Ten Common Grammar Errors (and how to avoid them)

Grammar PoliceI’ve been slightly hesitant to publish this post for one big reason.  I’m not a grammar expert.  (gasp).  As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I occasionally have type-o’s and grammar problems in the content I write.  Sometimes it is because I didn’t take enough time to fully proof-read.  Other times it is just an honest mistake.   The bottom line is, I don’t think you need to have 100% perfect grammar to be a successful writer.  In most types of writing, it isn’t necessary.

Of course, there are some types of writing where it is essential, but for the most part it is acceptable to be 99% accurate.  I’m sure many people will disagree with me on this, and I understand that.  I do my best, and am always trying to learn and improve, but I have no expectations that I’ll ever be perfect.  I accept that.

That being said, here are ten common grammar errors (many of which I struggle with), and how to avoid them:

  • Lack of Subject – Verb Agreement – The instructions on this one is confusing (see what I did there!)  I should have said, “The instructions on this one are confusing.”  The subjects and verbs must agree in number.  This is a mistake I often catch when I re-read my content out loud to myself.
  • Past Tense Error – As far as I know, I don’t struggle with this one as much.  It seems to be a bigger problem with people who don’t speak English as their native language.  Adding an “ED” at the end of most words makes them past tense.  Not all words though.  As far as I know there is no way to get this right other than to memorize the exceptions.  For example, the past tense of freeze is not freezed, but froze.
  • Comma Error – Oh boy, this is a big one for me.  I tend to not use enough commas, though I am working on correcting that.  If you’re making a list of things, a comma is not needed at the end.  For example, my favorite colors are red, blue, green and yellow.  (The and replaces that last comma).  Adding a comma after an introductory dependent clause is also something I often forget.   The bottom line, most people need to take an entire class on comma usage (myself included).
  • Ending Sentences with a Preposition – Where were you at?  It drives me nuts when I hear people end sentences with prepositions like that.  Of course, I often catch myself doing it as well because it has become so common with our language.
  • Apostrophe Issues – Apostrophes have two main uses.  To show possession, and to make a contraction.  This is Jonny’s house means the house belongs to Jonny.  This is the Jonnies house, however, means that two or more Jonnies own the house (plural).  For contractions, an apostrophe combines two words.  You are = You’re.
  • Pronoun Errors – Pronouns must agree with the number of the noun they are referring to.  For example, everybody needs to bring their own canteen should actually be, “everybody needs to bring his or her own canteen.
  • Who and Whom – This is a huge one, and even great writers get it wrong sometimes.  Who is a subjective or nominative pronoun and is used when the pronoun is the subject of the clause.  Whom, however, is an objective pronoun and is used when it acts as the object of the clause.  If you’re not sure, and you can’t look it up, use “who,” and you’ll be right most of the time.
  • Which and That – I struggle with this one for some reason.  That is a restrictive pronoun, and is vital to the noun it is referring to.  Which introduces a non-essential relative clause, which isn’t always referring back to the main noun.
  • Moot – While you might think this is a moot point, you’d be wrong.  This word is commonly used to imply the point it refers to is not important, it actually means that the subject is disputable and open to discussion.  When people say ‘the point is moot’ they are actually using the word to mean the opposite of its proper meaning.
  • Fewer and Less – You should only use less in hypothetical quantities.  Few (or fewer) is used when the item is something you can quantify.  For example, this checkout lane is reserved with people who have 12 items or fewer because it will take less effort to go through.

I hope you’ve found some of these items useful.  I love reading posts like this, and almost always pick up a little point or idea that can help my writing.  I have no delusions of being an amazing writer, which is why I am always trying to learn a little more and improve every day.

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  1. says

    Great one here, Michael. Especially the ‘Who’ and ‘whoml, pretty deceptive sometimes.
    All in all, friendly resource, but I think you should add real examples to drive home some points, and try putting those words being quoted in apostrophes.
    You might want to substitute ‘right’ for ‘write’ up there, in the concluding lines of the ‘Past Tense error’. Thanks for this.

  2. says

    Simple yet detailed, thanks for this Michael. Found you via commentluv. I think your takeaways here help both new and established freelance writers. It’s good to keep grammar rules in mind when writing but being a perfectionist would or could also block their growth as writers. I find it best to read guides like this or books like “The Elements of Style”, learn the rules, but when it comes to writing, write your heart out and worry about editing later.
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