Common Mistakes in GrammarCommon Mistakes

Judy Vorfeld 

Are you one of the many bright people who speaks well but has trouble with the mechanics of writing: following those confusing rules concerning spelling, punctuating, capitalizing, etc.? Is a relative, co-worker or editor constantly whipping out a dictionary, style guide, or grammar handbook to point out mistakes in your writing, making you want to slam their fingers in Chapter 6?  

If so, have you spent precious time striving to learn who's right? Or is that whose wright? Does it matter? If you're speaking, perhaps not. If you're writing, it may matter.  

The reasons for not writing well are varied, but that doesn't stop people from being good communicators...from creating fantastic stories and plots...from giving life and light and meaning to words.  

Let's find ways to avoid common mistakes in:  

  • Spelling 
  • Pronunciation 
  • Capitalization 
  • Punctuation  
  • Usage 

And much more!  


A and An: "an historical book" is not idiomatic in American English. Before a pronounced (breathy) h, the indefinite article should be a. A hotel; a historical. Precede a word beginning with a "breathy" h with an a. (6.60CMS14)  

Due to or Because of? Due to modifies nouns and is generally used after some form of the verb to be (is, are, was, were, etc.). Jim Wilson's success is due to talent and spunk (due to modifies success, not talent). Because of should modify verbs. Ted resigned because of poor health (because of modifies resigned). (1101GRM7)  

Its or It's?  This is one of the most common problem areas of our language, probably because possessives almost always use apostrophes. Its is an exception. Its: The possessive form of the pronoun it is never written with an apostrophe, e.g., . . . read the book. "Its title is . . ." or, "What is its value?" It's: contractions of it is and it has. It's time to go. It's been great. (AHD3)  

Nauseous or Nauseated?  Often used incorrectly, but don't get nauseating about its usage. Nauseous means sickening to observe: disgusting. Nauseated means sick to one's stomach. Pregnant women often experience nausea. When they describe the way they feel, they should say, "I feel nauseated," but if a pregnant woman says, "I feel nauseous," don't correct her grammar: give her a hug and some ginger ale! Timing is everything.  

Their, They're, or There?  Their: possessive form of the word they, e.g., Their Web site is full of typos. They're: contraction of the words "they" and "are," e.g., They're doing a great job on their Web site. There: at or in that place, e.g., "Now there is a stunning Web site. (AHD3)  

Your or you're?  This is probably the second most common problem area in our language. You're: contraction of the words "you are," e.g., "You're up for an award. Someone said you're leaving." Your is a possessive form of a personal pronoun, e.g., "I like your Web site. Tom, thanks for giving your time to this effort." Both: "Your knowledge of HTML shows that you're a dedicated designer." (AHD3)  

Let's tackle just a few of the most confusing word pairs and groups:  

Accept: receive.....Except: exclude  

Adverse: opposed.....Averse: not interested  

Affect: change, influence.....Effect: (v) to bring about (n) result, impression  

Appraise: value.....Apprise: inform, notify  

Lay: to set down, to place or put an item down.....Lie: to recline  

Principal: first in authority; main participant; amount of a debt less interest.....Principle: basic truth or assumption  

Ensure: to make sure or certain; guarantee; to protect.....Insure: to take out or issue insurance; to pay or be paid money in the case of loss.....Assure: convince, make sure of something, to give confidence; to declare or promise confidently  

Their: belonging to; possessive of "they" (another case where a possessive does not have an apostrophe).....There: at, or in that place.....they're: combination of "they are"  

To: in the direction of; toward.....Too: in addition; as well, also.....Two: more than one; less than three. 

Copyright Judy Vorfeld 2009.


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