Are your grammar goofs making you look bad? Frequent grammar errors could cause others to question your writing at work. Here’s how to identify and fix ten of the most common offenders.
Commonly Confused Words
There’s an inherent flaw to spellcheck—sometimes you spell a word correctly, but you use the wrong one. Even when your mistake is an honest typo, using the wrong word can make it look as though there’s a gap in your knowledge.
Then can mean at that time or next in time/space/order.
Than is comparative.
LEARN MORE: Than Vs. Then–What’s the Difference?
Lose is a verb that can mean fail to win, misplace, or free oneself from something or someone.
Loose is an adjective that means not tight.
LEARN MORE: Loose vs. Lose
3 Confusing homophones.
Homophones (words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings) can catch us off guard, so be sure to double-check for them.
Their means belonging to them.
There indicates a place.
They’re is a contraction of “they are.”
To is a preposition that indicates direction.
To can also form infinitives.
Too means “also.” It’s also used as an intensifier.
Your means “belonging to you.”
You’re is a contraction of “you are.”
LEARN MORE: Top 30 Commonly Confused Words in English
Although you might not be judged for every misplaced comma, certain punctuation mistakes stand out. Some are pet peeves of grammar-savvy folks, and others can accidentally transform the meaning of your sentence.
4 Apostrophes in plural words
Apostrophes are used to show possession. (The dog’s collar was red.) They’re also used to form contractions like shouldn’t, we’ve, and you’re.
Apostrophes are almost never used to form plurals.
Here’s an exception: When you reference lowercase letters, eliminating the apostrophe would be confusing.
LEARN MORE: Apostrophe Rules
5 Runaway ellipses
The term “ellipsis” (plural: ellipses) comes from the Greek word meaning “omission.” When you quote someone, ellipses can indicate that you’ve omitted part of the quote. They can also show a pause or indicate a sentence that trails off without a conclusion. In general, ellipses should be used sparingly as a conscious style choice.
The ellipsis always consists of three dots. If the ellipsis comes immediately after a grammatically complete sentence, that sentence still needs its own period. You should space before and after an ellipsis, unless it’s at the end of a complete sentence. Never use a long series of dots to substitute for an ellipsis.
LEARN MORE: Ellipsis
6 Unnecessary quotation marks
The Internet is full of examples of unnecessary quotation marks. They’re often misused to add emphasis. When you put quotation marks around anything that doesn’t require them, you mean “ . . . but not really.”
— Cynthia Johnson (@CynthiaLIVE) February 9, 2018
So, just be aware that when you end an email by telling your boss to have a “great day,” you’re implying the opposite.
LEARN MORE: Quotation Marks: How to Use Them Correctly
Popular Grammar Pet Peeves
Frequent writers have pet peeves, and we’ve already covered some of them (like confusing your/you’re and overusing ellipses) already. Here are a couple more that bother people more than most.
Yes, irregardless is a word—it means the same thing as regardless. But dictionaries consider it nonstandard, and people have strong feelings about it. Grammarly took a poll, and 74% of our readers did not consider it a word.
8 “I seen”
Some verb tenses can be tricky, even if you’re a native English speaker. And although we sometimes hear “I seen” in colloquial speech, it’s never proper grammar.
Saw is the past tense of the verb see. It usually comes immediately after nouns or pronouns.
Seen is the past participle of the verb see. It is generally used alongside have, has, had, was, or were in a sentence to make compound verbs.
LEARN MORE: Just Memorize These Irregular Verbs
Good writing is clear and understandable. It never leaves the reader wondering what you mean. Here are a couple of the most common problems that affect clarity.
9 Unclear antecedent
An antecedent is a word or phrase that is replaced by another word later in the sentence. For example, after we mention a person’s name, we often replace the name with a pronoun later in the sentence.
In the sentence above, Sarah is the antecedent. The pronoun her is used later in the sentence in place of the name Sarah, but both her and Sarah refer to the same person.
When there is more than one noun at play in a sentence, an unclear antecedent makes it difficult to understand which one the pronoun refers to.
To whom does the pronoun his refer? Unless the surrounding sentences make it clear who you’re talking about, rewrite the sentence so we understand whether it’s Luke’s first day or Jack’s.
Or . . .
LEARN MORE: Pronoun Reference Rules
10 Misplaced modifier
A modifier changes, clarifies, qualifies, or limits a particular word in a sentence in order to add emphasis, explanation, or detail. Modifiers tend to be descriptive words, such as adjectives and adverbs. Modifiers can cause trouble when they’re placed too far from the modified noun. Sometimes the results are unintentionally hilarious.
Did you fluff the pillow, or did you distress an unsuspecting feline? Assuming the pillow is the thing getting fluffed (thank goodness!), let’s treat it as the subject of the sentence instead of the cat.
That’s better, and no one need alert the ASPCA!