We all make grammar errors from time to time. By educating yourself on some of the common mistakes writers make, you’ll be prepared to create sharply-written stories that leave your readers hanging off your every word.
Here are the most common grammar mistakes to look out for when crafting your next page-turner:
Do you ever find yourself reading a never-ending sentence, struggling to stay focused on the text before you? You may be encountering a run-on sentence.
A run-on sentence is a sentence that consists of multiple independent clauses that aren’t united with proper punctuation. If you notice yourself putting commas where a period should be, or removing conjunctions like "and" or "for", you might be writing a run-on sentence.
But fret not! There are many ways to fix a run-on sentence, such as:
- Split up independent clauses into shorter sentences.
- Insert conjunctions between independent clauses to unite them.
- Swap the unnecessary comma with a semicolon or em-dash.
Incorrect: "I went to the grocery store this afternoon, I bought grapes, oranges, and apples."
Correct: "When I went to the grocery store this afternoon, I bought grapes, oranges, and apples."
Correct: "I went to the grocery store this afternoon. I bought grapes, oranges, and apples."
By now, we’re all aware that every story needs a clear beginning and end. But did you know that the same thing goes for each sentence, too?
Sentence fragments occur when a writer ends a sentence without completing it. In the English language, each sentence needs to have a subject and a verb. If the sentence you just wrote is missing either of the two, you’ve just created a sentence fragment.
Incorrect: "Your dad came to our baseball game. And bought us ice cream after."
Correct: "Your dad came to our baseball game and bought us ice cream after."
Correct: "Your dad came to our baseball game. He bought us ice cream after."
It’s imperative that your pronouns align with the nouns they’re referring to. Pronoun inconsistency errors require you to have an attention to detail that you might mistakenly throw on the back burner when you’re in the feverish throes of a writing roll.
Incorrect: "It’s important that one wears a helmet when cycling because you never know what could happen."
Correct: "It’s important that you wear a helmet when cycling because you never know what could happen."
The passive voice produces unclear sentences in which the subject receives an action. By contrast, the active voice produces sentences in which the subject performs an action. The active voice produces sentences that are both clear and concise.
Incorrect/Passive Voice: "A notebook is received by him."
Correct/Active Voice: "He receives a notebook."
A modifier is a phrase that provides more information about a word used in a sentence. Dangling modifiers occur when your modifier isn’t attached to the right word, leading to potential misinterpretation and confusion for the reader.
Incorrect: "While sitting on the bench, a puppy was seen walking by."
Correct: "While sitting on the bench, Emma saw a puppy walk by."
A possessive noun is a noun that possesses something. Think: John’s Laptop. While most possessive nouns use an apostrophe to indicate possession, many writers mistakenly put the apostrophe in the wrong place.
Here are the definitive guidelines for possessive nouns:
- If the noun is plural, the apostrophe comes after the s
Correct: "The cats’ whiskers."
- If the noun is singular and ends in an s, put the apostrophe after the s
Correct: "The shirts’ paisley print."
- If the noun is singular and doesn’t end in an s, add the apostrophe before the s
Correct: "The bear’s den."
Hyphens vs. Dashes
Despite serving different purposes, hyphens and dashes are commonly confused for one another. In order to get to the bottom of this common grammar mistake, let’s break it down by device.
To begin, a hyphen (-) is used to join words together.
Correct: "Run-on sentence" or "Merry-Go-Round"
Contrastingly, a dash (—), also known as an em dash, indicates a pause in a sentence. It is longer than a hyphen and can be used like a comma or semicolon.
Correct: "I’d love to go to the park with you—meet me at seven."
Commas are chronically overused. Your writing will improve dramatically if you begin to question each comma you want to include. Read it aloud. Does the sentence stand ok on its own, sans comma? If so, delete it.
Incorrect: "The dog across the street is barking, at pedestrians."
Correct: "The dog across the street is barking at pedestrians."
Inconsistent Verb Tenses
One of the keys to flawless grammar is consistency. Inconsistent verb tenses occur when the writer accidentally time-travels between tenses.
Incorrect: "I finish work and biked home."
Correct: "I finish work and bike home," or "I finished work and biked home."
When we compare something in our writing, it’s vital that we include what we’re comparing it to. Ensure you enable the reader to comprehend the brevity of your sentence.
Incorrect: "Dad is so much healthier."
Correct: "Dad is so much healthier than he was a few years ago."
You’ve Got This
All great writing is produced under the eye of a discerning editor. Are you up for the challenge? Next time you write, scan through your stories with a fine-tooth comb to see if you can identify and fix any of these common grammar mistakes. By taking the time to check your work, you set your story up for success!
Discover more helpful tips to improve your storytelling by accessing our Writing Essentials resource!