The primary purpose of this web page is to give students easy access to tools that might help their writing. Poor grammar or a dysfunctional writing style will create obstacles throughout your life, ranging from poor grades in college to ineffective essays on law school or grad school applications and unflattering job evaluations from employers or supervisors. I can not guarantee that this page will magically improve your grades, get you into Harvard Law School, or get you a raise and a promotion -- but I do hope that you find it useful.

NOTE: Some of the entries on this page were verified or extended with the help of Strunk and White's Elements of Style (3rd ed., 1979), Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary (6th ed., 1979), Kate Turabian's A Manual for Writers (5th ed., 1987), and the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (4th ed., 1995).

Top Twenty Specific Problems

The following links deal with the twenty most common problems that I have found in grading student papers. Students will laugh if I mention these problems in class, but almost every student paper will include at least one of these problems -- and I've seen more than a few papers and exams that make over half of these mistakes.

1. "It's" versus "Its"

(consistently the #1 problem in student papers)

2. "To," "Too," and "Two"

(usually a close second behind it's-its)

3. "Who's" versus "Whose"

4. "Affect" versus "Effect"

5. "There," "Their," and "They're"

6. "Accept" versus "Except"

7. "Have" versus "Of"

8. "Principle" versus "Principal"

9. "Dominate" versus "Dominant"

10. "Lead" versus "Led"

11. "Populous" versus "Populace"

12. "Where" versus "Were"

13. "Than" versus "Then"

14. "Do" versus "Due"

15. "Lose" versus "Loose"

16. "That," "Which," and "Who"

17. "e.g.," "i.e.," "etc.," and "et al."

18. "Now," "Know," and "No"

19. "Border" versus "Boarder"

20. "Block" versus "Bloc"

General Problems

Problems with Commas

(always a serious problem, for both students and professionals)

Other Punctuation Issues


Subject-Verb Agreement (singular-plural issues)

Sentence Structure

Word Usage

(my top twenty problems listed above include a number of word usage issues, but a number of other common word usage problems didn't make that list)

Commonly misused expressions

General Style Issues
Last updated: 5 July 2008
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