Top Ten Most Common Grammar Mistakes

— As pointed out by my colleague, Peter Gouveia

1. it’s = it is

Example: It’s time you let Grandmother out of the closet (it’s = contraction for it is)

Example: The dog buried its bone in the backyard. (its = possessive case for it)

2. Punctuation always goes inside the quotation marks

Example: As she peered inside the urn, Aunt Mary asked, “What happened to Uncle Henry’s ashes?”

Example: Cousin Phil replied, “I thought that was dust so I sucked it up with the vacuum cleaner”. (incorrect – the period goes before the quotation mark)

3. Avoid common spelling errors

a lot (always two words)

all right (alright is not a word)

lead (pronounced “leed” is present tense – “led’- is the past tense of “lead”)

past (refers to time) 

passed (refers to action – the student “passed” gas)

moot (irrelevant – it’s a “moot” point . . . not “mute” point

than (comparison – notice the “a” in “than” and “comparison”)

then (sequence – notice the “e” in “then” and “sequence”

4. Their vs. there vs they’re

Their is the possessive version (as in “The old man bounced off their windshield.”) Notice: the word “heir” is inside “their,” signifying inheritance . . . the person owns something. Also, it’s the only form of “their” to possess an “i.”

There signifies location (as in “The dog threw up over there.”) Notice: there is a “here” in “there.”

They’re is a contraction for “they are” (as in “They’re not enjoying the baseball game.”)

5. Commas

Use commas to separate words in a list: apples, oranges, and bananas. (Notice a common before the “and.”)

Use commas after introductory phrases and dependent clauses. Example: “When the grape fell off the vine, it let out a little whine.”

Use commas to separate two independent clauses, which are often joined by a “FANBOYS” conjunction – for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. These clauses can be divided into two separate and complete sentence. Example: “Grandma was knocked unconscious by a hailstone at the barbecue, but we still managed to have a good time.

6. Subject-verb agreement

Use plural when the subject of a sentence is composed of two or more nouns or pronouns connected by “and.” Example: “Dolly and Milly are getting Botox.”

Use a singular verb when two or more singular nouns or pronouns are connected by “or” or “nor.” Example: “Neither the soup or hamburger is appealing.” 

When a compound subject contains both a singular and a plural noun or pronoun joined by “or” or “nor,” the verb should agree with the part of the subject that is nearer to the verb. Example: “Either Mrs. Panzier or her students are making cupcakes for Diversity Day.”

Don’t be fooled when phrases come between the subject and verb! Pretend they are not there! Example: “Mr. Smith, as well as his students, is excited to learn about fungi!”

7. Me, myself, and I

Do not begin a sentence with “me.”

Incorrect: Please buy a large popcorn for yourself and I.

Correct: Please buy a large popcorn for yourself and me.

(Omit the “yourself and” from the sentence to determine which pronoun is needed.)

Incorrect: Him and I lost a few toes to frostbite.

Correct: He and I lost a few toes to frostbite.

(You wouldn’t day “Him lost a few toes to frostbite.”)

To emphasize or contrast”

“Paul knows everyone, but I myself am new here.”

“Your sister has blue eyes, but you yourself have brown eyes.”

When you’re doing something to yourself:

“I ask myself, “Why do faculty meeting last so long.”

“You set high standards for yourself.”

8. Use correct words and phrases

“Due to” modifies nouns and is generally used after some form of the verb to be (am, is are, was were). Example: “The teacher’s success in the classroom is due to her excellent rapport with her students.” (“due to” modified success)

“Because of” modifies verbs. Example: “The custodian resigned because of poor health.” (“because of” modified resigned)

Use the word “amount” to refer to the quantity of something that is measured as a whole, not by its individual contents. Example: “The amount of homework give to sixth graders is appropriate.”

Use the word “number,” as the name suggests, to refer t something that has a clearly defined count associated with it. Example: “The number of assignments the student did not do was appalling!”

Similarly, use “little” and “less” when discussing singular subjects; use “few” and “fewer” when discussing plural subjects. Example: “I will drink less milk and eat fewer cookies.” “Even though I spent less money on this past vacation, I still have fewer dollars in my wallet!”

Bad vs. Badly: IF you feel sadness or disappointment, you should say, “I feel bad.”

When you say, “I feel badly,” you are actually saying, “I am not able to feel well with my hands, probably because I burnt them while taking the casserole out of the oven without any oven mitts on.” (“Badly” is an adverb that modifies “feel”)

9. Stop runaway sentences!

Run on sentences are two sentences without proper punctuation. Commas by themselves, however, do not join sentences. To join two sentences, you must have a conjunction separating the two independent clauses. (Once again, think FANBOYS)

RIGHT The student was using a cell phone is the hall. It was confiscated.

RIGHT The student was using a cell phone in the hall, and it was confiscated.

WRONG The student was using a cell phone in the hall, it was confiscated. (This is known as a “common splice.”)

10. Put apostrophes in their place

It is important to understand where to place apostrophes, especially when you are focusing on possession. You must first determine if the owner of the object(s) is singular or plural.

The teacher’s room (one room owned by one teacher)

The teachers’ room (one room owned by more than one teacher)

Usually, this is rather simple because the apostrophe goes before the “s” when the owner is singular and after the “s” when the owner of the object(s) is plural.

The rules still apply even when the word ends in an “s.” 

The bus’s tires (tires belonging to one bus)

The buses’ tires (tires belonging to more than one bus)



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