How To Overcome Common Grammatical Errors in Content Writing
Grammar can be tricky! Some of the most fantastic writers in the world throw caution to the wind when it comes to proper grammar. However, when writing content for clients, grammar is of the utmost importance.
Here are some tips on overcoming common mistakes.
Good vs. Well.
The violinist plays good.
The violinist plays well.
Explanation: In this sentence, the verb did is modified by an adjective good, when it should be modified by an adverb well.
It felt good to pass the test.
It felt well to pass the test.
Rules to Remember: Well, when used as an adjective, implies “in good health.” When used as an adverb, well means “expertly.”
My daughter looks well now.
My daughter looks good now.
This one can be tricky! We don’t know enough about whether the daughter is now well after being sick or looks good now after changing something about her appearance. Use context clues from surrounding sentences to know the correct use in this sentence.
Misplaced Modifier or Ambiguous Modifiers
Listening to loud music slowly gives me a headache. (Incorrect)
When I listen to loud music, I slowly develop a headache. (Correct)
Rule to Remember: Modifiers should be placed next to the words they modify to avoid ambiguity in sentences. The correct sentence should be: The teacher praised John for his great accomplishments.
To see well, the lights in this room need to be adjusted.
Explanation: Dangling modifiers occur when the subject in the introductory phrase is not stated.
“To see well” is the introductory phase. The subject is not mentioned in the introductory phrase. When writing professionally, dangling modifiers are often considered too stylistic and can be confusing to the reader.
This sentence would receive a better overall readability score if written like this: The lights in this room need to be adjusted to see well.
She did not have neither her address nor her phone number.
My daughter Chantelle wouldn’t shout at nobody.
Both sentences are incorrect. A double negative is usually created by combining the negative form of a verb (e.g., cannot, did not, have not) with a negative pronoun (e.g., nothing, nobody), a negative adverb (e.g., never, hardly), or a negative conjunction (e.g., neither/nor).
Explanation: A double negative is a statement that contains two negative words. Double negatives should not be present in proper sentences.
Editor’s Note: Commonly confused words are words we don’t catch, even when editing ourselves. These are the words that easily hide because they still work correctly in a sentence if the sentence is being read by a spell checker or Grammarly. However, the word isn’t exactly right for the sentence. Read carefully!
The candidate promised not to raise taxes when elected. (Correct)
The candidate promised not to rise taxes when elected. (Incorrect)
Other phonetic mishaps may have to do with particular cultures and pronunciations in your local community. Here is a great example:
I am selling my house. (Correct)
My house is for sell. (Incorrect)
You may be selling your house, but your house is for sale, not “for sell”.
Editor’s Note: Often pronunciations across cultures lead to common misspelled words.
Phonetics change from generation to generation as well. Here’s an example of past-tense verbiage that may be common in speech, but is not grammatically correct.
She come over to deliver the flour, salt and pepper we needed. (Incorrect)
She came over to deliver the bakery items flour, salt, and pepper we needed. (Correct)
Explanation: This sentence is considered past tense. “She came over…” is the preferred correct answer. “She had come over…” would also be correct, but not preferred.
Consistent Verb Tenses
Mark finished his essay, tidies his room, and went out for supper. (Incorrect)
Mark finished his essay, tidied his room, and went out for supper. (Correct)
Explanation: In formal writing, it is important to keep verb tenses consistent so that readers can follow the progress of ideas and arguments easily. In creative writing, verb tenses may be used inconsistently for effect, but in academic writing, it is important to use verb tenses consistently throughout a paper, carefully signaling any necessary shifts in tense.
Parallelism & Conjoined Items
Which of the following is correct?
Most people not only are lifting weights at the gym, but they also do a cardiovascular workout. (Incorrect)
Most people not only lift weights at the gym, but they also do a cardiovascular workout. (Correct)
Why? Parallelism. Conjoined items in a sentence must be in the same grammatical form.
Here’s another example:
I like to jog and go walking. (Incorrect)
I like jogging and walking. (Correct)
Rules to Remember: Conjoined items in a sentence must be in the same grammatical form, i.e. grammatically parallel.
This one can be tricky because it doesn’t always lend itself to the “ear test.” Although a sentence may sound wrong, it may be grammatically correct. Here are several examples of agreeing pronouns to help you identify how to align a pronoun with the antecedent.
Neither of the players in the last game was injured. (Correct)
Neither of the players in the last game were injured. (Incorrect)
Neither of my classmates are taking the trip this summer. (Incorrect)
Neither of my classmates is taking the trip this summer. (Correct)
Rule to Remember: Pronouns must agree in number, in gender, and person with their antecedents.
Here’s an example using the pronoun “everybody.”
Everybody has been bringing in their own lunch lately. (Incorrect)
Everybody has been bringing in his or her own lunch lately. (Correct)
Rule to Remember: The indefinite pronoun everybody is always singular. The pronoun their which refers back to its antecedent everybody also needs to be in the singular form.
Here is an example using the pronoun “myself.”
The teacher asked Anne and myself to do a peer review of each other’s writing. (Incorrect)
The teacher asked Anne and me to do a peer review of each other’s writing. (Correct)
Rule to Remember: Here, the pronoun myself is used incorrectly. Myself is a reflexive pronoun. Reflexive pronouns are used when the subject and the object are the same. It can also be used for emphasis.
Who vs. Whom
Who: Refers to a person (as the verb’s subject)
Whom: Refers to a person (as the verb’s object)
Which: Refers to an animal or thing
What: Refers to a nonliving thing
That: Refers to a person, animal, or thing
Here are some examples:
The woman who came to the door left flowers for you.
Rule to Remember: When used in questions, who is the nominative form of the pronoun, and it should be used when the pronoun is the subject.
I am not sure whom this book belongs to.
Rule to Remember: Whom should be used in questions when the pronoun is the object of the verb or preposition. To determine if “Who” would be correct to use, a good test is to replace who with that. That can be used instead of who after all, everyone, everybody, no one, nobody, those:
Whom did you meet at the conference? I met them. (Correct)
Who did you meet at the conference? I met them. (Incorrect)
Rule to Remember: Whom should be used in questions when the pronoun is the object of the verb or preposition.
Who, whom, and whose are also used to introduce clauses. Whom should be used when the pronoun is the object of the verb in the clause or the object of the preposition. Whose expresses possession.
Anne whose research on health effects of air pollution was well-known was invited to speak at a conference. (Incorrect)
Anne, whose research on health effects of air pollution was well-known, was invited to speak at a conference. (Correct)
Rule to Remember: When the noun modified is a person and also an object of the clause, who or whom is used. Whom is the correct form, and it is used more in formal English. In spoken English, who is frequently possible.
Defining Clauses or Relative Clauses
Defining clauses (restrictive clauses) give us the necessary information about the words they modify. They help convey the intended meaning. Let’s examine some sentences with and without defining clauses.
The cantaloupe is ripe. (You don’t know which specific cantaloupe is ripe.) The cantaloupe that I grew in my garden is ripe. (The defining clause lets you know which cantaloupe is ripe.)
Infinitive Verbs & Split Infinitives
When I did my lab experiments, I tried to thoroughly document each of my measurements. (Incorrect)
When I did my lab experiments, I tried to document thoroughly each of my measurements. (Correct)
Explanation: While both of these sentences are considered correct in “speech,” formal writing prefers that the verb does not follow “to.” An infinitive is a verb preceded by the word to: (to write, to examine, to take, to cooperate). When an adverb appears between to and the verb itself, we get a split infinitive.
Here’s another example using split infinitive:
She decided to instantly quit her job. (Incorrect)
She decided to quit her job instantly. (Correct)
Explanation: To correct the above sentence, instantly should appear after the verb. Split infinitives are a specific type of misplaced modifier. In formal writing, it is considered bad style to split an infinitive, but in more informal writing or in speech this has become more acceptable.
Compound Subjects Joined By Or, Nor, Neither
Neither students nor their teacher is participating in this play? (Correct)
Neither students nor their teacher are participating in this play. (Incorrect)
Explanation: When the compound subject is joined by or, nor, neither… nor, either… or and one part of the compound subject is singular and the other part is plural, the verb needs to agree with the part closest to it.
Using Years & Numbers In Writing
Explanation: Years do not need an apostrophe.
Please make two copies of the assignment. (Correct)
Please make 2 copies of the assignment. (Incorrect)
Rule to Remember: Spell out numbers below 10 in MLA style or below 100 in APA style.
Three-fourths of the class were born in the 90s. (Correct)
¾ of the class were born in the 90s. (Incorrect)
Rule to Remember: Spell out numbers at the beginning of the sentence, with the exception of years.
She won by 3%. (Correct)
She won by 3-percent. (Incorrect)
She won by three-percent. (Incorrect)
Rule to Remember: Numbers that represent years, days of the month, pages, chapters, street addresses, route numbers, percentages, temperatures, and telephone numbers should be written as numerals.
Gas prices are up to $5.00 per liter. (Correct)
Gas prices are up to five dollars per liter. (Incorrect)
Rule to Remember: The use of the percentage sign is preferred to spelling out the word percent.
Depending on the interest rate, your mortgage payment can be as low as five hundred or as high as $1,500. (Incorrect)
Depending on the interest rate, your mortgage payment can be as low as $500 or as high as $1,500. (Correct)
Rule to Remember: With large numbers, consistency and simplicity are very important.
⅓ of our income goes toward the mortgage payment. (Incorrect)
One-third of our income goes toward the mortgage payment. (Correct)
Rule to Remember: Simple fractions should be spelled out. A more complex fraction can be represented as a numeral unless it is at the beginning of the sentence.
There are twenty-four hours in a day.
There are 24 hours in a day.
In this case, both are correct. However, when we apply the rule above for consistency in numbers, try this:
There are twenty-four hours in a day and 365 days in a year. (Incorrect)
There are 24 hours in a day and 365 days in a year. (Correct)
Rule to Remember: Compound numbers should be hyphenated when spelled out.
Then vs. Than
Rules to Remember: Than is used when referring to a comparative amount such as more than or better than. Then refers to a point in time such as back then.
She was still working there then.
She was working more than her friends.
Lose vs. Loose
Rules to Remember: Lose versus lose is often just a spelling error. Lose means a failure to win. Loose means not tight.
They did not want to lose the game.
Her tooth came loose.
Their vs. There vs. They’re
Rules to Remember: Their refers to a person. There refers to a place. They’re is a contraction of “They are.”
The girls forgot to pick their lunches.
The girls wanted to go there for lunch.
To vs. Too
Rules to Remember: To refers to going somewhere or in a direction. Too can be replaced with “also” and is used as an intensifier, such as too much.
They wanted to go to the store.
They ate too much.
Your vs. You’re
Rules to Remember: Your means “belonging to you.” You’re is a contraction of “you are.”
Don’t forget your homework.
You’re going to ace the test!
Apostrophes in Plural Words
Rules to Remember: An apostrophe signifies ownership. A word that is plural does not need an apostrophe unless it is both pluralized and signifying ownership.
These sentences are correct:
My landlady had six cats in her apartment.
This is Sally’s cat.
Make sure to dot your i’s.