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Being a student means having to write. Essays, research reports, exam papers, and finally – your dissertation.

Having to write means dealing with the Chief of the Grammar Police – your lecturer. These are the basic grammatical and spelling mistakes that your spell checker might not detect, but your lecturer will. You should be wary of them. They can cost you points.

Their/there/they’re

The difference between those is the following one:

Their = belonging to them (the children are playing with their toys; the toys belong to the children).

There = not here (look over there; there are many job opportunities in the city).

They’re = they are (Look at the results! They’re astonishing).

Look at this sentence to see the difference between the three:

They’re there with their friends.

Your/you’re

Your = belonging to you (Congratulations on finishing your studies!)

You’re = you are (If you keep procrastinating, you’re going to fail!)

Lose/loose

Lose (verb) = opposite of to find; to misplace; (You will lose points if you do not obey essay writing rules!)

Loose (adjective) = not tight. (Those clothes are quite loose).

Quiet/quite

Quiet (adjective) = not loud, silent (You are being very quiet today. Is anything the matter?)

Quite (adverb) = rather; very (The data set is quite small).

No/know

No = opposite of yes; negation (there is no proof that your theory is correct).

Know (verb) = to be aware of; to have knowledge of (I know that the experiment will be successful – I’ve done it before).

It’s/its

Its = belonging to it (the questionnaire has its limits. Those are the limits of the questionnaire).

It’s = it is. (It’s obvious that the data set is not large enough).

Would of/Would have

This is another common error. The best way to avoid it is to think what this verbal construction is made of. It is made of the modal verb would + a verb in the Present Perfect tense (have been, have done). Since you would not normally write I of been or you of done, the construction is always would have done, could have been, should have analysed

One of the few instances where you can write would of is in the sentence ‘I would, of course, agree with you’.

Whose/who’s

Whose is a pronoun. It means belonging to whom (Whose book is it? = whom does it belong to?)

Who’s is the short form of who is (Who’s on duty today?)

Less/fewer

Less is used with uncountable nouns, like milk, bread, interest or energy. (During the experiment, the machine consumed less electricity than we had thought it would).

Fewer is used with countable nouns like light bulbs, ideas, participants, etc. (We had fewer participants in the study than the previous researchers had used).

Effect/affect

Effect is a noun. It means ‘impact’. (This study will examine the effect of globalisation on business practices in Poland).

Affect is a verb. To affect = to have an effect. (Let us see how the new drug will affect the patients’ conditions).

Then/Than

Then is used for time and sequence. Then = not now, later. The data were summarised and then exported into the table.

Than is used for comparison. The number of participants was lower than it was expected.

The Apostrophe rules

This is my personal pet hate and a topic that has been discussed many times before. But, as a writer, and as an involuntary grammarian, I must remind my readers of those simple rules:

The apostrophe is used in many situations; however, the two most common rules are the following ones: when we identify the owner and when we shorten words.

The Owner Rule:

When there is only one owner whose name ends in ‘S’, you place one apostrophe and another ‘S’.

The pencil belongs to James, so it is James’s pencil.

If there is more than one owner and the plural ends in ‘S’, you just place an apostrophe after that final ‘S’

For instance: if the house belongs to the Smith family, it is the Smiths’ house

If the owner ends in another letter, then you put an apostrophe and S:

If a car belongs to John it’s John’s car.

The same applies if the owner is in the plural and the plural ends in another letter:

Men’s toilets – because the toilets are for men and thus ‘belong to them’.

The Shortening Rule:

This one is even simpler. When words are shortened, the apostrophe takes the place of the missing letter(s).

Do not = don’t

Cannot = can’t

Will not = won’t

You are = you’re

They are = they’re

Would not = wouldn’t

I have = I’ve

She is = she’s

It is or it has = it’s

Who is or who has = who’s

Hope this helps. Have fun and enjoy writing!

Vlad Mackevic

P.S. This article is based on Vlad Mackevic’s book From Confusion to Conclusion: How to Write a First-Class Essay. You can download sample chapters of the book for FREE by clicking here or by entering your email address below.

The book can also be purchased on Amazon.co.uk in paperback and Kindle eBook formats. If you do not own a Kindle reader, Amazon provides a range of FREE applications for your computer, Smartphone or Tablet.

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