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Common Grammar Mistakes
Grammar may sound boring, but if you want to be taken seriously, you can't afford to make mistakes. Here's a list of problems we've found are common, as well as easy explanations and solutions.
An apostrophe is used in two situations:
- You are using a contraction — two words are squished together to make one. The apostrophe replaces the missing letters.
For example: The apostrophe in don't (meaning do not) replaces the o in not.
- You are showing possession — something belonging to someone.
For example: Jane's cat = the cat of Jane.
Using apostrophes to show posession:
If the singular does not end in s, add 's.
Example: The bike of John = John's bike.
If the singular ends in s, add ' or ‘s, depending on whether you want the extra sound.
Example: The pencil of the boss = the boss' pencil or the boss's pencil.
If the plural does not end in s, add 's.
Example: The bikes of the women = the women's bikes.
If the plural ends in s, add '.
Example: The bikes of the girls = the girls' bikes.
Never add the extra 's when the plural ends in s.
If something belongs to two or more people:
Alice and Jack's house, not Alice's and Jack's house.
If a word his hyphenated words (like in-laws):
Some common errors using apostrophes:
You're vs. Your
The incorrect form is on the left, the correct form is on the right.
Is that you're coat? = Is that your coat?
You're means "you are"
Your coming, right? = You're coming, right?
Your shows possession.
Tip: If you don't know what to do, at least try re-wording the sentence so that you don't need to use a contraction:
Does that coat belong to you?
Are you coming?
It's vs. Its
The incorrect form is on the left, the correct form is on the right.
The lion opened it's mouth = The lion opened its mouth
The apostrophe in it's replaces the i from "is." It's means it is. "The lion opened it is mouth" is wrong!
Its a lovely day, isn't it? = It's a lovely day, isn't it?
Its shows posession. There is no posession in this sentence. You want to say "It is" so use "It's."
Tip: As long as you remember what the apostrophe in it's replaces, you'll get these right.
Their, there, and they're
Their is posessive. They washed their socks. It is plural. Never say Everyone washed their socks.
There shows a location. I saw him over there.
They're means they are. They're going to the park.
They're washing their socks over there.
An acronym is a word or group of letters made from the first letter of each word in a phrase. Example: SCUBA stands for "self-contained underwater breathing apparatus."
Do not use apostrophes for plural acronyms Use apostrophes for posessive acronyms.
How many URLs have you bookmarked? not How many URL's have you bookmarked?
Do you know that URL's page size? not Do you know that URLs page size?
Sometimes words that sound the same can be easily confused. When in doubt, consult your trusty dictionary.
Some common mistakes to avoid:
An accident can be a good thing or a bad thing.
A mishap is bad, but minor. A disaster is never a mishap.
I accidently bumped into Ted. He gave me back my lucky socks!
I had a mishap the other day — I spilled paint all over myself. What a mes!
There was a horrible accident in Toronto yesterday. Seven people were killed.
Alternate means one after the other or "an alternate" means a substitute.
Alternative means one or the other (a choice)
We'll alternate shifts tonight.
The alternate leader should arrive tomorrow.
We have an alternative: instead of buying the parts, we can rent them.
Between is used for two persons or objects
Among is used for more than two persons or objects
Between you and me, I quite like him.
He searched among the numerous boxes for something that would interest him.
Can is used for an ability
May is used for a possibility, permission.
I can count to ten.
I may count to ten tomorrow if I feel like it.
Can I ride this bike or will it break under my weight?
May I ride this bike, please?
If you are disinterested, you are neutral; you don't care.
If you are uninterested, you are not interested.
Tom and Frank were having a heated article about their project, but Jack was disinterested.
"No, I'm afraid I'm uninterested. You'll have to try to sell that somewhere else."
Effect means to bring to pass, or a result
Affect means to influence or change
Jesse applied a little vanishing cream to May's face. The effect was startling.
Vanishing Cream can greatly affect your life.
An ascent is a climb
An accent is a stress, or the way someone from another country speaks
He completed the ascent of Mt. Everest without even using oxygen!
Let's place the accent on customer service, okay?
Phillipe has quite a strong French accent.
Many means a number of things
Much means a large amount
Tip: Think of it this way: You can count many of something, even if it would take you forever, but you can never count much of something.
There aren't many marbles in this drawer
There are so many stars in the sky! (You can count the marbles and the stars)
There isn't much peanut butter left in the jar (you can't count the peanut butter).
Real is an adjective. It modifies nouns and pronouns.
Really is an adverb. Modifies verbs and adjectives.
Pete sings really well, not Pete sings real well.
I have some real gold, not I have some really gold.
Same as Real and Really: Good is an adjective, and Well is an adverb.
I'm doing good is incorrect (unless you mean something like "I'm doing good charity work -- a sentence with an object).
I'm doing well is correct, because "doing" is a verb, so you use an adverb.
Than is used for comparisons
Then is used with time: next.
My dog is better than your dog.
My dog went to the beach then he swam out to sea.
Eg. And i.e
E.g means Es grata, or for example.
I.e. means Id est, or that is.
Do not use i.e when you mean "for example."
Two negatives cancel each other out.
not gong to no zoo = I'm going to the zoo
don't have no money = I have money.
Some words you might forget count as negative:
Quotation marks (" ")
Quotation marks are used to show something someone else said. They are used extensively in written conversations, for one thing. But where do you put them? After the period (or comma, or whatever), or before it?
Periods (.) & Commas (,)
Always put these before the ending of the quotation marks.
"We are going now."
"We are going now," he said.
Question marks (?) & Exclamation marks (!)
Put these before the ending of the quotation marks only if the question mark or exclamation mark is part of the quote. If the punctuation mark is not part of the quote, it is placed after the ending of the quotation marks. The same thing goes for colons and semicolons.
Then she asked me, "Are we going now?" and I told her to wait.
Did she tell you to "Wait outside"?
Single quotation (‘')
A single quotationis used for a quote inside a double quotation.
Then she told me "Mary, if you're going to let Janice take Bill to that ‘swanky' restaurant without me, then you've got a surprise coming."
Jane cried "Then Mary said to me 'I hate you Jane' and I was so upset!"
If you're quoting a number of paragraphs, start each with an opening quotation mark, but only close the quotations at the end of the last paragraph.
Parenthesis [ () ]
Punctuation marks go after the parenthesis if they are part of the sentence, and inside the parenthesis if they are part of that phrase.
Then the turtle (slowly, surely, and steadily) crossed the finish line.
Well if she thinks that (and she does), then she's stupider than she looks.
I took my toys home (Tim didn't want them anymore).
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