6 Embarrassing Grammar Mistakes You Simply Don’t Want to Make

6 Embarrassing Grammar Mistakes You Simply Don’t Want to Make

Nothing stops a reader in his tracks as quickly as a poorly worded headline, sentence or paragraph. Think about it: if the title or first few lines of a post are awkward or incorrect, do you continue reading or move on to another option?

Quality writing demonstrates that you take your work seriously and want to be perceived as credible and professional. Even the most valuable content will be dismissed if it’s riddled with errors.

Brush up on these six common grammar mistakes so you can avoid them and keep your readers’ attention where it belongs: on the information you have to share.

1. Too many pronouns

Including an overabundance of pronouns in a single sentence may confuse your readers: Who is doing the action? Who said that? For clarity, begin a paragraph or a sentence with the name of the character you are writing about, then use pronouns to refer back to that person.

Example: Here’s a sentence that uses too many pronouns, making the meaning unclear: “He went there to do that, but she didn’t know where he was.”

2. Misused apostrophes

Generally, an apostrophe is used to indicate possession — not plural — and to mark missing letters in contractions (for example: you are = you’re). Many writers use apostrophes incorrectly when denoting plurals. Take some time to get familiar with the correct use of apostrophes so you don’t fall into this trap.

Example: A sign at the office should read, “Only managers should use copiers,” not “Only manager’s should use copiers.”

3. Comma confusion

Writers often misuse commas. They’re meant to let the reader know to take a pause before moving on. Some writers use too many commas, and some don’t use enough, so do your best to be consistent with your usage.

As you’re writing, scan your sentences to see if you have two sentences strung together with a comma. Can the sentences stand alone? If so, split them up or use a semi-colon.

Example: This situation is known as a comma splice: “I went to bed late last night, I couldn’t stop watching a movie on TV.” This could be better said in any of the following ways:

  • “I went to bed late last night. I couldn’t stop watching a movie on TV.”

  • “I went to bed late last night; I couldn’t stop watching a movie on TV.”

  • “I went to bed late last night because I couldn’t stop watching a movie on TV.”

As you read books and well-edited blogs, take note of comma use. You can learn a lot from reading professional work.

4. Incorrect capitalization

Many writers take it upon themselves to capitalize anything they want, and other writers may not capitalize anything at all. This rule is one of the more flexible ones on this list, since capitalization is often used for emphasis. However, according to grammar rules, only capitalize proper nouns such as the name of a person, place or business.

Example: A business writer creating a sales page might want to write “The Writing Handbook Will Launch on Saturday,” but this is not grammatically correct. Instead, they he should write, “The Writing Handbook will launch on Saturday.”

5. Fragments

A fragment is an incomplete sentence, and many writers are unaware they include these sentence fragments in their writing. If you’re writing informally on a personal blog, you may consciously choose to use fragments. However, in more formal writing or on assignment, make sure to replace them with full sentences.

Example: “Or take it home.” This is not a complete sentence and should be rewritten as, “Keep it here or take it home.”

6. Wordiness

Have you ever written an article, then checked the word count and found you’ve fallen short? Perhaps you have to add 200 words in order to meet your goal, so you throw in some fluff.

Wordiness means including extra words or phrases simply for the sake of word count — or that you’re just long-winded. While not strictly a grammar infraction, wordiness affects the structure and composition of your writing, taking away from its quality. Do your best to keep your writing succinct for clear communication.

Example: “Due to the fact that access to internet resources are actually at the present time very easy to access in many places, the vast majority of users seek to have those kinds of devices that are most easy to carry around with them wherever they go.” (46 words)

Here’s how Professor G. Kim Blank suggests making this sentence more concise: “Because the Internet is available most places, users often prefer portable devices.” (12 words)

What grammar mistakes do you see your fellow writers making?

Photo by Jason Rosenberg on Flickr under Creative Commons

Filed Under: Craft
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28 comments

  • Really good tips to remember to check for in writing. My pet issue when typing is writing ‘fist’ instead of ‘first’. I always check my posts lots to try and catch it before I publish it.

  • sanjitha says:

    According to me the last sentence must read as ” because the internet is available at most places ——” . Correct me if wrong. Otherwise good tips

    • Thanks for your comment, Sanjitha. It’s a tricky one, but you don’t actually need the “at” in this sentence.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the tips!

      Heather
      TWL Assistant Editor

      • Louis Janeira says:

        I was surprised about your comment about “at” not being important. I initially assumed it was a typo/omission. It sounds so much more natural to me to read the “at” in there than without it.

        Will you say more about that, please? Or provide a link where I can learn more about it?

        Thank you!

        • Victoria says:

          In my opinion, “in” is the correct word for the final sentence. It does not sound correct if replaced with “at.”

          • Kimberly says:

            As one whose doctoral advisor was known for retuning papers covered in “blood red” corrections, I definitely believe “in” is the correct choice for the final sentence.

            I like Bruce’s suggestion below better; however, personally I prefer “because” rather than “since” in this instance.

        • Hi Louis, here’s the source for this quote, from Professor G. Kim Blank: http://web.uvic.ca/~gkblank/wordiness.html

          Personally, I quite like Bruce’s suggestion below: “Since the Internet is ubiquitous, users prefer mobile devices.”

  • terri says:

    I was taught NEVER to start a sentence with a preposition.(Because the internet is available . . .)

  • Hi Allison, thanks for the clear advice. I have a grammar question that might fall outside the scope of this comment chain–Is passive construction always considered ‘poor’ writing? Or are there some situations where it is acceptable or even preferred? Feel free to send me a link if the explanation doesn’t fit here!

    • Hi Danny,

      Great question. Grammar Girl (Mignon Fogarty) makes a great point about passive voice:

      “Passive voice is not bad grammar. It’s not even necessarily bad style. In fact, it’s often good style. Overusing it can weaken your writing, but that’s true of just about any writing device you can think of. Knowing what is and is not passive voice, you can make better decisions about how you want to use it.”

      (http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/passive-voice#sthash.X8r8eXFQ.dpuf)

      Allie

      • Randi Yatsko says:

        I’m glad someone else stated that passive voice is not always wrong. Typically it tends to be more stylistic in nature. However, whether or not passive voice should be used is inevitably always going to be answered only after asking what type of writing will be completed. For instance, passive voice-as a general rule of thumb-should not be used in legal writing (pleadings, trial briefs, appellate briefs, contracts, etc.). But again, a minority would still argue for it in the name of style. Personally, PV should be avoided in certain writing genres; nevertheless, it almost always finds its way into everyone’s work at some point.

  • Bruce Java says:

    Since the Internet is ubiquitous, users prefer mobile devices. (9 words).

    The word “prefer” makes the the word “often” unnecessary.
    Another option would be to replace the word “users” with the word “most”, letting the word “users” be assumed.

  • Deborah Adams says:

    Um, also embarrassing when a self-identified grammarian uses a plural pronoun to refer back to a singular subject as you did in #4, where “a business writer” is referred to as “they” in the next sentence.

  • It drives me crazy when writers use ‘allows’ instead of ‘lets’. Using the word ‘allows’ implies permission, not capability. For example, Buying ABC software allows the buyer to … Shouldn’t it be ‘lets’?

    • Dave says:

      I think that there is a ‘power’ or ‘gratuity’ difference between the two words. Using the word ‘allows’ means that the giver has the right not to allow it. Where as the word ‘lets’ merely infers that the recipient will get it.

      That’s my take on it.

  • Interesting post, although whenever I see a semicolon, I want to run and scream. Generally if I’m editing something and I see one, it’s gone. More than likely I just used commas wrong in all of this, but I am okay with that. 🙂

  • Brad says:

    Impressive! A young person that actually cares about grammar. Some of the problem lies in the devices we use such as cell phones that force you to change keyboard views to use punctuation.

  • Stevie says:

    “They” is a perfectly acceptable 3rd person singular pronoun. Historically and in usage. No need to cross it out and put “he”.

  • The comma after “list” is not required. You can find it under #4 (Incorrect capitalization).

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