Common Grammar Errors

Have you ever posted a link on Facebook to a great article that you spent hours writing, only to have the comments devolve into a debate about your word usage? If not, consider yourself lucky.

The thing about being a social media or content marketer is that when we make mistakes, we make them in front of the entire Internet. And if there’s one thing that people love to do online, it’s call people out. While a certain amount of trolling can (and should) be expected by successful content producers, the problem occurs when those mistakes overshadow the otherwise excellent content you’re putting out there.

If you have a robust content strategy and you write and schedule hundreds of articles each year, missed typos are bound to happen—that’s just math. However, typos are not what will get you in hot water with Internet scolds. Today we’re going to take a look at common grammar and word use errors that really fire people up, and can immediately derail your content efforts.

1. The usual suspects
There are some well-known examples that will really get you scolded online, so let’s get those out of the way right from the start.

  • Irregardless is not a word, regardless of how right it may feel when you’re using it.
  • The expression is not for all intensive purposes. This usage will make you sound, for all intents and purposes, like a less intelligent writer.
  • Same difference means nothing. Instead, say same thing or no difference, but do not create this meaningless mash-up.

2. Apostrophe anarchy
Nothing trips readers up like a misused apostrophe. If they don’t come naturally to you, try to bear in mind that apostrophes are intended to show possession or indicate letters that have been left out. Here are some common examples of apostrophe errors to avoid:

  • Incorrect: The 1960’s, the 60’s
    Correct: The 1960s, the ‘60s
  • Incorrect: Howdy, ya’ll
    Correct: Howdy y’all

3. Me, myself, and I
This is an error that occurs in speech more than in writing, but it’s important nonetheless. One easy trick for remembering which one to use is to say the sentence another way and see if what you chose still makes sense. Or, take any other people out of the scenario and see if you would still choose the same word—because you should!

  • Incorrect: Sam and me are starting a blog.
    Correct: Sam and I are starting a blog (because without Sam, I am starting a blog).
  • Incorrect: Please give your forms to Sam or myself.
    Correct: Please give your forms to Sam or me (because without Sam, you would just give them to me).

4. A plurality of errors
More items, more problems. It can be tough to remember the proper singular forms of words we most often hear in plural form. Similarly, it’s easy to forget that common plural nouns are in fact plural, and to treat them as if they were singular. Here are three words that are often misused in this way:

  • Incorrect: Personality is the main criteria on which we judge candidates.
    Correct: Personality is the main criterion on which we judge candidates.
  • Incorrect: The national media is responsible for our views.
    Correct: The national media are responsible for our views.
  • Incorrect: The data does not indicate that result.
    Correct: The data do not indicate that result.

5. So close, but so far
Sometimes it’s the littlest things that make the biggest difference. A letter here, or a space there, can change the meaning (and the impression you give) entirely.

  • A lot means there are many; allot means to give something; alot means nothing at all.
  • A compliment flatters someone; a complement makes something else complete.
  • Farther refers to a physical distance; further refers to a figurative or metaphorical distance.
  • Something imminent is about to happen; something (or someone) eminent is well respected or singular.
  • A regimen is a course of treatment; a regiment is an army unit; a regime is an authoritarian government.

6. Homonym hysteria
Words that sound the same, yet are spelled differently, are among the dirtiest tricks in the English language. Here are some of the worst offenders:

  • To rain is to precipitate; to rein [in] is to control; to reign is to rule with authority.
  • Milk is something you pour over cereal; you might pore over a legal document.
  • A roof peaks at the top; a person peeks out the window; a topic piques your interest.

7. For whom the troll trolls
Perhaps the reason people love to scold about the difference between ‘who’ and ‘whom’ is that they were so proud when they finally figured it out for themselves. Here’s simple trick for remembering which to use:

  • If the answer would contain “him” then the question should ask “for whom?”
    “For whom did you bake the cookies?” “I baked them for him.”
  • If the answer would contain “he” then the question should ask “who?”
    Who baked these delicious cookies?” “He baked them.”

8. A crime of capitalization
Nothing drives me more insane than arbitrary capitalization. There are lots of reasons to capitalize words—proper nouns, etc.—but emphasis is not among them. If you find yourself casting about for a way to set certain words off to make them feel more important, consider italicizing or going bold instead. Or, resist the urge entirely, because not everything requires emphasis to stand apart.

  • Incorrect: I do a lot of advertising work for Coca-Cola, Restaurants, and Politicians.
    Correct: I do a lot of advertising work for Coca-Cola, restaurants, and politicians.

9. Modifier mayhem
Let me be upfront; this one is a personal pet peeve. If you are using a modifier at the beginning of your sentence, make sure the thing that follows the comma is the thing you intended to modify.

  • Incorrect: As social marketers, people are more likely to notice our grammar mistakes.
    Correct: As social marketers, we are more likely to be mocked for our grammar mistakes.

10. Dash madness
We waited until the end to get really technical, but it had to happen eventually. There are three kinds of dashes in the world, and using them properly will make you seem like an even more reliable source.

  • An em-dash is used for an aside; similar to parenthesis:
    It’s important to know this—even though it’s boring.
  • An en-dash connects ranges:
    The Tar Heels beat The Blue Devils 100–98 in a great game. (Yes, I went there.)
  • A hyphen is used to connect words:
    This article is about often-misused words.

At the end of the day, the most important thing is that you are creating engaging, compelling, high-quality content for your target audience. But if you want your message to be heard by everyone, it helps to say it as clearly and correctly as possible. Did we miss any of your grammar or word use pet peeves? Tell us about them in the comments below!

About the Author: Sarah Matista is the Content Marketing Manager at Webs, where she also manages marketing for Pagemodo – a suite of social media tools. Loves marketing, small businesses, and whales. Get more from Sarah on the Webs Blog, Twitter, and Google+.

12 Responses

  1. Reply
    Curtis Boyd
    May 01, 2015 - 09:33 PM

    You know its funny, I review dozens of articles for clients every day, but sometimes ignore capitalization, and especially all the dashes. I-mean-its-really-easy-to-do!!! I’m adding 1-10 to my check list. Thank you!

    • Reply
      Sarah Matista
      May 04, 2015 - 10:15 AM

      So happy you found it helpful, Curtis!

  2. Reply
    May 18, 2015 - 06:56 PM

    Two very common ones.

    The misuse of your and you’re.
    If you’re trying to say “you are”, then “you’re” should be used, not “your”.

    Another all too common one is the misuse of “too” and “to”.

    “Too” should be used as a substitute for “also”. It can also be used to emphasize quantity, as in “too nice” or “too many apples” or “too hot”.

    Incorrect: He is to slow to win the race.
    Correct: He is too slow to win the race.

    Great article by the way. I thought I was savvy, but I learned some things.

    • Reply
      Sarah Matista
      May 19, 2015 - 09:39 AM

      Good points, Wesley! Thanks for your comment – I’m glad to hear the article was helpful for you!

  3. Reply
    May 23, 2015 - 09:23 AM

    I came from Finland almost 20 years ago and I’ am still trying to figure out English. Some common sayings I often hear is : The alarm went off, the sprinklers went off and so on when they really meant they went on. Is there reason for that controversial saying or am I missing something?

  4. Reply
    Katia Cooper
    May 23, 2015 - 03:53 PM

    This is helpful. Could you add a tip for the use of commas? Including the placement of commas with “but, yet, and”? Thanks!

  5. Reply
    May 24, 2015 - 07:43 AM

    I am sorry to say but you missed the mark big time. These are not the top ten grammar mistakes people make, You got a couple right, but the rest it pretty much dated, and also you made several mistakes. Lets talk about en-dash and em-dash. Neither are used in grammar. A hyphen however is. Both of them are based on typographical measurements. An em dash is the width of the size of the font. Wait, zuh? Try this: a 12-point font has an em dash 12 points wide. There are 72 points (approx.) to an inch, for reference. An en dash is half the width of an em dash.

    So more useful information such as punctuation, like when to use a comma for example, and Wesley’s comment above on “too.” Those points are part of the ten most common mistakes. Rain was also a good one. Several other could easily be pointed out like the proper usage of the words there, their, and they’re. That is probably the number one mistake most people make in sentences. I am not a grammar expert. I am actually dyslexic.

    I would also like to point out in ninety percent of formal writing contractions are not used. While I used numbers in the beginning,normally when I use numbers, I spell the number out. Another point is spacing, this is a forgotten art. After a period you should double space. You will note I used it in this whole comment. I also would like to point out a huge mistake people make when writing that you also missed and that is using the word “but” at the beginning of a sentence. Things like these would be more helpful. Once again, sorry but you missed the mark.

    • Reply
      Sep 24, 2015 - 01:21 PM

      Damn, Dustin.
      1. Settle down. No need to get all butthurt over a really useful list of suggestions.
      2. If you’re going to criticize an article about grammar, perhaps you should start by examining your own. For example, “Lets talk about en-dash and em-dash” is incorrect. “Lets” should be “Let’s” as in the contraction for “let us.” So pipe the **** down.

  6. Reply
    May 24, 2015 - 05:59 PM

    While interesting, I found only a couple to be useful. As well as noting some of your grammar errors myself, but I will not get picky. I will however say you lack explanation. Lets take en-dash, em-dash , and hyphen. You used them but did not explain this part. Get this. They’re based on typographical measurements. An em dash is the width of the size of the font. Wait, zuh? Try this: a 12-point font has an em dash 12 points wide. There are 72 points (approx.) to an inch, for reference. An en dash is half the width of an em dash. Since most people do not know even how to find them on the keyboard let me help complete this. Like so:

    Em dash: — (alt-shift-hyphen on Windows, option-shift-hyphen on Mac, — in HTML)

    En dash: – (alt-hyphen on Windows, option-hyphen on Mac, – in HTML)

    Hyphen Rule 1: Word Breaks
    We’re most familiar with this usage. Hyphens are used to break up long words at the end of a line of type. Word processing and desktop publishing programs will do this automatically for you at your discretion, so there’s never a need to manually type in a hyphen to break up a word. Always turn auto-hyphenation off in your software, unless circumstances demand it. Non-hyphenated line endings are always preferable to hyphenation.

    If you must manually hyphenate a long word at the end of a line, don’t do it randomly. Break the word at a syllable change.

    Hyphen Rule 2: Compound Words
    Use a hyphen when writing compound words that would otherwise be confusing. Compound words are when two or more words are strung together. For example, “editor-in-chief” is a compound word, as is “merry-go-round.” When in doubt as to whether you need a hyphen (or two) in a compound word, consult a dictionary, as usage varies.

    Hyphen Rule 3: Compound Proper Names
    Hyphens are often used in long, multi-word names, such as “Jean-Paul Gaultier” and “Claude Lévi-Strauss.” However, this is another case in which discretion is in order, because it’s up to the person themselves as to whether their name is hyphenated or not. For instance, Hillary Rodham Clinton doesn’t hyphenate her name. Go with what the owner of the name uses.

    Hyphen Rule 4: Compound Modifiers
    Compound modifiers are hyphenated in order to add clarity and reduce confusion. For instance, a “man eating shark” could be a shark being eaten by a man, while “man-eating shark” is much more clearly a shark that eats men. When two or more words are modifying a noun, they will commonly take a hyphen in order for the meaning to make sense.

    Hyphen Rule 5: Prefixes
    Prefixes include words like non, un, pre, post, pro, anti. If a number or a capital letter follows the prefix, always use a hyphen in between. For example:

    pre-Newtonian physics
    anti-Canadian feeling
    post-1500 Spanish culture
    Additionally, always use a hyphen if the prefix ends in a or i when the next word begins with the same letter. Example: ultra-ambitious.

    The prefix ex always takes a hyphen, as in ex-husband.

    And there you have it. The hyphen isn’t so bad; it likes to make things easier to read and understand. Simply put these 5 rules for correct use of a hyphen to use, and consult a dictionary when necessary, and the plain little hyphen will do its job with panache.

    Another item the usage of three even more commonly misused words. There, Their, and They’re:

    They’re is a shortened version of they are. (The apostrophe replaces the letter a.) Only use they’re if you can substitute it with they are.

    Their is used to show possession. It is just like my, your, his, her, its, and our. (These are called possessive adjectives.) Here is a little trick: use the word our instead of their. If the sentence still makes sense, then their is almost certainly correct. This trick works because our and their are both possessive adjectives used for plurals.

    The word there is similar to the word here in that it represents a place. It has two main uses: (1) it is a specified place (like in the first example below), and (2) it is an unspecified place (like in the second example). Also, like in the second and third examples, the word there can be used to show that something exists.

    Since my last post did not make it I doubt you will share this info either!

  7. Reply
    May 25, 2015 - 12:18 AM

    Very interesting. I thought I was ok, but still learnt/ learned some stuff-those two tend to confuse me!
    There, their and they’re – also a huge problem out there. Did I put the dash in the right place?

    Item 3. Many people also say, “Give them to Sam or I.” You would never say, “Give them to I.”

    Using my mobile and struggling to type here.

  8. Reply
    Emma Pireson
    May 27, 2015 - 03:14 AM

    I like the helpful information you provide in your articles.

  9. Reply
    Jun 04, 2015 - 09:53 AM

    It’s and its can be confusing at times. (Sorry I can’t use italics on my tablet) It’s, is to be used when meaning, it is: It’s raining again.
    Its is possesive: The dog lost its ball.

    It’s a good thing the cat likes its head pet.

Leave a Comment


Layout Style

Header Style

Accent Color