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Six Common Grammar Mistakes College Students Make

Feb 11, 2011 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 2 Comments

When you make a grammar mistake, it makes you look bad. People who recognize the mistake will assume you’re either not very smart, not very educated, or not very careful. At work or in other non-school settings, people may or may not notice. But if you make grammatical mistakes on your college essays, your professors will definitely notice them—and it can harm your grade.

Some grammatical mistakes are more common than others. Here’s an overview of some of the most common grammatical errors out there.

It’s vs. its

This is a very common mistake. “It’s” is a contraction of “It is,” and should only be used that way. For instance, “It’s a green car.” The confusion is that apostrophes aren’t just used for contractions; they’re also used for possessives—to indicate ownership. For instance, “John’s green car.” Because of this, many people assume “It’s” can also be used to indicate ownership. It can’t. The correct possessive in this case is “Its,” as in “Its paint is green.” It’s a weird exception to apostrophe usage rules—and one that college students and many others either forget or never learned.

Your vs. you’re

This is another case of possessive / contraction confusion. “You’re” is used only to indicate a contraction between “you” and “are.” On the other hand, “your” is a possessive—as in, “Get in your car.” Again, since apostrophes are often used to indicate possessive, it can cause confusion when a possessive without an apostrophe appears. “Your” is an exception to the rule.

Woman Studying

It’s important not to depend on Word’s spelling and grammar checker, as the grammar feature has a lot of inaccuracies.



Their, there, and they’re

Many people get these confused. “Their” indicates a possessive—“Their car.” “They’re” is a contraction between “they” and “are.” And “there” is a place—as in, “over there.” They’re easy to confuse with each other, but making this mistake in a paper can make you look bad—so don’t do it.

Comma misuse

There are dozens of ways a comma can be used correctly—and even more ways they can be used incorrectly. One of the most common grammatical mistakes involving commas is a “comma splice”—a comma inserted between two complete sentences without a conjunction, such as “and,” “but” or “so,” to link them together. Many people hear a pause in sentences with two complete clauses and think they have to include a comma to indicate that pause. For example: “John got good grades, he’s going to graduate.” 

The correct way to write this sentence could involve splitting it up into two (“John got good grades. He’s going to graduate.”) or including a conjunction (“John got good grades, so he’s going to graduate.”) You could also include a semicolon (“John got good grades; he’s going to graduate.”) But it’s not correct to insert a comma by itself.

Apostrophe catastrophes

Apostrophes are misused everywhere. They’re used to indicate ownership (except when they’re not) as well as contractions, and it’s easy for many people to get their use confused. One thing they’re never used for, however, is to show the plural. It’s very common for people to mistakenly use an apostrophe to indicate more than one of something, as in “I own two car’s.”

Run-on sentences

Many college students and others grew up believing sentences that are too long are always incorrect. This isn’t necessarily the case. Long sentences may be awkward and hard to read, but they can also be grammatically correct. And a “run-on” sentence doesn’t just indicate a sentence that goes on for too long.

The term “run-on sentence” actually refers to two or more complete sentence clauses incorrectly linked together, such as with a comma. Even a short sentence, such as “I’ve got the keys, I’m going out,” can be a run-on. You can make this grammatically correct by splitting it into two sentences or adding a conjunction or semicolon.

College papers should be error-free. It’s important not to depend on Word’s spelling and grammar checker, as the grammar feature has a lot of inaccuracies. When someone invents a perfect grammar checking tool that understands all the nuances of the English language, you won’t have to check your papers on your own. But until that comes to pass, be sure you read your papers carefully—preferably several hours or days after you’ve written them—before you hand them in. 




Marc Over a year ago

Well said, well done, and very timely Jennifer. As an arbitrator over small claim matters, I seldom come across disputes that are properly structured and articulated, let alone grammatically faultless. Not even from experienced lawyers, advocates or other related professional sectors. As rightfully pointed out, quality writing is so rare nowadays that well written text does stand out from the crowd and gives its author an edge of credibility.
I strongly recommend related courses and I would be more than happy to teach them.

Jennifer Over a year ago

Hi Marc, thanks very much for your kind comments! I agree strongly that good writing adds to credibility. Your writing ability is often assumed to indicate the quality of your thought, whether that's fair or not. In any professional setting, it's important to take time to formulate and organize your thoughts correctly.

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