Imagine that you clicked on a blog post only to see it riddled with misspellings and grammatical errors. You’d probably click away pretty quickly, and you’re not alone; one survey showed that 59% of participants wouldn’t use a company that had poor grammar or typos in its marketing materials.
Poor grammar can make a company appear less credible and trustworthy than one that takes the time to edit and ensure error-free copy. When you’re writing, steer clear of these common grammar mistakes.
Let’s dive into the 18 most common grammar mistakes you should be aware of to start writing better.
- Incomplete Comparisons
Comparisons, by their nature, have to have at least two elements to compare. Otherwise, they’re incomplete. Take this sentence:
She’s clearly much faster.
This sentence is complete, but it doesn’t offer any context. Who is she faster than? A complete comparison might look like this:
She’s clearly much faster than every other racecar driver on the track today.
- Run-on Sentences
A run-on sentence happens when two sentences aren’t combined properly and “run” into each other. Here’s an example of a run-on sentence:
I like to watch movies my favorite director is Quentin Tarantino.
To fix this run-on, we have a few options. We can add a period to separate them, we can use a semicolon, or we can use a coordinating conjunction. Here are those three solutions, respectively:
I like to watch movies. My favorite director is Quentin Tarantino.
I like to watch movies; my favorite director is Quentin Tarantino.
- Their vs. They’re vs. There
“Their” is a possessive pronoun indicating that something belongs to a group. “They’re” is a contraction of the words “they are.” “There” is used to describe a place. Here’s an example of how to use each of these words in a sentence:
The school’s track team practices over there at the track. They’re going to compete in the state championship. To get to the race, the team members will travel on their bus.
- Its vs. It’s
“Its,” with no apostrophe, is a possessive pronoun indicating that something belongs to the “it” in question. “It’s,” with an apostrophe, is a contraction of the words “it is.” Here’s an example:
It’s getting colder outside, which is why the bear is preparing its home for hibernation.
- Your vs. You’re
This one is easily one of the most common grammar mistakes, so take note! “Your” is a possessive pronoun indicating that something belongs to you. “You’re” is a contraction of the words “you are.” See the difference:
Is Taylor Swift your favorite singer? You’re so lucky that you got tickets to her show!
- Active Voice vs. Passive Voice
When you write, you want to make the text as easy to read as possible. That’s where active and passive voice come into play. Active voice is displayed when the object of the sentence (the noun receiving the action) is at the beginning of the sentence. Passive voice, on the other hand, is displayed when the object of the sentence is at the end.
Active voice is much more clear than passive voice and makes your writing sound stronger. See the following sentence in active and passive voice, respectively:
Joe tossed the ball to Taylor.
The ball was tossed to Taylor by Joe.
The ball is the object here since it’s the thing receiving the action. The first iteration of the sentence is far easier to understand than the second version.
- Misplaced Modifiers
A modifier is a word that describes another word. When a modifier is misplaced, it makes your sentence confusing to read and awkward to get through. Here’s an example of a misplaced modifier:
Walking to school, a rainstorm drenched Logan.
In this instance, it seems as though the rainstorm was walking to school. A better way to structure the sentence would be:
Walking to school, Logan got drenched by a rainstorm.
- Affect vs. Effect
Of all the common grammar mistakes on this list, this one might be one of the hardest to remember. These two words are quite similar but are still distinct from each other. “Affect” is a verb that refers to the act of changing. “Effect” is a noun that refers to the change itself. The main difference here lies in the part of speech. Check out the following example:
I didn’t realize how much the tornado would affect me. The tragedy had a huge effect on our entire town.
- Who vs. Whom
If you struggle with this one, you’re certainly not alone. It’s a tricky distinction to remember. “Who” is a pronoun used to identify a person in general. “Whom” is a bit more complicated; it’s typically used to identify someone receiving something. See the difference in this example:
Who ordered the cookies? Whom should we call to get some more desserts?
In the first sentence, we want to find the person who ordered the cookies. In the second sentence, we want to find the person who should receive our next order. Here’s a convenient recap:
- Less vs. Fewer
This entry is one of the common grammar mistakes that many people don’t even realize they’re making. Essentially, if you’re referring to something you can count, use “fewer.” If you’re talking about something you can’t count, use “less.” Here’s an example:
We’ve had to do less traveling this year than we have in previous years. We’ve taken fewer weekend trips this summer than we did last year.
- Compliment vs. Complement
While these two words have identical pronunciations and nearly identical spellings, they mean two completely different things. “Compliment” is an expression of adoration. “Complement” refers to something that enhances something else. Here’s an example:
Her makeup really complements her eyes. I gave her a compliment to tell her how pretty she looks today.
- Who vs. That
This one might seem obvious, but it often gets overlooked. Essentially, you should use “who” when talking about people and “that” when talking about objects. Here’s an example:
Ashley is the person who runs the local ice cream shop. Her shop is the one that is across the street from the elementary school.
- Then vs. Than
“Then” is an adverb used to describe when something happened. “Than” is a conjunction used to compare things to each other. Here’s an example:
I like movies better than bowling. So, we went to dinner, then we went to the theater.
- Farther vs. Further
When we talked about “less” vs. “fewer,” we talked about whether the subject was measurable or not. The same concept applies here. “Farther” refers to distances that can be measured, while “further” is used in a more figurative sense. Here’s an example:
I like to watch movies, and my favorite director is Quentin Tarantino.
Notice that we cannot fix the run-on sentence with just a comma. We use a comma in the last example, but the connecting “and” is crucial to prevent a run-on. If there was just a comma, the sentence would still be incorrect.
- Between vs. Among
This mistake is, thankfully, relatively easy to fix. “Between” is used when you have two things that you can easily separate, while “among” is reserved for more abstract groups of things that you can’t clearly separate. Here’s an example:
I couldn’t choose between my high heels or flat shoes, so I let my best friend pick among all of my shoes to find the perfect pair.
- Subject-Verb Agreement
If you’re writing about a singular subject, your verb needs to be in the singular form as well. On that same note, a plural subject needs a plural verb. Here are two sentences that do not display proper subject-verb agreement:
The list of job requirements are extensive. Google Docs and Microsoft Word is important for creating documents.
In the above sentence, the current focus is the phrase “job requirements.” But this phrase just provides extra information and isn’t at the heart of what we’re talking about. We should be focusing on the list, which is singular. The sentence should instead be:
The list of job requirements is extensive.
In the second sentence above, we have two applications as the subjects of the sentence. Even though they’re listed individually, we’re speaking about them as a group, so we should use a plural verb form, like so:
Google Docs and Microsoft Word are important for creating documents.
- i.e. vs. e.g.
These two terms are often used interchangeably, but they are actually quite distinct. “i.e.” is used when you’re clarifying something you’ve already spoken about, while “e.g.” is used to provide examples. Here are two instances of these terms:
I’ve visited the three biggest countries in North America, i.e., Canada, The United States of America, and Mexico.
If you plan to fly, come to the airport prepared. E.g., weigh your bags beforehand and arrive two hours before your scheduled flight time.
This last entry on our list of common grammar mistakes has been known to trip up even the most seasoned writers. Commas should be used in a few special ways, including separating items in a list, separating independent clauses (clauses that can stand on their own), and separating an introductory word from the rest of the sentence.
Here are a few examples of proper comma usage:
Anna filled her backpack with pens, pencils, notebooks, and folders. She zipped her bag, and she grabbed her lunchbox. Next, she walked outside to get on the bus.
It’s hard to summarize all the possible uses of commas, but these three instances are the most common.
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