Most Common Grammar Mistakes Students Make

Lifehacks Writing Tips
Jul 24, 2019

Professors repeatedly tell their students to proofread their essays and make sure there are no grammatical errors. Some even go as far as impose point deductions for every grammar error in essays. Their strict attitude with regard to language is understandable--these teachers only want their students to excel. Poor grammar shows carelessness and disregard for the reader. An essay with poor grammar is difficult to read, and for someone like a professor, it could be annoying. Students can maximize their essay writing by avoiding the most common grammar mistakes.

1. Incorrect word usage

We are not even talking about word choice here (choosing the most appropriate word to convey meaning). We are talking about using the wrong word for what one intends to say. In an attempt to sound intelligent or more scholarly, students substitute words that have slightly different meanings or, in their hurry to beat the deadline, they use a word that sounds like the one they intend to use. Most students learn language and vocabulary by speaking. So, they hear new words, understand it through context clues, but never really see it written down or read its official meaning in the dictionary. As a result, they don’t know what the word really looks like. So, we find students writing “then” when they mean “than,” “defiantly” when they mean “definitely. Misusing words can lead to confusion for your readers, so be careful.

You can fix this by having a dictionary or thesaurus ready with you when you write your college papers . Check any words that you are not sure how to use. It could also help to look for sentence examples that show how to use the word in a sentence. Another clue: check for any red squiggly lines on your word processor.

Avoid confusing these words.

2. Subject-verb agreement

The subject and the verb of a sentence should match—singular subject with singular verb; plural subject with plural verb. This rule is generally easy to follow, as singular and plural words are easy to distinguish. However, there are not-so-uncommon words or phrases that confound even professional writers. Here are the most confusing cases:

  • Indefinite pronouns are generally treated like third-person singular pronouns (he, she, it), so add an –s to the end of the verb it describes.

For example: 

Everybody wants to change the world.

Each student gets an assigned seat.

  • Students often get confused when a word appears between the subject and the verb of a sentence. Do not let the prepositional phrases distract you. Keep your eye on the object of the preposition. Always ask yourself what is the sentence about? The answer is the subject.

For example: The child playing by the trees is my daughter.

  • Non-count nouns always take singular verbs. 

For example: Data gathered by Harvard scientists shows…

  • Collective nouns are considered singular, and therefore take on singular verbs. 

For example: My team is the champion in softball.  

3. Unnecessary commas

Commas are often misused. They appear where they are not needed and are missing where they are needed. When are they not necessary?

They are not necessary when you are combining a dependent and an independent clause with a coordinating conjunction. Commas are only needed after a coordinating conjunction if you are combining two independent clauses.

They are not necessary when including essential information in the sentence. Commas are only needed to set off non-essential information.

4. Missing commas for non-essential elements

Non-essential elements are pieces of information that when removed will not affect the meaning of the sentence. We use commas to introduce these elements, to signal an interruption in the thought or flow of a sentence.

For example: My dog, though she has a limp, loves running around the park. 

5. Missing comma after introductory element

Introductory words or phrases are almost always set off by a comma. Introductory elements are dependent clauses, meaning they do not have their own subject. The comma helps the reader distinguish that the first part of the sentence is not yet the subject and is just an introductory element.

Definitely needs a comma:

After a long introductory prepositional phrase or more than one introductory prepositional phrase.

After introductory verbal phrases, some appositive phrases, or absolute phrases.

Introductory words like however, still, furthermore, and meanwhile are always followed by a comma.

6. Its versus It's

The apostrophe in this case is used only for the contraction of “it is” and never to show possession.

For example:

It’s  [It is] your turn to take out the trash.

It’s [It is] not my fault the cat bit its [the cat's] own tail.

7. Vague pronoun reference

Pronouns replace nouns to avoid sounding repetitive. The pronoun always immediately follows the noun it refers to. A vague pronoun reference occurs when there are two (or more) nouns that precede the pronoun, and it’s not clear which one it is referencing. This often occurs for pronouns it, that, this, and which.

For example: 

Incorrect: Blake and William had a fight after class so he had to go home bloody.

Clear: Blake went home bloody after he had a fight with William after class.

8. Dangling modifier

Modifiers describe or clarify a word or concept in the sentence. It becomes a dangling modifier when it is not clear which word or phrase the modifier is describing.

For example: 

Incorrect: On the way to the mall, Jane found a blue man’s jacket.

Correct: On the way to the mall, Jane found a man’s blue jacket.

In some instances, the word or phrase being modified is completely missing.

Incorrect: The guests ate lunch and listened to the speaker slowly.

Correct: The guests slowly ate their lunch while listening to the speaker.

9. Run-on sentences

Run-on sentences are quite difficult to understand for the reader. Often, there are too many ideas, with not enough pauses. A run-on sentence occurs when two main clauses are connected without punctuation.

Incorrect: The school children led by their teacher walked in a straight line while holding hands through the zoo.

Correct: The school children were led by their teacher through the zoo. They held hands and walked in a straight line throughout their visit.

10. Split Infinitives

Infinitives are verbs that are always paired with “to.” Some examples are “to go,” “to eat,” “to talk.” Split infinitives, then, is when the “to” is separated from the verb. Experts in English often state that this is a misconception, that splitting infinitives are not entirely incorrect. Some, however, do caution against excessive splitting as it can cause confusion, too.

For example: The teacher tried to carefully and more accurately demonstrate the phenomenon to his students.

Better: The teacher carefully and accurately tried to demonstrate the phenomenon to his students.

There is no definite rule to determine correct and incorrect usage of split infinitives. The appropriateness will defend on how the sentence sounds.

Essay writing help for students and professionals

There are many things to consider when writing an essay, and even more so when writing a research paper. More often than not, grammar is pushed to the background, resulting in poorly written papers. Make sure you submit high-quality papers by mastering these grammar rules or with the help of expert writers from CustomEssayMeister. Remember to practice, practice, practice until you master all the rules of grammar and academic writing. In due time, you too can write masterfully crafted papers like an expert. 

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