Hello everyone, and welcome to part one of Terri’s Top Five Grammar Series. Everyone knows grammar can be tricky to learn. Many grammar mistakes can leave you looking like a fool, or worse yet, cause you to miss out on that fantastic job opportunity.
Over the next several Terri’s Top Five’s, we will break down the most common mistakes and figure out how to fix them.
Some people consider English to be one of the most difficult languages to learn and use correctly. There are endless rules and guidelines to follow, and it can be difficult to figure out where to start. Figuring out what’s right and what’s wrong can be stressful and overwhelming.
Let’s start by identifying the five of the most common grammar mistakes. Recognizing a mistake is the first step in correcting the problem.
- Homophones: Homophones are words and phrases that sound alike when spoken but have different meanings, origins, or spelling.
In the English language, more than 700 sets of homophones exist, which lead to more than 1500 words in total. If you think this sounds farfetched, just check out this list!
How to fix the problem: The safest way to avoid this common mistake is using a dictionary! Don’t be afraid to reference the dictionary if you’re even a little unsure on the spelling of a word or whether you have the right form.
- Commas: There are over ten ways to use a comma. Commas are most often used when separating a list of items of three or more and when separating parts of a sentence.
The most common mistakes people make with commas are overuse, omitting a comma, and creating comma splices or run-on sentences. The oxford comma, also known as the serial comma, is the comma before the co-ordinating conjunction in a list. There is considerable debate over whether the oxford comma should be included. In most cases, the decision is up to the writer.
How to fix the problem: The easiest way to use the comma correctly is to learn the rules of usage. Summarize the rules, write them down, and prop them on the wall if necessary.
- Pronouns: A pronoun is a word that takes the place of any noun or noun phrase in a sentence. All pronouns fall into seven categories: personal, reflexive, possessive, relative, indefinite, reciprocal, and interrogative.
More than 70 pronouns exist in the English language. Proper usage of pronouns is quite tricky because almost half of those pronouns can function as other components of speech, such as adverbs and adjectives. Check out this list to see them all!
The most common errors when using pronouns are disagreement between the pronoun and the antecedent, changes in narrative e.g. first to third-person, and unclear references.
How to fix the problem: The easiest way to avoid misuse is to learn the different types of pronouns and keep a pronoun chart handy.
- Apostrophes: Though you can use an apostrophe in several ways, there are three main purposes: to indicate possession, to show missing letters or numbers, and to form plural words.
Like the comma, the most common mistakes when using apostrophes are ill-usage, including an apostrophe when unnecessary and leaving it out when necessary.
How to fix the problem: The most simple way to prevent misuse is to reference the rules often. Create or print a chart of common possessive forms to keep possession straight.
- Miswording: I looked high and low for a word that would cover this problem and came up empty. Several terms came close, but not one nailed the exact definition.
You can find hundreds and hundreds of these words in English. Sometimes the words are mixed up, sometimes the word sounds close but is not quite right, and sometimes the word is simply wrong. We will call these, miswording.
Two kids walk into a store, and one of them tries to show off but falls on their face. The other kid comments on how awkward it was, when in reality it was just stupid. You are walking home with your sister when you trip and fall and she remarks how ironic the fall was when in reality it was just funny.
How to fix the problem: The best way to prevent misuse is to research the most common misused words and ensure you are using the term in the correct way.
Before we go any farther, let me be honest with you. Grammar is difficult. Mastering the rules will not be easy. The only plausible way you will ever get better is through hard work. Keep your dictionary handy, keep track of the mistakes you make most often and work on those first.
Remember, you are not alone. Even writing professionals and English teachers will make mistakes. Tackle a new problem every week or month and do not give up. Takes those notes, draw those pictures, and memorize those rules until your hands ache and your brain swells. Everyone learns differently. Find what works for you and run with it.
The key is staying confident. Grammar can be a baffling, but with practice, you can handle the most difficult situations.
Join me next month as we take an in-depth look at homophones. You will find out which ones are most common, and we will explore other easy ways to prevent silly mistakes.