Common spelling and grammar errors (not picked up by spell checkers)

Here are some of the most common spelling and grammar errors that are not detectable by spellcheckers.

These are words which, though misspelled, are actually correct spellings for the wrong word: "I go to work on Monday threw to Friday."

Please write well!


First, I encourage you to use this three-step proofreading method.

for careless mistakes
Please use the free spell and grammar check programs offered by MS Word and/or Google Docs.

to check your grammar and style

Here is the best way I know to avoid Vince's Dirty Dozen.
Read your essay slowly and at full volume to catch awkward phrasings and words that you are using too frequently.
Then, record yourself reading your essays and listen to the recording.
Often, your speaking and listening skills are better than your writing skills. Therefore, hearing your voice through an external device helps you catch mistakes and notice areas for improvement.

to check your logic

After taking a short break, read your essay in reverse order (sentence-by-sentence, not word-by-word).
Start with your final sentence and work back to your first.
Are you making any logical leaps?
Are your transitions clear?

But wait. You are still not done! Before submitting your final paper, be sure to check for the following common errors that are not picked up by spell checkers.


The list below shows a number of common errors. It's worth a quick read-through to ensure that you have not made any of these mistakes. If you are doubtful about a particular word or phrase in your essay, use the 'Find in page' option on your browser to see if it appears here.

(Thanks to Alan Rolfe at The School of Art, Design, and Media, University of West London: found at; accessed 2012/03)

The following words are spelled correctly, but they are incorrectly used in most essays. Spell check will not catch them. Therefore, you need to read your essays aloud. If you want to be extra sure, record yourself reading your essays, then listen for awkward phrases and wordy passages.

  • In most cases, 'affect' is the verb and 'effect' the noun.
  • "If I don't complete my assignment, it could affect my degree mark."
  • "I banged the door as hard as I could, but it had no effect." However, 'effect' can be used as a verb in certain cases, meaning 'to bring to pass': "I wanted to talk to her to effect a reconciliation."

  • Use "border" when discussing boundaries and edges, as in Doctors Without Borders, border guard, and cross-border M&A
  • "Boarders" refers to residents in a boarding house or school paying for their room and board (food), or people who ride snowboards A 'boarder' is someone who 'boards' - a lodger.
  • A 'border' is a barrier surrounding an area; either a fence or sometimes simply a notional line, as in borders between countries. It is also used in computers to indicate the edge of an object - the borders of a page, for instance.

  • You mean "career"; a "carrier" refers to a person or thing that carries, holds, or conveys something

  • 'Criterion' is the singular, 'criteria' the plural.
  • "He seems to have met all the criteria."
  • "We must look closely at this criterion." 

  • A 'hole' is something you get in your sock (or roof, or whatever).
  • 'Whole' means a complete entity, rather than just a part:
  • "The shoes looked good, but it was a different matter if you considered the whole outfit."

  • 'it's' (with the apostrophe) is always short for 'it is':
  • "It's a good job we didn't go out in this weather." 'its' (without the apostrophe) is the possessive case, i.e. 'belonging to it':
  • "This car has its own built-in air conditioning." 

lunch → launch

  • This is a confusing one, because 'lead' has two completely different meanings, depending on the pronunciation.
  • 'To lead' (pronounced 'leed') is present tense, meaning 'to go in front of' or 'to guide':
  • "When the band is in a procession, the Sergeant-Major leads the way." 'lead' (pronounced 'led') is a heavy, soft, grey metal.
  • Led is the past tense of the verb 'to lead' described above. Hence:
  • "Joe led the way back to the main road."  

  • "Learnt" and "learned" are two acceptable forms of the past simple/past participle of the verb learn, which means exactly the same thing.
  • Learn is an irregular verb in the British English where the past tense is spelt with a ‘t’ at the end - [learn/ learnt].
  • Conversely, Learn is a regular verb in the American English where the past tense is spelt with a ‘ed’ at the end - [learn / learned].
  • Thus, neither is incorrect as “learnt” is more commonly used in the British English, and “learned” in American English.
  • I leaned how to lead people → I learned how to lead people

  • 'To lose' (pronounced 'looze') is to misplace something:
  • "Whenever I'm in a hurry I always seem to lose something." 'To loose' is to free up, or loosen. More often used as an adjective:
  • "This belt is too loose." (Thanks to Alan Rolfe at The School of Art, Design and Media, University of West London: found at; accessed 2012/03)

  • Overseas means across an ocean (or oceans), in another country
  • Oversee means to supervise
  • Oversea is not a word

  • A 'plain' is a large, flat stretch of land. 'Plain' can also be used as an adjective, as in:
  • "Annette was a very pretty girl, but her sister Molly was rather plain." 'Plane' is short for aeroplane (US: airplane) but can also be used for a flat surface or a woodworking tool.

  • A 'pole' is basically a long metal or wooden bar, but is also used to describe the North and South Poles, magnetic poles on a magnet, and extremes of opinion.
  • "She and her father are poles apart when it comes to politics." 'poll' is only used when it comes to voting, although it is used as a metaphor in other contexts.
  • "We conducted a quick poll, and came to the conclusion that option 3 was the most popular." 

  • 'principal' is an adjective meaning 'main'. It can also be the head of a school or college.
  • "Coffee is the principal export of the country."
  • "We had a good discussion with the Principal concerning school discipline." A 'principle' is a basic truth or law which someone holds to:
  • "To do something like that would be against his principles." 

'reason because'
  • Use 'the reason that' or 'the reason being' (but not 'the reason being is..')

  1. You can have a 'roll of honour', a 'roll down the hill' or a 'bread roll', but if you are playing a part in any sense, you are acting a 'role'.
  2. "All winners will have their names added to the roll."
  3. "He was present in his role as Vice-Chairman of the company."

surly → surely

  • 'than' is used when comparing things:
  • "It's much quicker than going on the bus." 'then' refers to a sequence of events:
  • "First I'm going to have a bath then I'll read the post." 

  • Probably the most common mistake in student work.
  • 'their' means 'belonging to them':
  • "That's their car, I'm sure." 'they're' is an abbreviation for 'they are':
  • "I'm sorry, they're not in at the moment." Any other use is probably 'there', which is used in a number of contexts:
  • "There is no point in going on about it."
  • "The accident happened just over there."
  • "Is there a cafe near here, please?" 

'very unique'
  • The 'very' is unnecessary.
  • If something is 'unique' there is nothing else like it, so it can't be 'very unique'. (Consider 'extremely mediocre'.)

  • 'where' refers to a place: "Where did I put those keys?" "It all depends where you want to get to."
  • 'wear' is about clothes, usually: "I don't have a thing to wear." "This tire (tyre in UK) is definitely showing signs of wear."
  • 'were' (pronounced 'wurr') is the plural of 'was': "They were all together in the lounge at the time."
  • 'we're' (pronounced 'weer') is short for 'we are': "OK, we're just coming."

  • A simple mistake, but very common. 'weather' refers to rain, sun, hail, snow, etc.
  • "The weather looks better than it did yesterday." Whether indicates that a particular course of action is dependent on certain factors: "The question is whether she really wants that or not."

  • Can be quite tricky. Essentially, 'who's' is short for 'who is', so if you read it as 'who is' in your head and it makes sense, that's the right one.
  • "David is the one who's coming with me to the party on Sunday." 'Whose' is to do with possession.
  • "Whose car keys are these?" 


  • issues arouse → issues arose
  • I want to join a manufacture → I want to join a manufacturing company
  • I want to work as a management → I want to work as a manager

Need more proofreading tips? Read on by clicking here. Thank you!

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