Common Grammar Mistakes to Avoid (Part 1)
There are many barriers to successful writing, and one of the most common is maintaining proper grammar as millions of words flow across your computer. But knowing the formal grammar rules is the first step towards successful self-editing and holding yourself accountable! To that end, let's take a look at five of the most common grammar mistakes that can trip up professional content writers.
To, Too, and Two
It's a common and dangerously easy mistake to make – especially since most writing software won't pick up on it. Therefore, all content writers should scrupulously check their work to make sure they're using the correct form of to, too, and two. Remember these points:
To – Links ideas, subjects, and locations. Going to a destination, or referring to a subject, or saying hello to a friend.
Too – Expresses quantity or a degree: too much or too little.
Two – Is the written form of the numeral 2.
There, Their, and They're
This is yet another all too common mistake that can easily creep into your writing if you're not paying attention. What's more, you'll immediately lose credibility among your readers if they catch you making this mistake.
There – Generally location-specific. Going over there or we went there.
Their – Possessive. Their car or their articles.
They're – Contraction of "they are."
Its and It's
This one is a little counterintuitive, even for a professional content writer. While most words in the English language establish possession through an apostrophe – such as Mark's shoe or the dog's bowl – this rule does not hold true for "it's."
For example, imagine that you are writing about a building. To refer to the front door, you'd write "its front door."
On the other hand, the word "it's" is another contraction that combines it and is. A perfect example is "it's raining outside."
Maddeningly similar words are constantly laying traps for content writers. If there's even the slightest shadow of a doubt about a particular word's definition, spend the extra four seconds to look it up! Here are a few of the most common mistakes that we see:
Except vs. Accept
Except means to exclude something (i.e., all the fruits except bananas).
Accept refers to receiving something (i.e., she accepted the delivery).
Affect vs. Effect
"Affect" is a verb that produces a change in something. (i.e., the wind affected the kite or the clouds affect his mood.)
"Effect" is a noun that is the result of an action or change. (i.e., the wind's effect on the kite was terrible or his bad mood was the effect of the clouds)
This is a tough one that's plagued me since college lab reports. Take a look at Grammarly's affect vs. effect guide for more complete information.
Breath vs. Breathe
Breath is a noun referring to the entire process of taking in and expelling air – Example: He took a deep breath before starting his run.
Breathe is a verb for the free passage of air – Example: He could hardly breathe after his run, or the jacket could breathe nicely on warm days.
Are vs. Is
When it comes to the words "are" and "is," the rule itself is easy to remember, but the implementation can occasionally get murky. The rule is:
If the sentence noun is plural (more than one), then you use "are." If it is singular (only one), you use "is."
Easy to remember, right? If you're talking about an elephant, for example, you'd say, "the elephant is big." But if you're referring to many elephants, you'd say, "the elephants are big." But what about a group of elephants? The word "group" is singular, but "elephants" is plural – so what to do?
Well, it depends. The word "group" is a collective noun, meaning it refers to many people or subjects while remaining singular. The words "team" and "crowd" also fall into this category. If you intend to focus on the group as a whole, then the singular use of "is" works well. For example, the sentence, "the group of elephants is running on the road," allows us to focus on the entire group, not individual elephants.
Conversely, you may want to focus on individuals within a group. For example, "a bunch of writers are working in the library" is perfectly acceptable to draw attention to "writers" instead of "a bunch."
So, use your best judgment. As professional content writers, our goal is for our work to be smooth and easy to read, and you'll undoubtedly run into situations where your work needs a little tweak. Think about your purpose in writing the sentence, and adjust as needed to make your point clear and easy to follow.
I hope you've found these tips and standards helpful! As with any skill, your best avenue to perfecting your work is to do it. Therefore, never let grammar worries hold you back from writing! When in doubt, consult online grammar guides, enlist a friend to help proofread your work, or invest in grammar checking software – such as Grammarly.
Happy writing, and check back soon for Part 2 of Common Grammar Mistakes to Avoid in Professional Content Writing.