Paul Makepeace ;-)

Common grammar and spelling mistakes

There's a whole bunch of silly written mistakes we can easily avoid. Spend five minutes here and have your audience swoon in admiration at your command. Er, command of English, that is.

Get these seven right and you'll be avoiding at least, I'd guess, 90% of all the errors seen in the written word today. Manage that and you'll be honored and respected, not to mention avoiding embarrassing yourself in front of potential employees, significant others, and your mother.

The biggies

1. It's and its

This is such an incredibly common error. But it's so easy to get right! Watch.

"It's" means "it is" or "it has". Nothing more, nothing less. The apostrophe ' means "there's a letter or more missing here!". See? "There's" = "there is".

"Its" is a possessive pronoun like "my", "her", "your".

That's it. So, how hard was that? Do you have an excuse to get it wrong ever again? (The correct answer is "No, Paul".) Here are some examples and tips for remembering each version:

Another way of remembering is thinking how silly "he'r", or "ou'r" look! No apostrophe for ownership!

2. Definitely

This example is about a straight spelling mistake. Remember "in-finite". "Definite" is in a sense the opposite. Most people for some reason can spell infinite correctly but definitely is often misspelt with an "a". I suspect this is a tendency for us to copy each other and we get ourselves into a blind-leading-the-blind situation. If you ever forget, pull out the word "finite". Say it to yourself a few times if you're more auditory than visual, f-eye-night, deh-f-eye-night.

3. A lot

This is another unbelievably common spelling mistake. There's no such four letter word as these two slammed together. I've seen people argue there is (in blatant contradiction to its absence from every English dictionary ever published) so I'm really curious why it's so common. Another example of "I saw someone else do it"?

There is a word "allot" although that's also wrong if you mean "a lot". Allot means to dish out, assign, apportion, etc.

4. They're, their, there

"They're" and "their" are like "it's" and "its". "They're" means "they are" and "their" is like "my", "its", and so on. "There" is a completely different word. So, broadly speaking, "their" is used in the sense of belonging, "there" is somehow related to location, and "they're" tells you about a group of people or animals.

5. Your, you're

At this point you've doubtless figured this out. Yep, "your" joins "our" friends: "its", "her", etc. and "you're" is simply "you are". I get this wrong quite often. Not because I don't know it, but because they sound like each other! English is frustrating like that sometimes. The payback of course is being able to torture people with bad puns. A pun is a joke using homophones. Here is my best pun:

Q. How much fun does a monk have?

A. Nun!

A homophone is a word that sounds the same but has a different meaning. homo from the Greek meaning same, and phone meaning "you dialled the wrong letters".

Digression on representing words: I'm somewhat auditory when I compose prose so quite often write "you're" when I mean "your". But I'm visual when I proofread – I just look at the words, not say them, to deliberately disengage any phonetic confusion. Some heavy use of Visual at some point is key to spelling. For some reason I practically never make a mistake with "its" and "it's". I think it's because I'm so anal about it. Anal enough to spend fifteen minutes writing a webpage about it in fact...

6. Independent

There's just no "a" in this word either! "Independent": "e", "e", "e"! Like a little mouse that can do stuff for itself.

7. Less inaccuracy, fewer mistakes

Slightly tricky and unusual this one, but once you know it it's easy. "Less" is for single items, "fewer" is for plural ("more" of course stays the same in both cases). London needs less pollution and fewer smoky engines; teenagers would like less embarrassment by having fewer spots, etc.

8. Lose, loose

"Lose": a great example where English is not helping in any way at all to spell these words! The only word in English I can think of that sounds and is spelt like "lose" is "whose". See if you can think of a sentence with those two.

"Loose" is a bit easier. "The moose's noose is loose." If you find yourself writing "loose" and it doesn't sound like "moose" or "noose" you know something's wrong.

Just simply remembering that it's all a little odd around "lose" and "loose" should be enough though.

All right & Never mind

There's no single word that sounds like "all right". Or "never mind". Really (go on, look 'em up).

On "all right", Nik says,

It was decreed in the early part of the last century that 'alright' was not all right, despite there already being many altogether acceptable contractions of all and another word. Almost all such contractions are all right, 'alright' alone causing such almighty inconvenience.

"All right"'s non-standard seven letter doppelgänger I would say is in a bit of a grey area as it does appear in dictionaries but with notes saying it isn't really a word. So you have to ask yourself, do you want to seem educated or not?


Hope this has been helpful! Drop me a line if you can think of other common ones, or any you have trouble remembering. Or even if you spot a mistake on this page. I might make an interactive quiz at some point, perhaps if someone encourages me.