9 Grammar Mistakes That Can Make You Lose Readers

The danger about writing about this blog topic is that you worry if every subsequent blog you write afterward is going to be scrutinized for grammar. However, an assignment is an assignment.

When it comes to blogging and writing good content, there are modest rules to follow. Blogs are usually written in conversation style so it’s acceptable to stray from the AP Style Guide. Yet, you still have to write intelligibly so that you maintain credibility. Blogger Brian Clark has said, “…some people will not subscribe or link to your blog if you make dumb mistakes when you write, and buying from you will be out of the question.” I couldn’t agree more.

That being said, there are some mistakes that can not only make you jeopardize readership, but also make you sound less than intelligent. Below I provide some common examples of grammar mistakes and some tricks to remember how not to make them:

  1. It’s vs. Its
    This is a super common mistake that even I make. Oftentimes people think that because an apostrophe is used to make things possessive to indicate that “something belongs to,” that the same rule applies when using it. However, it’s is a contraction and stands for it is or it has and you should always be able to substitute those two words in your sentence when using in a sentence. Otherwise, if you can’t then use its.
  2. Your vs You’re
    You’re
    is the contraction form of you are and is always used with the verb “to be” and the subject is always you. Similar to It’s vs Its above, you should always be able to substitute the words “you are” when using you’re.
    Tip: If you can’t substitute those words then default to your.
  3. Misspelling the word “definitely”
    This is my #1 pet peeve when someone spells it with an “a”, i.e. definately.  When I read this word misspelled — especially from an executive, all I can think of is…illiterate.
    Tip: Remember, definitely is ‘finite’.
  4. Affect vs Effect
    “Affect” is almost always a verb and “effect” is usually a noun. For example:
    a. The pollen affects my allergies.
    b. The spring weather has an effect on my allergies.
    Tip: Effect never affects you.
  5. Egregious Use of the Comma
    For whatever reason, Americans overuse commas. We use it to emphasize a pause in a sentence, to clear up ambiguity, or to list items in a sentence. When it comes to the listing of items, however, this is perhaps where we go crazy with the comma. The serial comma (as referred to in the U.S. which is also known as the Harvard Comma or the Oxford Comma in the U.K.) is  frequently seen preceding  the word “and” or “or” when listing items in a sentence.The idea of putting the comma before “and” or “or” in a list comes from the Chicago Manual Style. For example:
    a. I bought milk, eggs, bacon, and orange juice at the store.

    However,  the AP Style Guide recommends against it.
    b. I bought milk, eggs, bacon and orange juice at the store.So this one’s up to you to decide.
  6. Which vs That
    “That” is a restrictive pronoun which is vital to the noun, whereas “which” introduces a relative clause. For example:
    a. I no longer eat items that have refined sugar.
    b. I lost 27 pounds, which was due to not eating refined sugar.
    Tip: Did you know that 90% of the time you can eliminate the word “that” from any sentence and still have it make sense and be proper> Yep, you sure can.
  7. Impactful – is not a word and often used by marketers to emphasize something. Impact can be used as a noun or a transitive verb, as in:
    a. This article had quite an impact on me. (noun).
    b.This article really impacted how I write in the future. (transitive verb).
  8. Misuse of the semicolon
    Personally, I think the semicolon should be abolished. I think almost any sentence can be broken into two sentences or make use of the em dash (which often demarcates a break in thought or a stronger similar statement.) However, there are some cases where you need a semicolon. The issue I have with it is that most people don’t know how to properly use a semicolon.
    Proper use of a semicolon is when you want to form a bond between two sentences. You use the semicolon to connect two independent clauses and thus eliminate the need for a pause without using and, but, nor or yet. For example:
    a. The mailman delivered my package today; he dropped it at the curb rather than at my door.
    However, often times we see semicolons used in giant run-on sentences. Remember not to use them when you use conjunctions like and, or, but or yet.  Use a comma instead.  For some great examples on how not to be afraid of the semicolon, see this poster: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/semicolon
  9. Lay vs Lie
    This is a common mistake made by many writers, including me. I always have to practice this one in my head before I write it out. Lay is a transitive verb that requires a subject and at least one or more objects in the sentence.  The present tense is “lay”, while the past tense is “laid”. Lie is an intransitive verb which doesn’t need an object. Its present tense is “lie” and its past tense is “lay”. This is where it gets most confusing when the writer wants to use the past tense of “lie” — for example:
    a. I lay on the bed as she gently rubbed my arm.
    b. I laid the book on the nightstand.

 

About Tracy Sestili

Tracy Sestili is CEO and Chief blogger at Social Strand Media. She is a social media consultant, strategist, and analyst.

Comments

  1. John Galt says:

    An article with good intentions goes south…

    Eleven Grammatical Mistakes in an Article Entitled “9 Grammar Mistakes That Can Make You Lose Readers”.

    – “Blogger Brian Clark has said, “some people will not subscribe…”
    *Some (should be capitalized within the quote as it starts a new sentence by the speaker).

    – *Oftentimes (one word)

    – “…when someone spells it with an “a”, i.e. definately…” *Probably better to use “e.g.” (exempli gratia or “for the sake of example”, meaning “for example” there, rather than “i.e.” (id est, or “that is”).

    – “The Spring weather has an effect on my allergies.” *spring. Don’t capitalize the names of seasons.

    – “For whatever reason, Americans over use commas.” *overuse. It’s a compound word, not two words.

    – “For whatever reason, Americans over use commas. We use it to emphasize a pause…” *Need to maintain consistency in plural versus singular. If we overuse commas, then we overuse *them.

    – “…which is vital to the noun, whereas, “which” introduces …” See the previous item about overuse of commas. There should be no comma after “whereas”.

    – …however, in “I lost 27 pounds which was due to …” one does need to put the comma in after “pounds”. *”I lost 27 pounds, which was due to… ”

    – “Impactful – is not a word and often used by marketers…”
    *Impactful – is not a word yet is often used by marketers…

    – “EM dash”. Nope. *em dash

    Wow! Ten grammar mistakes in an article entitled “9 Grammar Mistakes That Can Make You Lose Readers”. New league record. Oops, wait. Eleven. The title should not start with a numeral, especially when it is a single-digit numeral. *Nine Grammar Mistakes That Can Make You Lose Readers

    • Tracy Sestili says:

      Hi John,
      Thanks for taking the time to respond. I made some of your suggested changes. As I stated in the beginning of the blog, I knew it was risky. I didn’t install all of your changes because I disagreed with a few and here’s why:
      - In terms of the title of the blog – it’s a blog, not a novel and many of my blogs are tweeted so to write out the number nine is using up 3 precious characters when it gets tweeted, which it got tweeted 162 times.
      - Regarding the EM dash vs em dash – tomato/tomato. I researched this and found it both ways, however, I implemented your change just the same.
      - The quote from the other blogger was part of a larger quote, so it needn’t be capitalized. However, I did add the corresponding “…” to make that more clear. But thanks for pointing that out.
      - I’ve always capitalized “spring” and I know it’s incorrect. Creature of habit of the poor public school system I guess. Thanks for that one.
      - Agreed about the other comments and thought they were spot on. So thanks!

      And I’m sorry I didn’t post your comment sooner. I usually only approve them when I have time to respond to them and I didn’t have time to do that this morning when I sent you an email thanking you for your comment.
      Incidentally, I LOVED your idea about when a blog with good intentions goes south so I am thinking about creating a blog on that – so thank you for the inspiration! You rock!

      Cheers,
      Tracy

  2. John Galt says:

    What happened to my comment? Did I get censored?

    • Tracy Sestili says:

      Hi John,
      No not censored. Please see my reply to your other comment.
      Cheers,
      Tracy

  3. I find the most troublesome errors in grammar are inconsistent plural vs. singular and missing or misused verbs. These usually signify not just poor grammar, but also insufficient fluency. They usually are signs of writers for who English is not a first language. Often, they indicated someone who is operating a spam/scam. Those are absolutely the most suspicious errors.

    • Tracy Sestili says:

      Thanks for your comment William. I agree, you can almost always catch spam/scam when the English is off.

  4. I love when people point out all the common grammar mistakes made online. However, the fact that John pointed out all the others you made just shows how difficult it can be to write correctly when blogging at the rapid pace demanded today. As a grammar perfectionist myself, I have to make a conscious effort not to dwell on other people’s mistakes unless they are truly egregious. It’s the content that counts, not the time spent editing and proof-reading. That said, I do get a little miffed when I see these types of errors in e-books or other larger publications. Those should have a little more time invested in them.

    A few additions:

    - The comma after “and” in a list is optional, as you said. However, it should definitely be used when the list has some compound items in it.
    - Another misspelling that really annoys me is complement vs. compliment. I see it all the time. “Complement” is used to show how one item can enhance or go with another. For example, the red tablecloth complements the white and green place settings nicely. It can also be a noun. However, “compliment” is praise or something that is given freely. I compliment you on your brilliant use of grammar in all your essays. Or, we are giving complimentary printers to everyone who buys our new laptops.
    - Finally, I’ve found that adverbs seem to be gradually disappearing. The best example happened when my son’s second grade teacher told me he’d done really good on his last test. I wanted to throttle her right then and there. He did a good job on the test and he did really well on the next one. “Good” is the description for nouns and “well” is the description for adverbs.

    I could go on and on, but I think this comment is long enough and I have to get back to my own writing. I’ll try not to make any mistakes!

    - Sharyn

    • Tracy Sestili says:

      Thanks Sharyn! I forgot about complement v. compliment – you are right, that is annoying. I wonder how much I’ll notice that one moving forward.
      Also, thanks for mentioning the point about churning out blogs at a rapid pace. I agree that eBooks and other formal publications should be given a more thorough proof-read.
      Finally, the adverbs, I heard someone say a few months back that you should get rid of all adverbs in your writing because they can almost always be replaced. I never really fully agreed and now I don’t feel alone. Thanks!

  5. John James says:

    The mistake at the top of my list is “there” vs. “their” vs. “they’re.”

  6. Loved the post! Yes, it does take courage to write an article or blog post about grammar and related topics:-) Glad you did.

  7. I was reading John’s comment in awe (I’m a former copy editor) until he raised the issue about the headline beginning with a number. (Of course, AP Style demands that you write out numbers 1-9, and use the number from 10-on.) I think in headlines, though, a number looks better. It catches the reader’s attention, anyway.

    Kudos to you for this article. I am amazed at the poor spelling, punctuation, grammar, and basic writing mechanics that we are subjected to on blogs. Just because you have a computer doesn’t mean you should be writing for the masses, I say. No one listens, but I say it nonetheless.

    • Tracy Sestili says:

      Thanks Kristin! I am definitely in agreement with you on “numbers are catchier” in a headline.

  8. With “definitely”, what’s even worse is when it’s spelled “defiantly”. I see that WAY too often.

    And John–at least the title isn’t “9 grammar mistakes that can make you LOOSE readers”, which is another one I see all the time.

    (Also–I need to study the em dash vs the en dash, as I’m still unclear on how to use them.)

  9. You covered most of my pet peeves, but not my *favorite* – and you used it in your post here:
    “This is a common mistake made by many writers, myself included.”

    This is my #1 pet peeve in both the spoken and written word. I can’t stand to hear educated people (usually with a degree in communications) say, ‘Kathy and myself went to the store’.

    Words such as ‘myself’, ‘yourself’, etc are reflexive pronouns and must be the object of the sentence, not the subject.

    So … it’s correct to say ‘I taught myself how to read’ because ‘myself’ refers to the previous ‘I’ in the sentence. ‘The word ‘myself’ reflects on the word ‘I’.

    Use the simple test of using the word by itself in a sentence “You wouldn’t say ‘Myself went to the store’ or ‘Yourself should get ready to go’.

  10. Thank you for this Tracy. I’ve copied some so I have an easy reference in future. I’m an ex-editor of a country town newspaper and used to see some doozies. My favourites (Aussie spelling) included ‘the 20 odd people who came to the meeting’ and the ‘half off sale’ (I used to wonder which half they were taking off, especially when it was undies). I frequently see a display of beautiful earrings and necklaces stating ‘everything just $5′. I’m so tempted to take her up on her generous offer. There was also the front page headline that a major newspaper used saying ‘Australian Farmer Commits Suicide Every 10 Days’. I felt so sorry for that poor farmer who just couldn’t get it right. His family must have been devastated each time he tried.

    You didn’t mention ‘advice’/advise’. I’m not sure if it’s an American thing but in Australia advice is something that is taken, ‘he gave me some excellent advice about those stocks’, whereas advise is is usually given – ‘I advise you not to purchase that stock’. Advice can also be used when saying something along the lines of ‘if you want my advice about those stocks…’ And at 62 I still mentally say ‘it is’ when I’m writing.

    • Tracy Sestili says:

      Hi Kathy, thank you for your kind words. Yes, I forgot about advice (noun) vs advise (verb). It is commonly misused in America too. Good one!

  11. JenniferM says:

    Using the serial comma is not incorrect, just a matter of preference. I don’t think it really counts as improper grammar, just a pet peeve. It has gone in and out of fashion. I prefer using the extra comma, and I would probably follow a blog more if the writer also used the serial comma.
    But your other examples are very good. I do stop reading if there is bad grammar that can be simply corrected. The incorrect use of the apostrophe is probably one of my top peeves.

    • Tracy Sestili says:

      Hi Jennifer, Agreed – more of a pet peeve (just like the semi-colon, I guess).

  12. Kudos for the “Oatmeal” reference! He’s the bomb-diggity. And I admire your guts for tackling a topic you KNEW was going to get put under a microscope, flayed, and brutally dissected. Write on!

    • Tracy Sestili says:

      Thanks Reese. Nothing like a little humility, eh? lol. Thanks for the comment. Cheers.

      • Bah, humility. You did a great job and, hey, I’d chalk it up to giving all us a test: hidden within this post are several grammatical errors… can you find them? ;P Write on!

        • Roberto Hidaka says:

          Hi folks,

          As a non-native English speaker, it´s really enhancing my English skills by having native speakers discussing grammar topics here .

  13. Great article. Thanks for posting it. My current pet peeve is “loose” vs “lose”. I’m seeing this all over the place!!

    • Tracy Sestili says:

      Hi Faithe – I hate loose vs lose also. Good thing I didn’t make that mistake in the title! lol!

  14. John Galt is absolutely correct. How can someone have the audacity to attempt to suggest correctons to the use of certain words in the English language when they patently have a poor education themselves?

    Bad or incorrect spelling as featured in the article is one matter (often the lack of a proper education, or teachers not knowing any better themselves, are mostly the causes), but the article is meant to be about Grammar.

    So far as Grammar is concerned, an absolute ‘abortion’ in the use of the English language is the use of split infinitives, examples of which are in the article itself. Ugh!

    Dreadful article and Google gives it such prominence in their results. That speaks volumes.

    • Tracy Sestili says:

      Hi Chris, I am so sorry you were disappointed. I actually made most of the corrections in this article suggested by John and others. Do you have other suggestions you’d like to see changed?

  15. Grammar mistakes do affect my reading; however, some of the most intelligent people have poor grammar. Therefore, I use grace and hope that others do the same for me.

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