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Grammar: 10+ of the Most Common Mix-Ups that Spellcheck Could Miss

There are lots of programs available to help us when it comes to writing. However, English is a confusing language to master and even when we use programs like MS Spell Check mix-ups can still occur.

English is a living language that’s spoken around the world and continues to evolve. Many of the spelling and grammar “rules” I learnt at school no longer apply and those that do, have more exceptions than inclusions! Even after my many years in education, there are some aspects of my language that cause me to pause and reach for my reference books.

Words and phrases can sound fine in your head but look like gibberish when written down — that is, if you even realize you made a mistake in the first place! It’s all too simple for little mix-ups to slip by, especially when you’re self-editing.

But how do I stop making these mix-ups if I’m not even aware I’m doing it?

There’s no easy fix. One of the points that was continually emphasised during my proofreading and editing training was check every single word, even if it looks right. It’s okay — we’re all guilty of at least one mix-up. Jot down the things that repeatedly catch you out, as I suggested in my post about spelling mistakes.

Common Grammar Mix-ups

Here are some of the most common mistakes I come across time and time again while reading blog posts, newsletters and self-edited eBooks.

  1. They’re or Their or There
  2. Your or You’re
  3. Its or It’s
  4. Affect or Effect
  5. To or Too
  6. Peek or Peak or Pique
  7. Whose or Who’s
  8. Alot or A lot or Allot
  9. Lose or Loose
  10. Assure or Insure or Ensure
  11. Compliment or Complement

Which of these mix-ups have you been caught out by? Don’t worry, they’re common grammar mistakes for a reason – lots of people get muddled.

Let’s look at these mix-ups in more detail.

Once you can recognise which ones trip you up regularly, you’ll be more aware of potential mistakes and keep your eyes out for them when you self-edit your writing.

1. They’re or Their or There

One’s a contraction for “they are” (they’re), one refers to something owned (their), and one refers to a place (there). You know the difference among the three — just make sure you triple check that you’re using the right ones in the right places at the right times.

I find it’s helpful to search through my posts (try control + F on PC or command + F on Mac) for those words and check that they’re being used in the right context. Here’s the correct usage of “they’re,” “there,” and “their”:

They’re going to love going there — I heard their food is the best!

2. Your or You’re

The difference between these two is owning something versus actually being something:

You made it around the track in under a minute — you’re fast!

How’s your fast going? Are you getting hungry?

See the difference? “Your” is possessive and “you’re” is a contraction of “you are.”

Again, if you’re having trouble keeping them straight, try doing another grammar check before you hit publish.

3. Its or It’s

This one tends to confuse even the best of writers. “Its” is possessive and “it’s” is a contraction of “it is.” Lots of people get tripped up because “it’s” has an ‘s after it, which normally means something is possessive. But in this case, it’s actually a contraction.

Do a control + F to find this mistake in your writing. It’s really hard to catch on your own, but it’s a mistake everyone can make.

4. Affect or Effect

This one is another one of my pet peeves. Most people confuse them when they’re talking about something changing another thing.

That movie effected me greatly.

Effect, with an “e,” isn’t used as a verb the way “affect” is, so the sentence above is incorrect. When you’re talking about the change itself — the noun — you’ll use “effect.”

That book had a great effect on me.

When you’re talking about the act of changing — the verb — you’ll use “affect.”

That book affected me greatly.

6. To or Too

We’ve all accidentally left the second “o” off of “too” when texting in a hurry. But in case the mistake goes beyond that, let’s review some usage rules.

“To” is typically used before a noun or verb, and describes a destination, recipient, or action. Take these examples:

My friend drove me to my doctor’s appointment. (Destination)

I sent the files to my boss. (Recipient)

I’m going to get a cup of coffee. (Action)

“Too,” on the other hand, is a word that’s used as an alternative to “also” or “as well.” It’s also used to describe an adjective in extremes. Have a look:

Fiction editor, Sophie Payle, is a member of CIEP, too.

She, too, writes a blog.

We both think it’s too cold outside.

You might have noticed that there’s some interesting comma usage where the word “too” is involved. When you’re using the word “too” to replace “also” or “as well,” the general rule is to use a comma both before and after. The only exception occurs when “too” is the last word in the sentence — then, follow it with a period.

7. Peek or Peak or Pique

This mistake is another one I often see people make, even if they know what they mean.

  • Peek is taking a quick look at something — like a sneak peek of a new film.
  • Peak is a sharp point — like the peak of a mountain.
  • And pique means to provoke or instigate — you know, like your interest.

If you’re going to use one in your writing, stop and think for a second — is that the right “peek” you should be using?

8. Whose or Who’s

“Whose” is used to assign ownership to someone. See if you can spot the error in this question:

Who’s bag is that?

Because the bag belongs to someone, it should actually be written this way:

Whose bag is that?

“Who’s,” on the other hand, is used to identify a living being. It’s a contraction for “who is” — here’s an example of how we might use it in a sentence here in Salisbury:

Who’s going to Stonehenge for the festival tonight?

See the difference? “Whose” is used to work out who something belongs to, whereas “who’s” is used to identify someone who’s doing something.

9. “Alot” or A lot or Allot

I hate to break it to all of you “alot” fans out there, but “alot” is not a word. OK, yet. If you’re trying to say that someone has a vast number of things, you’d say they have “a lot” of things. And if you’re trying to say that you want to set aside a certain amount of money to buy something, you’d say you’ll “allot” £50 to spend on dinner

If you’re trying to remember to stay away from “alot,” check out this fabulously funny post by Hyperbole and a Half featuring the alot.

10. Lose or Loose

When people mix up “lose” and “loose,” it’s usually just because they’re spelled so similarly. They know their definitions are completely different.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “loose” means “not fixed in place or tied up” (a loose tooth), while “lose” means “no longer have” or “become unable to find” (try not to lose your keys again).

“Loose” is an adjective that means “not firmly or tightly fixed, fastened, attached, or held,” like loose clothing or a loose tooth.

A trick for remembering the difference is to think of the term “loosey-goosey” — both of those words are spelled with two o’s.

11. Assure or Insure or Ensure

All of these words have to do with “making an outcome sure,” which is why they’re so often mixed up. However, they are not interchangeable.

  • “To assure” means to promise or say with confidence. For example, “I assure you that she’s good at her job.”
  • “To ensure” means to make certain. For example, “Ensure you’re free when I visit next week.”
  • Finally, “to insure” means to protect against risk by regularly paying an insurance company. For example, “I insure my car because the law requires it.”

12. Compliment or Complement

These two words are pronounced exactly the same, making them easy to muddle up. But they’re actually quite different.

If something “complements” something else, that means it completes it, enhances it, or makes it perfect. For example, a wine selection can complement a meal, and two colours can complement each other.

The word “compliment” though, refers to an expression of praise (as a noun), or to praise or express admiration for someone (as a verb). You can compliment your friend’s new haircut, or pay someone a compliment on his or her haircut.

My final bit of advice about these mix-ups

English, like many other languages, has its own set of tricky rules and intricacies. We may not like it, but we know this. However, don’t give up. With a little bit of practice and help from guides like this one, you can become a grammar master. The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation was a constant companion while I was training to be an editor and I still use it when I come across those tricky language mix-ups.

I hope you found this post about some of the most common grammar mix-ups helpful. Did I miss any that you struggle with? Drop me a comment below so that I can feature the solution in my next grammar post.

Until next time,

Kim

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About Kim

I'm Who Am I? I'm a woman of many talents and interests!! Of course, who isn't?! I've just had my 50th birthday, I live in England with one husband and two daughters. I own my own editing business (Brockway Gatehouse) while still working part-time as a Teaching Assistant at a local primary school.​ I love reading (obviously), listening to audiobooks, watching documentaries about the natural world and ancient history plus films of many genres.

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