Quick Grammar Refresher for Writers

We all make mistakes from time to time.

We all have those words that we ~never~ spell right on the first try.

But even in the modern world of spell check and tools like Grammarly, it’s always best to know how to get things right on the first go-around.

Know why? Because then, when we’re speaking--and not writing with the help of a tool--we sound smarter. And, let's be honest: Those handy tools don't always catch everything anyway.

So let’s do a quick walk-through on some of the more common grammar/usage mistakes that crop up  in writing...

1. The apostrophe situation around ‘its’

Remember that you only use the apostrophe within ‘its’ when you want to say ‘it is’ or ‘it has’. Otherwise, you’re saying something belongs to the ‘it’.

Incorrect: I can’t believe its finally summer.
Correct: I can’t believe it’s (it is) finally summer.

2. More on apostrophes...

People really struggle with where to put these pesky little punctuation marks. Remember:

  • Use the apostrophe after the s (as in s’) when referring to something that’s owned by a collective/multiple people. Ex: After the storm, the west siders’ homes were destroyed.

  • Use apostrophe s (as in ‘s) when you want to express an individual's ownership. Ex: Katie’s books got soaked in the rain.

3. Irregardless

Not a word. You mean ‘regardless’.

4. “I could care less”

By writing this, you’re actually telling someone you don’t care much, but you could care a little less than you do in that moment. You mean to write: “I couldn’t care less.”

5. Per say vs. per se

Close, but no cigar. You mean to write ‘per se’, which means ‘in itself’ in Latin.

6. Piece of mind

While you can always give someone a piece of your mind, in this instance, you mean peace of mind to indicate serenity.

7. Segway vs. segue

Segway is the stand up scooter. When you’re talking about transitioning from point A to B, you mean to write segue.

8. Dangling modifier

That’s one of those English class references that probably makes your eyes glaze over. Here’s what it means: When a describing word (an adjective, usually) gets separated from the word it describes, it makes the sentence sound awkward and confusing. Make sure your modifier always references the noun it describes.

Incorrect: While walking on the beach, Kelly found a glittery woman’s dress.
Correct: While walking on the beach, Kelly found a woman’s glittery dress.

(Sidebar: If anyone knows how to make ME a glittery woman, please let me know--very into that idea.)

9. Free reign vs. free rein

Tricky, this one is. Reign is what royalty does (so it kind of makes sense), but you probably mean rein, which is what one does to restrain a horse. When you’re talking about giving someone the ability to roam free, that’s the horse reference--so use rein.

10. Throws vs. throes

If you’re in the throws of passion, you’re probably in a physical fight. But if you’re in the throes of passion, you’re having an all-consuming emotional experience.

BONUS: Quick and easy ways to remember how to spell things right on the first try

  • Dessert vs. desert: Which one do you want more of? That’s the one with a double ‘s’.

  • Accommodate: This word can accommodate a double 'c' and a double 'm'

  • Misspell: Miss Pell never misspells

Need more? This post outlines a few other common writing mistakes to avoid.

Hope this quick list of reminders is just what you needed today.