You don’t have to be overly pedantic or fastidious to realize the importance of using proper grammar. By learning simple ways to avoid poor grammar, you can dodge the dreaded résumé fail and type pristine emails with ease.
The most common grammatical errors can trip up even the most conscientious writer. No matter how smart you are, there are probably plenty of grammatical errors that you make all the time. Some problems are superficial, like typos and dropped commas, but others can drastically change the meaning of a sentence.
Learning how to correct grammatical mistakes might sound hard, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some quick and easy ways to avoid poor grammar, whether you’re penning a thank you note or just texting a friend.
Its and It’s Are Not The Same Word
Its and it’s are all too easy to confuse, but they have completely different meanings. It’s functions as a contraction of it and is. Its works differently; this word is the possessive of the pronoun it.
Example of its: “I hate wearing this dress because its pockets are fake.”
Example of it’s: “It’s going to be a long day.”
You’re Mixing Up Affect And Effect
The difference between affect and effect can be difficult to grasp. Most of the time, effect is a noun that means a result, while affect is a verb that means “to influence.” So, if you want to criticize your friend’s study habits, you could either say, “Your failure to study is affecting your grades,” or, “If you go to that Drake concert instead of doing your homework, it will have a negative effect on your grade.”
If you’re not sure which word to use, or don’t feel like looking it up, here’s a quick and easy solution. Use the word impact instead. It’s a perfectly good word that doesn’t get enough credit, and it will get your meaning across in most cases.
You’re Using Run-On Sentences
Have you ever read one of those sentences that seems to go on forever without any pauses to take a breath or separate any ideas or even let you process what you read and remember how awful that experience was? What you just suffered through is called a run-on sentence. A run-on sentence expresses two or more separate ideas without separating them through punctuation or conjunctions.
Keep in mind that a run-on sentence doesn’t necessarily have to be long. Here’s an example of a short run-on sentence: “I can’t come with you to the movies I don’t have enough money.” While the ideas expressed in the sentence are related, they are two separate ideas. The sentence could be fixed by adding a semicolon or a period between “movies” and “I,” or by using a conjunction like “because” in the same spot.
It’s also worth noting that not every long sentence is automatically a run-on. The longest sentence ever written in English is 13,955 words long, but through the magic of punctuation, it isn’t a run-on sentence.
Your Sentences. Are Incomplete.
A sentence doesn’t have to be long to be complete. Actually, a complete sentence can be as short as two words, as long as it meets a few simple requirements. Complete sentences must begin with a capital letter and end with either a period, an exclamation point, or a question mark. They need to express a complete idea. At a minimum, they must include a subject and a verb.
Take this sentence: “Sara has a beautiful face.” “Sara” is the subject, “has” is the verb, and “beautiful face” is the object. The sentence expresses a complete thought. Now, take this similar phrase: “Sara’s beautiful face.” This is not a complete sentence. Without a verb, it doesn’t express a complete thought. Readers are left wondering, “What about her beautiful face?”
You Don’t Know How Semicolons Work
Semicolons are mysterious pieces of punctuation; most people have no idea how to use them correctly. The purpose of a semicolon is to link two independent clauses that are nonetheless related. When you use a semicolon, it gives each clause equal importance, so keep that in mind when deciding whether or not to deploy one.
Another reason you might use a semicolon is to link list items that include commas. For example, let’s say you want to write a sentence about different ways to treat allergies. You can write: “There are basically two ways to treat allergies: with medication, which can have side effects; or with holistic therapies, which can also have side effects and might not work.” See how the use of semicolons avoids confusion? If you used commas instead, it would be hard to know how to read the sentence.
You’re Being Redundant And Possibly Also Repetitive
Have you ever heard someone call an ATM an ATM machine? This is an example of redundancy: the M stands for “machine.” Redundancy can show up in other ways, too. For example, the phrase “a variety of different ideas” is redundant, because the word variety means “different.”
Be aware that repetition and redundancy aren’t necessarily the same thing. Repetition can be a literary technique that helps drive a point home. Redundancy, however, means you say the same thing twice without adding meaning. Repetition can be used effectively; redundancy should be avoided.