1.Learn the difference between confusing words. English has a lot of words that look, sound, and/or are spelled the same, even if they have very different meanings. These homographs (words that are spelled the same), homophones (words that are pronounced the same), heteronyms (words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently), and homonyms (words that are spelled and pronounced the same) cause a great deal of confusion, and result in common errors. Remembering these common errors will help you avoid frequently made mistakes. Common mistakes include:

  • Confusing it’s (a contraction of it is) and its (a possessive pronoun).
  • Mixing up they’re (a contraction of they are), their (a possessive pronoun), andthere (an adverb indicating place).
  • Using you’re (a contraction of you are) and your (a possessive pronoun) incorrectly.
  • Confusing too (which means in addition), to (a preposition) and two (the cardinal number that comes after one).
  • Not using then (meaning at that time) and than (used to compare) correctly.
  • Improperly using lie (meaning to be in a horizontal position) and lay (which means to place something in a horizontal position).
  • Confusing farther (used with physical distance) and further (used with figurative or metaphorical distance).

2.Use punctuation properly. Improper punctuation can mean that the meaning you’re trying to convey can be confused or lost. There are many punctuation-related errors that can occur in English, including:

  • Run-on sentences, where there is no punctuation separating independent clauses in the same sentence.
  • Comma splices, where independent clauses in a sentence are joined with a comma but without a proper coordinating conjunction.
  • Using apostrophes to create plurals (they are used to create contractions or show possession, not create plurals).
  • Improper use of quotation marks, which should only be used to indicate that you are directly quoting something someone said.

3.Use the active voice. In an active construction, the subject is the thing that performs the action; in a passive construction, the subject is acted upon by an outside force. While there’s nothing wrong with the passive voice, it’s less forceful and can make sentences unclear. Therefore, you should use the active voice more often, but it’s acceptable to use the passive voice from time to time, especially to emphasize something. For example, consider how these active and passive sentences place emphasis on different elements of the sentence:

  • The active “I paid the bill” places the emphasis on what the subject did.
  • The passive “The bill was paid by me” places the emphasis on who paid the bill.

4.Use reflective pronouns properly. The reflexive pronouns are myself, yourself, himself/herself/itself, ourselves, yourselves, and themselves. These pronouns can be used reflexively or intensively. Reflexive pronouns are only used as the object in a sentence, and only when that object is the same as the subject. Intensive pronouns are used to add emphasis to a sentence and reinforces that the subject performed the action. To tell the difference, remember that if the pronoun can be removed from the sentence and it still makes sense, the pronoun is being used intensively. However, if the pronoun cannot be removed without altering the meaning of the sentence, it’s being used reflexively.

  • Reflexive: “I pinched myself to see if I was dreaming.”
  • Intensive: “She individually picked each gift herself.”
  • Reflexive: “He asked himself how he’d feel in that situation.”
  • Intensive: “I myself don’t know how I’d react.”


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