Some might say that technology has a lot to answer for. With an increasing number of distractions vying for our time, children’s reading is being ‘pushed out’ by other activities. The result of course, is that the standard of writing here in the UK is actually on the decline.

Thankfully, unless you’re studying English or a creative writing degree, the occasional grammatical blunder will be forgiven, but consistent grammatical mistakes will hinder your chances of securing top marks. So, with a view to improving the accuracy of your work, let’s take a look at a few of the grammatical errors in essays you should really avoid.

1. Your vs. You’re

Let’s start with the basics. This is a grammatical mistake you should not be making at undergraduate level. However, even some of the better essay writers are guilty of this grammatical faux-pas, simply because they do not proof their work. For reference:

  • Your is a possessive pronoun
  • You’re is just a shortened form of ‘you are’

If you’re ever struggling to decide which to use, simply expand the shortened you’re. For example, ‘you’re garden is beautiful’, is incorrect (it actually means you are garden is beautiful).

2. Effect vs. Affect

This is a really common grammatical mistake many people do not even realise they are making. The real difference between the two is that, generally speaking, effect is a noun, and affect is an adverb.

  • If you’re referring to a result or consequence, use effect. For example, “the effects of this weather are damaging.”
  • Affect should be used when indicating the action or influence. For example, “this weather affects how quickly I walk.”

A quick tip to remember this rule: If you can insert good or bad in front of the word it’s a noun, and therefore you use effect.

3. There vs. Their

This is one grammatical mistake that should have been wiped out at secondary school. The rule itself is commonly understood, so this mishap appears most regularly as a typo.

There can be used in many ways: as a reference to a place ‘let’s go there’, or as a pronoun ‘there is no chance’. Their is a plural possessive pronoun, as in ‘their cakes’ or ‘their opinions’. So, if you’re talking about more than one person and something they possess, use their every time.

4. Hypothetical Situations

When discussing hypothetical situations, which you frequently do when putting forward theories and opinions in university essays, always use the words were and would. Although a little more advanced than our previous examples, this is still a common mistake that could adversely affect the readability of your essay. Gwen Stefani and Beyonce have done all they can to help us remember this important rule with their songs ‘If I was a rich girl’ – incorrect, and ‘If I were a boy’ – correct.

5. Tenses

Tenses are a common grammatical mistake in essays regardless of the level of study. As a general rule, if you’re referencing an individual’s opinion (who’s still alive) make sure you use the present tense i.e. ‘Fleming says’ rather than ‘Fleming said’, as the latter makes their views sound more dated.

Some undergraduates also tend to write the introduction to their essay in the future tense i.e. ‘in this essay I will…’ rather than ‘in this essay I am going to…’ which makes the essay sound more confident and assertive.

6. Parallel Lists

For the sake of readability, items in a list should always be in parallel form, which means each entry in the list is structured in the same way. For example:

  • ‘He was happy with his running, shooting, and his dribbling’ – Incorrect
  • ‘He was happy with his running, shooting, and dribbling’ – Correct
  • He was happy with his running, his shooting, and his dribbling – Correct

Maintaining consistency in this way will make your essay read more fluently and encourage you to think more clearly about the construction of every single sentence you write.