Writing

7 Grammar Mistakes Smart People Make

May 13, 2013

oopsWhen I was in school and we had to dissect sentences, I was bored out of my mind. I HATED grammar! Most people do. Maybe that’s why mistakes are so common, or it’s bcuz of txting. R U S?! (Are you serious?) LOL!

Even smart people make basic grammatical mistakes. I know because I’m smart (my husband may beg to differ) and I make these mistakes all the time.

1)    Parallel Sentence Structure
I used to see this mistake a lot when I worked in the corporate world. You’d think all those Harvard Business School graduates would have mastered this, but no. Parallel sentence structure is about the repetition of a chosen grammatical form within a sentence. What? Examples show it best:

Wrong
Mary likes jogging, reading, and to watch movies.

Right
Mary likes jogging, reading, and watching movies.

Wrong
Bob doesn’t like taking out the trash or housework.

Right
Bob doesn’t like taking out the trash or doing housework.

2)  Dangling Participle
This one is always so confusing. What the hell is a participle? Who really cares! The best definition I ever read of a dangling participle came from Copyblogger: “A dangling participle occurs when you order a sentence in a confusing way.” Here’s the example they used:

Wrong
After rotting in the cellar for weeks, my brother brought up some oranges. (This means your brother is a zombie who delivers fruit).

Right
My brother brought up some oranges that had been rotting in the cellar for weeks. (Good thing too because they smelled really bad!)

3)    Its or It’s
This is a great example of how f*cked up English grammar rules can be…which is why so many of us make mistakes. We were all taught that possessive noun use a ‘s, as in “That is Jane’s cell phone.” But wait! Not true for it’s. Damn! Its = possessive pronoun, “Our beloved book store is closing its doors for good in June.” It’s = it is, “It’s nice to see you two finally getting along.” D’oh!

4)    Your or You’re
If I see one more bad mistake like “Your my best friend,” I think I’m gonna take my pants off and stamp on them multiple times. This one is pretty easy guys. Your = ownership, “I love your new sweater, Jane!” You’re = you are, “You’re the best brick layer I’ve ever seen!” Got it? Good.

5)    Affect or Effect
Grammar Girl describes this one best: “The majority of the time you use affect with an a as a verb and effect with an e as a noun.” Affect means to influence or move someone emotionally, “Romeo and Juliet had quite an affect on me when I first saw the play” or “The smog was affecting John’s asthma and he had to use his inhaler.” Effect is usually a result or the consequence of an action, like cause and effect, “The effect of drinking too much alcohol can be fatal” or “Acting like a wookie from Star Wars has had a negative effect on my social life.”

6)    There or Their or They’re
They’re not really that complicated. Once you understand their differences, there shouldn’t be any more confusion on your part. No problemo, right? Huh? Here’s a quick way to get it:

They’re is a contraction of they are, “They’re really pissing me off with that loud music!”

Their is used to describe something that belongs to them, “Their dog is always pooping in my yard.”

There can be used several ways, “There is my paper airplane!” or “I see there used to be a chicken running around your house.” or “I’m not going in there!”

7)    Extra Words
Wordy sentences just make people go crazy (the people I’m talking about here are your readers). Why use a ton of extra words to make things more complicated than they need to be? Cut out all those unnecessary words and we’ll all be much happier, I promise.

Too Wordy
Imagine a mental picture of someone engaged in the activity of trying to learn how to paint a fence.

Just Right
Imagine someone trying to paint a fence.

Unnecessary Words
Any particular movie is fine with me.

Just Right
Any movie is fine with me.

Redundant Words
The pants were large in size and fell to the ground when I put them on.

Just Right
The pants were large and fell to the ground when I put them on.

Tell me about grammar rules that you stumble on. I’d love to hear from you in the comments. 

Only registered users can comment.

    1. Hey! What happened to my comment? D’oh!

      Anyway Koni, thanks for reading and for your comment. I’m going to be reading your Facebook posts to make sure you don’t use any extra words! LOL! 😉

  1. Too many to mention here, but tautology is my greatest bugbear. I’m so glad you made reference to that first point too. It’s all too frequent an error, but rarely pointed out.

    1. I had to look up “tautology.” And I should have added it to this list because it’s something I see a lot too. I’ve rid myself of that one…actually, my advisor in college stopped me from doing that. He detested redundancy.

  2. Grammar Girl is a life-saver! And now that I think about it, I wrote something like ‘My pants were large in size’ somewhere. I’m running to fix it.

  3. So, when should we use “learned” as opposed to “learnt”? I find this confusing and, English is my first language!

    1. Hi Marjie!

      “Learned” is the more common past tense and past participle of the verb “learn.” “Learnt” is a variant especially common outside North America. In British writing, for instance, it appears about once for every three instances of learned. In the U.S. and Canada, meanwhile, “learnt” appears only once for approximately every 500 instances of learned, and it’s generally considered colloquial.

      I would just use the more common, “learned,” if I were you. Hope that helps!

      Thanks for stopping by!

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