As proofreaders and editors know; grammar mistakes can make or break your writing.

The popular “eats, shoots, and leaves” versus “eats shoots and leaves” demonstrates how the simple comma can change the entire meaning of your sentence. If you missed it, read more about it here.

We’ve compiled this list of the most common grammar mistakes we see in our proofreading Brisbane service almost daily.

1. Incorrect use of an apostrophe

Ah, the good old apostrophe – it’s tricky and causes all sorts of writing dramas. An apostrophe is used for three reasons:

  • To show possession e.g. John’s house, the child’s toy
  • In time expressions e.g. two week’s holidays
  • In contractions e.g. can’t for cannot, shouldn’t for should not

An apostrophe is not used:

  • To show plurals, particularly with acronyms (a very common misuse) e.g. three DVD’s, my CD’s
  • Just because there is an /s/ in the word e.g. she want’s some water

2. Their, they’re, there

To be honest, I’m not sure why this is so very common – it’s not that difficult!

  • Their shows possession e.g. their hat is brown
  • They’re is short for they are (the apostrophe here is a contraction)
  • There refers to a place e.g. over there

3. You’re and your

This is yet another common mistake that we see all the time – I suspect that lack of time and poor concentration when writing is to blame for this one!

  • You’re is short for you are (the apostrophe here is a contraction)
  • Your shows possession or that something is related to you e.g. your house, your hat, your brother

4. Who’s versus whose

Definitely tricky to understand, so I do appreciate this common mistake!

  • Who’s is an example of the apostrophe being used as a contraction. It is short for who is or who has.
  • Whose comes before a noun to show or ask to whom the object belongs e.g. whose house is this? The boy whose house is down the road.

5. E.g. versus i.e.

E.g. and i.e. have completely different meanings and please ensure you use the punctuation for each abbreviation:

  • The abbreviation e.g. means for example and provides the example in the sentence
  • The abbreviation i.e. means that is and restates the idea more clearly within the sentence

Some examples:

  • She loves sweet food e.g. chocolate, ice-cream and lollipops (provides the example)
  • It’s very cold outside i.e. you will need to wear a coat (restates idea and gives more information)

6. Either versus neither

The mistake here lies mostly with the misuse of ‘neither’ but to clarify we will outline the use of ‘either’:

  • Either is paired with or and sometimes you can leave out the word either
  • Neither is paired with nor

7. Subject-verb agreement

We could probably dedicate a whole article to the subject-verb agreement errors that we see in our proofreading and editing service. But to be honest, how many views would an article on such a dry topic receive? I’m guessing not many!

Let’s start with the basics – for every sentence to be complete it must contain a noun (what or who the sentence is about – the subject) and a verb (what is happening to the subject).

The sentence needs to contain the right version of the verb which needs to agree with the subject (the noun). It can be difficult to know whether your subject is singular or plural and whether you should be using the associated singular or plural verb.

Here is a table for the verb “to be” as an example. Note that “verb conjugation” simply means how the verb “to be” changes to agree with the subject.

Subject Verb conjugation of “to be”
I am
You are
He / She / It is
We are
They are