Spell check may have given you a pass, but is your writing really error free? The most common writing errors happen when you use a correctly spelled word incorrectly, and if your boss is a stickler for grammar, making the same mistakes again and again may hurt your career progress.

Of course, you have to double check your its/it’s, your/you’re, to/too, and there/their/they’re usage, but it doesn’t end there.

Here are the most common misuses and how to keep them straight in your brain. Each memory device to follow uses the letters in the actual word to remind you how to use them.

Lose or loose

You lose a chariot race because your screws are loose. They have two entirely different meanings, but spell check won’t correct you for using them wrong.

Memory device: Lose the “o”.

This sentence uses “lose” correctly, and it also tells you how to spell it – without the extra “o”.

Effect or affect

Your choices affect your life. Medications have side effects. What’s the difference? Affect is a verb, and effect is a noun.

Memory device: Count the “e”. “Affect” and “verb” both only have one “e” in them.

Now for some fun with punctuation…


 Semicolons and commas cannot be used interchangeably. There’s a definite right and wrong.

Memory device: “C” or “s”?

Commas separate Clauses

Semicolons separate Sentences

In case you’re thoroughly confused: If both the phrases on both sides of the punctuation can stand alone as complete sentences but are closely related enough to be united, connect them with a semicolon. If they have a subject and a verb but aren’t complete thoughts on their own, they’re clauses and only need a comma. Even if you can’t remember what exactly a clause is, “Semicolons separate sentences” should keep the difference clear.

Apostrophes for plurals

Just don’t do it. Apostrophes are never. Ever. Used before a plural “s”. No exceptions.

Memory device: I was born in the 1980s. (Substitute your own decade.)

If you look at the sentence above, there is no apostrophe in it anywhere. So visualize this sentence in your mind as apostrophe-free. This error also happens the most often in reference to a decade, so this particular example is very useful.

So, you visit the Johnsons, not the Johnson’s.

Alternate rhyming memory device: Never apostrophize when you pluralize.

And for my last trick….

None of us IS

Most people get this one wrong. Only true Jedi grammar nerds yell at the TV for this one.

The mistake of saying “none of us are going to the movies tonight” has to do with subject/verb agreement. When you look at this clause, it looks like “us” is the subject, which makes you want to use the plural verb, “are.” But the subject is actually “none,” which is singular. Let’s skip ahead to the memory device to make this clearer….

Memory device: Not one of us is

When you break up the word “none,” what you’re really saying is “not one”. One person can’t be plural, so, “Not one of us IS going to the movies tonight.” The same rule goes for “everyone” and “everything”. “One” and “thing” are singular. See the difference? You are an expert in your field, so take some time to check your writing, and use these five tricks to sound as smart as you are.