Top 10 Grammar Mistakes That Can Make or Break You

Jessica Wyce
I was blessed to have such a colourful upbringing. I could be the typical conservative writer and tell you all my specific generic details about myself, but I'm not that kind of person or author. Instead I will say that coming from a mixed religious and cultured family, moving around a lot as a child, living in pretty poor income areas of Montreal (or the "ghetto" as some would call it), and going through some pretty traumatic events in both childhood and adulthood has definitely shaped who I am today. I was born in a small city of Charlesbourg, just outside of Quebec city. Up to the age of 4 years old, I didn't speak a word of English. My mother-tongue was French. However, that all changed thanks to my father. We moved to Montreal in hopes that my father would get away from the small mentality that he felt from being away from England, to hopefully find work in his field, and that my sister and I would learn English. Well, two out of three wasn't bad. Coming from a shy Catholic French-Canadian mother and an extroverted Jewish British father really did have a strong impact on my sister and I, especially in our childhood. We went through lots of crap growing-up, too much to write at the moment. My mum tells me I should write a book. So guess what? I'm working on it. Growing-up I had two things that saved my skinny arse: classical ballet and writing. I started dancing not long after we moved to Montreal. The discipline, the escape it created for me to forget outside stresses, and the art of understanding how I can express myself without words really helped me stay focused during those rough times. The writing came a bit later, around 10 years old if I remember right. All thanks to my grade 5 teacher, who one day asked us to keep a daily journal of our Christmas holiday. I never stopped writing since. Writing and dancing saved my life during my high school years, it kept me sane in college, and made me realise my passion for both arts by the time I reached university. Now, being a mum of an autistic boy I understand why I was given all these experiences and gifts: to help him and other children grow and discover their own passions.
Personal Development

Jan 09,2017

One of my biggest pet-peeves as a writer is when I see native English speakers still making the most common grammar mistakes they should already know not to make. However, I suppose with the dawn of new technology, social media, and the English language now evolving into more and more acronyms, I really shouldn’t be all that surprised. Still…I feel the need to remind any potential writer out there that even if you have great content, if you have lousy grammar you will most likely lose not only your readers but also turn off potential publishers. I believe like anything in this life, excellent grammar comes with lots of practice.  Here are the top 10 most common grammar mistakes that are seen and unfortunately made all the time:

10.  “I” before “E” except after “C”

This was a rule taught (I hope) to most of us during the course of elementary school.

Example: Received vs thief

Yet like most rules, this one definitely has some exceptions.

Example: sufficient & veil

Tip: write the word down in both senses, one way should jog your memory in what looks right. However, to be accurate always use the spellcheck on Microsoft Word/Google/dictionary. 

9. Desert vs Dessert

Extremely common error that I see even professionals from time to time messing up. A trick I used to teach my younger sister when she was a child was to think how much she loved dessert.

Example: Mmm cheesecake for dessert it’s so good we have to emphasis it with two S’s.

Example: It’s so hot in the desert that only one “s” can stand the heat.


8. Than vs Then

A good trick I found listed on to keep track of these words is that then is usually used to indicate time. Both then and time have a letter “E” in them.

Than is used to make comparisons. Both than and comparison have a letter “A” in them.

Example: Rather than editing his work, he decided to hand in his paper anyway. Then the next day, he got his paper back with a really poor mark.


7. Affect vs Effect

When I was in school this used to mix me up big time. To this day I still have to ask myself the question: which one is a noun (effect), and which one is a verb (affect)?

Example: The snowstorm affected thousands of people around the city, leaving them without power.

Example: The long-term effects of smoking on the human body are deadly.


6. Which vs Witch

Honestly, this one has to be the most common mistake amongst non-English speakers that I’ve seen as a teacher. My trick to remember the difference might be a bit…dramatic, but pretty effective nonetheless.

Example: The witch was burned at the stake for using her magic. *Remember that the stakes used back in history were in the shape of a cross or the letter “t”.

Example: Which word describes a type of person? *Remember when using the word “which” is used when making a comparison.


5. Loose vs Lose

I think I see this mistake at least once a day on either social media or blogs, even amongst my fellow writers. Here’s my trick to finally debunk this pesky confusion:

Example: Lucas has another loose tooth. Hope he doesn’t lose it in the snow like he lost the other two previous ones. *Remember that when something is loose it is happening right now, that it’s coming undone. But to lose something means that it has already happened.


4. Who vs Whom

For many people this still seems to be an issue that arises very often. Even for myself I used to have a lot of difficulty understanding what the differences were and when to use either one. Here’s a great trick from Shundalyn Allen on who really explains clearly on how to use these two words:

If you can replace the word with “he” or “she” use who.

If you can replace it with “him” or “her” use whom.


3. Its vs It’s

You’re probably thinking that I am just being nit-picky now, but seriously, this is confused all the time by so many writers! So here’s the trick to remember for this one:

“It’s” really is a contraction of it is or it has.

Example: It’s (or it is) cold outside. It’s (or it has) been cold outside.

“Its” refers to a thing (or a possessive noun).

Example: The cat watched me closely with its yellow eyes as I walked across the street.


2. There, Their, They’re

One thing about the English language that you will see in many instances are homophones (words that have the same sound as another word but are spelled differently and have a different meaning).

There are so many examples of this popular homophone mistakenly written over and over again. They’re a very confusing bunch of words. Quite frankly I’m always surprised with all the writers and their knowledge of English that still get these forms mixed up. Here are some tips that can help untangle these three:

“There” refers to a direction, also in or to a place. Example: She’s over there.

“Their” refers to belonging to more than one person; a possessive pronoun. Example: Their mother made them dress the same today.

“They’re” refers to the contraction of they are. Example: They’re always late for hockey practice.


1. To, Too, Two

Too many times have I seen these extremely common grammatical errors, and to think even people who I studied with in grammar class at university still get these wrong! It’s not so much the numerical word for two that people get wrong, it’s the two other forms which totally get botched. So what’s the differences in too and to anyway?

Example: Too many mistakes were seen in your article. *Remember that this adverb has two “O’s”, giving it emphasis just as the word is used to give an exaggeration on a subject, or it often means “also” (meaning in addition to).

Example: Let’s go to the pool now. *Remember that this form has only one “o”, the sound of it cut short, and is a preposition that means in the direction of (as in toward).


Now that you know what grammar mistakes to look out for, there’s one more thing you need to do: edit! My last piece of advice is always, ALWAYS, edit your work. Check it not once, not twice, but at least three times before you decide to publish anything. Do a rough look-over the first edit, then leave it for a day, and then a more thorough check by reading out-loud. (Reading your work out-loud is another way for you to know if something doesn’t sound right even though it might look okay). In the final edit drop your work for a few more days, and then re-look over your work with fresh eyes. Or have a fellow writer edit your work instead. And why not get someone else to read your stuff? Sharing is caring after all!

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