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Top 5 grammar mistakes sorted

Schoolgirl writing
Are you confident in helping your child to master grammar? Jackie Cosh explains the basic rules you need to know.

There are many mistakes children make with grammar and punctuation but the majority will fall into these five categories:

1. Capital letters everywhere

Children (and adults!) routinely capitalise nouns. In some cases words are incorrectly capitalised to highlight their importance, but whether you're writing about dogs, lions, dinner or cinemas, there is no need for a capital letter. The word does not become more important if you capitalise it, it just becomes incorrectly written!

So remember: Don’t capitalise nouns.

2. Too many apostrophes

The most common mistake is using an apostrophe to signify a plural, which is incorrect.

three cars, all the lions
the baby’s toy (the toy belonging to the baby), the car’s engine (the engine of the car).

For plural possessives (where more than one noun is involved), the apostrophe goes after the ‘s’ instead of before.

The puppies’ mum, the girls’ argument

Read our complete guide to using apostrophes correctly to make sure you never get confused again!

So remember: apostrophes are for possession, not plurals.

3. Mixing up it's and its

So which one is correct?

‘Its’ is a pronoun. For example, ‘The cat ate its dinner’.

‘It’s’ is short for ‘it is’. For example, ‘It’s a nice, sunny day’.
Explain to your child that they can check their sentence by rewording it. For example, 'The cat and it's kittens' is incorrect because they didn't mean to say 'The cat and it is kittens'. The correct sentence is 'The cat and its kittens' – the cat and the kittens which belong to it.

So remember: It’s is short for it is.

4. Using too many commas

A comma is used to separate a main clause and a subordinate clause, or to separate items in a list. Children sometimes mistakenly use them where they should use a full stop instead, or forget to use them altogether.

In this sentence, the use of the comma is correct:

'At school today, I played on the climbing frame.'

Your child can tell that a comma is needed, rather than a full stop, because the subordinate clause - 'At school today' - doesn't make sense on its own.

The comma is also used correctly in this sentence: 

'At school today, I did maths, literacy, PE and art.' 

Without commas, the sentence reads 'At school today I did maths literacy PE and art' - and there's no natural pause between the items in the list.

Tell your child to read their sentence out loud: often, they'll be able to hear where the commas should go. 

So remember: commas to separate main and subordinate clauses, or to separate the items in a list.

5. Misplaced inverted commas

Inverted commas (usually known as speech marks) go at the start and at the end of direct speech – but do they go before or after the full stop? It is easy to get confused.

If a direct quote is part of the sentence, the inverted commas go before the full stop.

The teacher talked about “the importance of inverted commas”.

If the speech is the whole of the sentence, the inverted commas go after the full stop.

“It's time to go home now.”

Read more about direct (or reported) and indirect speech in our parents' guide.

So remember: If the speech is the whole sentence the full stop comes first.

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