Grammatical mistakes can be easy to make. But fear not! Our team at Grammarly has compiled a handy list of common grammatical errors to help make your writing accurate, clear, and professional.
Ambiguous (“Squinting”) modifiers
- Incorrect: Listening to loud music slowly gives me a headache.
- Correct: When I listen to loud music, I slowly develop a headache.
A squinting 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. In the example sentence, is the subject listening to music slowly or slowly getting a headache? To correct a squinting modifier, move its position in the sentence to clarify to the reader which word you intend to modify.
Misuse of lie/lay
- Incorrect: He was laying on the couch.
- Correct: He was lying on the couch.
If you plan to place or put an object somewhere, such as a plate on a table, you should use “lay.” If you intend to stretch out on a bed for a nap, you should use “lie.” The verb “lie” is an intransitive verb, which means it does not need an object. The transitive verb “lay” requires an object.
It may take some getting used to this “lay” or “lie” business; after all, misuse of these verbs is common. But if you remember to lay down your fork before you’re full, then you won’t have to lie down later from overeating.
- Incorrect: He was very hungry, he ate a whole pizza.
- Correct: He was very hungry. He ate a whole pizza.
He was very hungry, so he ate a whole pizza.
To splice means to connect or join. When a writer joins two independent sentences with a comma instead of separating them with a period or coordinating conjunction, that’s a comma splice.
The comma has its jobs to do, but connecting two independent sentences isn’t one of them. Besides, the period gets testy when his sister, the comma, steals his thunder. Periods have their jobs, and so do commas, but never the twain shall meet—unless it’s in the form of a semicolon. Semicolons can also take the place of a coordinating conjunction, such as “and,” “but,” or “so,” among others.
- Incorrect: Lila enjoyed the bouquet of tulips John gave her on prom night however she prefers roses.
- Correct: Lila enjoyed the bouquet of tulips John gave her on prom night; however, she prefers roses.
Run-on sentences, also known as fused sentences, occur when two complete sentences are squashed together without using a coordinating conjunction or proper punctuation, such as a period or a semicolon. Run-on sentences can be short or long. A long sentence isn’t necessarily a run-on sentence.
To avoid run-on sentences, see if there is more than one idea communicated by two or more independent clauses. In our examples, there are two complete sentences:
Example: Lily enjoyed the bouquet of tulips John gave her on prom night.
Example: She prefers roses.
Both sentences are complete ideas by themselves; therefore, use a semicolon or a period to indicate that they are separate independent clauses.
Using “could of” instead of “could have”
- Incorrect: Sam could of received an A on his essay, but he made too many grammatical mistakes.
- Correct: Sam could have received an A on his essay, but he made too many grammatical mistakes.
“Could have” is always correct; “could of” never is. Writers probably make this grammar gaffe because, when we speak, the contraction “could’ve” sounds an awful lot like “could of.”
- Incorrect: Jack made a water pail with his own hands for Jill.
- Correct: Jack made a water pail for Jill.
Tautologies express the same thing twice with different words. In our example, the word “made” implies that Jack used his own two hands to create the pail. The prepositional phrase “with his own hands” creates a redundancy. Once you know what they are, it’s fun to discover tautologies: dilapidated ruins, close proximity, added bonus, large crowd…The list goes on and on!
After reading through this list of common grammatical mistakes, you might be wondering how to remember all these rules as you write. The free Grammarly for Windows and Mac is here to help. It provides a second set of eyes on your writing in real-time, so you can avoid everyday grammar and spelling errors. Moreover, Grammarly Premium offers features that evaluate conciseness and readability as well as vocabulary enhancement suggestions and genre-specific writing style checks. These tools can help you identify when you are making these common writing mistakes so you can proactively learn and improve your writing.