Common grammar mistakes that make a bad impression

Image: Pixabay

When my kids were little, they liked to play an arcade game on our computer. This was before the age of cell phones and tablets for every person over 5, so the family computer was where they played. The game had been a birthday present for one of them and was a low-budget addition to something else they’d received. The first time they played, when the game was over, the results appeared on the screen: “Winner” or, if things didn’t go well, “Looser” – that’s right L-O-O-S-E-R. I’ve always thought it was pretty harsh to call someone a loser, but we had a big laugh over how the makers of the game needed a spelling/grammar lesson. Years later, this little joke still comes up in conversation.

This article on cnbc.com about common grammar mistakes (written or spoken) made me think about that computer game and sure enough, lose vs. loose is on the list. Here are some very basic explanations. Some may be obvious to you, but I like having a refresher!

  • UNNECESSARY APOSTROPES: Resist the urge to add an apostrophe just because a word ends in “s.” Apostrophes are for contractions like can’t or to show possession. “I can’t go to the movies because I have to pick up my sister’s dress at the store.” I don’t usually go wrong with this one, except when showing possession for a person whose last name ends in “s.” Then it seems as if anything goes. Some people put an apostrophe with no “s” and other people put an apostrophe and another s. As in Ross’ book or Ross’s book. Which is it? Is that a regional thing?
  • EVERYDAY VS. EVERY DAY: This one’s not too hard. “These are my everyday shoes, as in the ones I wear every day.”
  • I VS. ME: Use I when it’s the subject of the sentence. Use me after a preposition. “I went to the store.” “Those cupcakes are for Joe and me.” Now, here’s a question for you: do you say, “It is I” when you’re calling someone or knocking on their door? It sounds so formal! I break the rule and say, “It’s me” and hope the grammar police aren’t on the other side of the door!
  • IT’S VS. ITS: For this one, think contraction vs. possession. Back in the days of yore when the landline rang and you were expecting a call, you’d run to the phone before anyone else could get it and on your way you’d call out, “I’ve got it. It’s for me!” Use its with no apostrophe to show possession, as in, “The storm reared its ugly head.”
  • LESS VS. FEWER: The general rule is to use fewer when it’s something that can be counted. Think about the signs at the express lanes in the grocery story. They often say “20 items or less” but that’s wrong. They should say “20 items or fewer.” Use less when the number can’t reasonably be counted (like snowflakes in a snowstorm) or when the number is part of a total unit like “less than 50 percent.” 
  • LIE VS. LAY: I’m not gonna lie 😉, I work hard to avoid using these words altogether, especially lay. But here’s what to do. Say “I want to lie down” if you’re tired and need a rest and “Lay that book on the table” when you’re referring to an object.
  • LOSE VS. LOOSE: Lose refers to a competition or simply misplacing something. Loose means the opposite of tight.
  • THAT VS. WHO: That refers to things and who refers to people. What about book characters? Are they people or things? Does anyone know the rule for that?
  • THEN VS. THAN: Then refers to a period of time. Use than when you’re comparing things.
  • THERE/THEIR/THEY’RE: This one’s easy. There shows direction, their shows possession and they’re is a contraction for “they are.”
  • YOUR VS YOU’RE: Also easy. Your shows possession and you’re is a contraction for “you are.”

I often refer to Grammarly, a free site that helps me set things straight. If you’re looking for more, you can check out this article, “15 Best Online Grammar Checker Tools for 2022” from firstsiteguide.com. Some of these are free but others are paid.

I always had a hard time with grammar and tenses when I studied French. I can’t imagine keeping this straight if I were learning English as a second (or third) language. Have you had the same experience when learning another language?

I’ve made many grammar mistakes over the years, including a recent misspelling in a literacy tweet I did for work. Talk about embarrassing. I think I caught it before anyone noticed, but I’ll never know for sure. If it ever comes up, my plan is to blame it on autocorrect! Would anyone else like to join me on the grammar/misspelling wall of shame? Leave your confession in the comments! And if you see an error in this post, typo or otherwise, let me know in the comments and I’ll fix it!

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

44 thoughts on “Common grammar mistakes that make a bad impression

  1. Great lesson! My dear hubby often points out my mistakes after I’ve published a blog! Most of the time I’m pretty good with grammar

    1. Hi Alison – it’s much easier to see someone else’s grammar mistakes and misspellings. We bloggers are too busy creating content! 🙂 Thanks for stopping by.

  2. My English grammar is good as I learned the rules (English used to be a second language but it’s a first now). The misuse that irritates me most is lie and lay. I know that the parts of these verbs get people mixed up, but my, they are so commonly misused that it seems the misuse is taking over as standard!

  3. Hi Barbara, there are a few of these that I battle with. I always remember correctly, but I always feel compelled to check and make sure I’m right. Sometimes, I just change the word and use another in its place. I was taught to put a ‘ after an s if it is plural and not to add another s.

    1. You and I have similar strategies – I change things around a bit so I don’t get caught in a grammar trap! Thanks for reading and commenting, Robbie 🙂

  4. Hi Barbara. Have you ever seen ‘grammer’? I could not believe it when I did. The ‘I’ and the me are so frequently misused. ‘This is a photo of John and I’ – it sounds clumsy and easy to rectify if all one did was to imagine ‘This is a photo of I …’ …

  5. A good selection. I must have been in my forties when I realised why I was no good at Latin yet top in French. This was because I passed the 11+ to get to Grammar school without any understanding of English grammar. Latin was introduced in the first year and I had no idea of the the terms used; French came in the second year. I still didn’t understand but, because sentence construction was more like English, I managed.

  6. Some of those errors are really annoying. Some – apostrophes and contractions especially – are missed typos, but fewer and less are often misused, as are lose and loose. I get really frustrated when implied and inferred are incorrectly used. And don’t get me started on crazy news reports that tell us about cars losing control and goodness knows what else. Grammar – maybe we can’t live with it, but it’s harder to live without it. Great post, Barbara.

  7. There was one novel I read where, with the third time the author wrote “layed” instead of “laid” I tossed it and never turned back. (Okay, there were other problems with it as well, but that was the last straw!)

  8. Good reminders, Barb. My high school English teachers were despots when it came to grammar – which stands me in good stead. Another mistake: who’s vs whose.

    1. Hi Noelle – mine too, plus I learned it at home (when I got it wrong!). Who’s vs. whose – definitely another pitfall. Thanks Noelle!

  9. I and me – a pet peeve of mine. With the sentence from above, “Those cupcakes are for Joe and me.” I was taught to take out “for Joe” and see how it sounded. You wouldn’t say Those cupcakes are for I. Learned this in 6th grade and it’s stuck with me ever since. Thanks for the reminders, Barbara!

  10. I’m glad to know I’m not alone when it comes to caring about these things! The less/fewer distinction is one I pretty much automatically correct (but I mostly try to do so in my head — can’t understand why my family finds it so annoying when I do it out loud!!)

  11. You know, I have a Master’s in English, have worked as an editor, and yet I still bungle my grammar. Lie vs lay get me every time. And don’t get me started on how I mix-match tenses, especially when I’m writing fiction. I do use Grammarly but I don’t always agree with it … lol.
    Great post, Barbara! It’s always good to be reminded of these common mistakes.

  12. These are all great. My biggest grammar faux pas was when I had my first book published (Amanda in Arabia) I was so excited and planned my book launch at a local bookstore. I had posters made and hung them around town. A friend called to say congratulations. She then mentioned that on the poster I had written, Amanda encounters a dangerous dessert. Yup, two s instead of one. I was mortified. Took down all the posters and made new ones.

    1. Hi Darlene – I totally relate to that kind of faux pas! I have made similar mistakes. Recently I posted a tweet about literacy at work and there was a misspelling. Unfortunately it was a tweet that I copied and used many times after that! I finally caught it and corrected it. I’m glad you were able to fix the Amanda posters 🙂 Thank you for reading!

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