Top 10 Most Common Mistakes in English and How to Avoid Them

“A whopping 51.8% of respondents admit that grammar mistakes can ruin a company’s professional image, and 34.9% answered that a company’s credibility could be affected by grammatical errors.”Tidio

In the big world of words, English is like a super-important puzzle everyone tries to solve. Just like in a game, even people who’ve played it for years – like those who’ve spoken English since they were babies – can still make little oopsies. These aren’t just any mistakes; they’re like sneaky tricksters that even the smartest players sometimes miss. 

But guess what? Knocking out these tricky errors is super important! It’s like making sure your puzzle pieces fit perfectly, so you can share your ideas, stories, and thoughts clearly with everyone else playing the game. 

So, we’re going on a treasure hunt to find these sneaky mistakes and learn secret ways to avoid them, making sure we all become top-notch players in the wonderful world of English!

“96.5% of all respondents admit that grammar mistakes influence the image of a person, and 97.2% claim that it affects the perception of a company” Tidio

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Mistake #1: Most Commonly Misused Homophones We all must know

Imagine you have a set of twins in your class. They look almost the same, but they like different things and do different stuff. In the English language, we have something similar called homophones. These are words that sound like twins—they sound the same when you say them out loud, but they have different meanings and are often spelled differently too.

Let’s meet some of these tricky twins!

  • Their/There/They’re:
    • Their is all about belonging. It’s like saying, “That is their toy,” meaning the toy belongs to them.
    • There is like pointing to a place. When you say, “Look over there!” you’re talking about a location.
    • They’re is a quick way of saying “they are.” Like, “They’re going to the park” means “They are going to the park.”
  • Your/You’re:
    • Your shows that something belongs to you. “Is that your ball?” is asking if the ball belongs to you.
    • You’re is short for “you are.” So when someone says, “You’re funny,” they mean “You are funny.”
  • It’s/Its:
    • It’s is short for “it is” or “it has.” Like, “It’s a sunny day” means “It is a sunny day.”
    • Its is about belonging to something. “The cat licked its paw” means the paw belongs to the cat.

Now, how do we make sure we don’t mix them up? Here are some tips:

  • For their/there/they’re, remember:
    • Their has the word “heir” in it, and heirs own things.
    • There has the word “here” in it, which is a place.
    • They’re has an apostrophe (‘) which stands for the missing ‘a’ in “they are.”
  • For your/you’re, remember:
    • If you can replace it with “you are,” then it’s you’re.
    • If it’s about something belonging to someone, it’s your.
  • For it’s/its, remember:
    • If you can replace it with “it is” or “it has,” use it’s.
    • If it’s about something owning something else, use its.

Test your literacy

8
Homophones

"I can't wait to eat desert after dinner!" What is the correct homophone to use in the sentence?

“As many as 94% of 1,457 US respondents consider themselves attentive to grammar and spelling when they browse or read online content” Tidio


Mistake #2: What are some common subject-verb agreement errors

In every sentence, the subject (who or what the sentence is about) and the verb (the action or state of being) must match up like best friends at a dance party. This is called subject-verb agreement.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Singular and Plural Pairs: If your subject is just one (singular), like “The cat,” your verb should also be for just one, like “is” in “The cat is happy.” But if you have more than one (plural), like “The cats,” your verb should match that too, like “are” in “The cats are happy.”
  • Common Mistakes:
    • Forgetting to add ‘s’ for singular subjects: “He run” should be “He runs.”
    • Using plural verbs with singular subjects: “The list of items are long” should be “The list of items is long.”
  • Guidance for Correct Matching:
    • Always find your subject first. Ask, “Who or what is this sentence about?”
    • Decide if your subject is singular (one) or plural (more than one).
    • Choose your verb to match. Remember, if it’s singular, often you’ll add ‘s’ to the verb, like “He runs,” but if it’s plural, you won’t, like “They run.”
STOP! Just check that:  20 Best Websites to Learn English: Features & Pricing

Test your literacy

7
Subject-Verb Agreement Errors

Which sentence corrects the subject-verb agreement error?

Mistake #3: How to use apostrophes correctly

Think of apostrophes like little signs that show who owns something or that two words have been squished together. But sometimes, these little signs get put in the wrong place, causing confusion. Let’s clear up the mess!

  • Apostrophes in Contractions: Contractions are like word sandwiches. We squish them together and drop some letters. An apostrophe shows where we’ve taken letters out. For example, “do not” becomes “don’t,” with the apostrophe replacing the ‘o’ in “not.”
  • Apostrophes in Possessives: When something belongs to someone or something, we often use an apostrophe to show it. Like “Sara’s book” means the book belongs to Sara. But be careful! Not all words ending in ‘s’ need an apostrophe.
  • Common Mistakes:
    • Its/It’s: “It’s” is short for “it is” or “it has” (like in “It’s raining”). “Its” shows something belongs to ‘it’ (like in “The cat licked its paw”).
    • Your/You’re: “You’re” is short for “you are” (like in “You’re funny”). “Your” shows something belongs to ‘you’ (like in “Is this your coat?”).
    • They’re/Their/There: “They’re” is short for “they are.” “Their” shows something belongs to ‘them.’ “There” is about a place or idea.
  • Using Apostrophes Correctly:
    • For contractions, always think about what letters are missing and put the apostrophe in their place.
    • For possessives, if the owner is one person or thing, put the apostrophe before the ‘s’ (like “dog’s”). If it’s more than one, put it after the ‘s’ (like “dogs'”).

Test your literacy

5
Incorrect Use of Apostrophes

Is the apostrophe used correctly in the following sentence?

"Jenny's books are on the shelf."


Mistake #4: Run-On Sentences and Sentence Fragments

Imagine you’re building a train. Each car is a thought or idea, and they link together to make a smooth ride. But what if you keep adding cars without giving passengers a place to pause? Or what if some cars are missing parts? This is what happens with run-on sentences and sentence fragments.

  • Run-On Sentences: These are like trains that go on forever without giving the reader a break. They’re two or more sentences squished together without proper punctuation or connecting words. It’s like saying, “I love cats I have three” instead of “I love cats. I have three.”
  • Sentence Fragments: These are the opposite. They’re like train cars missing an engine or wheels. A fragment tries to be a sentence but doesn’t have all the parts it needs, like “Because I went running” with no follow-up.
  • Consequences in Writing:
    • Run-on sentences make it hard for readers to follow your thoughts.
    • Sentence fragments leave readers hanging, waiting for the rest.
    • Both can make your writing seem rushed or unclear.
  • Identifying and Fixing:
    • To catch run-ons, look for places where you’ve connected two main ideas without a period, comma, or connecting word like ‘and’ or ‘but.’
    • To fix them, you can usually add a period or a comma with a connecting word.
    • For fragments, check if each sentence has a subject (who or what it’s about) and a verb (what’s happening). If something’s missing, add it in!

Test your literacy

5
Run-On Sentences and Sentence Fragments

Is the following an example of a run-on sentence or a sentence fragment?

"She enjoys running her dog needs a walk."


Mistake #5: Finding and Fixing Comma Splices and Misplaced Commas.

Imagine commas as little speed bumps on the road of your sentence. They tell the reader when to pause and take a breath. But what if you put a speed bump right in the middle of the highway? Or forgot one where it’s needed? That’s what happens with comma splices and misplaced commas.

  • Comma Splices: This is when you use a comma to join two complete sentences without the right conjunction (like ‘and’ or ‘but’). It’s like saying, “I love ice cream, I eat it every day.” That comma is trying to do a job meant for a period or a semicolon.
  • Misplaced Commas: These are commas that are put in the wrong place, causing confusion. Like, “Let’s eat, grandma!” versus “Let’s eat grandma!” The first one invites grandma to eat; the second one sounds like you’re eating grandma!
  • Examples of Errors:
    • Comma Splice: “She writes poetry, she also paints.”
    • Misplaced Comma: “I enjoy cooking, my family, and my pets.”
  • Correct Usage:
    • For a comma splice, you can fix it by making them two sentences, joining them with a conjunction, or using a semicolon. Like, “She writes poetry; she also paints.”
    • For misplaced commas, read the sentence out loud. Where do you naturally pause? That’s likely where a comma goes. And remember, don’t separate the subject from the verb with a comma!

Test your literacy

4
Comma Splices and Misplaced Commas

Mistake #6: Dangling Participles and Misplaced Modifiers

Welcome to the world of sentence decoration! Modifiers and participles are like ornaments on a tree, adding extra information and flair. But if you hang them in the wrong place, things can get pretty confusing. Let’s straighten them out!

  • Dangling Participles: Participles are words formed from verbs that are often used as adjectives. A dangling participle happens when the word or phrase it’s supposed to describe is missing, making it seem like something else is doing the action. It’s like saying, “Running to catch the bus, the backpack was forgotten.” Who was running? The backpack?
  • Misplaced Modifiers: These are words or phrases that aren’t quite in the right spot, making the sentence confusing or funny. Like, “I saw the eagle in my pajamas.” Wait, was the eagle wearing your pajamas?
  • Examples of Errors:
    • Dangling Participle: “Walking into the room, the painting was stunning.” (Who was walking into the room?)
    • Misplaced Modifier: “She served sandwiches to the children on paper plates.” (Were the children on paper plates?)
  • Correcting Mistakes:
    • For dangling participles, make sure the thing you’re describing is actually in the sentence. “As I was running to catch the bus, I forgot my backpack.”
    • For misplaced modifiers, move them closer to the word they’re supposed to modify. “She served the children sandwiches on paper plates.”

Test your literacy

4
Dangling Participles and Misplaced Modifiers

Is the modifier correctly placed in the following sentence?

"Running quickly, the finish line seemed far away."

Remember, modifiers are there to add spice and detail to your sentences, but they need to be in the right place to make sense. With a bit of practice, you’ll be able to spot and fix these sneaky errors, making your writing more precise and engaging. Let’s decorate our sentences correctly!

“As many as 44.4% of respondents admit your grammar reflects your intelligence. About 20.9% of respondents think it reflects your education level.” Tidio


Mistake #7: What are double negatives for dummies?

Picture a double negative like accidentally pressing the ‘undo’ button twice when you only meant to do it once. It’s when you use two negative words in the same sentence, which can make your sentence mean the opposite of what you intended, or just make it confusing.

  • What are Double Negatives?
    • Double negatives happen when you use two negative words or phrases together, like “I don’t need no help.” The words ‘don’t’ and ‘no’ both have negative meanings, so using them together can be confusing.
  • Common Double Negative Phrases:
    • “I can’t hardly wait.” (Means you can wait.)
    • “He doesn’t know nothing.” (Means he knows something.)
    • “She isn’t going nowhere.” (Means she is going somewhere.)
  • Correct Use of Double Negatives:
    • In standard English, double negatives are usually a no-no because they make your meaning unclear. But sometimes, in poetry or song lyrics, double negatives are used on purpose for effect. For example, “I can’t get no satisfaction” is a famous song lyric that breaks this rule for style and emphasis.

Test your literacy

4
Double Negatives

Does the following sentence contain a double negative?

"I can't find no keys."

Remember, while double negatives might slip into our everyday speech, in writing, they can make your message unclear. Just like you wouldn’t press ‘undo’ twice, try not to double up on the negatives in your sentences. With a bit of practice, you’ll be able to spot and avoid them, making your writing clear and effective.


Mistake #8: Inconsistent Verb Tenses

Imagine you’re telling a story about a great adventure you had. If you keep jumping between “yesterday” and “today” while telling it, your friends might get a bit lost. That’s what happens in writing when verb tenses aren’t consistent. Let’s keep our story straight!

  • Importance of Consistent Verb Tenses:
    • Keeping the same verb tense (like past, present, or future) throughout a sentence or paragraph helps the reader understand when things are happening. It’s like keeping your story on a clear path instead of a twisty trail.
  • Common Situations of Tense Switching:
    • When telling a story, it’s easy to slip from past to present, like “I walked to the park, and I see a squirrel.” Did you see the squirrel now or during your walk?
    • When discussing facts or general truths, people sometimes switch tenses unnecessarily. For example, “If you mix red and blue, you got purple.”
  • Guidance for Maintaining Verb Tense Consistency:
    • Before you start writing, decide if your story or information is happening in the past, present, or future.
    • As you write, pause now and then to check your verbs. Are they all in the same time frame?
    • If you need to change tenses (like shifting from a general truth to a specific example), make sure the switch is clear and logical.

Test your literacy

4
Inconsistent Verb Tenses

Is the verb tense consistent in the following sentence?

"She was watching TV when he calls."

Remember, maintaining consistent verb tenses is like keeping your story on a clear, straight path. It helps your reader follow along without getting lost in time. With practice, you’ll be a pro at guiding your readers smoothly from start to finish. Let’s get started!

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Mistake #9: Commonly Confused Words and Misused Phrases in English.

In the English language, some words and phrases are like identical twins – they look and sound almost the same, but they have different personalities! Understanding these differences is key to clear communication. Let’s meet some of these tricky pairs and learn how to tell them apart.

  • Commonly Confused Words and Phrases:
    • Affect/Effect: “Affect” is usually a verb meaning to influence, while “Effect” is usually a noun meaning the result.
    • Accept/Except: “Accept” means to receive or agree to, while “Except” means excluding.
    • Than/Then: “Than” is used for comparisons, while “Then” refers to time or sequence.
  • Understanding the Differences:
    • Affect/Effect: You can remember that “affect” is an action (both start with ‘a’), and “effect” is the end result (both start with ‘e’).
    • Accept/Except: Remember, “accept” is to agree or receive (you ‘accept’ a ‘concept’), and “except” is to exclude (think ‘ex’ like ‘exclude’).
    • Than/Then: “Than” is used in comparisons (think of it as ‘comparing with than’), and “then” is about time (both ‘then’ and ‘time’ have ‘t’).
  • Mnemonic Devices:
    • Affect/Effect: “Aardvarks affect anthills.” (Both ‘affect’ and ‘aardvarks’ start with ‘a’.)
    • Accept/Except: “I will accept all the gifts, except the snake.” (Imagine accepting gifts and excluding the snake.)
    • Than/Then: “Better late than never, then celebrate!” (Use ‘than’ for comparison and ‘then’ for what happens next.)

Test your literacy

4
Commonly Confused Words and Misused Phrases

Does the following sentence use the words correctly?

"I'm going to lay down for a nap."

Remember, these confusing words and phrases are like puzzles waiting to be solved. With a little practice and some clever memory tricks, you’ll master them in no time.

Mistake # 10: Lack of Parallel Structure

Imagine you’re at a dance where everyone is moving in harmony, following the same rhythm. That’s what parallel structure is like in writing. It’s when parts of your sentence dance together in the same form. It makes your writing smoother and easier to follow. But when the dance steps are out of sync, it can trip up your readers. Let’s get everyone back in rhythm!

  • Defining Parallel Structure:
    • Parallel structure (or parallelism) happens when parts of a sentence that are similar in meaning are also similar in structure. For example, “I like reading, writing, and to jog” lacks parallelism. It’s smoother as “I like reading, writing, and jogging.”
  • Significance in Writing:
    • Using parallel structure makes your writing clearer and more persuasive. It’s pleasing to the ear and emphasizes your points effectively.
  • Identifying Faulty Parallelism:
    • Look for lists or comparisons in your sentences. Are the parts formatted in the same way? If one part is different, you might have a parallelism issue. For example, “She is smart, witty, and has charm” should be “She is smart, witty, and charming.”
  • Correcting for Parallel Structure:
    • Once you’ve found the odd one out, rewrite it so it matches the form of the other parts. This might mean changing verbs to the same tense, making all items in a list nouns, or restructuring the sentence.

Test your literacy

4
Lack of Parallel Structure

Does the following sentence maintain parallel structure?

"She likes dancing, singing, and to paint."

Remember, keeping your sentence elements in parallel is like choreographing a smooth dance. When everything moves together, your writing has rhythm, flow, and clarity. With some practice, you’ll be creating beautifully parallel sentences that glide across the page with ease.

Conclusion

In our journey through the English language, we’ve navigated through a landscape of common mistakes that can trip up even the most experienced speakers and writers. From the sneaky homophones that sound the same but have different meanings, to the jumbled dance of parallel structures 10, each mistake we’ve uncovered is a stepping stone towards clearer, more effective communication.

  • Homophones: These tricky twins of sound can alter the meaning of your sentence if used incorrectly.
  • Subject-Verb Agreement Errors: Ensuring your subjects and verbs match up is crucial for clear sentences.
  • Incorrect Use of Apostrophes: These tiny symbols can change the ownership or meaning of your words dramatically.
  • Run-On Sentences and Sentence Fragments: Keeping your sentences complete yet concise prevents confusion.
  • Comma Splices and Misplaced Commas: Commas can clarify or confuse, so placing them correctly is key.
  • Dangling Participles and Misplaced Modifiers: Misplacement of these can lead to unintentionally humorous or unclear writing.
  • Double Negatives: They can make your sentence mean the opposite of what you intend.
  • Inconsistent Verb Tenses: Staying consistent with verb tenses keeps your reader grounded in the time frame of your narrative.
  • Confusing Words and Phrases: Words that sound or look similar can muddle your message if mixed up.
  • Lack of Parallel Structure: Parallelism in your writing adds rhythm and clarity.

Remember, the goal of avoiding these errors isn’t just to follow rules; it’s to make your communication as clear and effective as possible. Each time you choose the right word, match a subject with its verb, or punctuate a sentence correctly, you’re not just writing; you’re crafting a bridge of understanding between your mind and your reader’s.

As you continue to practice and improve, consider delving into resources like “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White, “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” by Lynne Truss, or “Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing” by Mignon Fogarty. These books and many online resources can offer valuable guidance and practice.

Your journey with English is ongoing and dynamic. With each mistake you encounter and correct, you’re not just learning; you’re evolving as a communicator. Keep exploring, keep questioning, and most importantly, keep writing. Your voice is unique and worth understanding, so give it the clarity it deserves. Happy writing!

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