25 of the most common grammatical errors even professional writers make

There is a general perception that professional writers have it all figured out where perfect grammar is concerned, truth is writers make mistakes and as much as they try to avoid them, it still pops up in their work. Writers need to remember that they are humans too and their passion for writing doesn’t make them perfect. We’ve put together a list of the most common grammatical errors professional writers make in their writing

  1. Apostrophes

It is confusing sometimes knowing where to use an apostrophe. The key is to remember that if you’re using an apostrophe to combine two words, the apostrophe should fall where the word would spilt. This error is common with the following words it is – it’s, We are – we’re, they are – they’re.

  1. When to use too/to/two

To: a preposition followed with a noun.

I am going to the restaurant.

These clothes belong to Sarah

Too: synonym for the word ‘also’

I love her too

I was at the mall too

  1. Overuse of Adverbs

A word or phrase that qualifies a verb or adjective usually ending in ‘ly’. If you use them sparingly that’s okay but overusing adverbs indicates weak verb choices, hence top writers use juicer verbs instead.

“Really awful” modifies the verb “bad” a better choice would be “appalling”.

  1. Cautious use of prepositional phrases

Prepositional phrases are the nouns or pronouns that follows the preposition to show location, direction or time. Excessive usage affects the wording of your writing so simplify where possible.

Wrong – The school bus came up the top of the hill

Correct – The school bus crested the hill

  1. Wrong use of words

These are words used in the wrong context; they sound the same with similar spelling and sometimes, the spell checker might not pick it up.

Sea/see

Weather/Whether

Cloth/clothe

Leave/live

  1. Split infinitives

When you split an infinitive, you insert an adverb between the two parts. It sounds correct because its’ been used for a long time and copywriters in advertising are sometimes guilty of this error. Writers should remove split infinitives from parts of the text that isn’t internal thought or dialogue.

Common split infinitives

To go boldly

To quickly go

To impatiently wait

In these verb phrases, the adverb should follow the verb. What is the target audience? How natural would the revision be with the adverb before the infinitive? Read the sentence out to know if it sounds better with the split infinitive.

  1. Subject-Verb Agreement

Singular verb should be used with singular subject and the same rules apply to plural verb. This might seem obvious but it is a common error with skilled writers to end a singular verb with the letter ‘s’

  1. Changes in tense

Your starting tense should remain consistent throughout the piece, although a change might be required to reflect changes in time but unnecessary shifts are unclear to the audience.

Wrong: when I go to bed at night, I always drank tea before sleeping.

Correct: When I go to bed at night, I always drink tea before sleeping.

  1. Spelling errors

Writers should have a spell checker on their PC, these are good tools for highlighting errors in your work. A recommended tool for professional writers is Grammarly, which offers a free plugin for Microsoft Word and some popular browsers like Mozilla Firefox. Some common words include Accommodate, access, chauffer, embarrass, address, ecstasy and many more.

  1. Dangling Modifiers

Grammatical error that occurs when an adverb, adjective or modifying phrase is used in a sentence but the modifier is unclear.

Wrong: Listening to loud noise slowly gives me a headache

Correct: when I listen to loud noise, I slowly develop a headache

  1. Contractions

Contractions join with pronouns or verbs and a verb contraction shortens a verb phrase or verb.

Wrong: ain’t

Correct: am not or is not

  1. Avoid vague statements

Quantify your sentences where possible, vague statements lack credibility and are open to misinterpretation.

Wrong: Microsoft made huge profits last year

Right: Microsoft made a profit of $250million in 2016.

  1. Comparison: using “like” instead of “as though”

The two words are not exchangeable. Like, can only be followed with a pronoun or noun. As though precedes verb clause because it creates the expectation of an event that is action based.

  1. Pronoun case

Pronoun case describes the status of the pronoun as a direct object, indirect object or subject. Writers sometimes use the subjective case where the objective should be used.

Subject: I, we, he, they, who

Object: me, us, him, them, whom

  1. Double Negatives

While most languages possess double negatives, Standard English forms do not. Unfortunately, this is a popular trend for sarcasm or emphasis.

Wrong: He don’t know nothing about the robbery

Correct: He doesn’t know anything about the robbery.

  1. Sentence Structure

Correct sentence structure confuses the most experienced writers. The proverb of knowing the rules before breaking them is invaluable here to understand that sentence structure is not rigid and it will continue to change.

  1. Sentence splices

To splice is to join so when a writer joins independent sentences with a comma instead of coordinating conjunction, that’s a sentence splice.

Incorrect: We have hundreds of clothes to arrange, it will be impossible to finish it before the exam.

Correct: We have hundreds of clothes to arrange; it will be impossible to finish it all before the exam.  

  1. Run-On Sentences

This is a type of sentence that combines comma splices, fused joins or conjunctions two or more independent linking clauses.

Wrong: Peter enjoyed the guitar Amanda gave him at his birthday however he prefers a piano.

Correct: Peter enjoyed the guitar Amanda gave him at his birthday; however, he prefers a piano.

  1. Inflated sentences

Communicate your message to readers using direct words instead of empty sentences that muddle up your message. Wordy sentences are annoying and frustrating because readers have to look for the passage instead of seeing it once they start reading your work. Streamline your sentences with nouns and strong verbs, not adverbs or trite adjectives.

Wrong: It has come to our attention that your utility bills are overdue and we ask you to pay them at your earliest convenience to avoid disconnection.

Correct: Your utility bills are overdue. Pay now to avoid disconnection.

  1. Incorrect irregular verb use

Grammar error with irregular verb forms are common in articles written by university graduates and media journalists.

Incorrect: Sanchez is alleged to have went into Peter’s room and stolen that some shirts.

Correct Sanchez is alleged to have gone into Peter’s room and stolen some shirts.

  1. Tautologies

When you express the same thing twice with different words, that’s’ tautology.

Wrong: John made a kite with his own hands for Diana

Correct: John made a kite for Diana

  1. Sentence Fragments

This is a dependent phrase or clause used by a writer as a complete sentence. The best rule is to see if the fragment sounds right in a defined text.

Wrong: Michael listened for the sound of crickets, nothing; there was none of the usual sounds of night, absolute silence.

Correct: Michael listened for the sound of crickets. Nothing. There were none of the usual sounds of night. Absolute silence.

  1. Semicolons and Commas

Some writers do not use commas in their work. This is safe for simple sentences but complex constructions require the occasional use of semicolon. The problem is the reckless insertion of comma after every couple of words.

  1. Incomplete comparisons

Wrong: My boat is bigger, cheaper and better.

Right: my boat is bigger, cheaper and better than Phil’s.

  1. Coincidence/irony

Do not make assumptions for the latter when it is the former. Irony is the expression of one’s meaning and the real meaning is the opposite of the literal meaning, usually for an emphatic effect. Coincidence is when an event happens by chance. There is a clear distinction between the two so avoid mixing it up.

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