8 Common English Writing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them


English class

Who needs Spelling Bee in the 21st century? Nowadays, you do not really need to memorize difficult long words as the spellchecker in your smartphone will do all the magic. However, error-free writing is not limited to how the words are written but also how they are put together. Sadly, but there are many grammar mistakes that a smartphone or a simple spellchecker would not be able to detect. Let us go through the most frequent yet subtle writing issues to avoid at all times.

1. Run-on sentences

Mary is a college student and she likes pancakes for breakfast.
If there is no specific connection between college and pancakes or studying and having breakfast then it is wrong to make a compound sentence. In general, it is better to avoid such constructions with the ’and’ conjunction. What is good about run-on sentences is that it is very easy to get rid of them –the is only one golden rule. Whenever you feel the urge to add a compound just put the full stop and write a new sentence:
Mary is a college student. She likes pancakes for breakfast.
Now we have separated books from frying pans. Yay!

2. Unclear Pronoun Antecedent

About a month ago the new neighbors with a dog moved into the apartment next to mine and I hated it with all my heart.
Unless you are into creating extreme suspense, it is a huge mistake to make the reader guess. What was the object of the speaker’s hatred? The neighbors’ dog? The apartment? The fact that new neighbors moved in? It should always be clear both grammatically and contextually what does the pronoun refer to. 
To correct this mistake, we first need to decide what is the antecedent (the noun substituted by the pronoun) in the sentence. 
About a month ago the new neighbors moved into the apartment next to mine with a dog. Their pet was barking so loud that I hated it with all my heart.

3. Dangling Modifiers

Peering into the ominous darkness her blood ran cold.
This mistake is really spooky since it brings to life inanimate objects (or at least gives them attributes of a living thing). Why? Because grammatically in this sentence it is the blood that is peering into the ominous darkness. If you’d like to write and then present your beautiful dark story at a Twilight fanfic conference, make sure to follow one simple rule: The action in the participle should be performed by the subject of the sentence. If it is not so, it needs to be paraphrased:
Peering into the ominous darkness Liza felt that her blood ran cold.
In this sentence, we introduced the subject in the main clause – Liza. She is peering into the darkness and feels that her blood is running cold. No more black magic!

4. Subject-Verb Agreement

An integral part of Tom’s life are his friends who have always been supportive.
In most cases subject-verb agreement in number is obvious. However, some nuances should be taken into account. In the example sentence, everything seems logical but only until we identify the subject of the sentence – an integral part (singular). But what about ‘his friends’? ‘His friends’ is the nominal part of the verb. So, since we are required to agree in number the subject and the verb (in this case, only “is” as the only part of the verb that can be conjugated), The correct way will be:
An integral part of Tom’s life is his friends who have always been supportive.

5. Apostrophe Usage

Its monstrous to misuse apostrophe especially in ‘s when it stands for “is”.
Let’s make it clear: its as a possessive does not have an apostrophe but it’s as “it is” has it. So the correct way is:
It’s monstrous to misuse apostrophe especially in ‘s when it stands for “is”.
Also, the apostrophe is used with genitive case: brother’s, Da Vinci’s, etc. This sign is also used with contractions, for example not – n’t. Please mind its place too. Since in ‘not’ we take out letter ‘o’ – we place apostrophe instead of it.

6. Confusion of Homophones

She recalled on the evening when her boyfriend was telling her about the history of human rites.
Ok, maybe this one will be detected by the spellchecker and will correct ‘rites’ to ‘rights’. But what about the following pairs:

  • farther – further
  • they’re – their – there
  • affect – effect
  • breath – breathe
  • wright – right

If you are not sure which one to pick, it is always better to check the words in a dictionary. Of course, sometimes the deadline is pressing, and it is no time to double-check everything, but you still would like to get a good grade – you can always ask for professional assistance. 

7. Squinting Modifiers

Mom told me that breathing out quickly helps to calm down.
Hmm, so how exactly does it work? Do I need to breathe out quickly and wait for a couple of hours? Or does breathing out give an instant sedative effect? With squinting modifiers, it is totally unclear. This issue happens when an adverb can modify both the preceding and the following word, so it is not possible to distinguish which one of them it refers to. To remove this ambiguity make sure not to place the adverb between two verb groups:
Mom told me that breathing out helps to calm down quickly.
So now it is clear that the sentence is not about the description of the method, but about its effectiveness.

8. Superfluous Commas

The rescue team tried to help the kitten get off the tree, but it was too scared and moved further to the top branch.
Commas before ‘but’ and ‘because’? That’s not a good idea, although this error is very common. According to Grammarly, issues with commas compose the biggest part of the most frequent writing mistakes. There is no specific solution in this case. One just needs to learn the rules and remove excessive punctuation where necessary:
The rescue team tried to help the kitten get off the tree but it was too scared and moved further to the top branch.
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