Updated: Dec 29, 2019
Number one in a series on how to improve your writing. Identifying some common errors to eliminate when checking your work.
Students are constantly reminded to check their work by teachers. It can be quite difficult to cast a critical eye over your own work, especially immediately after finishing it, but you would be surprised what errors you can identify if you train yourself to look for them. A good way to start to get comfortable in checking your work is to look out for some basic fundamental mistakes. Once you get good at spotting them in your practice writing you will start to eliminate them long before you reach the exam. We learn through making mistakes and by identifying them we eliminate them, not only in our writing , but in our speaking as well.
So, here are a few VERY common errors to start looking out for when you review your writing:
1) ITS & IT'S
ITS is a possessive pronoun like his or my.
The football team has lost its confidence
IT'S is IT IS contracted or in informal speech IT HAS
It's a long way home.
It's got three bedrooms.
Like many of these common errors, this is often a mistake made by native speakers and even teachers if they are not paying attention. If you remind yourself of the basic use and get into the habit of checking use as you write, this mistake will quickly be eliminated.
Confusion often comes from the fact that the possessive S uses an apostrophe hence people tend to give the possessive S on ITS an apostrophe as well. Believe me, I have made this mistake when I am not concentrating.The key is to remember that ITS is a possessive pronoun and follows the pattern of hers, his, ours, theirs and yours.
TIP: If you are having trouble remembering if you have written these correctly, do not use the contraction in writing and then you cannot make the error!
2) THIRD PERSON SINGULAR
Considering languages with a Latin foundation have six endings for every verb in every tense, it is somewhat surprising to English speakers that students have so many problems with the third person singular S. In the present simple, this is the only change to the verb, so remember the simple principles.
a) The S only goes on the verb if it is used with he/she/it
b) This applies to irregular verbs as well, because they are only irregular in the past
c) Even the special irregular verbs that change in the present simple still finish in S for the third person (GO - Goes, Do - Does, Be - Is)
c) The verb stays in the infinitive for negative and question forms, the change is taken by the auxiliary verb.
Another mistake made by many native speakers is confusing these two words. They sound exactly the same (homophones) but if you make this mistake in your writing you will lose marks.
THERE - Refers to a location, it literally means the "opposite of here"
The bus only stops there once an hour.
BUT it can also be used as a pronoun that introduces a word or clause.
There is no hope for the White Rhino
THEIR - Is the third person plural possessive pronoun. It means something "belongs to them"
It is their dog.
THEY'RE is They are or They were contracted like we are (we're) and you are (you're)
They're having a great time on holiday.
4) SAY & TELL
This mistake is a classic indicator that you are thinking in your own language and translating rather than using English. They may mean basically the same thing, but we use them in two distinct ways:
TELL - is followed by a direct personal object. We tell someone something.
SAY - is not followed by a direct personal object. We say something.
A useful way to help remember the difference is to think the object of SAY is the words we speak and the object of TELL is the person we are talking to.
He told me he was busy
He said he was busy.
5) These are some general errors that occur but you will have your own regular errors that you make. To eliminate errors we must identify them. By reviewing your work or making notes on the errors highlighted in your writing practice you will quickly identify the mistakes you make regularly yourself.
Look out for further tips on eliminating mistakes in your writing and speaking and guides on writing technique.
Feel free to share your tips or even your most common mistakes and we can help you avoid them in the future.