10 Common Grammar Mistakes to Avoid in Your Papers

OnTheHub Team   January 28th 2016

  So you’re drowning in papers and essays? Welcome to college. Whether writing is your strong suit or not, we all make mistakes and often, we don’t even realize we’re …


So you’re drowning in papers and essays? Welcome to college. Whether writing is your strong suit or not, we all make mistakes and often, we don’t even realize we’re making them. To give you a leg up the next time you’re pulling an all-nighter, refer back to this list of 10 common mistakes and make sure you always double-check for them before handing in your assignment.

There vs. They’re vs. Their

This one is a classic. “There” describes a location. “They’re” is a contraction of the two words “they are.” “Their” indicates possession of an item. These small differences are things all college students should know like the back of their hand, but many don’t. Make sure you don’t mix them up because these kinds of errors signal to your professor that you aren’t checking your work carefully.

Affect vs. Effect

“Affect” is a verb used to describe how something is changed due to something else. For example, “The speech affected the crowd profoundly.” “Effect” is a noun describing an actual result of the change. It can be used as follows: “The speech had an enormous effect on the crowd.” Though that seems clear, the English language is complicated and there are exceptions to these rules—the word effect can sometimes be used as a verb as well. Read up on the nuances of these two words to ensure you have a good grasp of their usage.

Misused Vocabulary

People often replace the word “definitely” with “defiantly” when Microsoft Word corrects it, or they use “prolific” when they mean “prophetic”. Always read over your work carefully to avoid mistakes like this (even consider reading your paper out loud) and look up definitions of difficult words before using them. Otherwise, instead of demonstrating your extensive vocabulary to your prof, you’ll end up looking like you’re not quite sure what you’re doing.

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Misplaced Apostrophes

Apostrophes are used to create a contraction (as in “don’t” or “wouldn’t”) or to indicate possession (John’s truck). Apostrophes are another area of grammar that can cause confusion as they’re often added to words that don’t need them. Be especially mindful of the difference between its and it’s. In this exception, “it’s” is a contraction but does not indicate possession; rather it stands for “it is”. Be sure that your apostrophes are properly placed, especially if your words are going to be publicly displayed.

i.e. vs. e.g.

These short terms are derived from Latin; “i.e.” means “that is” (id est) and “e.g.” translates to “for example” (exempli gratia). Depending on the type of paper and style guide you’re using, these may not be acceptable so be sure to check the requirements. If you do choose to use them, be sure they’re used correctly in the context of your statement.

Incomplete Comparisons

Saying that something is “better”, “improved” or “faster” but not stating in comparison to what causes a statement to be misleading or even confusing. For example, “This experiment was better”—better than what? Why? These statements also come across as vague, which is a big no-no in academic essays. When making comparisons, don’t just state that something is better, but name exactly what it is being compared to to add context.

Run-On Sentences

When you complete your first draft of any piece of writing, run-on sentences can be quite common. This often occurs because you’re still trying to pinpoint your thesis or pack a sentence full of information. In your final draft, any redundancies should be eliminated since they detract from your essay’s main focus. Read your work out loud and if a sentence is too long to read naturally, try reorganizing it or splitting it up.

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Subject-Verb Agreement

These are pretty obvious mistakes and once again, if you read passages of your paper out loud, you might catch some! Any inconsistencies within your writing make it seem unorganized and rushed, so take the time to go through the paper and specifically check that all of your subjects and verbs are correct.

Tense Inconsistencies

Similar to the subject-verb agreement problem, inconsistent tenses throughout a paper can make your work seem sloppy. Your professor will notice, so simply reread your essay a short while after you’ve completed it (give yourself a break so that you can look at it with a fresh set of eyes) and correct any inconsistencies by changing verb tenses to be the same throughout. Confused about the correct tense to use? Ask a classmate or your professor.

Overuse of Slang or Abbreviations

Depending on the type of paper you’re writing, minor slang terms or abbreviations may be acceptable. However, if you use too much colloquial language, this can make your paper seem unprofessional or unspecific. Reread your piece if you find yourself using language that is too casual and replace where necessary.

These mistakes may be easy to make, but they’re also easy to avoid. Always look things up and find answers to your grammatical questions whenever you feel unsure. Minding your grammar will show your professors that you’ve made an extra effort with your paper and that care will likely be reflected in the grade you receive.

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