The most common grammar errors and how to fix them

The year was 2002, and I’d been working as a cadet journalist for all of three weeks when a burly sub-editor slammed his fist on my desk and admonished me for spelling ‘lightning’ incorrectly for a second time that week.

I’d spelt it ‘lightening’.

Some 20 years later, I still have the sticky note with the correct spelling of ‘lightning’ on the pinboard beside my desk.

It’s a good reminder to double-check my work, and that mistakes happen, but they’re only bad if you don’t learn from them.

But looking at that sticky note recently got me thinking about different professionals’ unique skill sets. 

Now I write about real estate every day, but there’s no way I could list, market and sell a home. 

So it stands to reason that principals, agents and property managers may not have ‘writing’ at the top of their most polished skills, even though they write advertising copy, blogs, newsletters and columns for newspapers and magazines on a regular basis.

But, I’ve learnt a few tricks over the past 20 years about the common mistakes people make when writing and how to fix them.

Write your mistakes down

Everyone has a word, a phrase or a punctuation error they repeatedly get wrong. For me, it was ‘lightning’ and compliment/complement (more on this one later). 

The way I solved these errors was to write a sticky note with the mistake on it and stick it on my computer at eye level.

That way, every time I wrote the same word, I not only had the correct spelling in front of me, but reading it day after day imprinted it into my memory.

Read what you write out loud

Your brain can play tricks on you. In fact, it’s so smart that when you read over your work, your eyes will often skim straight past a mistake because you know what it’s meant to say.

Reading your writing out loud will often pick up errors you didn’t see when reading it on paper or the computer screen.

Know your conjunctions

This is one of the most common errors. Do you know the difference between ‘there’, ‘they’re’ and ‘their’? What about ‘your’ and ‘you’re’? Or ‘its’ and ‘it’s’?

Confusion arises with the apostrophe, which normally indicates possession, but in a conjunction it symbolises that two words have been joined together.


  • ‘Its’ indicates possession, but ‘it’s’ is a conjunction of ‘it is’ or ‘it has’.
  • ‘Your’ indicates possession, but ‘you’re’ is a conjunction of ‘you are’.
  • ‘There’ indicates a location and pairs with ‘here’.
  • ‘Their’ indicates possession and contains the word ‘heir’, which is someone who has an inheritance.
  • ‘They’re’ is a conjunction for ‘they are’.

Keep an eye on your homophones

What’s a homophone, I hear you ask? In a nutshell, they are words that sound the same but have different meanings.


This is one of the all-time most common mistakes.

‘Affect’ is usually a verb or an action/doing word, while ‘effect’ is a noun that you use to show the result of a change.

So you would write:

  • The drought affected plant growth, but
  • The second cup of coffee had no effect.

If you’re still having trouble remembering which is which, try remembering the word ‘raven’.

R = Remember

A = Affect is

V = a Verb

E = Effect is

N = a Noun


You use the word ‘than’ as a comparison, but ‘then’ is used to indicate a sequence.

So you’d write:

  • Sarah is taller than her sister.
  • We went to the park in the morning, then we left to go for a swim.


You use ‘accept’ as a verb that means to receive, while ‘except’ is a proposition that means to exclude.

So you would write:

  • The school will accept donations for the fete, but
  • You may donate all items except perishable food.


This one is still written on a sticky note on my pinboard. Hopefully, I’ll be able to remove it one day soon.

A ‘compliment’ is an expression of praise or admiration, while ‘complement’ is something that completes something else.

So you would compliment someone on their new haircut by saying it complements their edgy new style of dressing.

Passive voice

Passive voice might be one of the most common errors, but it’s also one of the easiest to fix. It occurs when a writer mistakenly turns the object of the sentence into the subject of the sentence.

An example would be:

The house was bought by the buyer at auction.

The same sentence in active voice would read:

The buyer bought the house at auction.

A nifty tip is to watch out for the use of the word ‘by’ as it often signifies the sentence is passive.

PS. The sub-editor from the story at the beginning turned out to be a big softie who was a wealth of knowledge!

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Kylie Dulhunty

Kylie Dulhunty is the Deputy Editor at Elite Agent.