Jen’s English Tip’s – Avoiding Common Grammatical Mistakes



Common Grammatical Mistakes And How To Avoid Them

1. Its/it’s

Apostrophes should be used to indicate possession, but there is one exception to this rule, and that is the word “it”. Unsurprisingly, this exception gets lots of people confused.

The rules:“It’s” is only ever used when short for “it is”.“Its” indicates something belonging to something that isn’t masculine or feminine (like “his” and “hers”, but used when you’re not talking about a person).

If it helps, remember that inanimate objects can’t really possess something in the way a human can.

How not to do it:Its snowing outsideThe sofa looks great with it’s new cover

How to do it properly:It’s snowing outsideThe sofa looks great with its new cover

2. “Could/would/should of”

This common mistake arises because the contracted form of “could have” – “could’ve” – sounds a bit like “could of” when you say it out loud. This mistake is made frequently across all three of these words.

The rules:When people write “should of”, what they really mean is “should have”.Written down, the shortened version of “should have” is “should’ve”.“Should’ve” and “Should have” are both correct; the latter is more formal.

How not to do it:We could of gone there todayI would of done it soonerYou should of said

How to do it properly:We could’ve gone there todayI would have done it soonerYou should’ve said

3. There/their/they’re

We’ve met this one before, too; it’s another example of those pesky homophones – words that sound the same but have different meanings.

The rules:Use “there” to refer to a place that isn’t here – “over there”.We also use “there” to state something – “There are no cakes left.”“Their” indicates possession – something belonging to them.“They’re” is short for “they are”.

How not to do it:Their going to be here soonWe should contact they’re agentCan we use there boat?Their is an argument that says

How to do it properly:They’re going to be here soonWe should contact their agentCan we use their boat?There is an argument that says

4. Fewer/less

The fact that many people don’t know the difference between “fewer” and “less” is reflected in the number of supermarket checkout aisles designated for “10 items or less”. The mistake most people make is using “less” when they actually mean “fewer”, rather than the other way round.

The rules:“Fewer” refers to items you can count individually.“Less” refers to a commodity, such as sand or water, that you can’t count individually.

How not to do it:There are less cakes nowTen items or less

How to do it properly:There are fewer cakes nowTen items or fewerLess sandFewer grains of sand

5. Amount/number

These two work in the same way as “less” and “fewer”, referring respectively to commodities and individual items.

The rules:“Amount” refers to a commodity, which can’t be counted (for instance water).“Number” refers to individual things that can be counted (for example birds).

How not to do it:A greater amount of people are eating more healthily

How to do it properly:A greater number of people are eating more healthilyThe rain dumped a larger amount of water on the country than is average for the month

6. To/two/too

It’s easy to see why people get this one wrong, but there’s no reason why you should.

The rules:“To” is used in the infinitive form of a verb – “to talk”.“To” is also used to mean “towards”.“Too” means “also” or “as well”.“Two” refers to the number 2.

How not to do it:I’m to hotIt’s time two goI’m going too townHe bought to cakes

How to do it properly:I’m too hotIt’s time to goI’m going to townHe bought two cakes

7. Then/than

Confusion between “then” and “than” probably arises because the two look and sound similar.

The rules:“Than” is used in comparisons.Then” is used to indicate something following something else in time, as in step-by-step instructions, or planning a schedule (“we’ll go there then there”).

How not to do it:She was better at it then himIt was more then enough

How to do it properly:She was better at it than himIt was more than enoughWe’ll go to the baker first, then the coffee shop

8. Me/myself/I

The matter of how to refer to oneself causes all manner of conundrums, particularly when referring to another person in the same sentence. Here’s how to remember whether to use “me”, “myself” or “I”.

The rules:When referring to yourself and someone else, put their name first in the sentence.Choose “me” or “I” by removing their name and seeing which sounds right.For example, with the sentence “John and I are off to the circus”, you wouldn’t say “me is off to the circus” if it was just you; you’d say “I am off to the circus”. Therefore when talking about going with someone else, you say “John and I”.

You only use “myself” if you’ve already used “I”, making you the subject of the sentence.

How not to do it:Me and John are off to the circusMyself and John are going into townGive it to John and I to look after

How to do it properly:John and I are off to the circusJohn and I are going into townGive it to John and me to look afterI’ll deal with it myselfI thought to myself 

9. Invite/invitation

This mistake is now so common that it’s almost accepted as an alternative, but if you really want to speak English properly, you should avoid it.

The rules:“Invite” is a verb – “to invite”. It refers to asking someone if they’d like to do something or go somewhere.“Invitation” is a noun – “an invitation”. It refers to the actual message asking someone if they’d like to do something or go somewhere.

How not to do it:I haven’t responded to her invite yet.She sent me an invite.

How to do it properly:

I haven’t responded to her invitation yet.She sent me an invitation.I’m going to invite her to join us. 

10. Who/whom

Another problem arising from confusion over how to refer to people. There are lots in the English language!

The rules:“Who” refers to the subject of a sentence; “whom” refers to the object.Who” and “whom” work in the same way as “he” or “him”. You can work out which you should use by asking yourself the following: “Who did this? He did” – so “who” is correct. “Whom should I invite? Invite him” – so “whom” is correct.“That” is often used incorrectly in place of “who” or “whom”. When referring to a person, you should not use the word “that”.

How not to do it:Who shall I invite?Whom is responsible?He was the only person that wanted to come

How to do it properly:Whom shall I invite?Who is responsible?He was the only person who wanted to come 

11. Affect/effectIt’s an easy enough mistake to make given how similar these two words look and sound, but there’s a simple explanation to help you remember the difference.

The rules:Affect is a verb – “to affect” – meaning to influence or have an impact on something.Effect is the noun – “a positive effect” – referring to the result of being affected by something.There is also a verb “to effect”, meaning to bring something about – “to effect a change”. However, this is not very commonly used, so we’ve left it out of the examples below to avoid confusion.

How not to do it:He waited for the medicine to have an affectThey were directly effected by the flooding

How to do it properly:He waited for the medicine to have an effectThey were directly affected by the flooding

12. I.e. and e.g.

These two abbreviations are commonly confused, and many people use them interchangeably. However, their uses are very different.

The rules:I.e. means “that is” or “in other words”. It comes from the Latin words “id est”.E.g. means “for example”. It comes from the Latin words “exempli gratia”.Only use “i.e.” and “e.g.” when writing informally. In formal documents, such as essays, it is better to write out the meanings (“for example” or “that is”).

How not to do it:He liked many different cheeses, i.e. cheddar, camembert and brie.He objects to the changes – e.g. he won’t be accepting them.

How to do it properly:He liked many different cheeses, e.g. cheddar, camembert and brie.He objects to the changes – i.e. he won’t be accepting them.



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Posted by on Nov 2 2015. Filed under English Tips by Jen. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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