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Most Common Grammar and Spelling Errors: Spot Mistakes in Your Writing

Updated on August 20, 2014
Bad grammar makes me [sic]
Bad grammar makes me [sic]

Everyone makes the occasional grammar or spelling mistake. I'll grant you that. But if you make them frequently enough in your writing, or even if you just make one or two obvious ones, your credibility goes way down.

Before I, Ms. Puns, begin your grammar lesson for the day, take a moment to peruse this list of types of writing that lose a reader's respect if he or she finds errors.

Newspapers. → Textbooks. → Magazines. → Business proposals. → Emails. → Novels. → Television ads. → Instruction manuals. → HubPages. → Letters of acceptance. → Catalogues. → Dictionaries. → Pill bottles. → Book jackets. → Posters. → Checks. → Clothing tags. → Envelope labels. → Condom boxes. → Nutrition Facts. → Closed captioning. → CD cases. → Press releases. → Amazon reader reviews. → eBay listings. → Blogs. → Classifieds. → Maps. → Calendars. → Recipes. → Campaign ads. → Captions. → Memos. → Shampoo bottles. → Anything that includes words that will be read by another human being.

First, a Review Lesson on Parts of Speech:

Noun: a person, place, thing, or idea. Examples: lady, Bob, heart, conscience, beach, leg

Adjective: a word that describes a noun. Examples: blue, hot, smelly, sixteen, sexy

Verb: a word that describes action or a state of being. Examples: jump, stink, was, are, happen, have, cook, type

Adverb: a word that describes a verb or adjective. Examples: run slowly, too fast, eat now, go unwillingly, very nice

Pronoun: a word that stands in for a noun. Examples: he, it, him, they, you

Possessive Pronoun: a pronoun that indicates possession. Examples: hers, mine, yours, theirs

Preposition: a word that begins a descriptive phrase. Examples: to, of, for, as, over

Conjunction: a joining word. There are only 7 and can be remembered with the acronym FANBOYS: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so

A toe tow truck
A toe tow truck | Source

Lesson 1: Homonyms

Homonyms: words that sound alike but are spelled differently. This is by no means a complete list, but these are some of the most commonly misused homonyms. I will demonstrate how to use them correctly.

to/too/two:

  • To: can be used as a preposition or as an infinitive phrase. I went to the school. I am going to teach you about grammar.
  • Too: an adverb or as a synonym for also. It is too hot in here. I want to go, too! (Notice the comma before the word too)
  • Two: the number only. I want two pickles, not three.

there/their/they're:

  • There: a direction. I put the box over there. There is a cat in the house.
  • Their: a plural possessive pronoun. Where did the children put their toys? Their minds are elsewhere.
  • They're: a contraction of the words "They are." They're getting away!

its/it's:

  • Its: possessive pronoun ONLY! The cat chased its tail.
  • It's: contraction of the words "It is." It's illegal to kill a guy.

here/hear:

  • Here: a direction. Here is a cookie. I'm down here!
  • Hear: a verb pertaining to sound. He has to speak louder because I can't hear him.

rain/reign/rein:

  • Rain: precipitation. I hope it doesn't rain tonight.
  • Reign: a noun or a verb pertaining to ruling over something. The economic downfall occurred during the king's reign. Queen Elizabeth reigned over England for many years.
  • Rein: a noun or a verb pertaining to controlling. I pulled the horse's rein to make him stop. He needed to rein in his overenthusiasm. The mother gave free rein of the house to her children. (Notice that adding the word "free" before "rein" made it mean the opposite.)

who's/whose:

  • Who's: a contraction of the words "Who is." Who's responsible for this? I gave it to the man who's in charge.
  • Whose: possessive pronoun. Whose dog is this? We will punish the person whose fault it is.

write/rite/right:

  • Write: a verb. Write down your number.
  • Rite: a noun meaning a tradition or ritual. Growing a beard is a rite of passage.
  • Right: three meanings ↓
  1. Adjective meaning "correct." He has the right answer.
  2. Adjective, the direction that's not left. You should turn right at that sign.
  3. Noun that refers to something you are owed. Now that he is eighteen, he has the right to vote.

Grammar and spelling can be tough! Image source: www.fotosearch.com
Grammar and spelling can be tough! Image source: www.fotosearch.com

pair/pare/pear:

  • Pair: noun or verb meaning a set of two. I will pair you with a partner. I bought a pair of earrings.
  • Pare: a verb meaning to trim off gradually. I will pare the apple with my paring knife.
  • Pear: a fruit. This pear tastes like crap.

bear/bare:

  • Bear: two meanings - 1. a large, scary animal. I hope that bear doesn't eat me. 2. a verb with 2 meanings - to support or to give birth to. I will bear the burden of his death. I can't bear to feel this pain. She will bear a child. (Past tense: borne)
  • Bare: two meanings - 1. an adjective meaning empty or exposed. I looked mournfully into the bare cabinet. He felt the burn on his bare skin. 2. a verb meaning to uncover or reveal. The lion bares his teeth. Also used with the word "lay," as in, lay bare, to reveal. Her secrets were laid bare for all to see.

accept/except:

  • Accept: verb meaning to agree to take something. I accept your apology. I will not accept late papers.
  • Except: two uses - 1. preposition meaning "excluding." I took everything except the kitchen sink. 2.conjunction also meaning "excluding." I would have taken the sink, except it was too heavy.

proceed/precede:

  • Proceed: two meanings - 1. verb meaning to go ahead with. You may proceed with your speech. 2. noun (only used in the plural) meaning sales earnings. The proceeds from the concert go towards animal shelters.
  • Precede: verb meaning "to go before." A cocktail hour will precede the dinner.

Semicolon Sign; Image source: www.primaryclassroomresources.co.uk
Semicolon Sign; Image source: www.primaryclassroomresources.co.uk

Lesson 2: Punctuation

I was going to include a full lesson on punctuation. I quickly realized, however, that punctuation rules would make up an entire article in and of itself. Perhaps this will be coming soon.

I will name one error, however, that I see many people making. It is the run-on sentence caused by a comma error.

Example: I saw this HubPage, I looked at it to fix my grammar.

Do you see the problem? A comma is simply not a strong enough piece of punctuation to be placed in this spot. A comma is not strong enough to separate two complete thoughts. On either side of the comma is a thought that could be its own sentence.

Ways to fix:

  1. Since both sides of the sentence are complete thoughts, you could just put them into two sentences: I saw this HubPage. I looked at it to fix my grammar.
  2. If you are adamant about using a comma, you need to add another word to the sentence, a conjunction: I saw this HubPage, so I looked at it to fix my grammar. OR I saw this HubPage, and I looked at it to fix my grammar.
  3. You could use the scaaaaary semicolon. Really, though, semicolons aren't that scary if you know how to use them. A semicolon IS a strong enough piece of punctuation to separate two complete (but related) thoughts: I saw this HubPage; I looked at it to fix my grammar.

Writing and editing; Image source: www.esmschools.org
Writing and editing; Image source: www.esmschools.org

Lesson 3: Plurals Versus Possessive

This one is a big pet peeve of mine.

There are rules for making something plural. There are rules for using 's to make a word possessive. LEARN THEM NOW!

Plural: when there is more than one of something. Add -s or -es, no apostrophe.

  • These televisions cost a lot of money.
  • The worst kisses are sloppy ones.
  • The numerous errors on your papers indicate a lack of revisions.

Possessive: when you indicate that something belongs to something else. Add 's for singular nouns, and just add an apostrophe for plural nouns.

  • The man's tie is crooked.
  • My sisters' dogs are ugly.
  • My dress's zipper caught on the fabric. (Some people prefer to just add a single apostrophe to singular nouns that end in -s. Dress' is also acceptable.)

Lesson 4: Agreement

As an English major, I'm the person everyone asks when they think they see an error in a publication. My parents call most often to ask about errors in agreement, particularly in newspapers.

Grammatically speaking, agreement is when the identity of the noun (singular/plural, male/female) matches the identity of another part of the sentence. In English, there are a few types of agreement to watch out for:

Noun/Pronoun: Plural vs. singular is the most common error, especially in cases when talking about a person whom you don't know the gender.

  • Incorrect: "The child was walking their dog." Child is singular, and their is plural.
  • Correct: "The child was walking his or her dog. (Personally, I find the politically correct gender neutrality quite annoying. I would just say, "The child was walking his dog.)

Noun/Verb: Most common in very long sentences, when you've forgotten the identity of the subject.

  • Incorrect: "Melville’s abundance of searches, questions, and secrets in Moby Dick potentially come from the answers he desired in his own life." The subject is the singular "abundance," and the verb is the plural "come."

  • Correct: "Melville’s abundance of searches, questions, and secrets in Moby Dick potentially comes from the answers he desired in his own life."

(And yes, that sentence came directly from a paper I wrote about Moby Dick in college.)

School and grammar are fun! Image source: www.imageenvision.com
School and grammar are fun! Image source: www.imageenvision.com

independent

irrelevant

judgment

lightning

millennium

mischievous

misspell

necessary

occasionally

panicky

possession

practically

presence

privilege

probably

receive

recommend

restaurant

sacrilegious

separate

temporary

until

usually

villain

weird

Lesson 5: Common Misspellings

I'm just going to make a list of words that many people misspell. Obviously, I can't list them all. That's what dictionaries are for.

Definitely: I had to name this one first because it is my biggest grievance. SO many people spell it with an "A", as in "definately." This is incorrect.

a lot

absence

accommodate

address

argument

believe

business

category

certain

collectible

commitment

conscience

conscious

dependent

desperate

disappoint

embarrass

exaggerate

exercise

existence

fascinate

foreign

government

grateful

Comments

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    • misslong123 profile image

      Michele Kelsey 4 years ago from Edmond, Oklahoma

      May I reference this page in my next article to bring you readers and to give my readers more information? Michele

    • misslong123 profile image

      Michele Kelsey 4 years ago from Edmond, Oklahoma

      Thank you for all of your insight. I also hate it when people mix up to/too/two. That is just a pet peeve of mine. I probably am not perfect at some of those words. How did you get your list of words at the bottom to be in 2 columns rather than 1 long column? That looked very professional.

    • profile image

      A Walker 5 years ago

      dExplanation of words is not totally correct and should be ignored

    • Craig Tiffany profile image

      Craig Tiffany 5 years ago from Ilminster

      i wonder, who invented languages, as we all struggle with grammar? how did they, work it out. they made it so perfect, yet we all struggle. I am amazed, any1, ever invented this Grammar, lark.

    • ameliejan profile image

      ameliejan 6 years ago from Alicante, Spain

      I loved reading this and also hate it when I see definitely spelled incorrectly. Or separately.

    • htodd profile image

      htodd 6 years ago from United States

      Great hub,Thanks for the post

    • profile image

      Lex Zaleta 6 years ago

      @ Christa ...

      Who/Whom

      Substitute he/him after making the question a statement. If "him" works, use "whom" (both end in "m" to make it easy to remember).

      The butler asked, "Who/Whom shall I say is calling?"

      Do the substitution:

      "I shall say he/him is calling."

      Since "he" sounds correct, use "who" in the original ... The butler asked, "Who shall I say is calling?" Yes, "Whom" sounds more "butlerish," more formal, more correct, but "Who" is the proper choice for this sentence.

    • profile image

      tugbo200-5 6 years ago

      Well put;I was not referring to this hub by no means,I read many hubs and hope soon to write my own.I just get very upset with people correcting another in a rude and ignorant ways.I feel it would make that person that was corrected, stop posting.I find your hubs interesting,and when i seen the subject of this hub I guess i had to vent lol,Maybe I should write a hub on it.

      Keep them coming ProfoundPuns I'll follow.

    • ProfoundPuns profile image
      Author

      ProfoundPuns 6 years ago from Maryland, USA

      Hi tugbo, I'm not sure who is calling anyone an idiot, certainly not in this hub, but I never said that people who make spelling or grammar errors are idiots. I just wanted to make the point that you should reread your own writing (or have someone else read it) in case you have made an error. Why let it be wrong when you can make it right? Spelling errors do NOT mean that people aren't nice, or worthy of respect, or smart. I would never belittle someone who made a mistake. But errors distract people from what you want them to see. Wouldn't you rather people think about the point you're trying to make than the spelling errors in the third paragraph?

    • profile image

      tugbo200-5 6 years ago

      What's all the "Hub" bub (pun)misspelled words should not be a reason to call someone an Idiot,which I have seen on quite a few post,same person is very sincere about what they write but others call he or she Idiot's and not believeable,Hogwash,unless you know the person personally,name calling makes YOU an Idiot,live and let live.

      Example.studied in England.....

      ....."Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in what oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. This is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe."

      any problem ready the above paragraph ,call in your 10 year old .

      Also for those who need a spellcheck for internet explorer go here its free,,,http://www.iespell.com/download.php,

      I am not gonna use spellcheck on this because of above paragraph.I don't want to upset anyone ,just be nice to people who misspell a word,I sure they are very nice people.

    • profile image

      Janusz 6 years ago

      There's something in your homonym's definition what bothers me a lot, namely you failed to highlight the idea of 'meaning' which must be taken into consideration. Having considered that your homonym is in fact HOMOPHONE- two or more words with different spelling and meaning but with the same pronunciation. Would you clarify this issue to me, the non- native English speaker? Thanks

    • profile image

      learn spelling games 7 years ago

      I need to improve my grammar, that's one of my problem in writing esp. when it comes to subject verb agreement..thank you very much for this

    • profile image

      Maeve Maddox 7 years ago

      Many of the language posts I write for DailyWritingTips.com are prompted by questions and comments from readers. A great many focus on the errors listed in your article. The fact that the errors are committed by men and women who have had 12 or more years of formal education suggests that something is wrong with the way that English is being taught to students. My most recent effort to help writers avoid unnecessary and embarrassing errors is an ebook called 100 Writing Errors to Avoid. http://www.dailywritingtips.com/100-writing-mistak...

      Kudos to you for fighting the good fight!

    • Paula Jean McGrew profile image

      Paula Jean McGrew 7 years ago from North Florida

      Good article. Sometimes I think if I were queen of the world, I'd confiscate all the apostrophes and only issue them to people who could demonstrate they knew how to use them.

      One time I was in an auto parts store and picked up some little tool. I forget what it was, but it came in blister packaging, laminated into silver-toned pasteboard with some copy as to its purpose--and instead of the word "carries" was written "carry's." I kid you not.

      Bad enough that someone conceived this egregious copy error. But then it had to have passed through various stages of approval. Someone signed off on it at every point. People got paid. It passed through the Graphics department. Well, you don't expect grammatical perfection from graphics people. At least I don't, not where I work. It then went right through the printing department and to the factory where the widgets were packaged, and at no point did anybody catch the error.

      Every time something happens like this happens, it represents one unemployed copy editor or other kind of English major, who has no doubt, in the kind of economic downturns we've had over the last several years, been pounding the pavement for months, and has handed her resume in hope to some receptionist, who might turn it over to some power-suited HR heifer who'll look at it and say "We'll call you..."

      And then never does.

    • profile image

      Al 7 years ago

      I have been trying to find an answer on the internet to see which of the following phrases is correctly stated:

      Opinion of Probable Cost

      Opinions of Probable Cost

      Opinions of Probable Costs

      They all appear in reports written typically by engineers. They are referring to the cost of multiple items for repair or replacement at a building. Please help. Thanks.

    • pinkhawk profile image

      pinkhawk 7 years ago from Pearl of the Orient

      ...I need to improve my grammar, that's one of my problem in writing esp. when it comes to subject verb agreement..thank you very much for this ma'am/sir?! :)...

    • profile image

      Sarah 7 years ago

      Thank you!

    • profile image

      Ruby Rafiq 7 years ago

      is very good side i am very impress i want to speak felunt english becouse my english is very week.

    • profile image

      Christa Kampe 7 years ago

      I like this information about the grammar problems. Need some explanation for the use of "Who" and "Whom" Thanks!

    • ProfoundPuns profile image
      Author

      ProfoundPuns 7 years ago from Maryland, USA

      You know, darktriangle, the way to win fans as a newbie on hubpages is not to go around making insulting comments on strangers' hubs. Just some advice.

    • Rebecca E. profile image

      Rebecca E. 7 years ago from Canada

      yes I am so guilty!

    • darktriangle profile image

      darktriangle 7 years ago

      Golly.This hub is very...condecsending...hod on, did I spell that right?*

      * When I say 'that', I am refeering to the word 'condescending'

    • 2uesday profile image

      2uesday 7 years ago

      Thank you, this is a bookmark for when I need help with my writing hub.

    • profile image

      webwriter 7 years ago

      this hub packs a lot of information.. thank you.. =)

    • profile image

      jaeasan 7 years ago

      it is sort of a hobby for me correcting all the possible mis-spellings of occurrence

    • Epsilon5 profile image

      Epsilon5 8 years ago from Eastern Pennsylvania

      Wonderful hub. I wish some certain high school students would read this.

    • profile image

      Risa Attrell 8 years ago

      Great hubs ProfoundPuns. I believe many mistakes people make are with the Homonyms. And now after reading your article i'm not so afraid of the semicolon.

    • Kebennett1 profile image

      Kebennett1 8 years ago from San Bernardino County, California

      Please edit your first paragraph, you have a spelling error. It should read, "your credibility goes way down." It presently reads, "you credibility goes way down." I just did that for a little humor. It is so easy to make mistakes! Sometimes we just do not know better, but other times it is a simple oversight or even typographical error! I love all of the information in this Hub, you did a great job!

    • profile image

      Marlene 8 years ago

      It would be "lose" if it were refering to "types", but in this case it's actually about the singular noun "list". Subject-verb agreement: The list loses.

    • profile image

      Brandy 8 years ago

      This is a fantastic resource. Thank you for providing it. I do feel it is important, considering the topic of the article, to note an error made in the beginning:

      take a moment to peruse this list of types of writing that loses a reader's respect if he or she finds errors.

      Shouldn't "loses" be "lose" as it is relating to "types"?

    • linjingjing profile image

      linjingjing 8 years ago

      Most Common Grammar and Spelling Errors

      Writing good

    • profile image

      FZ 8 years ago

      A test. Hi Jenny! Great site! I was wondering if you could make a hub or something about is/are? That is something I usually have to think twice about.

      "On either side of the comma is a thought that could be its own sentence."

      Thanks for that! It will come in handy. Never thought about it that way. My mind feels more clear :D

      /FZ from Sweden

    • glassvisage profile image

      glassvisage 8 years ago from Northern California

      Don't forget about how punctuation marks often end up on the outside of quotation marks... I hate that one! Oh yeah, and farther/further, who/whom, and other ones like that!

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 8 years ago from South Africa

      Great, great Hub. I am so grateful that there is someone else out there who shares some of my quirkiness with regard to grammar and spelling! I can't remember whether or not it was you who hadthe Hub about the your/you're issue also. That's another pet peeve of mine.

      I came across this subject/object confusion in the November issue of BBC Music Magazine: "Like any good Romantic, nature plays a central role in Messiaen's music." I'm not sure when the author thought nature had become a Romantic?

      Another word confusion which is quite rife in Suth Africa is that between incidents and incidence. I find these two words often used interchangeably, especially by TV news reporters.

      Another word confusion which by now is so commonplace that it almost goes unnoticed even by pedants like me is that between fortunate and fortuitous.

      But enough pedantry for now! Thanks again for the Hub, and may many read it and become a little more aware of the way they use (or misus) language!

      Love and peace,

      Tony

    • ProfoundPuns profile image
      Author

      ProfoundPuns 8 years ago from Maryland, USA

      Haha, at least you can recognize it yourself! It's even worse when you don't know it!

      Thanks for stopping by!

    • compu-smart profile image

      compu-smart 8 years ago from London UK

      Guilty as charged lol!!

      I think my above comment is a prime example! lol

    • compu-smart profile image

      compu-smart 8 years ago from London UK

      I agree about you saying "your credibility goes way down" with bad grammer! no matter how good the read is, this will always be the case..

    • Cranston profile image

      Cranston 8 years ago from L.A.

      Hi ProfoundPuns.Given your stated interests in language and puns, let me suggest checking out an author by the name of Louis Dvoretzky. His mastery of the English language, combined with very quirky and sometimes outlandish thinking is worth a visit from pun and language aficionados alike. He has a website too - LouisDvoretzky.com, but u really need to see his books, available on Amazon.