Not the Best at Grammar? Here's some help before Finals!

So, you’re writing your final paper and you come across the use of the word “its/it’s.” You’re never sure when to use which one, so you just throw in the apostrophe somewhere. Or, you put in the wrong “to/too/two.” Some professors may not look at this, but most professors do look at your spelling, and at your grammar, too. So as an English major (in all technicality) and self-proclaimed Grammar Freak, I feel that it is my responsibility to aid you all in your quest for proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation.


Commonly Misspelled Words

To: As a preposition (precedes a noun) such as “I’m going to the library” or “This paper belongs to George,” or it can be used to indicate a verb: “I have to sleep” or “He is going to text someone.”

Too: Can be used as an alternative for “also,” such as “Can he come along too?” or “That is my shirt too,” or it can mean something in the excessive: “I drank too much” or “This is too funny.”

Two: Used as a number or quantity: “I watched two seasons of Once Upon a Time last week” or “One, two, three…”

Accept: To receive: “I accept your letter” or “I was accepted to St. John’s University!”

Except: To exclude: “I hate all of you except my best friend” or “I enjoy all places to eat on campus except Montgoris.”

It’s: A contraction of “it is”: “It’s a boy/girl!” or “It’s okay to use contractions occasionally, unless it’s on a term paper because you need more words in your paper.”

Its: To be used as a way of possession: “The dog scratched its ear” or “The pizzeria had its coupons available to every customer.”

Affect: Used as a verb, to change or influence something: “The food off-campus was better, though more expensive, affecting students’ wallets” or “The seismologists have guessed that when the San Andreas fault goes off, it will affect all of California.”

Effect: Used as a noun, when something happens due to something else: “The professor’s use of a curve on the Final exam had a positive effect on the class” or “Flooding is a common effect of a hurricane or heavy rain.”

Capital: A capital letter, the center of government, or monetary wealth: “You can expand your capital” or “Capital punishment is a controversial topic”

Capitol: Very specific definitions, such as a US state legislature building or the US Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.


Emigrate from: You emigrate when you leave a country: “If Donald Trump is elected, I will emigrate from the United States” or “They emigrated from a War Zone.”

Immigrate to: You immigrate when you enter a country: “The influx of Irish immigration to the United States was one of the leading causes of Immigration regulations in the US” or “If a certain other candidate is elected, I will immigrate to somewhere in Europe.”

Principle: First or main, only a noun, refers to a basic truth, law, assumption, or rule: “He was a man of principle and good to his word” or “There exist certain fundamental principles of human rights.”

Principal: Position of rank, or property before interest, or first/most important in rank: “The Principal of my friend’s high school was highly disliked amongst the students” or “Air pollution is a principal cause of respiratory ailments.”

Your: Possessive: “This is your book” or “Your performance was wonderful.”

You’re: Contraction for “you are”: “You’re going to the movies?” or “You’re going to do your homework.”

Dinner: A meal: “Where do you want to go to eat dinner?

Diner: A place: “Let’s go to the Red Storm Diner.”

Dessert/Desert: Sound similar, and only have one letter’s different. And so, something to help you remember: you only want to go through the desert once, but you always want seconds on dessert!


When ending a sentence or phrase with a quote, the period/exclamation point/question mark/comma/whatever goes INSIDE of the quotation marks: And she asked me, “Do you enjoy milkshakes?”

The only time you use scare quotes (‘’) are when they are inside of another quote: “And she asked me ‘Do you enjoy milkshakes?’ before walking away.”

For apostrophes, they ARE ONLY USED TO SHOW POSSESSION, NOT PLURALITY! For example, “They were Jackie’s cats and dogs.” Or, if the term showing possession ends in an “s,” the apostrophe comes after the s, with no second s: “Those are the Donovans’ cars.”

Comma, Placement, Is, Important! A comma is used to change ideas or to express an important pause. For example: “Let’s eat Grandma!” vs. “Let’s eat, Grandma!” The use of this comma not only saves Grandma’s life, but it also demonstrates who is being addressed, changing the topic/subject of the statement to Grandma.

Semicolon =/= Comma. Semicolon can only be used to link two independent clauses. In other words, if the phrase before the semicolon cannot stand as its own sentence, and the phrase after the semicolon cannot stand as its own sentence, then you should not be using a semicolon.

Comma Splice: Now, you can use a comma to separate independent clauses, if you wish to. However, they must then be connected by a conjunction. For example: “I am driving with my friends, we are going to the mall.” WRONG. Instead, write “I am driving with my friends. We are going to the mall” or “I am driving with my friends, and we are going to the mall.”

Do not use emoticons in a professional piece of writing. Ever. Just don’t do it.

A sentence only needs one space after a period. Otherwise your writing looks way too spread out, and it’s actually very obvious that you’re only taking up space in your paper.

Never end a paragraph with a quote. Quotes are support for you point, not the main idea. The last sentence of a paragraph is a brief conclusion to the main idea of your paragraph.

Parallelism is not just two lines running alongside one another in your Geometry class. It’s continuity in your sentence, paragraph, and throughout your paper. Keep up with any commas you use, and stay in the same tense: if you’re writing in past tense, stay in past tense. If you’re writing in present tense, maintain that. Follow-through is an important part of your paper.

Quotation Marks are not for emphasis. That is what bolded or italicized words are for.

If you are using something such as an exclamation point (!) or a question mark (?), only use one. Ending your phrase with “!!!!!!” or “????” may seem to provide more emphasis to your exclamation or question, but instead it looks unprofessional.


That’s all I have for you all! For any other questions, Google is your friend. And usually if you type your sentence into the search bar, it will correct it for you if necessary. Other than that, the Writing Center is full of wonderful tutors who will edit your paper for you. Good luck on Finals, everyone!

Note: I came up with none of these sentences on my own, using instead online resources for assistance in coming up with these words.