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Top 10 Grammar Mistakes to Avoid (Part One)

May 20 2011

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If you're like most people, writing isn't much fun. Just because you're not a gifted scribe doesn't mean you shouldn't share your thoughts. After all, as an experienced professional, you've got valuable insights that could enlighten your peers and market your services, insights that would be best expressed in writing. You need to be sure that your literary gems have a basic level of grammatical accuracy if you don't want your message to get lost through the "noise" of your mistakes.

We all have a few pesky bad grammar habits that we just can't seem to break. If you're a victim to any of the mistakes I'm about to mention, it's time to tape the list up on your wall, stick a post-it on your laptop, or have a colleague proofread your work.

I'm going to cover the first 5 mistakes here. Part Two will cover the next 5 mistakes.

 

The Contest

Let's be clear: I'm a writer, not an English teacher. These grammar rules have come from my own research and experience. So, I think it might be fun to have a little contest. Prove me wrong on any of these rules or examples and I'll write an article in your honor!

Ready? Let's go!

1. Apostrophes in the Wrong Place

Misplaced apostrophes pepper the writing of many bright people. Two great examples: "you're" and "it's."

  • "Your" and "you're": "Your" is a possessive pronoun. Examples of proper use include "your client" or "your business card." It should definitely not be used in place of "you're," a contraction for "you are." Examples of proper use include, "You're a fantastic REALTORĀ®," or, "You're an excellent writer."
  • "Its" and "it's": "Its" is a possessive pronoun. Examples of proper use include, "That dog enjoys its food," or, "My laptop is doing its best." This is not be confused with "it's," a contraction for "it is." Examples of proper use include, "It's amazing," or, "It's not easy."

2. Missing Commas

Commas are absolutely essential for an accurate and unambiguous sentence. However, it's not uncommon to find commas missing from a series of items, after an introductory dependent clause, between two independent clauses, or from nonrestrictive clauses.

  • INCORRECT: They wanted three bedrooms two bathrooms and a two-car garage.
  • CORRECT: They wanted three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a two-car garage.
  • INCORRECT: Because I visit RETechnology.com I get the latest tech news.
  • CORRECT: Because I visit RETechnology.com, I get the latest tech news.
  • INCORRECT: They said they wanted something bigger so I'm showing them the house on Main Street.
  • CORRECT: They said they wanted something bigger, so I'm showing them the house on Main Street.
  • INCORRECT: His house which just sold is the largest in the neighborhood.
  • CORRECT: His house, which just sold, is the largest in the neighborhood.

3. Who Did What? (a.k.a. Misplaced Modifier)

A misplaced modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that is incorrectly separated from the word it describes. It can make a serious sentence sound totally silly.

  • INCORRECT: "The children took pictures of the penguins with their cameras." Here, you're saying that the penguins had cameras.
  • CORRECT: "With their cameras, the children took pictures of the penguins."
  • INCORRECT: "Everyone is talking about tornadoes on the evening news."
  • CORRECT: "On the evening news, everyone is talking about tornadoes."
  • INCORRECT: "The person who came to the door was a tall man in a plaid suit named Ernie." The suit was named Ernie?
  • CORRECT: "The person who came to the door was a tall man in a plaid suit. His name was Ernie."

4. They're, Their, and There

"They're" is a contraction for "they are." Examples of proper use include "they're fantastic" or "they're colorful." This should not be confused with "their," a possessive pronoun. Examples of proper use include "their house" or "their blog." Finally, it's important not to misuse "there," which is used to refer to a place. For example, we could say "It's over there," or, "We should go there."

5. Effect vs. Affect

This is a tricky one! Let me break it down for you.

  • "Affect" is usually used as a verb. You'd use it to say that one thing has influenced something else. An example of proper use would be: "The change will affect this month's sales."
  • "Effect" is usually used as a noun. You'd use it instead of the word "result." An example of proper use would be: "I didn't realize it would have that effect."

Unfortunately, there are exceptions to every rule. For instance, "affect" can be used as a psychological term to describe someone's apparent mood or as a way to say that someone is acting in a way that they don't feel. When used as a verb, "effect" means "to bring about" or "to accomplish."

Stay tuned for the next 5 grammar mistakes to avoid. In the meantime, happy writing!

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