5 Common Grammar Mistakes and How to Fix Them
“English grammar is confusing.”
I cannot count the amount of times I’ve heard the above phrase. As an English tutor, I helped many young students understand the confusing maze that is our language. From proper preposition use, to comma splices and run-ons sentences, to subject-verb agreements, I’ve covered it all.
But why is the English language so confusing? Why do we have so many broken rules and conflicting guidelines?
Well, it all starts with the formation of modern English. I won’t go off on a lengthy tangent into the history of the English language, but I will tell you this: over the years, we’ve acquired terms from across the globe and incorporated them into our language. English is a fascinating conglobulation of different linguistic influences, including Latin, French, Arabic, and many other languages!
And it’s confusing as hell, especially for new speakers.
So, here’s 5 common grammar mistakes you’re making and how to fix them.
1) Comma Splice Errors: What is a Comma Splice?
This is a common grammar mistake that I see all the time. Seriously, if I counted the amount of times I received an email, read a published post, or even viewed a public advertisement with this error, my number would stand in the thousands. I encounter comma splices on a daily basis, even from accredited writers.
It’s a tad bit scary.
So, what is a comma splice exactly, and how can you recognize one (or several)?
First, you must understand what an independent clause is. If you’v
e taken any primary or secondary education in North America, you should recognize this term. If not, I’ll make it simple: an independent clause is a full sentence; it has a subject, a verb, and expresses a complete thought.
Here’s an example: I walked to the store.
In the above sentence, ‘I’ is the subject and ‘walked’ is the verb. Because the example contains the necessary elements of a full sentence, it’s an independent clause.
And how do we end a complete sentence??? If you answered ‘with a period,’ then you’re correct.
So, a comma splice occurs when you connect two independent clauses (or, in other words, two full sentences) with a comma.
Here’s an example of a comma splice: I went to the store, I bought milk
In the above sentence, you’ll notice that a comma separates two complete sentences when it should have either a period (.), a semicolon (;), or a conjunction (and). You see, in the above example, a stronger break is needed than a simple comma.
When this error occurs, it can show seasoned writers that you’re inexperienced.
To remedy this mistake, always be aware when you’re writing a full sentence and how you’re connecting your independent clauses.
Truthfully, in the past, I have stopped reading posts or books that contain several instances of this error. Remember, if you’re publishing an article online or even creating a product description, you should understand the basic grammatical structure of the English language.
So, nip this common error in the butt before you hit publish. Your audience and readers will thank you!
2) Run On Sentences: How to Spot and Fix them
Similar to comma splices, I see run-ons All. The. Time. So, if you struggle with this concept, trust me when I say you’re not alone.
Run-on sentences occur when two independent clauses, linked by a conjunction, lack a comma. Let’s look at an example:
Incorrect: I went to the store and I tried buy milk but I realized I had forgotten my wallet.
The above sentence contains two glaring errors. Can you spot them??? If so, find where the necessary punctuation is required.
Below, I’ve displayed how the sentence should read:
Correct: I went to the store, and I tried to buy milk, but I realized I had forgotten my wallet.
As you can see, I inserted a comma in two important regions. First, I placed one in between my initial two independent clauses and first conjunction. Second, I placed one between ‘milk’, and ‘but’.
Run-on sentences are easy to spot when you know what to look for. So, similar to comma splices, always be aware when you’re writing a full sentence. Next, always connect your conjunctions and independent clauses properly. There’s nothing worse than reading a sentence with no pauses!
By fixing this common writing error, you can dramatically improve your grammar.
3) English Contractions: Don’t Make These Common Errors
Repeat after me:
Your – possessive
You’re – you are
Their – possessive
There – direction/placement
They’re – they are
Its – possessive
It’s – it is
If you’re writing for any online medium, then it’s essential you understand English contractions. Seriously, using the improper contraction looks sloppy. That’s precisely why editing is SO IMPORTANT.
In the past, I’ve caught myself using the wrong contraction and promptly changed it before hitting publish.
The next time you finish a post or social media post, please read through your work and look for this common writing error. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve read articles, Instagram captions, and even poorly edited books that contained improper contractions.
4) Passive Voice: What is Passive Voice and How Do I Avoid It?
In college, I had a professor that absolutely despised passive voice. In turn, once my receptors were trained to catch instances of passive voice, that irritant soon passed on to me. Now, on a daily basis, I see this frequent error in bestselling novels, critically-acclaimed articles, and works by some of the most famous writers across the globe.
But, despite this alarming trend, passive voice is the bane to all self-proclaimed writers. It’s the Voldemort to our Harry, the Night King to our Jon Snow, the Smaug to our Bilbo Baggins.
When other writers use passive voice, I can immediately sense their inexperience or their inattentiveness to detail.
Let’s look at a few examples:
I was dragged into the alley
The entire room was painted by Ernest
The entire city was destroyed by the fire
Can you spot what’s wrong in the above sentences? Do they sound like strong phrases? Or do they sound weak and possibly composed by an inexperienced writer?
I couldn’t agree more.
Now, let’s see the sentences with active voice:
My attacker dragged me into the alley
Ernest painted the entire room
The fire destroyed the entire city
Passive voice occurs when the subject of the sentence follows the weak (typically ‘to be’) verb. To correct this common writing mistake, place your subject before the verb, and then remove the weak verb. This trick will polish your writing and turn your sentences into strong phrases. Also, it will eliminate any unnecessary wordiness (another bane of writers!)
5) Subject-Verb Disagreement
This grammatical concept evaded me for quite some time. I recall marked receiving papers back that consistently had an ‘SV’ carved in glaring red ink. Thankfully, after making the error several times, I did a bit of research and discovered the rule behind subject-verb agreements.
In the grand scheme of writing, your audience will likely overlook this mistake. Firstly, it’s not blatantly obvious. Many times readers will simply skim over the error and remain blissfully unaware. However, your audience may consist of seasoned writers who can spot subject-verb mistakes.
Here’s some examples of improper subject-verb agreements:
The list of groceries are on the fridge.
My brother or sister are coming to my rehearsal.
Return to the first sentence. That improper subject-verb agreement is VERY common, mostly because readers often overlook it. Perhaps, even now, you don’t see anything wrong with the first example. If so, I’ll show you the grammatically correct way to phrase the sentence:
The list of groceries is on the fridge.
To understand subject-verb agreements, you must first isolate your subject. In the above sentence, ‘list’ is the subject; it’s the noun receiving the action.
You’ll notice that ‘list’ is not plural. Therefore, it’s verb must correspond to its singular expression. In order to catch these errors, you MUST pay close attention to your writing. Trust me when I say this mistake is easy to overlook, especially when you’re rushing through the editing phase.
The second example is a bit easier to catch. Let’s look at the grammatically correct format:
My brother or sister is coming to my rehearsal
You’ll notice that the corrected sentence now has a singular subject matched with a singular verb. When correcting these mistakes, always note when you’re using a singular or plural subject, and ensure your verb matches!
Fixing this mistake will require a bit of practice, but, once you catch on, it’ll be smooth sailing.
Not too Bad, Right?
Writing is tricky business, so don’t feel bad if you’re still making mistakes. After all, we’re only human!
Hopefully, this quick guide will make your writing journey a bit easier. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me, and I’ll do my best to clear any confusion.
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