Common Grammar Mistakes, Word Usage

Common Grammar Mistakes: Word Usage

Oct 17, 2012
Writing academic papers always requires a student to have good command of English. Even some mistakes can influence the final grade. Take time practicing your writing, learn and read new material from article "Common Grammar Mistakes: English Idioms".
When it comes to writing, how you say it can often be as important as what you're saying. This is especially true when it comes to mistakes in grammar and usage. Whether you're working on your Ph.D. or an in-class essay for your high school English class, glaring writing errors will distract from your work and likely lower your grade. You spent all that time researching and writing, why not take a few extra minutes to make sure your work is as good as it can be?

Words That Sound Similar

Below are some of the most common word choice errors that happen because of words that sound or look similar.
affect ... effect
Affect is a verb, which means it should be used to describe the action in a sentence.
The weather is likely to affect the outcome of the game.
Effect is a noun, meaning it's usually the subject of the sentence or the object of the verb.
The effects of the medication can last for hours.
She wasn't sure what effect the construction would have on traffic.
allusion ... illusion
An allusion is indirect reference to a work of art or an idea.
The poem includes an allusion to Shakespeare's Hamlet.
An illusion is something that is seen or heard but that isn't real.
The river in the desert was just an illusion, and the boys remained thirsty.
climatic ... climactic
Climatic refers to weather (like climate).
The change in vegetation was believed to be climatic.
Climactic refers to a climax.
In the climactic final act, the audiences finds out who the killer is.
chose ... choose
Chose is the past tense of choose.
You can choose from any of the items of the menu.
She chose the pasta, but later regretted her decision.
compliment ... complement
When you say something nice about someone, you compliment him or her.
She complimented her teacher to try to improve her grade.
Complement refers to two things that make up for the other's weaknesses.
The girls complement each other, and together they make an excellent team.
elicit ... illicit
When you draw something out you elicit it.
The teacher's question elicited several different answers from the students.
If something is illegal, than it is illicit.
The boy's illicit activities attracted the attention of the police.
imminent ... immanent ... eminent
If something is about to happen it is imminent.
The storm was imminent, so we put the shutters up quickly.
Immanent is used to describe an inherent or intrinsic property.
The beauty of the painting was immanent and was not easily described.
Eminent means famous and respected.
The eminent musician received several prizes last year.
lay ... lie ... laid ... lain
In the present tense, lay takes a direct object, meaning it's something you do to an object, while lie has no object - think of it as something you do to yourself.
Lay the book down on the counter.
I'm going to lie down until the party starts.
Unfortunately, it gets tricky in the past tense, because lay is also the past tense of lie.
She lay down on the floor and started to cry.
The past tense and the past participle of lay is laid.
She laid the plates on the table.
The boy had laid the silverware on the table before she arrived.
The past participle of lie is lain (remember that means it doesn't have an object).
Mary has lain on the floor for most of the day.
lose ... loose
Lose is a verb that means to no longer have.
Don't lose that book; you'll need it later.
Loose is an adjective that describes something that is not tight or fixed.
The balloon blew away because the knot in the string was loose.
She tripped over her loose shoelaces.
principal ... principle
The head of a school is the principal. It can also be an adjective that means the most important.
The boy who got in trouble was sent to the principal's office.
The principal reason she failed the test was that she didn't study.
A rule or law is a principle.
He believed in the principle that a penny saved is a penny earned.
sight ... cite ... site
To see is to have sight.
The sight of her freshly-baked pie on the floor was too much for her to handle.
When you refer back to works by author author's you're citing them.
Make sure to cite at least six sources in your research paper.
Site refers to a place or position.
The police were called to the site of the accident.
than ... then
Than is used with comparisons.
The boy is a foot taller than his sister.
Then is used to show order in time or that something happened sequentially.
First you have to order the food, then we can set the table.
there ... their ... they're
Use there when referring to a place,
The chairs we need are all the way over there.
or when using a to be verb (e.g., is, am, are) to state something exists.
There is a lot of work left to do.
It's clear to me that there are several people at fault.
Their is a possessive pronoun that refers to something owned by more than one person.
Their math teacher told them to open their books to page seven.
They're is a contraction that takes the place of "they" and "are."
They're not likely to make it to the station on time.
to ... too ... two
To is used to indicate direction,
Let's head to the store and see if we can find the ingredients we need.
or with an unconjugated verb.
You have to jump over the creek.
Too means to have more than you need of something,
We had too much food at the party, so everyone got to take home leftover.
or it can be used to mean in addition.
She wanted to go to the party, too.
Two is the number 2.
We need two more chairs.

Words with Similar Meanings

Sometimes grammar mistakes can be made because words have very similar meanings.
ability ... capacity ... capability
Ability is used to refer to something a person or animal can do, like a talent or skill.
He has the ability to stand on one leg for over an hour.
Capacity refers to the amount an object can hold.
The car's gas tank has a capacity of 15 gallons.
Capability refers to a person's ability carry out tasks.
He has the capability to handle to project by himself.
accurate ... precise
To be accurate means to be correct.
The boy's guess was accurate, so he won a prize.
If your measurements are all very close together, they are precise, even if they are not accurate.
The scale was precise and always gave the same weight.
amount ... number
Both words are used to signify quantity, i.e., how much of something you have. If that something can be counted, use number. If it can't be counted, use amount.
The number of boys in the choir was kept under twenty.
The gauge showed the amount of gas in the tank.
When using number, modify with few, fewer, and many.
You should eat fewer cookies.
When using amount, modify with little, less, and much.
You should drink less soda.
both ... each
Use both when something is being shared by two people
She gave both of the girls a piece of cake to share.
or when the same thing is happening to two people or objects.
Both the boys were late to class that day.
Use each when two or more people or objects are acting separately.
Each of the girls received $20 for her birthday.
Each boy took his turn at the wheel of the car.
envious ... jealous
If you're envious, you want something you lack.
She envied the other girl's new car.
If you're jealous, you want to hang on to something you already have.
She got jealous whenever her boyfriend went out with his friends.
hilarious ... hysterical
If something is very funny, it is hilarious.
The man's friends found the joke to be hilarious.
If it drives someone to hysteria (meaning an extremely emotional or overwhelmed state), then it is hysterical.
The women became hysterical when she discovered her son was missing.
majority ... plurality
Majority means over 50%.
The majority of the people voted yes, with only 20% voting no.
Plurality means less than 50%, but more than anybody else.
With 23% of the vote, he didn't have a majority, but as the person with the most votes he won a plurality.
theory ... law ... hypothesis
A theory is a scientific idea that has been repeatedly tested and is supported by evidence. It explains why or how something happens.
Today at school the students learned about the theory of evolution.
A law generalizes a set of observations. It predicts behavior, but does not explain it.
The Law of Gravity will tell you how fast an object falls.
A hypothesis is an educated guess that has yet to be tested or proved.
His hypothesis was that giving his students less work would increase their test scores.
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