Lists concerning grammar mistakes are always going to be fairly arbitrary as to what they include. But here are five basic grammar issues that commonly crop up in writing and are fairly easy to avoid once you’re aware of them.
1. Run-On Sentences
Run-on sentences occur most often when you use a comma instead of a full stop. Essentially, they consist of independent clauses joined together without the proper punctuation or conjunctions in place.
Mildred defeated the entire army using only a spoon, she was then crowned queen. X
Mildred defeated the entire army using only a spoon. She was then crowned queen. ✔
Metal knives should not be used as toothpicks, they’re too dangerous. X
Metal knives should not be used as toothpicks because they’re too dangerous. ✔
2. It’s vs Its
The rule here is simple. Only use an apostrophe when you mean “it is” or “it has”. Never use an apostrophe when you are referring to the possessive form.
Its clear Immanuel Kant was not an alien. X
It’s [it is] clear Immanuel Kant was not an alien. ✔
The lion was devouring it’s trainer. X
The lion was devouring its trainer. ✔
3. Comma Omission after Introductory Phrase
Unless you are dealing with a very short introductory phrase (four words or less), you need a comma before you continue a sentence beginning with a phrase or dependent clause.
While I was knitting my niece some socks I should have been keeping an eye on the road. X
While I was knitting my niece some socks, I should have been keeping an eye on the road. ✔
After he was finished with the icepick he tried the shovel. X
After he was finished with the icepick, he tried the shovel. ✔
4. Subject-Verb Agreement Errors
Singular subjects take singular verbs and plural subjects take plural verbs. Sounds simple, but in complex sentences it’s not always easy to identify the subject, so care is necessary to ensure this error doesn’t trip you up. Be especially careful using pronouns such as “none”, “each”, “every”, “all”, etc.
Every part of these countries were ravaged by plague. X
Every part of these countries was ravaged by plague.✔
None of the murderers were willing to admit guilt. X
None of the murderers was willing to admit guilt.✔
5. Sentence Fragments
Sentence fragments are sentences commonly made up of only a dependent clause or phrase. As every sentence normally requires at least one independent clause, they are incomplete. An independent clause has a verb and a subject, a dependent clause may lack a subject (though it doesn’t have to), and a phrase may lack a verb.
He gave up his dream to become a used car salesman. Although the sacrifice pained him. X
He gave up his dream of becoming a used car salesman although the sacrifice pained him. ✔
Running through the bushes. They saw an enormous beast. X
Running through the bushes, they saw an enormous beast. ✔
So, that’s it. All these issues are very basic but do still catch people out. Check out some of the other blogs for more advanced writing tips and information.
About the Author
Hi, I’m Paul Buckle and I run Eiredit.com and Editrue.com. I’ve been an editor and academic English teacher for over a decade and I have taught academic English at, among other places, Durham and Nottingham universities in the UK. These days, I spend a lot of time blogging on academic English and other writing and editing topics, and I very much hope these articles are useful to you. If they are, please bookmark, share, and leave a comment below. Cheers.