Avoiding the Five Most Common Grammatical Errors Study Guide

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Updated on Sep 30, 2011

Avoiding the Five Most Common Grammatical Errors

Life is tons of discipline. Your first discipline is your vocabulary, then your grammar and your punctuation. -ROBERT FROST (1874–1963) AMERICAN POET

This lesson gives an overview of the most common grammatical errors, and provides you with tips and reminders for avoiding these errors. Take care to read this lesson carefully, and complete its exercises thoroughly as a review and a guide to writing better prose.

This lesson will help you learn how to avoid the most common grammatical errors. These errors are actually easy to avoid if you know the rules, and observe them.

Our review so far has provided you with an overview of the most important grammar rules, and by now you should feel more confident about your ability to write good grammatical prose. (The rules of grammar are not so strictly applied in the writing of novels, short stories, and poetry. This book assumes that you are seeking to improve your day-to-day prose writing before you go on to tackle more imaginative forms of writing.)


The single most useful practice you can develop as a writer is to slow down. Proofread and edit your writing very carefully, and you're certain to catch a lot of your own errors in advance of submitting your work to other readers.

Common Error 1: Incorrect Noun-Verb Agreement

The Correct Rule: In every sentence you write, the noun and the verb must agree in number. This means that a singular noun must be paired with a singular verb, and a plural noun requires a plural verb.

Sounds easy, doesn't it? And yet ignoring this rule is one of the most common errors that both student and adult writers make. These errors often creep into writing during the revision process; you change a sentence around slightly, and then forget to check for noun-verb agreement in the new version. It's worth checking through your writing one more time just to look for noun-verb agreement errors.

Exceptions to the Rule

Compound subjects usually take a plural verb, but occasionally a compound subject expresses a single idea, and can take a singular verb. Here are some examples:

      War and peace is a common subject for debate in political circles.
      Love and marriage is the theme of many romantic movies.

Compound subjects joined by or and nor usually agree with the noun closest to that word. The use of either/or and neither/nor dictates that each of the nouns is to be treated individually as the single subject of the sentence, and therefore, a singular verb is correct. Here are some examples:

      Either a dog or a cat makes a good pet. (singular verb for singular cat)
      Either a pet or plants make good hobbies. (plural verb for plural plants)

Common Error 2: Incorrect Verb Endings

Correct Verb Endings: Every verb has four basic parts that indicate the time in which the action of the verb is happening. These four parts form the building blocks with which writers and speakers can describe actions that

1. are occurring in the present
2. are occurring in an ongoing time
3. occurred at a specific time in the past
4. have or had occurred sometime in the past

All options are covered by these four parts.

Here's a chart to help you keep the four parts clearly in mind:

Avoiding the Five Most Common Grammatical Errors

Note that there are two kinds of verbs: regular and irregular. For regular verbs, the parts are formed in similar ways, for example, by adding ing or ed to the participles, which are then accompanied by linking verbs. Irregular verbs do not follow standard patterns in forming their various parts. To use irregular verbs correctly, you must memorize their parts because there is no standard system for their spellings. You probably use many irregular verbs in your everyday conversations without thinking about them; you simply absorb them as you learn and use the language. However, when you write, you must pay special attention to make sure that you are using the correct form of every verb.

Here are some common irregular verbs that you should be careful to use correctly both in your speech and in your writing.

Avoiding the Five Most Common Grammatical Errors

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