Vague pronoun references are one of the easiest ways to confuse (and possibly lose) your readers.

Pronouns replace nouns and should always be preceded (relatively closely) by the person, place, or thing that the pronoun refers to. A vague pronoun reference happens when it is unclear what subject, or object, the pronoun (i.e., it, he, that, this, which, etc.) is linked to.

Incorrect Example: When my brother finally found his pet chinchilla, he was elated. (who was elated? the chinchilla or my brother?)

Correct Example: My brother was elated when he finally found his pet chinchilla.

6. Run-On Sentences

This is another one that hits near and dear to me because it is something that I struggled with for quite some time and the harder I worked at it the more a solution seemed to elude me and I kept asking for help but I couldn’t find any English professors with enough time to proofread my work before I needed it to be published so I finally had to be more diligent with proofreading my own work and it really helped when I started employing the editing tool Grammarly.

See what I did there? Was it confusing? Did you get lost? Run-on sentences are when you combine two or more main clauses without using punctuation to separate them. For the reader, this block of text can be very intimidating or confusing.

Incorrect Example: This is another one that hits near and dear to me because it is something that I struggled with for quite some time and the harder I worked at it the more a solution seemed to elude me.

Correct Example: This is another one that hits near and dear to me because it is something that I struggled with for quite some time. The harder I worked at it, the more a solution seemed to elude me.

7. Comma Splice

A comma splice is defined as the joining of two separate and complete sentences with a comma, as opposed to a period or semicolon. Many authors use comma splices when using common transitional words like however, therefore, furthermore, etc.

Sometimes I get too cute with commas when a good-old period will serve me (and the reader) better. I’m sure there are a few examples of that right here in this post. One good trick is to read your own writing back to yourself out loud and search for areas that sound weird or sentences that get you ‘hung up.’ This is a good way to identify where a period is more useful than a confusing comma splice.

Incorrect Example: I often attend my brother’s music shows, then we grab dinner and beers afterward.

Correct Example: I often attend my brother’s music shows. Then we grab dinner and beers afterward.

8. Using Incorrect Words

It’s on my list at #8, but this may be more common than some mistakes I’ve already listed. The English language is full of words that sound similar but mean something different (‘there, their, and they’re’ or ‘effect vs. affect’, for example) These are easy to misuse, but can completely alter the meaning of an entire sentence when you’re trying to use one and accidentally employ the other. The old-school solution is to have a dictionary on hand whenever you’re writing, but you know a quick Google search will also clarify which version you need for a given situation.

Incorrect Example: I think the accident may have effected his judgment.

Correct Example: I think the accident may have affected his judgment.

Grammar Check

9. Failure to Maintain Parallel Structure

This mistake is a regular one on many resumes or when you’re listing tasks or accomplishments. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve re-read my resume and realized I diverged from parallel structure halfway through, for whatever reason. It occurs when two or more parts of a sentence have similar meaning but aren’t grammatically similar in form. The first step in avoiding this mistake is deciding which structure is best for your purpose. Then stick to it!

Incorrect Example: He is tasked with identifying the problem, brainstorm solutions, and executing a plan to solve the issue.

Correct Example: He is tasked with identifying the problem, brainstorming solutions, and executing a plan to solve the issue.

10. Using Non-Words

While there’s certainly merit in pushing the boundaries of language (according to this article, Merriam-Webster adds thousands of new words every year), a potential employer or client may take exception to the use of “non-words” on your resume or cover letter. Works like ‘irregardless’ and ‘unthaw’ are some most common culprits.

Incorrect Example: Irregardless of what you think, it’s going to take some time to unthaw this ice.

Correct Example: Regardless of what you think, it’s going to take some time for this ice to thaw.

A Headache-Reducing Solution

After reading this article, I hope you’re able to notice a few more corrections in your own work as they are needed, but if you don’t want the headache of meticulously proofreading every single word of every single post you write, then you should invest in a tool like Grammarly.

Grammarly’s premium membership syncs with your computer and performs basic spelling and grammar checks, advanced checks for punctuation, context, and sentence structure, genre-specific writing style checks, plagiarism checks, and gives vocabulary enhancement suggestions. It’s the easiest way to ensure the quality of your writing work without spending extra hours combing over every single article, blog, or book page you write!

Let Me Know Your Thoughts!

If you liked what you read, didn’t like what you read, or have questions about what you read, I’d love to hear from you! Also, if you’ve read this selection already, I’d love to know your thoughts, feelings, and what you took away from it.

Please leave a comment below if you are inspired, perplexed, saddened, or angered by any of the ideas presented above. I welcome any and all comments and will do my best to respond in a timely fashion.

I’d also encourage you to share this with others if you found it particularly insightful or helpful. Be sure to tag @ballisterwriting on Facebook or Instagram if you do! The point of social media, after all, is to be SOCIAL! I don’t need followers or likes, but I’d like to contribute to a real conversation about how we continue to improve as a society and as individuals.

Thanks for your support!

Tucker Ballister

tucker@ballisterwriting.com

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