Sometimes, you may find yourself stuck in the middle of a sentence, grappling for the right words, pronouns, or adjectives. And there will be a situation when you thought the sentence was right, but a Grammar police friend runs with a gun behind you. English is the official language of communication at many workplaces. Many competitive exams test you on it. How can you ignore it? Keep reading to get a compiled list of common mistakes in English students make.
1. Run-on Sentences
A run-on sentence is two or more independent clauses squashed together incorrectly. Connecting two sentences when it doesn’t make sense is one big blunder, hitting at both readability and meaning.
Incorrect: I was tired from the workload, I had to go to the office anyway.
Correct: I was tired from the workload, but I had to go to the office anyway.
The first example has two complete sentences not joined properly by any conjunction. The sentences independently make more sense. In the second example, ‘but’ joins the sentences correctly.
Go through your writing and avoid run-on sentences by:
- Splitting sentence into two independent sentences
- Use a conjunction
- Use a comma, semicolon or any punctuation which works
2. Dangling Modifiers
The name is interesting- dangling. This modifier means using a descriptive clause added for a noun without introducing the noun. Sounds complicated? Let us understand with an example.
Incorrect: Horrified, the team bounced away from the captain.
Correct: Horrified of the captain’s anger, the team bounced away from him.
In the first example, the word horrified looks completely out of place. What was the team horrified about? In the next example, the description is added that the team was horrified by the captain’s anger.
To avoid dangling modifiers, go through the sentences and add context wherever required.
3. Superfluous Commas
Another highlighted one of the many common mistakes in English is throwing commas even where not required.
Incorrect: Riya went to Delhi, because she wanted to do UPSC coaching.
Correct: Riya went to Delhi because she wanted to do UPSC coaching.
Do not use commas before the conjunction when the sentence does not have two independent clauses.
4. Subject-Verb Agreement Errors
Subject-verb agreement errors happen when the writer or speaker uses the singular form of a verb, but the noun is plural or vice versa.
Incorrect: One of my friends like to cook Mexican food.
Correct: One of my friends likes to cook Mexican food.
Like is used with a plural verb, but the noun here is singular.
Always check if the noun is singular or plural before assigning the verb.
5. Incomplete Comparisons
An incomplete comparison is one of the silliest and most common mistakes in English. Why do I say so? Read the below sentence.
Incorrect: Ram is better.
Better than who?
Correct: Ram is better than Shyam.
Whenever you use comparison words, add the context of what you are comparing to.
6. Whether vs If
‘Whether’ and ‘If’ are often used interchangeably, but it’s good to distinguish between them. The meaning can differ depending on your word choice. The formal rule is to use ‘if’ when there’s a conditional sentence and ‘whether’ when there are two alternatives or choices.
Ron didn’t know if Sean would arrive on Friday.
Ron didn’t know whether Sean would arrive on Friday.
Ron didn’t know whether Sean would arrive on Friday or Saturday.
As per the first two sentences, Sean may or may not arrive on Friday. But according to the last sentence, Sean can arrive on either Friday or Saturday.
7. Which vs That
To understand the difference between the two, let’s first understand the type of clauses. A defining clause gives information essential to the sentence, whereas a non-defining clause gives non-essential input.
Sentence with defining clause: The house that has a blue door is my ancestral property.
Sentence with a non-defining clause: The dining room, which was quite lavish, had antique chairs.
In the first sentence, the identification of the house- blue door is important information to identify the house, so ‘that’ is used. In the second example, the dining room was lavish is an added information and not a must, so ‘which’ works better here.
8. In vs At
The two common confusions about ‘in’ v/s ‘at’ is when they are used in reference to time and location.
Let us read about the location first. Use ‘at’ when the location is a point, but ‘in‘ when it’s an area.
I live in Mumbai.
The train stopped at Mumbai.
In the first sentence, Mumbai is an area. In the second one, Mumbai is a point where the train stopped.
The next confusion is around time. Use ‘in’ to refer to longer periods like months, years, etc. Prefer ‘at’ when you talk about a specific time.
My birthday is in April.
The meeting is at 6 P.M.
9. Who vs That
‘Who’ is used to refer to people. ‘That’ is used when you are talking about an object.
Riya is the one who saved the team.
Turtle is the team that won first place.
Avoid using who and that interchangeably. Instead, check if you are talking about a person or a thing.
10. Less vs Fewer
‘Less’ and ‘fewer’ are confusing in usage. But it’s a simple rule. ‘Less’ goes with uncountable nouns, but ‘fewer’ goes with a countable noun. The only exception is with time, percentage, money and weight, still ‘less’ is preferred, despite all of these being countable.
Ram has less time.
Shivam has fewer oranges.
11. Farther vs Further
Farther and further sounds like identical twins, but one of them has a birthmark. Are you trying to identify which one is right? Let’s give you a clue. ‘Farther’ means going to a greater distance, and ‘further’ is progressing in qualities or distance.
He is moving further in his writing career.
Which planet is farthest from the sun?
12. Between vs Among
There is a common misconception that between is only for when there are two elements and among is used for more than two. But the right rule is:
- Use between when there are one-to-one relationships.
- Use among when referring to nonspecific relationships.
Sounds too geeky? See a simple example below.
Ram is the best between the two.
Ram has been a favourite among them.
‘Them’ in the above example is generic and a big group, so ‘among’ works here. But there are two specific comparisons in the first sentence, so ‘between’ goes nicely.
That completes the list of all common mistakes in English student learners make. Before bidding goodbye, I’m sharing a book that will be a complete study guide for English. Oswal – A Comprehensive Guide On General English For Competitive Exams has detailed grammar, subject-verb agreement, tenses, vocabulary, and reading comprehension sections. It’s the only book you need for Banking, SSC, management, railways and other competitive exams. Alexander Pope famously said a little learning is a dangerous thing. Grab the book today to get your complete handbook for English.