Common Grammar Mistakes People Make (And How to Avoid Them)

Grammar is the pole you grab to get your thoughts up on their feet and walking! “ – Stephen King

Almost every person on the face of the planet is a regular user of mobile technology and the wonder known as the internet.

These two breakthroughs have indeed given modern society a lot to be thankful for. From access to limitless information to the ability to collaborate with virtual partners, the world is truly a global, fact paced village.

But the surprise collateral damage has come in the form of vocabulary and language structure.

It is true that crutches like Microsoft Word allow people to write reasonably well without bothering about either grammar or spellings. But speaking is still an important part of being persuasive and flagrant violations of the basic rules of grammar can be easily spotted and judged.

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Why is Grammar Such a Casualty?

It is estimated that the US postal service lost 1.9 billion dollars in 2014 simply because there were too many letter addresses in illegible scrawls and with poor spelling.

We as a society are getting addicted to the joys of smart phones and social media. And our reading habits are suffering hard. This applies both to teenagers who are still learning and professionals in jobs.

“Text language”, emoticons and the acceptance of typos have all come together to push people into doing a “brain dump” of their thoughts without paying any heed to punctuation, grammar or flow.

In fact busy professionals tend to have messages like “Using my phone to send this email. Please overlook typos” to justify both inadvertent mistakes as well as a genuine confusion around the rules of grammar that sneak into their conversations and their written application of the language.

A 2012 study by the University of Tasmania found that grammar perversions in more friendly settings like WhatsApp messages carry over to formal interactions. Since more and more people have to work with colleagues who may hail from foreign regions and have a more academic view of grammar, these oversights are often taken as lack of polish or education.

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What are Grammatical Mistakes Costing You?

Good grammar should be everybody’s business.

This is what respected contributor to sites like the Harvard Business Review feel.

Poor grammar and sentence structure have a number of repercussions:

  1. Poor grammar undermines both surface and earned credibility: BJ Fogg (the father of the famed Fogg Index that judges robustness of writing) has found the there are four types of credibility that a website can establish with its visitors. Having shaky grammar, typos and choppy flow of ideas can seriously damage:
  • Surface credibility or the feeling of trust and goodwill that people experience when they land up on a page and view it preliminarily.
  • Earned credibility which is built up over a series of interactions with a brand.

A London based digital marketing agency surveyed 1003 UK social media regulars and published data that listed poor grammar and sentence structure as the main reason that fosters negative brand impression.

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  1. Poor grammar can sabotage your ability to establish relationships: Sounds frivolous but data never lies. Color Works dove deep into the subject and found that in the dating arena those who speak and write without grammatical errors are considered more attractive than less read counterparts.

Even if you take the romantic implications away from this insight, it clearly points that good grammar is the way to being identified as a charming, charismatic and persuasive individual.

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  1. Poor grammar can put a glass ceiling on promotions and corporate progress: Grammarly actually took time to go through the profiles of 100 LinkedIn members – all with 10 plus years of experience in their craft. What they found is rather surprising. Individuals with better grammar held higher positions than their counterparts. They changed jobs more frequently (with subsequent pay raises). And they earned more promotions than their peers. The resumes of grammar perfectionists boasted up to 9 promotions over a decade while those who weren’t as precise had only three to four promotions in the same time period.

Not making common grammar mistakes reflects favorably on a business owner, a professional and just about any other person interacting with peers and acquaintances.

People who have mastered grammar are considered to be:

  • Driven: They have a desire to be the “best” and thus they pay attention to something as fine as “grammar”.
  • Methodical: Good grammar and coherent thoughts call for investment of time and energy. Individuals who are willing to do so to set themselves apart are often by nature methodical and organized.
  • Quick on the Uptake: Good grammar requires good learning and retention abilities. It automatically adds a badge of merit to your educational background.

 

Top 8 Grammar Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them)

Most of the mistakes discussed here are quite common. But they aren’t third standard confusions like ‘lose’ versus ‘loose’.

1. Who & Whom

‘Who’ can forget this? (Pun intended) The ‘Who vs. Whom battle has been raging for eternity. Who is generally used in the instance where we want to refer to a subject (person or thing initiating an action)

A good example of this is “Who is your teacher?” A teacher teaches and thus takes action on the students.

On the other hand ‘Whom’ is the objective pronoun or the pronoun used to denote the object/individual on the receiving end of the action.

Whom did you teach today?” Presume that the teacher is being asked this question. The teacher – the subject – has taught the students – the object and thus ‘Whom’ is valid here.

How to Stop Making This Mistake: Whenever the ‘Who vs. Whom’ confusion strikes, simply ask yourself, “Am I referring to the doer or the object on which the doer will take action?” If it is the former, you need to go with ‘Who’ and if it’s the latter, you must use ‘Whom’.

2. Its & It’s

This is so common yet it largely goes uncorrected. Often even the spell and grammar checkers in suites like Microsoft Word get this one wrong. ‘Its’ without the apostrophe is used to indicate possession. ‘Its her toy!’ Whereas ‘It’s’ with the apostrophe is the contraction of ‘It is’. ‘It’s a pleasure to meet you!’

How to Stop Making This Mistake: Once pointed out most people catch themselves going wrong and choose the right version to use. But if there are still any doubts scrutinise the context of the sentence. Are you trying to indicate possession or are you just shortening ‘It is’ to ‘It’s’ so that your message seems more friendly and personal?

3. Comparatives without use of benchmark

Sounds rather complicated. But we are all guilty of doing this at some point of time. Copywriters run the biggest chance of committing this folly. Want to label something ‘Sweeter, Juicier and Healthier?’ Don’t go down that road if you are not ready to reveal the benchmark or reference point against which the comparison is being made. ‘Sweeter, Juicier and Healthier’ than what?

How to Stop Making This Mistake: This one is easy. Go with the superlative ‘Sweetest, Juiciest and Healthiest’ (Of course if you have proof to back that claim up). But in case you can’t really do that, don’t forget to add the reference point. It doesn’t have to be something specific. It can be a general remark like ‘Sweeter, Juicier and Healthier than the other options in the market!’ Don’t leave your readers dangling! Allow them to clearly understand how your product, statement or idea stacks up against the competition.

4. Which & That

This is a grammatical mistake that is often very hard to detect in text. But when someone is speaking, one word swapped with the other falls rather harshly on the ears. ‘That’ works to restrict the scope of the sentence. ‘Please visit the salon that uses herbal dyes’. In this context you must only visit the parlors or salons using herbal dyes. ‘Which’ on the other hand is a qualifier! ‘Please visit a salon which you like’ In this case the speaker is advising the other party to go explore all the salons in the vicinity and get a haircut from the one that looks the most promising or is the most affordable. ‘Which’ might refer to certain conditions but it never really restricts the options that can apply to a sentence.

How to Stop Making This Mistake: Rather tricky. Only go with ‘that’ when you have something very specific in mind – something that you can define in great detail. Something that can provide a benefit nothing else is capable of! In all other instances you can use which.

 

5. Affect & Effect

Affect is a verb. Effect is a noun. In most cases. You might say that ‘The war affected his life’. What you are trying to express is the sentiment that the war and the difficulties it brought changed his life either for the better or for the worse. But where effect is concerned, the use case is something like ‘Poverty is an effect of the war’. In this sentence poverty is not working actively to change someone’s life. We are just identifying it as a by-product of the war.

How to Stop Making This Mistake: Since ‘Affect’ is a verb it needs to act on something. In the example we discussed it is the individual’s life.  ‘Effect’ on the other hand is always attributed to something and generally followed by ‘of’.

6.There, Their & They’re

‘There’ is used to indicate a location or point to an object. ‘He sang there’. In this sentence, ‘there’ is a pronoun and it has probably replaced something like the ‘Auditorium’. ‘Their’ stands for possession. ‘It is their house’. ‘They’re’ is quite like ‘It’s’ – a contraction of ‘They are’.

 

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How to Stop Making This Mistake: People get the difference between ‘There’ and ‘Their’ fairly well. However if you find yourself debating the correct choice of word, always go with ‘There’ when a location is involved and you can point it out. ‘Their’ makes sense when you have already referred to people and instead of repeating their names, you want to use a pronoun. ‘Mat & Selena are good people. Their house is on the street.’ ‘They’re’ is a matter of choice. If you want to reduce the options you have around the ‘Their vs. There vs They’re’ dilemma, simply use ‘They are’ instead.

7. Fewer & Less

Don’t be embarrassed if the grammar police have caught you violating this rule. Even seasoned writers may go wrong. The concept however is relatively simple. ‘Fewer’ is used in the context of numbers – when you are counting objects that have an individual identity. ‘There are fewer cell phone reception towers in our area.’ Less on the other hand is more associated with quantity. In this case you aren’t counting, you are measuring. ‘We will have less rainfall this year’.

How to Stop Making This Mistake: When the noun is countable – go with ‘fewer’. When it is uncountable – like sugar, water, tears – your best bet is ‘less’ or any of its degrees of comparison.

8. Whether & If

Do you use ‘Whether’ and ‘If’ interchangeably? Stop doing that. You might end up distorting the meaning of a sentence. ‘Whether’ points to the presence of two alternatives in a situation – one explicit and one implied. ‘I don’t know whether I will be attending the party!’ Here the speaker is referring to attendance but he is also leaving unsaid the possibility that he might not show up. ‘If’ is used to present a condition (only one condition) that is non-negotiable and on which the action of the speaker depends. ‘If you come pick me up for the party, I will go!

How to Stop Making This Mistake: Use ‘Whether’ when there is doubt around the action you will end up taking. You might go with either option. Use ‘If’ when you want to state a condition that has to be true for you to take an action.

I would like to close this piece with the sentiment that grammatical errors might happen to anyone. Unless you have read so many books that the narrative in your head flows very smoothly, it is likely that you have to ‘think’ before you speak or write. And this is where issues start creeping in.

But still, you must be meticulous and detail oriented about the whole thing. Who knows – you may just end up saving a life!

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Featured Image Attribution: “Grammar Book Indicates Rules of Language” by Stuart Miles