4 Common Writing Mistakes Plus 5 Resources

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Mistakes can sneak up on you when you’re writing. Sometimes, the best proofreading won’t catch them.

Here are 5 mistakes to look for and fix before you hit send or publish.

Mistake 1 + Resource 1

Separating Subject and Predicate with a Comma

This is one of the trickier ones to catch. A subject cannot be separated from its predicate with a comma. When multiple objects or phrases come between subject and predicate, or if there is a series of verbs, there’s a tendency to use a comma.

Here’s a good example:

  • I wrote and edited my article yesterday, and published it today.

This sentence is incorrect. The comma is wrong.

  • One subject, I, performed three actions: I wrote, edited, and published. The correct sentence is: I wrote and edited my article yesterday and published it today. No comma.

Patricia Haddock

You can find more comma rules at GuidetoGrammar.org.

Mistake 2 + Resource 2

Using the Wrong Homonym

Words that sound the same, but have different spelling and meanings are traps. They are hard to catch when proofreading even if you are proofing by reading aloud.

Here are some common ones to be alert for:

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  • There–In that location. Put the book over there.
  • Their — Possessive of they. They forgot to bring their books to class.
  • They’re — Contraction of they are. They’re too young to ride the rollercoaster.
  • Your — Second person possessive pronoun. Your phone is ringing.
  • You’re — Contraction of you are. You’re looking better today.
  • Its — Third person possessive pronoun. The dog ate its kibble.
  • It’s — Contraction of it is. It’s raining today.
  • Weak (lacking power)— Week (a period of 7 days)
  • Sun (the star at the center of our solar system) — Son (male offspring)
  • See (perceive with the eyes) — Sea (a body of salty water)
  • Meet (to come together)— Meat (flesh of an animal)
  • Sole (bottom of a shoe or a type of fish) — Soul (animating spirit)

You can find a list of homonyms at EnglishforStudents.com.

Mistake 3 + Resource 3

Commas and Complex Sentences

Is this sentence correct?

Mike arrived late and missed the first part of the movie, because his car had broken down.

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This sentence is incorrect. The comma should be deleted.

This is a complex sentence. It has an independent clause: He arrived late and missed the first part of the movie. It also has a dependent clause: because his car broke down. The dependent clause starts with a subordinate conjunction.

The rule has two parts:

  • Don’t use a comma when the dependent clause follows the independent clause.
  • Do use a comma when the dependent clause comes before the independent clause.

Correct sentences:

  • He arrived late and missed the first part of the movie because his car had broken down.
  • Because his car had broken down, he arrived late and missed the first part of the movie.

Here some subordinate conjunctions to watch for:

After, Although, As, As if, Because, Before, Even though, If, In order that, Since, So that, Though, Until, When, Whenever, Where, Whether, While

Check out more information at the Online Writing Lab at Purdue University.

Mistake 4 + Resource 4

Missing Hyphens

What’s wrong with this sentence?

The ladies of the women’s auxiliary have cast off clothes in the church basement. Everyone is invited to check them out.

Read it again in case you didn’t catch the mistake the first time.

As used in this sentence, cast off is a verb meaning to remove.

The correct sentence: The ladies of the women’s auxiliary have cast-off clothes in the church basement. Everyone is invited to check them out.

Now, we have turned cast off into the adjective cast-off meaning thrown away.

Hyphens are used to connect words together to form a new word. In this example, the hyphen forms a compound adjective: cast-off.

Common hyphenated words are state-of-the-art, year-end, dog-friendly, load-bearing, family-owned, two-year-old, all-employee.

Sometimes, you need a hyphen for meaning. There’s quite a difference in meaning between these two sentences:

  • I want to recover the sofa.
  • I want to re-cover the sofa.

You can find more help with hyphens at GrammarBook.com.

Resource 5

I can’t end this article without recommending this terrific piece by Hayley MullenBeyond You’re vs. Your: A Grammar Cheat Sheet Even The Pros Can Use.

Sneaky Mistakes

English grammar is tricky and sneaky. You may think you’ve gotten everything right, only to discover something slipped past your best efforts to find it. Maybe something slipped past me in this article. I hope not, but if you find something, let me know!

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