Fixing common mistakes in grammar and spelling in your writing isn’t just for the journalism major; it makes everyone’s writing for professors, potential employers and even peers look more professional, clean and accurate. Student success depends not just on the content of your writing but also its presentation. In business as in school, “Our conscious, rational mind tells us that spelling and grammar have nothing to do with the ability to provide [goods and services], yet we find those misspellings and grammar mistakes raising doubt and uncertainty in our mind,” said Tom Sant in the book Persuasive business proposals: Writing to win more customers, clients, and contracts, 2004 found on Questia.com. Following up on my earlier article “Avoid top 10 common grammar mistakes for student success,” here are a few more tips for college students to make their writing sparkle.
1. Affect, effect and to effect. Affect is the verb meaning to have an influence on or to act upon: “Humid weather affects his asthma.” Effect is the noun (most of the time) meaning the result of a cause: “The effect of my lack of studying was an F.” In “Affect/Effect,” Washington State University explains: When you affect a situation, you have an effect on it. Less common is a verb meaning “to create”: “I’m trying to effect a change in the way we purchase widgets.” Effects could also mean goods or possessions, “Collect your personal effects.”
2. Lie vs. lay. This one messes everyone up. It’s not “I’m going to lay down,” it’s “I’m going to lie down.” The word lay must have an object: “I’m going to lay the pillow on the bed.” Lay is the past tense of the verb lie. Here is a handy chart to easily remember how the words are used, presented by Christina Sterbenz from “The 11 most common grammatical mistakes and how to avoid them” in Business Insider posted September 12, 2013.
3. To, too and two. To is used as part of an infinitive verb phrase: to walk, to write, to cheer. To is also a preposition meaning toward: “I walk to class.” Too means also: “I like dogs, but I like cats, too.” Too also means excessive: “I ate too much pizza.” Two is the number 2.
4. Fewer vs. less. Fewer is used with amounts of individually numbered or countable things, such as pens, cars, birds, socks, candy bars. “I have fewer classes this semester.” Less is used with amounts of volume, mass, non-individual or grouped nouns, such as liquid, time, clutter (on your desk), snow. “I was hoping for less snow this winter,” and “I should drink less coffee.” But do say: “I should drink fewer cups of coffee per day.”
5. Who’s vs. whose. Who’s is a contraction for “who is” or “who has.” “My professor, who’s going on sabbatical, will be closing her office.” Whose is the possessive of something belonging to someone. “Whose hat is this?”
6. S vs. ’s. Putting an “s” at the end of nouns makes them plural. An ’s can mean a possessive or a contraction for is or has. Don’t put ’s on a plural word. It’s “Books for sale,” NOT “Book’s for sale.”
7. Lose vs. loose. Lose means beaten, loss, fail to keep or deprived of. “I always lose my keys.” Loose means unconstrained or confined or the opposite of tight. “My pants are too loose.” “Her baby tooth came loose.”
8. Couldn’t care less. The proper phrase is “I couldn’t care less.” If you say “I could care less,” it means you care a little bit.
9. Hyphenate adjectives not nouns. When a compound word can be an adjective or noun, hyphenate the adjective. “I have to make up that test.” “I need to take a make-up test.” Also: “The café offers all-day breakfast.” “I ate apples all day.”
10. Block vs. print writing. Not so much a grammar problem as a presentation problem. During the Tournament of Roses parade this New Years, I saw a hand-written sign in the crowd that read: HEllO. I also have a florist near me with the sign: PlANTS. When writing a sign or poster, don’t mix block letters with printed letters – pick one or the other. It’s either HELLO or Hello, PLANTS or Plants.
Do you often discount someone’s writing if it is filled with mistakes?
For more grammar, punctuation and synonym rules, check out Questia’s Language and Linguistics page.