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Be Wary of Grammar Mistakes: Most Ubiquitous Ones

In: How to July 3rd, 2017

Grammar is not the thing to be in dread of only because once in a while you appear to make some mistakes. On the contrary, it is a set of writing regulations aimed at making communication unequivocal and intelligible. Grammar skills are the first marker of education. Numerous grammatical errors spoil the content of any text whatever interesting it is. So as to make a proper impression and let the audience enjoy what you are about to say, it is indispensable to heed both facets of grammar art: syntax and morphology.

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But at this very moment, we are going to speak of the most popular mistakes and unveil the ways of their bypassing.

Most ubiquitous grammatical mistakes and how to avoid them

1. There vs. Their vs. They’re

Every other beginner in English learning cannot but make this subtle error. What intricacy does it hide? The problem lies in the phenomenon of homonymy, similar pronunciation of some words with different meanings. It is necessary to know the meaning of each one to be able not to give in this error in practice. “There” indicates some place; “their” is a possessive pronoun referring to people (a group of people or a person of unspecified gender) or things mentioned before; “they’re” is an abbreviated form of “they are” (subject and predicate). Let’s look into examples to get a better idea:

  • They’re outraged that their food order has been thrown down over there.

2. Affect vs. Effect

Here is one more crafty example of homonymy existence in the English language. Once you have learned by heart the divergence between these two words, you will never make this mistake again. “Affect” is always employed as a verb, which means “to influence something”:

  • The wage increase will affect the standard of living.

Meanwhile, “effect” is mostly used as a noun which means “a result or a change itself” and is usually followed by the preposition on:

  • A deep and long night sleep will have a good effect on your health.

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3. Who or That?

At the first glance, one can think they are totally interchangeable, but this is a huge delusion. Grammar rules in speaking are not so strict, but we are talking of writing ones in which a tiny mistake can be equal to a severe violation. So as not to become a grammar criminal, let’s remember once and forever that “who” is obligatory to be used when talking about a person or people while “that” features the sentences describing things and objects:

  • That night it was my brother who woke the entire family with a dreadful scream.
  • Don’t you find the red dress that is sketched on the fifth page delectable?

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4. No more split infinitives

Infinitives become split when some words, most frequently an adverb, is put in between the part to and the verb itself, for example:

Correct: If you want to grip the idea of this text, you are to read diligently.

Incorrect: If you want to grip the idea of this text, you are to diligently read.

Today, you can encounter sentences with split infinitives, and this is not considered an unforgivable mistake, but if you want to please your readers, it is better to refrain from doing it.

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5. Dangling Modifiers

A dangling modifier is a phrase that does not refer to the noun but precedes it, thus changing the sense of the sentence in a wrong way, for example:

Incorrect: After checking the text per mistakes, the work was handed over the professor.

The English language requires that both a modifier and the subject refers to the same doer. In the example above the subject is represented by “the work”, and the action of “checking” is to be done by the subject, but it is literally impossible. The work can be checked only by some person but not by the work itself. Hence, it is necessary to rephrase so that the meaning of the sentence be clear.

Correct: After checking the text per mistakes, I handed the work over the professor.

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6. Me or I?

You can see the examples of mixing up these pronouns all around. It is much more complicated to feel what is right when you use mostly compound sentences to express your ideas. Nevertheless, you can easily put a stop to this misuse. To make sure you are choosing the right pronoun, make it clear what you refer to - whether a subject or an object? If you do with the subject, then the proper variant is “I” while if it is the object, then you have to use “me”, for instance:

Correct: He spent an awesome holiday with John and me.

Incorrect: He spent an awesome holiday with John and I.

7. Passive Voice

English speakers are more willing to use Passive voice when describing some events or situations. But despite this preference, grammar mistakes are widespread enough. Passive voice takes place when the object is placed at the beginning of the sentence and takes the role of the subject, for example:

Active voice: I bought five kilograms of apples

Passive voice: Five kilograms of apples were bought by me.

As you can see, Passive voice implies that an object undergoes some influence, which at the linguistic level is represented by means of the grammar structure to be + past participle put in a required tense.

8. Between vs. Among

In your opinion, is there any difference between these two words? Well, it should be, otherwise, there would be no need to pay special attention to these prepositions. “Between” is employed when the choice is to be made between two different things while “among” denotes that you are speaking of a group that usually includes two or more, for example:

  • The butterflies were hovering among the flowers.
  • I do not know what dress to take between yellow and red ones since I like both of them.

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9. Less vs. Fewer

Though these words have some characteristic in common, they can never be interchangeable. Why? The answer is simple. “Fewer” is acceptable solely when we are talking of countable nouns, such as tables, computers or T-shirts. “Less” is to be chosen when the thing being described is uncountable or abstract, that is not subject to counting, such as money, time or music:

  • You should pay less attention to these issues and focus on your studies.
  • I have always been loved more by my parents; my sisters had even fewer dolls and dresses than I did.

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10. Farther vs. Further

So subtle are the characteristics between these two adverbs, but it exists, so we cannot but take it into account. “Farther” is mainly connected to physical distance (a derivative of the word “far”) when “further” denotes some figurative or abstract distance.

  • My sister ran farther than me and I lost sight of her.
  • I had to pose some further questions but she paid no attention to me any longer.

Nonetheless, this rule is not stringent, and you can find plenty of instances when these two words can substitute each other. Moreover, the British people make no difference between them. That’s why a British native speaker is likely to employ “further” in all contexts, and “farther” is seldom to encounter.

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11. Lose vs. Loose

These words are so tricky because of their similar spelling, but this is not about their meaning. First, they are different parts of speech: “lose” is a verb, which denotes “to fail to keep or maintain (something valuable); to fail to win”; and “loose” is an adjective, which denotes an object that is “not restrained, unbound and free”. Here are examples for better understanding:

  • I fear I will lose this game regardless of my vigor to win.
  • You can purchase vegetables packaged, but they are not so expensive loose.

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12. Assure & Insure & Ensure

Certainly, all three words are verbs with a similar pronunciation. Maybe, would it be better to leave just one and make our writing easier? For everything there is a reason, so let’s look into the meaning of these ones. “Assure” means “to make a person (or people) confident in something”. “Insure” serves to denote “an act of making something safe or protected”. “Ensure” implies that “something is proved to be certain (in particular, some future event or condition)”. Check out these examples:

  • He assured me that everything is alright and they will not let us down.
  • He trusts nobody and uses an alarm clock to ensure that he wakes up on time.
  • She is not insured of kidnapping.

13. Continuous vs. Continual

There would be silly to create two words with the same meaning, wouldn’t be? “Continuous” implies that something is happening with no interruption. “Continual”, in turn, denotes that something is happening repeatedly, that is over and over again but may stop for some moment. Let’s look into examples to see the difference:

  • The continual attacks of coughing proved his health to be aggravating fast.
  • A continuous rain sheeted down for 4 days, and we could not go out.

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14. Literally

This word has become the first one to be distorted in both speaking and writing. In fact, it is used to describe something that is true, without exaggerations, but now and then you can notice many instances of using this word in a wrong way when “literally” is employed in the meaning of “metaphorically”, for instance:

Incorrect: When I run into him in a local shop, I was literally dead. I believed he had left the town at least half a year ago.

If the speaker had been truly dead, he would not be saying this in the first place. Here is a proper usage of “literally”:

Correct: I can do nothing for you; I have literally none penny in my pocket.

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15. Lay vs. Lie

Here, we do not take into account the meaning of “lie” as “to be insincere and give a false statement” but focus particularly on a setting meaning of lay/lie. The verb “lay” is a regular one, which means “to put something in a recumbent position” and must always be followed by a direct object:

  • Shall I lay the book on that stand over there?

The verb “lie” means “to put oneself into a flat position”. It is an irregular one and has special forms in Past Simple Tense you need to remember. Moreover, “lie” is followed by no direct object, for example:

  • When she is upset she is always lying on that sofa from dusk till down.

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16. Principle vs. Principal

Here is one more pair to the homonym group. Since these two words sound very similar, they can muddle you up in a blink of an eye. So how not to get trapped? First of all, pay attention to the ending of a word. If it has “le”, then you do with a noun, which implies “a basic rule upon which something rests”:

  • He stated the fundamental principles of a science that later was termed as ‘cybernetics’.

But if the ending is “al”, it is likely to be an adjective, which means “the first or of the highest importance”:

  • Taken into account all said before, we can say that our principal objective is to meet customers’ demands and expectations.

Take note that you can also encounter “principal” as a noun denoting “the head of some educational institution, such as a school or college etc.”:

  • Having been reprimanded, she was in dread of the principal and avoided encountering him.

Do not forget that a noun always requires an article. You can read facts about the indefinite article to find out the particular cases of using it.

17. Title Capitalization

This aspect of grammar is critical and worthy of studying thoroughly since it allows highlighting titles and headlines properly. In particular, title capitalization has a great importance in academic writing, where there is a unique set of capitalization rules for each academic style. In general, the following words are subject to capitalization:

  • The first and last word of all titles;
  • Nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs;

The words listed below are never capitalized:

  • Articles;
  • Prepositions;
  • Conjunctions.

18. Comma Splice

This mistake can be fairly termed “the superior one” among all that are made. The comma is usually regarded as something negligible, particularly in compound sentences. As a result, there are myriad texts that can boast of comma splices. So what does the phrase “comma splice” signify? This is a linguistic phenomenon when two independent clauses are joint by means of a comma with no conjunction. Some specialists also call it ‘a run-on sentence’, but generally, it is taken for a grammatical error, for example:

Incorrect: My family frequently goes out of town on weekdays, we make barbecue and swim in the lake.

 There are several ways out to avoid comma splices:

1) You can split the sentence into two separate ones.

Correct: My family often goes out of town on weekdays. We make barbecue and swim in the lake.

2) You can add both a coordinating conjunction and a comma.

Correct: My family often goes out of town on weekdays, and we make barbecue and swim in the lake.

3) You can add both a subordinating conjunction and a comma.

Correct: When my family often goes out of town on weekdays, we make barbecue and swim in the lake.

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19. Semicolon

Semicolon serves to emphasize a break that more intense than a comma but not final to put a full stop. It is usually placed between two main clauses which are bound in meaning to be split into single sentences, and when a coordinating conjunction is omitted, for example:

  • I was desperate and felt no hope; my parents had already found out the truth.

Learn more about relative clauses to be sure you put commas in a proper place.

The semicolon is also needed when there is a list of things already containing commas, for example:

  • There are two types of people: introverts, who prefer solicitude and are not eager to interfere with others; and extroverts, who feel joyful and cheerful talking to people.

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20. Colon misuse

A colon is used when there is need to specify or explain the information introduced before; hence, it can be replaced with the words “that is” or “as follows”. It can never substitute a semicolon. Though they are popular punctuation marks but with different functions. A colon is indispensable to be placed when a series of things are listed:

Correct: I have to but the following fruits to cook a pie: apples, oranges, and pears.

But if a colon follows a verb or preposition that usually needs no punctuation, it is taken for a mistake, check out:

Incorrect: I have to buy: apples, oranges, and pears to cook a pie.

A colon can be put to separate two independent clauses where the second one serves sort of an extension, explanation to the first one:

Correct: Remember what I told you: think properly before opening your mouth.

If you are aware of all the aforementioned common mistakes, you must be a flawless writer. If some of them are weak places of yours, stay cool and develop your grammar abilities. It does not take one week or even one month to advance on English writing, but regular and diligent work will lead you to brilliant success. By the way, do not forget that our top rated college essay editors are always at hand for you!

Certainly, sometimes you may think that grammar is not the thing to waste time, and there are much more worthy affairs to take up. These are just thoughts coming into your mind either because of laziness or scarce realization of why grammar is essential regardless of your profession. Grammar knowledge is indispensable to become a good leader or a convincing speaker. It will help you to get a desired job or proceed on your career ladder. In our modern world, where English is regarded as the first international language, strong grammar skills are essential no matter what professional sphere you deal with. Moreover, being proficient in mother tongue makes learning of other foreign languages more facile. We are happy to assist you on your path of development, visit the official site of our company to get a detail image of who we are and why we deserve your trust.

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