Grammar and punctuation: The 7 most common mistakes students make at university and how to avoid them

Do you fear using 'your' and 'you're'? Well, fear no more with this advice at your fingertips

Christopher Shearer
Thursday 03 December 2015 16:29 GMT

Grammar and punctuation: the two most irritant-inducing things since time began when not used properly. Of course, we students have been spelling since those dreaded tests back in primary school but, as an adult, spelling - along with punctuation - seems to become a chore.

Trying to decipher where that dreaded semicolon goes and whether it really even matters can consume you. Does it matter? Well, according to your teachers, it does. Graduates aged between 21 to 25 are reportedly twice as likely to make a grammatical error when compared with people who did not go to university.

Luckily for you, some students, like me, have been through it all. By no means an expert myself (we’re only human), here are seven of the most common errors students grapple with, and how to best avoid them:

1) Your vs You’re

The classic and unforgivable spelling mistake that could result in an instant disappointed head-shake, or worse, a blunt reply on social media from a bloke in Ohio judging your intellectual ability.

You could forgive people if they didn’t switch into autopilot mode, but it is such a common mistake that people are now embarrassed about it. The amount of tweets I have encountered that have been re-uploaded after the world has seen the dreadful mistake is beyond me. So, heed this advice:

Your - A possessive adjective.
You're - You are. It is a contraction.

2) Than vs Then

A more simple mistake, but it does happen - more often ‘than’ not. The concept is related to another mistake made many times: woman vs women. Writing an essay in my first year, I thought it would be a good idea to write the singular term ‘woman’ throughout, resulting in a more-than-embarrassing feedback sheet. Looking back, though, it’s still not funny. Here’s how to avoid this silly mistake:

Than - A conjunction used mainly in making comparison.
Then - Mainly an adverb, often used to situate actions in time.

3) A lot vs As well

As much as it pains me and many others, ‘a lot’ and ‘as well’ are two very different mistakes. Who would have thought it? Why couldn’t it just be the same word to save us precious milliseconds on the keyboard? So, don’t disregard the power of the spacebar. (Ironic the word ‘spacebar’ doesn’t have a space. Well, sometimes it does, but let’s not get into that).

4) Effect vs Affect

The most frustrating grammatical problem I still have to this day which results in me having to read and re-read the same sentence in order to put the right word into place. So many words, so little time. Luckily I have a sneaky little tip - replacing the effect/affect with the influence/impact:

Effect - A change which is a result or consequence of an action or other cause.
Affect - Have an affect on; make a difference to.

5) Anxious

Bit of a myth surrounding this word. For example: “I was anxious to see my friends.” Were you anxious? What this ultimately says is that you were dreading, or had a looming fear of, seeing your friends. You were ‘eager’ to see your friends; anxious does not mean you were looking forward to something. Fundamentally, it means the opposite.

6) i.e. vs eg

Now this one still tickles the brain, so let’s break it down: i.e. comes from the Latin id est, meaning ‘that is’. In short terms, it’s used as a way of explanatory information, or to state something in different words. E.g. comes from the Latin exempli gratia, meaning ‘for the sake of example’. Obviously to state an example. Now the history lesson is over.

7) Semicolon vs Comma

Possibly the worst mistake since socks and sandals, the semicolon and comma are related - but have a fundamental difference:

Comma - Use a comma after the first independent clause when you link two independent clauses with one of the following coordinating conjunctions: and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet.
Semicolon - Use a semicolon when you link two independent clauses with no connecting words.

So, there you have it. Not only have we all made these horrifying mistakes, the above tips and advice give you clear direction, not only for your essays, but for CVs too. Feel free to add your worst spelling mistakes, or pet hates, in the comments below. Hopefully, if you happen to inspect this article well enough, you won’t find any errors. If you do, I can only apologise. After all, we’re only human, remember?

Twitter: @Shearer_Est94

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