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Common Mistakes in English and How to Fix Them

Many students make the same mistakes in academic writing. Take a careful look at this article to learn how to avoid the frequently made mistakes in your writing.

It's or its

Right✔️ Wrong❌
It's a dragonfly. I can see its eyes. Its a dragonfly. I can see it's eyes.

Its without an apostrophe is the possessive version of a pronoun. On the other hand, it's with an apostrophe is a contraction of it is or it has.

So, if you have doubts about which spelling to use — consider adding "it is" or "it has" to the sentence. If neither of these options works, then you should use using its.

Subject-Verb Agreement

Right✔️ Wrong❌
The list of ingredients is here. The list of ingredients are here.

Subjects and verbs must agree with one another in number. In this example, the list of ingredients is one singular list. Therefore, the writer should not use "are". Instead, he or she should use "is."

Vague Pronoun References

A vague pronoun is a pronoun that does not clearly identify its antecedent. An antecedent is a noun or pronoun that the pronoun refers to.

Right✔️ Wrong❌
Books were on the tables, but we didn't need the books. Books were on the tables, but we didn't need them.
This dress looks perfect. This looks perfect.
Each person should follow his or her dreams.
Everyone should follow their dreams.
Each person should follow their dreams.

Pronouns must clearly identify their antecedents. Keep pronoun references close to their antecedents to avoid confusion. Make sure to be very clear. If it is unclear, do not use the pronoun or change the sentence.

Since or For

The preposition for is used when you talk about an amount of time or space. The amount of time does not need to be exact. The important thing is that for is used to specify a period of time. On the contrary, since is used to refer to a point of time. In sentences with since, perfect tenses are typically used.

Right✔️ Wrong❌
I have been there for two days. I have been there since two days.
I have been staying here since last Tuesday. I have been staying here for last Tuesday.

Use for if the amount of time is indicated in the sentence already. Use since if you only have the starting point.

Apostrophes

Right✔️ Wrong❌
A girl's umbrella was left in the shop. A girls umbrella was left in the shop.
Two birds live in this cage. It is the birds' cage. Two birds live in this cage. It is the birds's cage.

An apostrophe indicates that a noun owns something. Singular nouns, even those that end with "s," always add 's when you have to indicate possession. Plural nouns that do not end in "s" also take an 's to indicate possession. But if plural nouns end with "s," you just have to add an apostrophe at the end of the word.

Spelling Mistakes

Although spellcheck features catch most of the spelling mistakes, you should not rely on them entirely. Here is a list of words that are still frequently misspelled.

Right✔️ Wrong❌
grateful gratefull, greatful
comparison comparsion
height heighth, heigth
neighbour neibor, neihbor
medieval medeval, medevil, mideval
amateur amatuer, amature
becoming becomeing
cemetery cemetary, cematery
disastrous disasterous
fluorescent flourescent
extreme extreem
indict indite
lightning lightening
outrageous outragous
precede preceed
playwright playright, playwrite
rhyme rime
vehicle vehical
receive recieve

Common Mistakes with Conjunctions

Do not use conjunction for two clauses. It is correct to use just one conjunction to connect two clauses.

You should not use a subordinate clause alone. Always attach it to an independent clause.

Right✔️ Wrong❌
Because it was rainy, we stayed at home.
It was rainy, so we stayed at home.
Because it was rainy so we stayed at home.
I did not call you yesterday because I was busy. I did not call you yesterday. Because I was busy.

However, there are some exceptions. In natural spoken English, because clauses can stay alone. "Why did not you call?", "Because I was busy." (Sounds more natural than "I did not call because I was busy").

Sentences Beginning with a Negative Word

When a negative word (neither, never, hardly etc.) comes at the beginning of a sentence, you need to invert the main verb, as in a direct question. The verb must come before the subject. If there is no auxiliary verb, you should use a form of do.

Right✔️ Wrong❌
Never have I seen anything stranger. Never I have seen anything stranger.
Hardly have I arrived when the trouble started. Hardly I have arrived when the trouble started.

Ambiguous Modifiers

An ambiguous modifier is a misplaced modifier that, because of its location in a sentence, could modify either the phrase that precedes it or the one that follows it. To correct it, move its position in the sentence so that it is obvious which word you are modifying.

Right✔️ Wrong❌
Often, taking aspirin helps with headaches. Taking aspirin often helps with headaches.
She arrived home covered in sweat and fell onto the sofa. She arrived home and fell onto the sofa covered with sweat.

Wordiness

Many writers often inflate their sentences with unnecessary words. Remember that strong writing is tight, concise, and to the point. Wordy sentences frustrate readers. Streamline your sentences by using strong verbs and nouns instead of trite adjectives and adverbs. Do not overuse words such as “that,” “just,” and “very.”

Right✔️ Wrong❌
Because NASA has cut funding, the space missions are in jeopardy. Because of the fact that NASA has cut funding, the space missions are obviously in jeopardy.
Today our business has no deficit. At the present time, our business has absolutely no deficit.

Tautologies

Tautologies express the same thing twice with different words. Such phrases create redundancy. They can make you sound wordier than you need to be and make you appear foolish.

Right✔️ Wrong❌
We saw ruins. We saw dilapidated ruins.
Having a drug test is a requirement for the job. Having a drug test is a necessary requirement for the job.
Please pay in advance. Please prepay in advance.

We hope that this article will help you make your writing more clear and concise. Do not forget to practice developing your grammar daily.

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