Common Grammar Mistakes and Ways to Avoid Them

Whether it is school work, a resume for your next job, or an email to a client, having perfect grammar is one of the best ways to leave a positive impression. On the other hand, if your writing is full of errors, others will likely have negative associations with you.

If you want to improve your grammar, you need to know which errors are the most common. Let’s take a look at writing mistakes that happen quite often.

Different Dashes:

Let’s start with dashes. It may not seem like that big of a deal, but correct dash usage is an excellent indicator of how good or bad someone’s grammar is. The shorter dash is known as the en dash (–) and is used for ranges. For example, dates and time.

A sentence should look like “His most successful years were 2015–2017” or “The book was missing some information, with pages 17–23 removed completely.“

Meanwhile, the em dash (—) is usually used to separate information or break a sentence. An example of proper — usage looks like this: “A while back—five or six years ago—I was thinking about quitting my old job.“

If you have a MacBook, you can type the em dash with the Shift + Option + hyphen keyboard shortcut. As for the en dash on mac, the sequence is Option + hyphen.

Windows users need to use different combinations. The en dash is Alt + 0150, and the em dash is Alt + 0151. It may take a while to memorize the shortcuts, but once you do, using dashes should become easier.

Too Many Adverbs:

Adverbs are another problem. While you may not find them in something like academic writing, everyday vocabulary usually includes more adverbs than necessary.

Some might think that adverbs are okay to include, but excess usually indicates that the writer has a poor vocabulary. Avoid words like “very” or “really” and use strong adjectives instead.

Replacing “really quick” with “speedy” or “very strong” with “mighty” will add extra flavor to your writing and make it seem more genuine.


Ambiguous writing is also a common problem. If you are a native speaker, you may not have problems understanding the meaning of a sentence.

However, if you are exchanging emails with someone who is not a native English speaker, they might misunderstand. Communication problems are not great, particularly when it comes to important business emails.

An incorrect version of a sentence looks like this: “Playing video games regularly makes my eyes hurt.” The question is whether “regularly” here refers to playing video games or making eyes hurt. Instead, that sentence should be: “When I play video games, my eyes hurt regularly.”

Eliminating ambiguities is not that easy, nor is it simple to spot them. Nevertheless, if you start paying more attention to your choice of words, you should spot ambiguous pronouns and other words that complicate the meaning of your writing.

Run-on Sentences:

Squashing two different sentences without separating them with punctuation. Semicolons and commas are used quite often, but putting a period at the end of a sentence is usually the rule of thumb.

Here is an example to get a better idea: “John likes to receive presents however he prefers when they come on a special occasion rather than randomly.”

It is clear that there are two ideas in this sentence, the first being how John likes to receive presents and the second about his preferences.

The correct sentence should be “John likes to receive presents; however, he prefers when they come on a special occasion rather than randomly.”


Tautologies are common when someone needs to reach a certain amount of words but runs out of ideas and starts repeating the same things over and over. There are many examples of tautologies. In the list below, words in italics are tautologies because they have similar meanings:

  • iPhones were part of a new innovative technology
  • I am looking to start my own business
  • Anna was a dark-haired brunette

The idea is that removing one of the words does not change the meaning of a sentence. If anything, it keeps the writing laconic and straight to the point.

“Could of” Instead of “Could Have”:

As surprising as it sounds, even native speakers make the mistake of using “could of” instead “could have” even though the former makes no grammatical sense. It seems that the influence of speaking is quite strong since when you talk, it is easy to mishear and think that someone said “could of” instead of “could have” when the reality is quite different.

Pay attention to this particular case as well as other common errors, like “their” instead of “they’re,” “it’s” instead of “its,” or “to” and “too.”

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