The 20 Most Common Grammatical Mistakes And How To Avoid Them

The English Language is a difficult beast to tie down. Even those rules which we consider mandatory may actually change very quickly, especially with words moving into ever more fleeting media. However, there are a few mistakes which – for now at least – can make you look very silly…


1. Adapt vs. Adopt

‘Adapt’ and ‘adopt’ share similar spellings and similar meanings, but they are not one and the same.

To ‘adapt’ is to become or make something suitable to an environment or condition.

For Example:

“It took me a long time after college to adapt to life in the office.”

“An inability to adapt will prove an obstacle on the road to success.”

To ‘adopt’ is to take something and use it as or make it your own.

For Example:

“I adopted his policy of neutrality and stayed out of trouble.”

“We are planning to adopt a child.”

2. Lose vs. Loose

"Lose" is a verb, to come to be without something; to suffer the loss of something.

For Example:

“I do not wish to lose more weight.”

“I was about to lose my ear ring.”

“She cannot stand the thought of losing him.”

"Loose" is an adjective, free or released from attachment; not bound together; not strict.

For Example:

“My belt is very loose around my waist.”

“She likes to wear her hair loose and free.”

“That is a loose interpretation of our document.”

Lose vs. Loose

"Lose" is a verb, to come to be without something; to suffer the loss of something. "Loose" is an adjective, free or released from attachment; not bound together; not strict.

3. Will vs. Going to

Will’ and ‘going to’ are the two forms of simple future used in English. They are used more or less interchangeably, but there are certain subtle differences between them that even many experienced English speakers are not aware of. The main rule to keep in mind is that: if the decision to act was made before the time of speaking, ‘going to’ must be used; if not, ‘will’ must be used.
Will


There are two primary distinct uses for‘will’:

To express voluntary action. Voluntary action refers to the following:

  • Any action that the speaker offers to perform.
  • “I will take you up on that offer.”
  • “I will get you your breakfast in bed.”
  • Any action that the speaker declines to perform.
  • “I will not (won’t) be able to come for your party.”
  • “I will not do your work for you.”
  • Any action that the speaker requests the listener to perform.
  • Will you come home on Friday night?”
  • Will you take me to the amusement park?”

To express a promise.

“I will come back to work as soon as I make a full recovery.”

“I will call you later tonight.”

Going to

There is one primary distinction for use of ‘going to’: it is used to express plans, i.e. the intention of the speaker to do something in the future. This can take two forms:

To state such an intention:

"I am going for the match on Thursday"

"I am going to ensure that we have fun on this trip."

To ask about such an intention:

"Are you going to watch the match on Thursday?"

"Are you going to the Zoo with the others?"

Will/Going to

Both ‘will’ and ‘going to’ can be used when making predictions about the future.

“It looks like it will rain today”. = “It looks like it is going to rain today.”

“I don’t think he will do it” = “I don’t think he’s going to do it.”

Will vs. Going to

The main rule to keep in mind is that: if the decision to act was made before the time of speaking, ‘going to’ must be used; if not, ‘will’ must be used...

4. Write vs. Right

"Write" is a verb, to express in writing.

For Example:

“I want to learn how to write well.”

“Did you write this? Write a letter to Mom”
"Right" is an adjective, correct, justified, suitable, opposite of left.

For Example:

“The little boy knew right versus wrong.”

“It’s the right way to do things.”

5. Beside vs. Besides

It is easy to confuse ‘ adverb, and although ‘ besides’ is sometimes used in place of ‘beside’, they have distinct meaning.

Beside’ means ‘by or at the side of’.

For example: “He stood beside his new car proudly.”

As a preposition, ‘besides’ means ‘in addition to’ or ‘apart from’.

For example: “What are you working on besides the research project?”

As an adverb, it means ‘furthermore’.

For example: “He was not selected because he did not have a good grasp of his concepts. Besides, he did not seem very keen.”beside’ and ‘besides’, but they are not one and the same thing. ‘Beside’ is a preposition, whereas ‘besides’ works as both a preposition and an

6. Here vs. Hear

"Here" is an adverb, in this place; in this spot.

For Example:

“I am here and planning to stay.”

“I wish you were here.”
"Hear" is a verb, to be within earshot; to perceive by ear.

For Example:

“I hear you.”

“We do not want to hear the policies one more time.”

7. Can vs. May

Many English speakers are confused about the usage of the words ‘can’ and ‘may’. For example, ‘Can I drink water?’ is incorrect. ‘May I drink water?’ is the correct phrase to use in this case.

The key difference between ‘can’ and ‘may’ is that ‘can’ talks about ability and ‘may’ talks about permission.

Can

Can is used in two cases:

To talk about ability.

“I can finish my homework by 5 pm.”

Can you finish your homework tonight?”

To ask or give permission informally (normally between friends)

Can I use your pen?”

“You can use my pen?”

May

May is generally used to ask or give permission formally.

Let us take a situation between a student and a teacher.

“May I drink water?

Teacher: Yes, you may.”

Let us take a situation between two strangers.

May I borrow your pen?

Yes, you may”

Can vs. May

8. Compliment vs. Complement

Both words sound the same when pronounced, but their meanings are very different. “Compliment” means to give praise, express admiration or giving congratulations. “Complement”, on the other hand, means completing something or to make something perfect. A good way to always remember the difference is to remember that the word with the “e” means complete. In fact, the word complete is almost entirely spelled within complement.

Complement

Complement is used when what you are trying to convey that something is essentially made complete with something else. For example, if you were describing colors that look good together or a relationship involving two people who seem well matched, complement is the correct choice. Complement functions as both a noun and a verb.

  • Incorrect: “The striped throw pillows complimented the sofa colors quite nicely.” (This implies that the pillows gave praise to the sofa, which is impossible).
  • Correct: “The colors in the pillows complemented the stripes in the sofa very well.” (Complement is a verb in this sentence).

Compliment

Compliment is used when you are aiming to offer praise. For example, you might compliment someone on a new hairdo or on an outfit that is particularly flattering. In its plural form it can mean you are offering multiple expressions of praise, or it can mean best wishes. Compliment functions as both a noun and a verb.

  • Incorrect: “She paid her boss a complement about how well her hair highlights complement her complexion”. (The first complement is incorrect because “her boss” does not complete anything, which is implied by spelling the word with an “e.”
  • Correct: “She paid her boss a nice compliment on how well her new hairdo complemented her complexion.” (Compliment is a noun in this sentence).

9. Its vs. 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 outside
  • The sofa looks great with it’s new cover

How to do it properly:

  • It’s snowing outside
  • The sofa looks great with its new cover

Its vs. it’s

10. “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 today
  • I would of done it sooner
  • You should of said

How to do it properly:

  • We could’ve gone there today
  • I would have done it sooner
  • You should’ve said

11. 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 soon
  • We should contact they’re agent
  • Can we use there boat?
  • Their is an argument that says

How to do it properly:

  • They’re going to be here soon
  • We should contact their agent
  • Can we use their boat?
  • There is an argument that says

Homophones – words that sound the same but have different meanings...

12. Fewer vs. 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 now
  • Ten items or less

How to do it properly:

  • There are fewer cakes now
  • Ten items or fewer
  • Less sand
  • Fewer grains of sand

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

13. Amount vs. 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 healthily
  • The rain dumped a larger amount of water on the country than is average for the month

14. 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 hot
  • It’s time two go
  • I’m going too town
  • He bought to cakes

How to do it properly:

  • I’m too hot
  • It’s time to go
  • I’m going to town
  • He bought two cakes

15. Then vs. 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 him
  • It was more then enough

How to do it properly:

  • She was better at it than him
  • It was more than enough
  • We’ll go to the baker first, then the coffee shop

16. 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.

17. Affect vs. Effect

It’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 affect
  • They were directly effected by the flooding

How to do it properly:

  • He waited for the medicine to have an effect
  • They were directly affected by the flooding

18. Invite vs. 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.

19. 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 circus
  • Myself and John are going into town
  • Give it to John and I to look after

How to do it properly:

  • John and I are off to the circus
  • John and I are going into town
  • Give it to John and me to look after
  • I’ll deal with it myself
  • I thought to myself

20. Who vs. Whom

Another conundrum 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

Who vs. Whom vs. Whose

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The 20 Most Common Grammatical Mistakes And How To Avoid Them

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