I’ve always been a writer at heart, and I think it’s because spelling and grammar come so easily to me. Others, however, haven’t been so lucky and still struggle with a lot of common writing mistakes, so I decided to put together a list for my fellow writers of the mistakes I’ve found to be the most popular:
* Who vs. Whom:
This distinction is hard when we rarely hear people say “whom” in everyday conversation, but the rule here is “who” is a subjective, which means if you’re referring to the subject in a sentence, you use “who.”
For example: Who is baking the birthday cake?
Here, you’re trying to find the person (the subject) baking the cake.
“Whom,” on the other hand, is an objective, which means if you’re referring to someone other than the subject, you use “whom.”
For example: Whom is Dan baking the birthday cake for?
Here, Dan (the subject) is baking the cake and you’re trying to find the person (the object) receiving it.
* Quotation punctuation:
Many people are confused as to whether punctuation should go on the inside or outside of quotation marks. The rule here is that commas and periods always go inside quotation marks. Question marks, however, rely on the subject matter. If the sentence itself is a question, you put the question mark outside of the quotations.
For example: Does Lily like “Of Mice and Men”?
If the sentence is a statement and the content in quotation marks is a question, you put the question mark inside the quotation marks.
For example: He heard Lily ask, “What should I read today?”
* Then vs. Than:
Even though there’s a very simple rule when it comes to these words, writers still have a hard time remembering the difference. The rule here is you use “than” in a comparison. Any other time, you use “then.”
For example: “I’d rather have chocolate than vanilla” means you’d prefer chocolate instead of vanilla (a comparison). “I’d rather have chocolate then vanilla” means you’d prefer having chocolate first and vanilla second (not a comparison).
* Fewer vs. Less:
There’s a very simple rule for these words as well. The rule here is if you can count the items, use “fewer.” If you’re talking about something that doesn’t have a numeric value, use “less.”
For example: “Tim has fewer employees than Sarah” vs. “Tim is less successful than Sarah.” Here, you can count the number of apples but you can’t count the number of success.
* Adjective Hyphens:
Compound words are often used as an adjective to describe something. The common rule here is that if the adjective you’re using comes before the subject, use hyphens.
For example: The well-known comedian died last night.
If the adjective comes after your subject, don’t use hyphens.
For example: The comedian who died last night was well known.
* Singular/Plural Verbs:
If you have both a singular and plural word in your sentence, it can be tricky to know which verb to use. The rule here is if the subject is singular, the verb should be singular. If the subject is plural, the verb should be plural. You may have to take an extra few seconds to figure out which word is really your subject:
For example: “The box of apples was left on her roof.” Here, the box (which is singular) is the subject, so you use “was” and not “were.”
For example: “The staff members don’t like the new coffee.” Here, the members (which is plural) are the subject, so you use “don’t” instead of “doesn’t.”
* The Semicolon:
Many writers avoid semicolons for fear of using them wrong. The rule here is fairly simple: you use a semicolon to separate two related independent clauses (sentences that can stand on their own). Keep in mind: if there is a conjunction in the middle of two sentences, it can be replaced with a semicolon.
For example: “Tina made fettuccine Alfredo for dinner and the sauce was delicious” can also be “Tina made fettuccine Alfredo for dinner; the sauce was delicious.”
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