The No-Shame Guide to Common Grammar Mistakes in English

If you search online for guides on English grammar, chances are that you’ll find articles written by editors talking about their pet peeves and about how terrible it is to see such-and-such grammar mistake.

That’s not how we see it.

Here’s the truth: Everyone makes English grammar mistakes. English learners, native-speaking children, and educated adults — they all make grammar mistakes every day. And that’s okay, especially when speaking. However, when it’s time to give a presentation at work or write a cover letter for a new job, it helps brush up on your grammar. Above all, proper grammar in a formal setting shows that you pay attention to detail and understand how to act in a professional environment.

In other settings, proper English grammar helps in social situations. We’re here to help prepare you for those situations.

Whether you’re new to the English language or a native speaker looking for a quick refresher course, this guide will help you polish your English grammar skills.


A quick review of English grammar terms

  • Contractions are two words that you can put together to form a single word. For example, instead of “I am,” many people say “I’m.” Contractions are common in spoken English, but you should always write out the full words in formal writing.
  • Independent clauses can stand alone as a complete thought. “I’m staying home,” is an example of an independent clause because it’s a complete thought or complete sentence.
  • Dependent clauses cannot stand alone as a complete thought. Consider the sentence, “If it rains, I’m staying home.” Here, the phrase “If it rains” is an example of a dependent clause because we need more information before we can consider it a complete thought.
  • Pronouns are words that can replace other nouns. Words like “I,” “he,” and “they” are examples of pronouns.
  • Possessive pronouns are pronouns that have to do with something belonging to someone or something. “My,” “his,” and “our” are examples of possessive pronouns.
Correcting, Proof, Paper, Correction, Correct, Mistake

A quick guide to English punctuation

If you’re new to English, you may see or read about different punctuation marks. Here are the names of the most common punctuation marks in English.

!exclamation point
?question mark
“”quotation marks or quotes
( ) parentheses


1. Similar words that are used differently

In some cases, there are words that have very similar meanings but are used in different situations. Here are some examples of commonly confused words:

Less and fewer

“Less” is used for uncountable things such as water, air, or time in the general sense.

A cactus needs less water than other plants.

I have less time for video games now that I’m an adult.

You should also use “less” for units such as fractions and units of time.

Less than half of the team came to the meeting.

I did my homework in less than an hour.

“Fewer” is used for countable or numbered things.

You’re making fewer grammatical errors than before.

There are fewer than 100 people in my office.

Lay and lie

“Lay” needs an object. In other words, you need something to lay or lay down.

Please lay the book on the table when you’re done.

The soldiers lay down their weapons.

“Lie,” on the other hand, doesn’t have an object. 

You look tired. Go lie down and take a nap.

Lying on the floor of the messy room were dirty clothes.

Who and that

In general, use “who” to refer to people and “that” to refer to things.

She’s a woman who knows what she wants.

I live in a building that doesn’t have an elevator.

I and me

Most people have no trouble using “I” and “me” correctly when there’s only one person in a sentence:

I like ice cream.

She needs to talk to me.

It can get confusing when there are multiple people in a sentence. A good rule is to take away the other people in the sentence. Then ask yourself: which word fits better, “I” or “me”?

Carlos and I like ice cream.

Carlos and I like ice cream.

She needs to talk to Mary and me.

She needs to talk to Mary and me.

2. Words that sound the same but are written differently

English is well known for its unusual spelling rules. It doesn’t help that English also has many homophones, which are words that sound the same but are spelled differently. Here are some common examples:

To, two, and too

“To” commonly indicates direction.

They walked to the park.

The word “to” is also used to connect verbs with words such as “have” and “going.”

I have to wake up early.

He’s going to make us dinner.

“Two” refers to the number.

I have two daughters.

“Too” is a word that means “also.”

I have a son, too.

There, they’re, and there

“There” refers to a place.

Let’s go to the park. I haven’t been there in weeks!

“They’re” is a contraction of two words, “they” and “are.”

They’re going to the park tomorrow. (They are going to the park tomorrow.)

“Their” is a possessive pronoun that means “belonging to them.”

My parents sold their house last year.

You’re and your

 “You’re” is a contraction of two words, “you” and “are.”

You’re so intelligent! (You are so intelligent!)

“Your” is a possessive pronoun that means “belonging to you.”

May I borrow your pen?

Than and then

“Than” is used in comparisons.

Earth is smaller than the sun.

There are more than 6,000 languages in the world.

“Then” is used to describe actions in time.

We went to the park, and then we got ice cream.

Back then, people used phone lines to connect to the Internet.

It’s and its

“It’s” is a contraction of two words, “it” and “is.”

It’s a beautiful day today. (It is a beautiful day today).

“Its” is a possessive pronoun that means “belonging to it.”

The cat licked its paws.

Who’s and whose

“Who’s” is a contraction of the two words “who” and “is.”

Who’s going to the party tonight? (Who is going to the party tonight?)

“Whose” is a possessive pronoun most commonly used in questions.

Jacinthe Gerlach

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