Have you ever submitted an essay or sent a business e-mail only to find out later that you made a mistake? Do not worry. You are not alone! It is quite normal for us to make mistakes when writing.
As a result, there are many techniques such as printing out documents, reading the text out loud, switching fonts, and so on to prevent it from happening. And even though these hacks are not ‘bulletproof,’ they can help you spot common errors are fix them (before it is too late.)
Nonetheless, if you are a copywriter, marketer, journalist, or writer — where writing is an intrinsic part of your job, you cannot afford to make mistakes that often.
Thus, today, I will go over some of the most common writing mistakes and how to avoid them:
- Incorrect verb forms
- Subject-verb disagreement
- Run-on sentences
- Passive voice
- Dangling modifiers
- Splitting infinitives
Incorrect verb forms
Learning to master irregular verb forms is one of the most challenging things to do, even for native speakers. Often, people use incorrect irregular verb form without even realizing it!
And although these mistakes are mostly “acceptable” within informal writing, they are frown upon in formal writing. Some of the most common verb conjugation mistakes include:
• I seen vs. I saw
• I been vs. I have been
• I done vs. I did
• We was vs. We were
Thus, the best way to learn irregular verbs is to memorize them! There are plenty of resources and exercises on the web to help you do it.
Another common mistake is using the incorrect verb form when in combination with another verb. For example, writing, “Did she came?” instead of “Did she come?”
To avoid making this mistake, remember that the auxiliaries has, have and had are used with past participle forms. On the other hand, do, does, and did are always used with infinitives.
Additionally, keep in mind that the primary auxiliary be can be used with both present and past participle forms.
In most languages, the subject and the verb must agree with gender and number. In English, verbs are not conjugated to reflect the gender of the subject. Hence, you only need to pay attention to the number.
Nonetheless, be especially careful when dealing with irregular verbs and compound subjects. As these, make subject-verb agreement somewhat trickier.
Thus, to avoid this mistake, ask yourself: is the subject a singular or plural noun? And write your sentence accordingly.
Most of the time, it is hard to write a brief and concise sentence. Thus, it comes as no surprise that having run-on sentences is one of the most common mistakes when writing.
To be able to be exempt from this flaw, you first need to understand what a run-on sentence is. According to professional editors, a run-on sentence contains two or more independent clauses that are not connected with the correct punctuation.
Hence, always remember to separate each independent with adequate punctuation. Keep in mind that I am not only referencing commas and periods. There are also conjunctions, semi-colons, and the em dash.
Frequently, writers use the so-called passive voice always. Using a passive voice, or leaving the subject out of the sentence, makes it harder for readers to follow your argument and creates confusion.
For instance, avoid phrases like:
• France is known for its excellent wines and cheese.
• Two men were killed in a car accident.
• A decision was made.
To avoid writing in the passive voice, know that:
- Active voice is when the subject of the phrase does the action
- Passive voice is when the subject of the phrase receives the action.
We should only use the passive voice we do not know who did the action or the ‘receiver’ of the action is vital.
- Dangling Modifiers
In a nutshell, a dangling modifier is a word (or words) that modifies, describes, or gives detailed information of a word that is not clearly stated in the sentence.
For example, if you write a sentence that reads: “these techniques are very complicated.” The reader may be confused as to what techniques you are referencing.
The simplest solution to avoid having dangling modifiers is to re-word the phrase into a complete introductory clause. To do so, you must name the ‘doer’ of the action in the same clause.
A tautology is an expression or phrase that says the same thing twice.
In writing, tautologies are redundant and do not add any real value to the content at hand.
For instance, saying: “I am going to post a comment on your personal blog.” There is no need for the word personal, as the phrase already states it is your blog.
Much like with using incorrect verb forms, some of these expressions are ‘acceptable’ within informal settings. Nonetheless, if you want your content to look professional, you should always check your work to avoid using tautologies.
Splitting infinitives is another common writing mistake. And much like with tautologies, it usually includes unnecessary words as part of a sentence.
Technically speaking, a split infinitive occurs when a verb (in its infinitive form) has an adverb between the to and the verb.
Here are a few examples:
• She seems to really like it vs. She really likes it
• He truly believes he is doing the right thing vs. He believes he is doing the right thing
• The trick is to actually believe you can vs. The trick is actually to believe you can.
Therefore, review your sentence to see if the splitting word helps improve the sentence, or if you can eliminate it without changing the meaning of the phrase.
Overall, these mistakes are not that easy to avoid — and this is precisely why they are so common. Nonetheless, if you keep them in mind the next time you sit down to write, it can go a long way.
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