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The Grammar Guide: Common Errors to Avoid

The Grammar Guide: Common Errors to Avoid

It's easy to make grammatical errors, which is why a handy guide always helps!

Elizabeth Hoyt

March 03, 2015

No matter how confident you may be in your writing skills, it’s easy to make mistakes on these common grammatical errors.

These mistakes are considered red flags on papers, scholarship application and admissions essays – not to mention, resumes, cover letters and other forms of professional correspondence.

What’s the big deal? Professors, scholarship providers and admissions officers consider such mistakes to be indicators that you don’t take the time to pay attention to detail or are careless about your efforts.

Make sure you learn to decipher meanings of words, when to use them and always check your work!

Otherwise, a simple mistake could cost you that scholarship, admission into the college of your dreams or, even, that fancy promotion.

Here’s a simple guide to help you along the way with some of the most common blunders people make in the English language:

  1. You’re versus Your

    This may be the most common grammatical mistake out there. Quite frankly, it’s a simple fix.

    a. You are = “You’re”
    b. “Your” is used when related to a person

    a. I cannot believe you’re going to Harvard!
    b. Your new puppy is so adorable!

  2. There, Their and They’re

    a. “There” = Location
    b. “Their” = Belonging to them
    c. “They’re” = They are

    a. I am going to work on my scholarship application over there.
    b. Fastweb has a multitude of opportunities to pay for school on their site.
    c. They’re accepting applications for scholarships now.

  3. Effect versus Affect

    a. A result = “Effect”
    b. To influence = “Affect”

    a. The scholarship had a major effect on the lives of the students.
    b. Winning scholarships affected her confidence in the most positive way.

  4. It’s versus Its

    a. It is or It has = “It’s”
    b. Its is a possessive pronoun, which means

    a. It’s almost time to leave for college!
    b. She found that Fastweb really knew its scholarships.

  5. A lot versus “Alot”

    The word “alot” doesn’t exist! Also, be wary of using “a lot” because it can sound vague. Rather, use numerical examples.

    a. I have applied for a lot of scholarships.
    b. I have applied for 12 scholarships total.

  6. Then versus Than

    In comparisons, use “than.” Use “then” in all other instances.

    a. Then can be used to mean “a point in time” or “in addition to.”
    b. Than is used in comparisons.

    a. I’m applying for scholarships, then I will apply for grants.
    b. I have applied for more scholarships than grants.

  7. More Than versus Over

    a. Use “more than” when citing numbers.
    b. Use over when the inverse is “under” and not to cite surpassing a certain amount.

    a. I had more than twenty responses to my application.
    b. She went over the word limit but submitted her essay anyway.

  8. Who versus Whom

    a. “Who” is used when one can respond with he or she
    b. “Whom” is used when one can respond with him or her

    a. Who is that man?
    b. To whom did you send flowers?

  9. Seen versus Saw

    “Saw” is the past tense of “see,” not “seen.”

    a. He saw a scholarship that he wanted to apply for.
    b. He had never seen such great opportunities before Fastweb.

  10. Lose versus Loose

    Be careful here, these words mean two completely different things!

    a. Be sure you don’t lose your scholarship applications.
    b. The scholarship guidelines were loose – pretty much anyone qualified.

  11. Chose versus Choose

    “Chose” is the past tense of “choose.”

    a. She chose not to apply for scholarships and now she’s in debt.
    b. Did you choose which schools you’re going to apply to yet?

  12. Compliment versus Complement

    a. “Compliment” = something kind someone says
    b. “Complement” = the act of doing so, something that adds to, completes or supplements

    a. I loved her shoes, so I complimented them.
    b. Her shoes really complemented her outfit.

  13. Principal versus Principle

    One easy way to remember the difference between the two: Your principal is your pal. Though cheesy, it helps!

    a. “Principal” = The director of a school or, in some cases, of high importance
    b. “Principle” = A fundamental value of conduct or action

    a. Our principal was kind to all students.
    b. He was a man of principle.

  14. Dessert versus Desert

    One trick to remember the difference between the two: desserts are very rich so there’s always an extra “s” in the word.
    a. “Dessert” = The delectable, often sweet, final course of a meal
    b. “Desert” = Desolate, arid or barren, often a type of land or to leave

    a. We ate the meal quickly because we couldn’t wait for dessert.
    b. She would never desert her friends.

  15. Accept versus Except

    a. “Accept” = To receive
    b. “Except” = To take out or leave out

    a. She accepted his apology.
    b. Everyone was invited, except Joe.

  16. Addition versus Edition

    a. “Addition” = Adding numbers
    b. “Edition” = A version or issue

    a. The first grade class was learning addition.
    b. He gave her a first editionof her favorite book for her birthday.

  17. Historic versus Historical

    a. “Historic” is used for an important event
    b. “Historical” is used to refer to something that happened in the past

    a. The historic dedication of the statue was something we’d always remember.
    b. Visiting historical landmarks has always been my passion.

  18. “-ible” and “-able”
    a. Use “-able” when the complete root word is used
    b. Use “-ible” when part of the root word is used and the word would not make sense without the ending

    a. I found it laughable the she didn’t believe me.
    b. The boat was visible from the shore.

  19. To, Too and Two

    a. “To” = As in direction, limit, toward something or someone
    b. “Too” = Means also
    c. “Two” = The number between one and three

    a. I want to apply for scholarships.
    b. I want to apply for scholarships, too.
    c. I applied for two scholarships.

  20. Fewer versus Less

    a. “Few” or “Fewer” = Use for things you’re able to count
    b. “Less” = Use for things you’re able to measure

    a. I applied for fewer scholarships than she did.
    b. I drink a lot less water than the recommended amount.

What other grammar mistakes do you notice most often?


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