Common Grammar Errors that Diminish Your Writing

14, Mar 2014 by Kathy Steffen">Kathy Steffen in Grammar,Writing Craft     ,   3 Comment

To follow up last month’s column on cleaning up your writing, below is a reference list of some common grammar errors. (Can you tell I’m in the middle of book edits?) Take care, especially when you are writing a blog or a post. Yep, I’m feeling a bit like the Grammar Police today, but seriously, mistakes take your reader out of your message. Why do that to your writing? Cut this list out and post by your computer (I keep it by mine) or use this as a start and make a reference list of your own. Polish your prose and let it shine!

Affect or effect: Effect is a noun (the strobe effect used in the play) and affect is a verb (the strobe light affected my eyes).

Fewer or less: Fewer can be counted, less cannot. There are fewer cars in the lot. (See—you can count them!) Drivers have less incentive to park in the lot since the rates went up.

Farther or further: Farther is physical (the store is farther than the bank) and further is metaphorical distance (her daughter is growing further from her).

Principal or principle: Principal means high in rank (your principal is your pal—remember from grade school?) and principle is a noun meaning a fundamental truth.

Since or because: Since implies time (since I began the acting class I’ve booked more speaking engagements) and because implies cause (because I had to give a speech to an audience, I threw up while waiting backstage).

They’re, their and there: This is a common mistake. They’re is a contraction of they are, their is possessive (it’s their house) and there is a place (get away from there). They’re moving to their new place over there. I couldn’t resist.

Misplaced apostrophe’s: Apostrophes are used in two situations: a contraction (don’t, can’t, won’t) and to show possession (Kathy’s car). Never in a plural situation like the lead in for this paragraph.

It’s and its: Of course we have an exception. It is a different apostrophe animal. Use it’s for contraction (it’s mine now) but keep the apostrophe out when you show possession (the cat is playing with its fish toy).

There’s plenty of things wrong with this: Never use the contraction of there is with a plural. There are plenty of things wrong if you do.

Compliment or complement: Compliment is a flattering remark you give or recieve. Complement is something that goes well with something else, that m.

Quotation marks and punctuation: “Punctuation belongs inside quotation marks.”

Irregardless: Not a word. Use regardless. Please.

Set or sit require an entire column along with lay or lie. Perhaps later this year. Stay tuned.

Kathy Steffen is an award-winning novelist and author of the “Spirit of the River Series:” “First, There is a River,” “Jasper Mountain,” and “Theater of Illusion,” available online and in bookstores everywhere. Additionally, Kathy is published in short fiction and pens a monthly writing column, “Between the Lines.” She writes from a log home in the woods of southwestern Wisconsin that she shares with her husband and three cats. Find out more at

3 thoughts on “Common Grammar Errors that Diminish Your Writing”

  1. donna kohn says:

    Effect can also be used as a verb as in to effect a change. It means to bring about.

  2. Ah, Donna, a fellow word-nerd:) Yes, that is true. Thanks for your comment!

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