14 Common Grammatical Mistakes in English – And How to Avoid Them

13 February, 2014

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If you’re currently in the process of learning English, and you’re struggling to get to grips with our grammar, don’t take it to heart.

A huge number of native English speakers make frequent English slip-ups that bring on the wrath of the UK’s army of grammar pedants, and it’s mainly because they weren’t taught properly at school. But for you, help is at hand. So that you can learn the rules from the word go, we’ve put together this guide to some of the most common mistakes people make when writing in English. Learn them all, and you’ll get your knowledge of English off to a better start than most Brits! Even if you’re a native speaker, you may find some useful advice here to make your use of English the best it can be.

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1. Misplaced apostrophes

Apostrophes aren’t difficult to use once you know how, but putting them in the wrong place is one of the most common grammar mistakes in the English language. Many people use an apostrophe to form the plural of a word, particularly if the word in question ends in a vowel, which might make the word look strange with an S added to make it plural.

The rules:

  • Apostrophes indicate possession – something belonging to something or someone else.
  • To indicate something belonging to one person, the apostrophe goes before the ‘s’. For instance, “The girl’s horse.”
  • To indicate something belonging to more than one person, put the apostrophe after the ‘s’. For example, “The girls’ horse.”
  • Apostrophes are also used to indicate a contracted word. For example, “don’t” uses an apostrophe to indicate that the word is missing the “o” from “do not”.
  • Apostrophes are never used to make a word plural, even when a word is in number form, as in a date.

How not to do it:

  • The horse’s are in the field
  • Pen’s for sale
  • In the 1980’s
  • Janes horse is over there
  • The girls dresses are ready for them to collect

How to do it properly:

  • The horses are in the field
  • Pens for sale
  • In the 1980s
  • We didn’t want to do it
  • Jane’s horse is over there
  • The girls’ dresses are ready for them to collect

2. Your/you’re

We covered this one before in our post on homophones, but it’s such a widespread problem that there’s no harm in covering it again.

The rules:

  • “Your” indicates possession – something belonging to you.
  • “You’re” is short for “you are”.

How not to do it:

  • Your beautiful
  • Do you know when your coming over?
  • Can I have one of you’re biscuits?

How to do it properly:

  • You’re beautiful
  • Do you know when you’re coming over?
  • Can I have one of your biscuits?

3. Its/it’s

We said earlier that 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

4. “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

5. 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

6. 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 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

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

8. To/two/too

It’s time to revisit another common grammar mistake that we also covered in our homophones post, as no article on grammar gripes would be complete without it. 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

9. 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 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

10. 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 

11. 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. 

12. Who/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 

13. Affect/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

14. 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.

We hope you’ve found this a useful reference guide as you continue your journey to become fluent in English. If you’d like to learn even more about the ins and outs of English grammar, why not enrol on one of our English as a Foreign Language (EFL) courses this summer?






 

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46 Responses to “14 Common Grammatical Mistakes in English – And How to Avoid Them”

  1. February 09, 2015 at 7:54 pm, Solangelo said:

    *gasp* I don’t see any full stops in the examples!

    Reply

    • March 02, 2015 at 5:50 pm, Chris said:

      > It is my impression that such as bullet points and chat entries doesn’t really require full stops.
      Grammar is here to make our written languages better, not strict! 🙂

      Reply

      • June 14, 2016 at 8:26 am, shweta said:

        > It is my impression that such as bullet points and chat entries doesn’t really require full stops.
        Grammar is here to make our written languages better, not strict!
        Actually, whenever you’re penning down full sentences followed by proper punctuation; then the use of a full-stop at the end would cause no harm. Despite all odds, a full-stop at the end of a bullet will add to its overall clarity.
        please tell me if I am wrong

        Reply

  2. February 12, 2015 at 5:29 pm, khursheed Ahmad Wagay said:

    Quite helpful. These are common errors and the explanations and quite simple and clear.

    Reply

    • November 07, 2015 at 3:36 pm, Dave said:

      Have the rules changed regarding verb conjugation with singular nouns that represent more than one item, being or person?

      I was taught that the words “team” “flock”
      “group” “board” “corp” etc are singular, and that the verb must always agree with that state. I hear so often (primarily by British speakers – the group which accuses Americans of slaughtering the language) sentences like “The team are on the field”.

      Even in the case of a phrase like “the team of players…”, I was taught that the prep phrase used must be ignored and “is” must still be used.

      Isn’t one of the purposes of conjugating verbs to indicate singular or plural subjects? Why would “The team are on the field” not call for a different form of the present continuous verb than “The teams are on the field”?

      Reply

      • December 01, 2015 at 2:48 am, Sanjeeth Rodrigues said:

        > Dave, there are words like team, hair and the like that we have learnt are collective nouns and hence take the form of singular verbs such as is, has and so on. But the rule states that if your using a collective noun with special emphasis on the constituents of that noun then it’s taking the plural form and hence no longer is a collective noun in that context. E.g. For the first instance is ‘Can you please brush my hair?’ But if your emphasising on each hair then ‘I lost at least three hairs'(though you can say strands of hair). Likewise when you’re considering a team to be one unit you can say ‘The team needs just one point to win’. But if your emphasising on each player then ‘The team are ready to do whatever it takes to score that one point’. Yes, even I realised it’s correct lately.

        Here, you can look it up on this link. http://www.chompchomp.com/terms/collectivenoun.htm
        Regards

        Reply

  3. February 12, 2015 at 6:37 pm, REJIMON JOSEPH said:

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

    In the sentence above, the word “that” has been wrongly used instead of the word “than”.

    Reply

    • February 13, 2015 at 9:15 am, ORA Admin said:

      Thanks for pointing that out – we’ve corrected it.

      Best wishes,

      The ORA Team.

      Reply

  4. April 04, 2015 at 9:10 am, Bishwajit Roy said:

    Thanks a lot for giving important things.

    Reply

  5. April 10, 2015 at 3:29 am, khairul hasan said:

    It is very simple and easy but important who are learning in English.

    Reply

  6. April 17, 2015 at 5:34 pm, Max said:

    Thanks for the work done here.
    Kudos to you
    I’m finding it difficult to enroll

    Reply

    • April 22, 2015 at 9:30 am, ORA Admin said:

      Dear Max,

      Our registrations team will be in touch shortly to give you a hand with enrolling.

      Best wishes,

      The ORA Team.

      Reply

  7. April 26, 2015 at 2:50 pm, muhammeedh sajidh said:

    your web site is very use full for me

    Reply

  8. May 15, 2015 at 2:22 pm, Michael said:

    Actually, invite can be used as a noun as well as a verb. I suggest you research a bit more about invite, its origin and usage.

    Reply

  9. May 27, 2015 at 12:12 pm, harshi said:

    People often confuse have been with had been
    So please add to it
    Any way,thank u

    Reply

  10. May 27, 2015 at 8:16 pm, Scott said:

    “She was better at it than him” is incorrect grammar. It should be “She was better at it than he” or “She was better at it than he was.” Subject pronouns are required in this construction, not one subject pronoun and one object pronoun.

    Reply

  11. June 19, 2015 at 5:20 pm, boahen yaw said:

    can we say, an amount of money?

    Reply

    • June 22, 2015 at 10:11 am, ORA Admin said:

      Dear Boahen,

      Yes, you can. This phrase even appears in Dickens’ Great Expectations:

      “I soon contracted expensive habits, and began to spend an amount of money that within a few short months I should have thought almost fabulous; but through good and evil I stuck to my books.”

      Regards,

      The ORA Team

      Reply

  12. June 21, 2015 at 9:55 pm, Robin Bather said:

    Good afternoon
    I enjoyed your website and found it very interesting; however, I would ask you to please not use the word Huge.
    Overuse of ths word has become tedious and indicative of a lack of imagination. It is a tiring Americanism.
    Whatever happened to big, collosal, enormous, massive, etc. ?
    Best regards

    Reply

    • June 22, 2015 at 10:05 am, ORA Admin said:

      Dear Robin,

      Thank you for your comment. We’ll try to avoid overusing the word huge. However, it’s definitely not an Americanism. It came into English in the Middle Ages, from Old French, and appears in well-known Middle English texts including Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Piers Plowman and Gower’s Confessio Amantis. The Oxford English Dictionary’s first citation for it is from 1275.

      Regards,

      The ORA Team.

      Reply

      • July 07, 2016 at 2:11 am, Robin Bather said:

        > Thanks for the reply, Esha. What I meant to say was that the overuse of this word is an Americanism.
        Best regards

        Reply

  13. August 18, 2015 at 11:27 pm, Norman said:

    ”But for you, help is at hand.”

    Tut tut, beginning a sentence with a conjunction.

    Reply

  14. October 06, 2015 at 12:13 am, Adam said:

    I’m surprised nobody has picked up on this yet. You’ve said “Too” means “also” or “as well” in point 8 but the example “I’m too hot” doesn’t use the definition in this way. You’d have been better off writing “I’m hot too” to demonstrate this, although it is probably worth explaining the use of “too” to mean “beyond tolerable” in this case.

    Reply

  15. October 27, 2015 at 9:51 am, Edward Labor said:

    I love this website.

    Reply

  16. November 02, 2015 at 10:54 am, Kien said:

    One of the most annoying mistakes is when people use ‘I’ instead of ‘me’, trying to sound very cultured.
    For example: ‘They told Kanye and I that our house would be ready in eight months.’ ‘This relationship has been very hard for Scott an I.’

    Reply

  17. November 07, 2015 at 3:09 pm, Dave said:

    I couldn’t agree more Kien. I’d rather hear fingernails grating across a blackboard than ‘I’ instead of ‘me’. “Trying to sound very cultured” – or better educated.

    Have you noticed we hear it so often that it’s gotten to the point where some who know which is correct will use “myself” instead of “me”. Of course, that’s equally incorrect, but I suppose they know (yeah, yeah, yeah…he/she knows) it won’t sound wrong to the “better educated” or “more cultured” who think “me” would be wrong.

    Reply

  18. November 08, 2015 at 1:22 am, Ree said:

    I found this website very interesting.
    I was looking up a clear explanation for why “Pass me them books.” is wrong. Maybe you could include them vs these/those.
    What do you think of a classroom teacher with a degree in English giving her class a spelling list to learn which included the word ginormous “? Am I too old fashioned?

    Reply

    • November 11, 2015 at 3:23 am, Dave said:

      > Ree,

      Regarding an English teacher including the word “ginormous” in a spelling list – Believe it or not, that word appears in Webster’s dictionary. Worse than that, that same publication lists “humongous” as a synonym/definition! Honest.
      …. reminds me of the Doobie Brothers’ line “What were once vices are now habits.”

      “Pass me them books.”? I think “Pass me them” would be OK, but you cannot use “them” as an adjective (them books).
      Usually “them” refers to people or persons, as a personal pronoun, but what of this: “Do you sell eggs? [yes] “Then please give me two of them.” I think that’s OK if for some reason one doesn’t think “Then please give me two.” isn’t sufficient, but it’s been decades since college for me. Anyone?

      Reply

  19. November 23, 2015 at 1:19 am, Thomas Shepard said:

    Do you seriously not see the blunder in this excerpt from item 10?

    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.

    Reply

  20. December 09, 2015 at 6:17 am, mirembe amie said:

    it’s good because we can improve on spoken

    Reply

  21. January 15, 2016 at 1:06 am, Paul Mumford said:

    You write:

    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”.

    There is a grammatical error in that sentence! It should read, ‘if it WERE you’.

    Reply

  22. January 15, 2016 at 4:31 am, ISeen Lab said:

    Many time affect and Effect people will confuse and they do mistake. but since I am learning english from crash to talk fluent your site is really helpful.
    thanks.

    Reply

  23. January 21, 2016 at 6:33 am, William Douglas said:

    RE: the reply on Dec 1, 2015: “But the rule states that if your using a collective noun…”

    Please! No grammar checker?

    Reply

  24. February 08, 2016 at 4:34 am, krishna said:

    Truly, helpful for the beginner of English language.

    Reply

  25. March 26, 2016 at 8:04 pm, Justice Amant said:

    I have learnt that in order to show possession the apostrophe is not used with a noun that names an inanimate thing . For instance, it is incorrect to say, “the car’s horn” or “the house’s roof”.

    Is this teaching correct?

    Reply

  26. April 06, 2016 at 11:38 pm, M'bayoh Loven Foday said:

    I’m an honours student in linguistics at The University Of Serra Leone ( F B C)
    I want to know the different between “I too” and “Me too”.

    Reply

    • April 08, 2016 at 11:14 am, ORA Admin said:

      Dear M’bayoh,
      Thank you for getting in touch! As with the distinction in point number 10, “I” is used when the first person is the subject of the sentence, and “me” when the object. “Too” is then added in when required, and both often require a comma. See below:

      “I, too, enjoy eating pizza.”
      “He gave some pizza to me, too.”

      Conversationally, people might also use the following:

      “You like pizza? Me too!”

      With all best wishes,

      The ORA Team

      Reply

  27. April 22, 2016 at 11:14 pm, Aba Gino said:

    Thanks

    Reply

  28. June 14, 2016 at 9:40 pm, Esha said:

    This was quite helpful. Thank you!

    Reply

  29. July 08, 2016 at 3:52 pm, Nicole Sarmiento said:

    It truly helps me.. Thanks a lot. =D

    Reply

  30. July 11, 2016 at 5:25 pm, Muktarcali said:

    This is actually great work u have selected the most confusing and chaotic part in English language I couldn’t differentiate between effect and affect before visiting ure site but now I am good to go. I really appreciate u that.

    Reply

  31. July 18, 2016 at 8:49 pm, Dunamyte said:

    Am terribly confused here. I don’t understand why amount is used for only commodities. I need the correct sentence to this… ‘i want two amount of soaps’ and ‘i want two number of soaps’ . Can u help me figure it out?

    Reply

  32. July 28, 2016 at 11:26 am, NTC English said:

    Thank you very much. This is great!

    Reply

  33. August 12, 2016 at 8:04 am, Lorenda Beumont said:

    There’s more …
    I don’t know how the expression “I’ll revert to you later” EVER became acceptable English. Ice reverts to water people CANNOT revert to other people. Quite possibly, a few years ago, a non-English speaker (from China or India, or who knows where) was translating his/her own language directly into English by way of using the dictionary, and chose the incorrect word. That is almost an acceptable error. However, it is unacceptable that ENGLISH-speakers the world over (in English-speaking countries!) have adopted that expression, thinking it is quite smart to use it!! No, it’s just wrong!! It is impossible for anyone to revert to anyone else, ever.

    Also, the latest, “craze” of starting sentences with “So” – ah, so annoying.

    Then there is the habit that so many have of using many words instead of one – “at this moment in time” instead of “Now”, “Currently” or, if there is an obsessive need to use more than one word, then “at the moment” will do.

    Reply

  34. August 13, 2016 at 6:56 pm, Asad said:

    Thanks for your excellent post.
    As a language learner, I’ve been wondering about the difference between taking “a” train and taking “the” train. If you help me, I would be thankful.

    All the best

    Reply

    • August 16, 2016 at 9:36 am, ORA Admin said:

      Hi Asad,

      Thank you for getting in touch. The difference between these two phrases is very slight, and in many instances, either would be correct.

      In general, taking ‘the’ train refers to the broader method of transport that someone will be using (example: “How will you be getting there?” “I will be taking the train”) and taking ‘a’ train might be used to refer to a specific train that you have bought a ticket for (example: “I am catching a train at 2 o’clock”). However, in this second example, to say “I am catching the train at 2 o’clock” would also be correct to English speakers. When in doubt, in the majority of cases using the phrase taking ‘the’ train would be correct.

      I hope this helps!

      Kind regards,

      The ORA Team

      Reply

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