In this list, we’re primarily going to tackle homophones. Homophones – words that sound the same but have different meanings – are at the root of many common grammatical errors. But while the mistakes are only slight, the outcomes are often glaring.
Before we get to that, though, it’s important to understand how and when to use apostrophes.
Apostrophes are placed before the letter ‘s’ to indicate possession. ‘This is Ben’s handwriting; I’m making a list of the organisation’s assets.’
Apostrophes do not appear when pluralising a word. ‘Many ducks swimming in the pond; painted colours on the chest of drawers,’ and not ‘many duck’s; colour’s on the chest of drawer’s.’
Apostrophes are also used when merging two words to form a contraction. ‘They are’ becomes ‘they’re’; ‘are not’ becomes ‘aren’t’.
But while apostrophes indicate possession, the one exception to the rule relates to the word ‘its’.
‘Its’ is used to indicate possession when referring to an organisation or brand. ‘Apple increased its profits by 600%; Def Leppard just released its 11th studio album.’
‘It’s’ (with an apostrophe) shows up only in contractions. ‘It is time for dinner = it’s time for dinner; I can’t believe it is summer already = it’s summer already.’
Now, onto homophones.
‘There’ indicates a location. ‘The cinema is over there.’ It’s also used for stating conditions. ‘There’s nothing we can do; is this the only biscuit there is?’
‘Their’ indicates possession, i.e. something that belongs to someone. ‘The beat writers created their own universe; the silly duffers left their tartan tablecloth here.’
‘They’re’ is short for ‘they are’. ‘They’re running late; when Arsenal lose, they’re to blame.’
‘To’ is used before a noun or verb. ‘To run or to walk?; I’m on my way to the station.’
‘Two’ is a numerical value. ‘Two times two is four.’
‘Too’ means as well or more of something than necessary or desired. ‘I didn’t realise you were coming too; I’m too old for badminton and you’re too unwell to play.’
‘Your’ indicates possession. ‘Don’t forgot your bag of croissants.’
‘You’re’ is short for ‘you are’. ‘You’re not the boy you think you are; If you’re not going, I’m not going.’
The expressions ‘could of/would of/should of’ are never correct. The confusion stems from merging the words with ‘have’ to form the contractions ‘could’ve / would’ve / should’ve.’
‘I should’ve taken the bus then I would’ve made it on time and I could’ve helped you redecorate.’
‘Than’ is used to compare one thing to another. ‘Is Snoop really a better rapper than Biggie?’
‘Then’ signals one thing following another in chronological sequence. ‘Let’s have lunch first then we’ll try to write a simple grammar guide.’
Affect vs. Effect
The meaning of both ‘affect’ and ‘effect’ concerns change. However, one is a noun (describing a person, place of thing) and one is a verb (describing an action or occurrence).
‘Affect’ chiefly means to influence or make a difference to something.
‘Rudeness has a major affect on my mood; a diet free of deep-fried Mars bars will positively affect your overall well being.’
‘Effect’ usually refers to the outcome of change, or to an influence. ‘Better exam results is one effect of a disciplined study regime; I asked nicely, but it didn’t have the desired effect.’
Both of these words have a range of uses as verbs. ‘Bear’ means to support or carry. ‘I bear the imprint of past failure; one more hour is all that I could bear.’
‘Bare’ means to expose or strip down. ‘Elizabeth bares all in a revealing new interview.’
Bare can also be used an adjective. ‘The week before payday, I eat the bare minimum to survive; I cleaned it up with my own bare hands.’
i.e. vs. e.g.
These aren’t homophones, but they are commonly confused. ‘i.e.’ stands for ‘id est’, a Latin phrase meaning ‘that is.’ It’s used to clarify or paraphrase what you’ve just said. ‘Hula hooping is not as hard as you think – i.e., it’s not too hard once you get going.’
‘e.g.’ stands for ‘exempli gratia’, another Latin word meaning ‘for example’. It’s used to give weight to a story or explanation with an example. ‘I prefer scenic drives, e.g. down the coastline, through the mountainous ranges.’
Hopefully this list helps to improve your everyday use of grammar. No one’s perfect, so feel free to let us know in the comments if you spot any errors in our list.
Want to improve your grammar and punctuation? Join us on 19th September 2017 for our next Grammar and Punctuation: Getting it Right workshop, held at Happy’s training centre in Aldgate, London.