Common Grammar Mistakes: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

common grammar mistakesWe all go through grammar school when we’re youngens. We learn how to read, how to compose a proper sentence and we also learn the rules of the English language. Sometimes we forget the rules and make up our own as we go along. And while this is okay in some of life’s situations – grammar Nazis and potential employers aren’t going to be so forgiving.

Don’t lose out on a potential job because you can’t differentiate your from you’re. For you non-native speakers, listen up. These few grammar tips are going to help you build a solid foundation for your English learning experience!

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Apostrophes and Contractions

There is a lot to be said for ignored apostrophes. Two rules to remember:

  • When you are indicating possession, use an apostrophe. If it’s Brad’s car, the only way we will know it belongs to him is if you use the apostrophe before the “s”. If the word is already plural and ending with an “s”, add the apostrophe after, like this: The girls’ hair looks beautiful at prom.

  • Use an apostrophe for contractions, but make sure you understand what that means. A contraction omits a letter or two to combine two words.

Contraction examples:

  • Do not / don’t

  • We are / we’re

  • You are / you’re

  • They are / They’re

  • Have not / Haven’t

  • It is / it’s – this is a weird case

Its and It’s

Like I mentioned above, it is can be contracted to be “it’s”, but you don’t always need the apostrophe when using its. Its, sans apostrophe, is a possessive pronoun. So if you want to say that car has its own spare tire, you wouldn’t use an apostrophe because saying that car has it is own spare tire would make no sense.

When in doubt, say it out loud. If it sounds weird to say it is where you see an its then likely it’s wrong. This is really easy to miss when you are writing essays or articles on MS Word. It doesn’t always correct it so you really have to pay attention. Learn about writing essays with flawless grammar in this SAT writing prep course. Are you a teacher? Learn how to teach grammar the quick and easy way.


Homophones are those words like bear and bare, that sound the exact same when spoken but are spelled differently and most importantly – mean different things. There are a ton of these that people use incorrectly every day. The most common ones are:

  • Cereal / Serial – Cereal is something you eat in the morning. Serial means ongoing, or consecutive, like a serial killer would be someone who kills frequently.

  • Deer / Dear – Deer is an animal, dear is something you say at the beginning of a letter “Dear Diary,” or a term of endearment for someone.

  • Bare / Bear – Bare can mean the absence of clothing, furnishings, bald, plain. Bear, is an animal.

  • Fair / Fare – Fair usually means free from dishonesty or bias, he fought a fair fight. Fare, is something you pay to ride the subway.

  • Flour / Flower – Flour is the white powdery stuff you bake with. Flowers are those really pretty things that you plant in your yard or get on Valentine’s Day.

  • Whole / Hole – A whole pizza. There was a hole in the pizza. See what I did there? Whole is an adjective, hole is a noun.

  • Know / No – As easy as it is to say “no” instead of “know” in text language – don’t do it. It makes you look like you have no idea what’s going on. Know means to be aware of something, no means no.

  • Meet / Meat – You meet someone for a meat sandwich. Meet = get together, meat = food.

  • Sail / Sale – Sail is an activity you do on a boat, particularly a sailboat. You could put your sailboat up for sale. Sale indicates you are selling something, or in some cases that there is a discount.

  • See / Sea –You can see the sea but you cannot sea the see. The sea is that vast watery thing that covers like 70% of the world. See is something you do with your eyes.

  • Wear / Where – Where are you going? As in, what location are you seeking? Wear is something you do, like, you wear a coat.

  • Their / There – There is their car. There, is a point of action or a place. Their is a possessive pronoun indicating ownership for multiple people.

  • Some / Sum – Some say the Sum of All Fears was Ben Affleck’s best movie. Okay, I don’t know who says that, but sum means the total of quantifiable items (money, numbers, etc.) and some means part of.

  • Loose/Lose – Loose, is when something is not tight fitting. My pants are loose. Sara’s tooth is loose. Lose, is when you misplace something or you don’t win a race. I hope I don’t lose this race. I may lose my keys. When you say loose is rhymes with goose. Lose, rhymes more with ooze.


Alot, is not a word. Remember to always put a space between the A and the lot: a lot.

  • A lot – More of (Example: We will learn a lot at school today.)

  • Allot – to distribute or appropriate (Example: You will allot each employee 30-minutes for break.)

Than vs. Then

This is such a common grammatical error. I see it every day one Facebook, Twitter, blog posts and news articles. It makes me shudder. Don’t make me shudder. Instead, learn the difference. Once you know it’ll be like, oh my, how could I have mistaken this for so long?

There are so many uses for then like,

  • Gas prices were lower then. (Then is being used as “at that time”)

  • We saw the movie, then we drove home. (Next in order of time)

  • I thought it was over, but then there was an encore. (This is an idiom for “on the other hand”)

Than, however, is used when you are comparing two things. It often follows words like different, other, rather, and else.

  • Bobby is taller than I am.

  • Rather than skip work altogether, let’s just go in late.

  • I had no option other than that.

  • Lola is a better actress than her.


Using commas is like a fine ballet, you need balance and poise. Overusing commas is super annoying. It clutters your work and can make for an awkward read. I am the worst with this so I don’t blame you if it takes some work to stop doing this. In the same breath, commas can be crucial to the integrity of what you are saying. Make sure you pay attention or you could end up saying something like this:

Let’s eat Grandma.

Let’s eat, Grandma.

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The rules you should remember about commas are as follows:

  • Use a comma when you are separating three or more things in a sentence. He chose the yellow, red and blue crayons to color with. You’ll notice I didn’t put a comma after and to separate red and blue. This comma is known as the serial comma, or Oxford comma, and it’s not always necessary. You will mostly see this in academic work. If the sentence sounds confusing without it – then use it.

  • Use commas to bookend a parenthetical phrase. Instead of using parenthesis, you can use a comma on either end of the phrase. This phrase should be something that the sentence does not need to make sense. She had a three hour flight, which was with American Airlines, to get to Colorado. Without the parenthetical clause, this sentence would still make sense. She had a three hour flight to get to Colorado.

  • Use a comma for introductory clauses. Running towards the bus, he remembered he forgot his phone at home.

  • Before a connecting word like but, and, also, and therefore. She was late to work, but her boss did not care.

Two, To, Too

This huge. And everyone messes it up. It’s one of those things that just sticks out like a sore thumb when you use these interchangeably. They are not interchangeable.

It seems that you two are being too naive to see the truth about the government.

Two, is a number. It’s the word that we use to describe the number “2”. It shouldn’t be used any other time. Are you learning English as a second language? Here is an English for beginners course that will help familiarize you with the alphabet and numbers – in addition to vital grammar rules.

  • Two of a kind.

  • She is pregnant with two boys.

  • One, two, three, four…

To is used to express motion or direction towards anything, it’s used for expressing contact, extension, or a point of limit in time. You use it every day in your speech and in your writing.

  • Let’s go to the river.

  • He may not be able to see that far without his glasses.

So what makes it different than its contemporary too? Too, is used to express in excess of or in addition to or also. When there is too much of something you use too and not to. When someone is coming over in addition to other people coming over, it’s too, too.

  • Joan is coming over, too.

  • There is too much bad in the world.

Get it? Got it? Good.

Affect Vs. Effect

Affect and effect are quite possible the two most confusing words in the English language. Okay, not really, but they are always used wrong. Step it up a notch and remember that affect is an action. “A” for affect and “A” for action. Affect is a verb. You can affect something. Effect, on the other hand, is mostly used as a noun. You can cause an effect.

  • The state of the economy affected the unemployment rate.

  • Try to understand that cause and effect of your actions.

Fewer and Less

Fewer and less seem synonymous but really they aren’t. If you want to use fewer you need to be able to count what it is you want fewer of. If you cannot count the thing you want less of, then you use the word less.

  • I want fewer apples.

  • This would take less time if we did it this way.

Could Have, Would Have, Should Have

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda. When spoken it sounds like these phrases should be spelled should of, could of and would of, but really, if you use “of” it’s totally incorrect. You should use “have” instead. That’s why the contractions of these words look like: could’ve, would’ve and should’ve and not could’f, would’f, should’f.


You are not “literally” dying. Literally means something that is actually happening, something that is true. Unless you really are knocking on deaths door – don’t use literally, instead, use figuratively. I know in our everyday talk saying that you are “literally” something or another seems more fitting than saying “figuratively”, but for the sake of correct grammar take note of this and try to use it.  To become a better writer you need to be aware of mistakes like these.

  • Wrong: I literally just ate enough food to feed an army.

  • Right: Figuratively speaking, I ate enough food to feed an army.

  • Right: It’s literally impossible to drive a car from New York to London.


What are ellipses? You know… when someone uses a lot of… these dots but they end up doing it like………. that? Ellipses are meant to come in sets of threes. Don’t use two, don’t use four, don’t use nine to emphasize that you really don’t know what you’re talking about. Just use … and you will be good to go. If you need to end a sentence with ellipses you can use four dots….


This is not a word. Just don’t use it. The correct work is regardless.

Of course, there are always more things for you to learn about English grammar but these are the most commonly made mistakes. If you’re interested in upping the ante take some time to learn advanced grammar in this course designed for academic success.