There are countless mistakes that can be made when writing something, from awkward run-on sentences to simple spelling errors. Most of these mistakes are easy to catch in the proofreading stages, but there are others that somehow manage to sneak their way through the editing process.
Allowing these mistakes to get through to your final draft can definitely impact the way you’re perceived by your readers—it doesn’t matter if the goof was made out of carelessness or ignorance, readers won’t care because all they’ll see is the mistake.
Here are the top 10 mistakes that are commonly made by writers and how you can avoid making them yourself.
1. Confusing ‘Who’ and ‘Whom’
There seems to be a great deal of confusion between these two words and when it’s appropriate to use either. There’s an incredibly easy solution to figuring out which to use: if “he,” “she,” or another noun can be used as a replacement, “who” is the correct word to use.
If you would be able to use “her” or “him” as a replacement, then “whom” is the right choice. Clarity on this and other confusing grammar items can be found at State of Writing.
Who scored the winning goal in the game? She did. To whom should I give the MVP trophy? To her.
2. Using ‘Who’ and ‘That’ Incorrectly
This is another one that people mix up very frequently—but thankfully, it’s just as easy to fix as who/whom.
“Who” is used when you’re talking about people, and “that” is used to refer to things.
Jane is the employee who had the highest sales last month. These are the sales numbers that we referenced.
3. Mixing Up ‘Which’ and ‘That’
Some readers may not pick up on this error, but there are those who definitely will, which is why you need to correct it before your content goes live.
It’s a little more difficult to figure out than who/whom and who/that, which is why not everyone will notice it. Still, it’s worth taking the time to learn so that you can have the clearest writing possible.
“That” is used when what you’re saying is essential to the sentence, and “which” is used to qualify information that is not essential.
I want to go to a restaurant that serves pizza. This restaurant, which has a beautiful patio, is one of my favorites.
4. Not Understanding When to Use ‘Lay’ and ‘Lie’
These are some of the most confusing words to tell apart and figure out when to use properly.
Let’s first talk about the present tense: “lie” is something the subject does, without the need for an object. In contrast, “lay” is used to describe an action done to a person or object.
For an in-depth look at how to use these words properly, check out this article on the variations of lay and lie.
Every Sunday I lie in bed until noon. Then I get up and lay out my clothes for the next day.
Now’s the part where it really gets tricky. “Lay” is the past tense of “lie,” and “laid” is the past tense of “lay.” It takes a careful eye and the patience to fully understand their use before most writers can grasp when to use each.
5. Using Dangling Modifiers
Using a modifier in the wrong spot in a sentence can totally change the meaning of that sentence. Make sure that the clause you’re beginning your sentence with has the same subject as the rest of the sentence.
Walking through the park, the birds were chirping as they ate seeds.
The formation of this sentence makes it sound as though the birds were walking through the park eating seeds—which is cute, but probably not what the writer meant!
The correct formation would be, Walking through the park, we heard birds chirping as they ate seeds.
A program like ProWritingAid or Grammarly can help correct things as you work, saving you time and ridding your writing of errors.
6. Mixing Up ‘Fewer’ and ‘Less’
This is a less confusing grammar fix than some of those previously discussed. “Fewer” is used when things can be counted, and “less” is for those things that can’t be counted.
I would like fewer than three scoops of ice cream and less chocolate syrup.
7. Using the Wrong First-Person Pronoun
It’s not always right to use “I” as a first-person pronoun, even though it’s commonly thought of as correct. Only when “I” is the subject of the sentence is it correct to use.
The quickest way to figure out if you’re using the right pronoun is by taking the other person out of the sentence to see if it still works. For instance, if the sentence looks funny written as “Me went to the park,” then you wouldn’t write “Tracy and me went to the park.”
Jason and I went to Cuba for vacation. The resort gave Jason and me a great room with a view.
8. Mistakenly Using ‘Like’ Instead of ‘As Though’
Although they seem interchangeable when used for comparisons, these actually are not. “Like” should only be used when followed by a noun or pronoun, and “as though” should go before a verbal clause—that is, a clause that contains an action word.
Grammar help can be quickly looked up on the resource Via Writing, if you are looking to clarify some confusion you’re having.
The house looked like a cottage. It looked as though it should be in a magazine.
9. Avoiding the Verb ‘To Be’ to Avoid Passive Voice
There’s nothing wrong with using the passive voice in a sentence—as long as it’s used properly.
And, in fact, avoiding the verb “to be” just to avoid speaking in a passive voice won’t work because it’s not the only way to form the passive voice. Any sentence where the object acts as the subject uses a passive voice.
Avoiding active voice is complicated to master, but with practice, you’ll be able to keep your writing active and engaging, using a variety of verbs including “to be!”
The caked was baked for me by my sister.
10. Not Using the Passive Voice at All
It’s not necessarily a bad thing to use the passive voice in some instances. If the object of the sentence is important, the passive voice may be appropriate.
The enormous yacht was sailed through the bay by an experienced sailor.
Proofreading is an essential step in the writing process, but mistakes can slip through the cracks. Be aware of these common errors and look for them when you’re checking over your work.
If you need extra help with your writing—and honestly, we could all use a professional to help us polish our work to be the best it can be—there are a lot of apps, programs, and services available to help.
Resources for Better Writing
Are you referring to someone or something in a formal way, as a resource or citation in an academic paper? Whether you’re referencing people or things, such as books and essays, as resources, Cite It In will create perfect citations every single time.
Certain editing services and resources, like Academized, have real people who can read through your work to see if you’ve used the right words in the right places.
The expert writers at AcademAdvisor have had plenty of experience in learning the nuances of language and can assist with writing help when required.
PaperFellows or Big Assignments can also offer professional assistance with grammar. EssayRoo can provide you with expert proofreading help to rid your writing of mistakes. UK Writings or Australian Help both have expert team members who can point out any corrections that should be made in your writing.
Not only does a tool like Easy Word Count tally up your word count, but it can also give you help in pointing out spelling and grammar errors like the ones we’ve discussed here.
Check out these great articles to help improve your writing even more!
- Don’t Get Crippled by Crutch Words: How to Speak and Write More Effectively
- The Best Free Online Writing Courses
- The Best Paid Online Writing Courses
Gloria Kopp is a paper editor and a proofreader at Boom Essays. She enjoys sharing her writing tips in at Huffington Post and on the Oxessays blog. In addition, Gloria is a paper reviewer at Studydemic, where she contributes her reviews for students and educators.