Here we’ve listed the major mistakes made in today’s writing. We’ve ignored quite a few errors, focusing primarily on the common ones.
The biggest mistakes
- It’s = it is. “It’s a cold day.”
- Its = a pronoun. “I hate the sound of its motor.”
- We’re = we are. “We’re sitting here.”
- Were = a verb. “What were you doing?”
- Where = a pronoun. “Where are you?”
- They’re = they are. “They’re coming to dinner.”
- Their = a pronoun. “Their car broke down.”
- There = a pronoun. “I went there and it’s beautiful.”
- You’re = you are. “You’re beautiful.”
- Your = a pronoun. “Your car is nice.”
There vs. their vs. they’re
This error is probably the most common one in writing and is a source of enormous irritation to some people.
These words sound alike, so it’s understandable if they get confused. But to be totally honest, if you misuse these words, you will really, really irritate a large group of people.
Here’s the scoop:
- There means a location.
- I went there.
- Their means a group of people.
- Their car broke down.
- They’re means “they are.”
- They’re more people than expected.
I or me?
(I covered this problem earlier in this book and am going to go over it again a bit, but if you really don’t care, just scan down to the section named “A trick.”)
Me is used when me is receiving something.
You use pronouns like me, him, her, it, us and them when the pronoun is the object (again, “object” means that the pronoun is receiving something).
As an example, look how weird these sentences look:
- He hit he.
- I went with they.
- Come with we.
- Bring it to I.
These sentences look wrong because you’re using pronouns that are used as subjects (what is being talked about). Instead, you should be using pronouns that are used as objects. The sentences should be:
- He hit him.
- I went with them.
- Come with us.
- Bring it to me.
That’s why some people cringe when you say something like this:
Jim and me went to the beach.
“Jim and me” is being used as the subject (even though there’s two people – Jim and me, they are both being used as one subject). Me is never used as a subject. It should be I.
Jim and I went to the beach.
People can get confused when you have two people being talked about in the sentence. However, there is a trick if you can’t remember what to do or if you simply don’t care about rules. If you can’t figure out if it’s me or I, take out the other person.
Look at this example:
Jim and me went to the beach.
Take out “Jim” and you’ll see that “I” is correct:
__ __ I went to the meeting.
(It’s obvious that “me” is incorrect.)
The same rule works with myself, and the other “selfs.”
It’s very simple to understand when to correctly use myself, himself, yourself, itself and themselves:
The subject (what’s being talked about in the sentence) has to be receiving the action from the object (the “self”).
It’s called a “reflexive pronoun” because it “reflects” back on the subject.
People often make the mistake of just using “myself” without understanding what it means. It means that you did something back to yourself.
Sound confusing? It’s really not.
I hit myself.
In this case, “I” (the subject) received the action from “myself” (the object).
Some other examples:
- He hit himself.
- They hit themselves.
- You hit yourself?
- It broke itself.
You don’t say things like:
- The doctor talked to myself.
- The teacher and myself talked.
- Myself will be with you in a minute.
It can be confusing if you’re dealing with two people, such as:
- Jim and myself went to the party.
Incorrect. It should be:
- Jim and I went to the party.
If you’re confused, use the same rule used to figure out whether to use “me” or “I”: Take out the other person and it will make sense what word to use.
- ____ and myself went to the party.
- ____and I went to the party.
- Does “I” come first or last?
This upsets people with a strong feeling of self-importance, but in grammar, you come last when talking about yourself.
- Me, Mary and Joseph went to the beach.
- Mary, Joseph and I went to the beach.
I know, sucks, huh?
Starting a sentence with but, or, and
Old-school English teachers do not like children to start their sentences with the conjunctions and, but, or, nor, for, so or yet.
This is more of an effort to ensure good writing habits than from any really good reason. Professional writers have been using conjunctions to start sentences for a long, long time.
For formal writing, I would not start a sentence with a conjunction. However, for more informal, casual writing (including even most business writing), who cares. I don’t.
Match up your nouns and pronouns neat and tidy
Take a look at this sentence:
John’s ideas inevitably led him into a conflict between he and his boss.
The sentence talked about John’s ideas leading him into a conflict, and suddenly it’s he and his boss?
John’s ideas inevitably led him into a conflict between him and his boss.
Because the farmers were the ones who believed in less taxes, no other groups but them were at the meeting.
It was the farmers who believed in less taxes, and then them went to the meeting? No, wrong.
Because the farmers were the ones who believed in less taxes, no other groups but they were at the meeting.
Incorrect placement of modifiers
Look at the following sentence:
Oozing slowly across the floor, Marvin watched the salad dressing.
It seems like Marvin is oozing slowly across the floor. It’s a terrible sentence structure. The fix is simple: Put your modifiers next to the words they are modifying.
Marvin watched the salad dressing oozing slowly across the floor.
Or, even better: Use common sense. This sentence would never have been written if the writer just looked at the sentence for what it was: crazy!
Confusing pronoun use
Have you ever looked at a sentence and wondered just what the heck the sentence meant? Sometimes, this problem is caused by pronouns used confusingly.
Bob was really smart, always fixing cars and radios, and this was how he was able to get through college so rapidly.
What is “this” referring to? Is it referring to his being “really smart.” or to his ability to fix cars and radios?
An English teacher once taught me to always place what is being referred to after the “this.” So the sentence would read:
Bob was really smart, always fixing cars and radios, and this intelligence was how he was able to get through college so rapidly.
You can do that. But really, it’s just a matter of how you construct the sentence. You could, for example, rewrite it:
Bob was always fixing cars and radios as a kid, and this intelligence was how he was able to get through college so rapidly.
Just check to make sure that pronouns clearly point to what is being written.
Parallelism is a fancy word that means that the verbs that you use are all of the same type in a sentence.
Look at the following sentence:
Learn to run faster, and eating better foods.
Run is a verb, and so is eating. Instead, use run and eat.
Learn to run faster, and eat better foods.
It sounds like a no-brainer, but this mistake is not uncommon.
Commas put a natural pause into a sentence. There are rules around commas, but I don’t want to confuse you too much. Just look at it logically.
Here’s an example:
Joe ran to the bank went to the store and came back an hour later.
Yikes. I am out of breath just reading that sentence!
Instead, just a simple comma makes everything work beautifully:
Joe ran to the bank, went to the store and came back an hour later.
Use commas when inserting a bit of additional information:
Bill, always unhappy, was really upset that Janet came home late.
Use commas in a series of things:
Bill, Tom, Janet, and Bob all went to the store.
Use commas before words like and, but, for, nor, yet, or, so when joining groups of words.
It was a wonderful day outside, and we played the whole time.
If you could put the word and in a series of adjectives, then a comma usually belongs there:
A fine handsome blond man came to the house.
A fine and handsome and blond man came to the house.
A fine, handsome, blond man came to the house.
Overusing commas is also a mistake. It makes the sentence hard to read and understand:
He went to school and took, in several weeks, courses such as, English and History.
He went to school and took, in several weeks, courses such as English and History.
Another way you can overuse a comma is being lazy and not separating out one sentence into two sentences. This is a very common error:
By the middle of the twentieth century and after two major wars, the Germans had finally found a way to become citizens of the world without conflict, instead using their power as an economy to gain the dominance in the world that they so desired.
This sentence is endless! I’m lost and confused and tired reading it.
Let’s make it clear and simple, by separating it out into separate thoughts:
By the middle of the twentieth century and after two major wars, the Germans had finally found a way to become citizens of the world without conflict. Instead, they used their power as an economy to gain the dominance in the world that they so desired.
As we’ve said before, you can also use semi-colons as a nice way to combine two sentences into one.
These are the major rules on commas; when you’re up to it, there are good references online that have additional rules.
Wrong placement of the space at the end of a sentence.
Does this not look wrong to you? It should.
- He is great !
- I like books .
This error is very common in online writing (especially with older people). I don’t really understand why, but some people write the word, then press “space.” and then put in the punctuation mark.
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Obviously, the punctuation mark goes at the end of the sentence, with no space between the final word and the punctuation mark
Don’t double up your punctuation
- He is great.!
- What was the reason.?
- That was such a great movie!!!
Keep to one punctuation mark. Only one!
- He is great!
- What was the reason?
- That was such a great movie!
Who or Whom
The misuse of who is a personal peeve of mine. But it’s now such a common error in language that I’m not sure it even matters. Nevertheless, if you want to sound like a smarty pants, get it right. Well-educated people really do notice the correct use of “whom.”
The grammar rules are actually simple: “whom” is a pronoun which receives action (the object) but it might get confusing. So here is a simpler trick: “He” is the same, grammatically, as “who.” “Him” is the same, grammatically, as “whom.”
- You hit him.
- You hit whom?
- He is nice.
- Who is nice?
- She drove him.
- She drove whom?
- It was addressed to him.
- To whom should I address it?
So you can just replace who or whom with “he” or “him” and see what sounds right.