This post, by Honor Clement Hayes, originally appeared on Quips & Tips For Successful Writers.
A grammar mistake as “little” as its instead of it’s can stop you from getting published, or change an A paper to a B or even a C.
Here are the most common grammatical errors people make, plus tips on how to fix them. This is a guest post from Honor Clement-Hayes, who is – among many other things – the Women’s Fashion Editor for an online culture magazine called HOWL.
I hadn’t run into Honor until she tweeted me, then emailed me this article. I love her writing style: witty, fun, easy to read, and free of grammatical errors! And she’s a feminist – she even mentions Caitlin Moran in one of her recent posts on her blog, Mutated Musings.
Even if you’re one of those enviable writers who never gets your its and it’s mixed up, you’ll enjoy Honor’s grammar quips and tips…
10 Grammar Mistakes to Avoid if You Want to be a Professional Writer
The English Language is a difficult beast to tie down. Even those rules which we consider mandatory may actually change very quickly, especially with words moving into ever more fleeting media. However, there are a few mistakes which – for now at least – can make you look very silly…
1) The Errant Apostrophe
Sure, it’s not good if you miss out an apostrophe but it’s often just a typo that you can pick up later. However, an apostrophe in the wrong place clearly shows that you haven’t quite grasped the rules and are in fact a bit of an idiot. Serious offenders: CD’s, the dog wagged it’s tail. CRINGE.
- If something owns something else, it gets an apostrophe e.g. ‘The man’s abs were great’.
- If you are smooshing two words together e.g. ‘it is’ to ‘it’s’ then you use an apostrophe to show you have missed out some letters.
- Decades, acronyms and plurals in general never use an apostrophe: ‘The 1950s’, ‘MPs’, ‘Dos and don’ts’ etc.
- ‘Ours’, ‘yours’ and ‘theirs’ don’t need apostrophes because they’re already possessive i.e. ‘Your hat’ is possessive whether you mention the hat or not.
2) Confusing American and English Verb Endings
The verb ending ‘-ise’ comes from the French infinitive ending ‘-iser’ as in ‘spécialiser’. Loads of our language comes from French so in England we ‘specialise’, we don’t ‘specialize’. These later spellings were made up by a comedian by the name of Webster who wrote one of the first American dictionaries and decided it would be fun to just spell stuff differently from the motherland.
The ‘-ise’ verb ending is argued over between the Oxford and Cambridge dictionaries but that’s not actually what matters. An English audience strongly associates ‘-ize’ with American spelling, so make sure you know who you’re writing for. These are a pain in the bum but they’re vital and the only way to get them right is to learn or check.
- ‘Emphasise’ vs. ‘emphasize’.
- ‘Practice’ in English: ‘I practise (verb) at band practice (noun)’.
- We also hold a ‘licence’ not a ‘license’ but that does make us ‘licensed’.
For more tips on fixing grammatical errors, read How to Write Better Sentences.