Skip to Content

Practical grammar: A guide to avoiding common mistakes


A recent survey conducted by Northeastern University shows that employers want graduates who can communicate effectively both orally and in writing. Here are some common grammatical errors to avoid in being a better speaker and writer.

1. They’re/Their/There

  • “They’re” = “They are”

Ex: They’re going to regret wearing stilettos to the beach.

  • “Their” is possessive.

Ex: Those girls are struggling to walk on the beach in their stilettos.

  • “There” refers to location or a particular point in a process.

Ex: Do you see those silly girls over there? Yeah, the ones wearing stilettos on the beach.

2. Affect/Effect

  • Trick: Alphabetically, “affect” comes before “effect.” So, after you affect something, you get an effect.

  • “Affect” is most often a verb.

Ex: Superstitions don’t affect my choices.

  • “Effect” is most often a noun & is the result of some action.

Ex: Superstition says that seeing a black cat has the unfortunate effect of bringing bad luck.

3. It’s/Its

  • Trick: Say the sentence with “it is.” If it sounds wrong, it probably is.
  • “It’s” = “it is” or “it has.”

Ex: I’m so excited that it’s finally fall!

  • “Its” is always possessive.

Ex: I love fall for its warm colors and sweater-friendly weather.

4. Then/Than

  • Trick: Use “than” when comparing things and “then” in any other instances.
  • “Then” can have several meanings: At that time, next in order of time, in addition to, etc.

Ex: The kids brush their teeth, then they eat breakfast.

  • Than” is used when comparing things.

Ex: The kids would rather eat sand than endure another bowl of Corn Flakes.

5. You’re/Your

  • Trick: Say the sentence with “you are.” If it sounds wrong, it probably is.
  • “You’re” = “you are.”

Ex: You’re not making a good impression by sending grammatically incorrect emails to the CEO.

  • “Your” is always possessive.

Ex: The CEO is so pleased with your grammar that you’re being promoted to President of Communications.

6. Loose/Lose

  • Trick: Use “lose” to refer to something that is lost. “Loose” is most often used in terms of fit/security.
  • “Lose” is a verb.

Ex: How could you lose my dog?

  • “Loose” is most often an adjective.

Ex: His collar was too loose, and he slipped right out!

7. To/Too

  • Trick: Replace the word with “also.” If it sounds wrong, it probably is.
  • “To” can have several meanings: A place/person/thing one moves toward, the direction of something, indicates relations, etc.

Ex: We should go to the mall before the party.

  • “Too” means “also” or “to an excessive degree”

          Ex: Can I come too? I planned to wear my blue dress, but it’s too small.

8. Me/Myself/I

  • Trick: Take the other noun out of the sentence and see if the sentence makes sense.
  • “Me” is an object (the thing acted upon or affected by the action).

Ex: Paul ignored Jane and me when he saw us at the movies yesterday.

  • “Myself” is reflexive (you won’t use it unless you’ve already mentioned yourself earlier in the sentence).

Ex: I drove myself to the movies since Jane cancelled last-minute.

  • “I” is always the subject and performs the action.

Ex: Jane and I went to the movies yesterday.

Consult a dictionary or use a different word whenever you’re unsure. People do notice when you make these mistakes, and you’ll avoid criticism (silent or vocal) simply by making the right choice.

About the Author

Mara Johnson

Mara is pursuing a degree in English with a Literature concentration at Georgia State University. She is interested in food and craft festivals, finding new and interesting music, and graduating! She hopes to one day become a literature teacher.