Avoidance Tactics: Common English Mistakes

Updated on 30 November 2014

by Laura K. Lawless, writer at eLearnEnglishLanguage.com

Everyone makes mistakes when writing, sometimes due to simple typos, and other times because they just don’t know any better. Most people can spot their own typos when proofreading, but that only works when you know that it’s a mistake—what about when you don’t? Even native speakers mix up words that either look similar or have similar meanings, but there are simple techniques that can help you avoid some of these common mistakes.

It’s vs Its

For some reason, it’s seems to have become the default spelling of these homophones, but there is a difference between the two spellings, and it’s easy to remember. It’s is the contraction of either “it is” or “it has,” so if you can replace the word with either of those two phrases, then you know the spelling must be it’s.

It’s early. – It is early.

It’s been over an hour. – It has been over an hour.

Its is a possessive like “my” or “his.” When you can’t use “it is” or “it has,” you can’t include an apostrophe.

I don’t know its name. NOT I don’t know it is name.

What is its purpose? NOT What is it is purpose?

Its’ does not exist, period.

Your vs You’re

Here’s another common mistake with an apostrophe, but in this case the word without the apostrophe is becoming the default—and often incorrect—spelling.

You’re is a contraction, so you must always use it when you can replace the word by “you are.”

You’re welcome – You are welcome.

I’m sure you’re right – I’m sure you are right.

Your is a possessive adjective, so it can’t be replaced by “you are,” but it can be replaced with another possessive like my, his, or our.

This is your book – This is my book. NOT This is you are book.

Here are your keys – Here are our keys. NOT Here are you are keys.

I vs Me

I suspect the reason so many people don’t know whether to use I or me is that when we were kids, parents and teachers were always correcting us: “No, not ‘Me and John’ —say ‘John and I!'” So we started thinking that whenever we say “John and ___”, that blank has to be filled with I. In fact, it’s not that simple.

I is a subject pronoun, which means it has to be the subject of a verb:

John and I like swimming.

John and I are going to the park.

You know that I is correct because if you take out “John and” you still need to say I, not me.

I like swimming. NOT Me like swimming.

I am going to the park. NOT Me am going to the park.

So when do you use me? When it’s the object of a verb or preposition.

They told me to go swimming. – They told John and me to go swimming.

The park is only for me. – The park is only for John and me.

Again, if you take out “John and,” you immediately realize the right word to use: “They told me to go swimming,” not “They told I to go swimming.”

Between you and I vs Between you and me

Like to, about, for, etc., between is a preposition, which means it must be followed by object pronouns: between you and me.

Since between has to be followed by more than one person, you can’t take out “you and” in order to make it obvious that me is required instead of I, but what you can do is replace it with a plural pronoun: “we” or “us.” We is a subject pronoun like I, and us is an object pronoun like me. Would you say “between we” or “between us”? Of course, you’d say “us,” so of course you need “me.” Between you and me, I’d be thrilled if no one ever said between you and I again.

About the Author

Laura Lawless bio pictureLaura K. Lawless is a language lover, writer, and online teacher. Her blog eLearnEnglishLanguage.com is full of tips to help native English speakers avoid simple and silly mistakes.

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