Top 5 grammar mistakes

The extra comma 

As you’ll remember from school, we use commas to separate items in a list. For example:

I bought bread, eggs, tomatoes and bacon.

One difference between Australian English speakers and writers and our friends in the US is American’s use of what we regard as an extra comma. They call it a Harvard comma. We call it an Oxford comma. (Also called a serial comma.)

The extra comma goes in before the last item in the list:

I bought bread, eggs, tomatoes, and bacon.

In Australia and the UK it’s unusual to use an Oxford comma, but feel free if you think it adds clarity, particularly if the last two items in your list are not separate words.

For example, if we write, “I love margarita, meatlovers and ham and pineapple pizzas”, it is not clear if the last pizza is a single ‘ham and pineapple’ pizza or two pizzas: a ham pizza and a pineapple pizza.

In this case, we could add the Oxford comma to say, “I love margarita, meatlovers, and ham and pineapple pizzas”.

Split Infinitives 

An infinitive is a verb alone, with nothing to support it (no subject) except the preposition to. For example: to be, to go, to run, to snore.

In the phrase “to run slowly wastes time”, the verb, to run, has no subject.

Many of us were taught that we should never split to from the verb.

My understanding is that this belief came from the Romance Languages, whose origins lie in Latin and where the infinitive is one word. Remember when you studied French, or Spanish or Italian? Or even Latin?

However, English could never be called a Romance Language. Whilst many grammarians feel more comfortable keeping the infinitive together, there is no rule to say that it cannot be split, and often it has to be for smoother reading and writing.

For instance, instead of:

It is unlikely to increase significantly the share price.


It is unlikely to significantly increase the share price.


It is unlikely to increase the share price significantly.


Affect vs. Effect

Affect is a verb that means ‘cause a change in’ or ‘influence’.

Effect is mostly used as a noun, although when we write in a formal style we occasionally use it as a verb meaning ‘to carry out’ or ‘cause to happen’.

She was greatly affected by the latest news. Smoking will affect your health.

Take care of your personal effects. The sound effects are amazing. The lawyer effected a great result.


Me, Myself, I

While many of us learnt at school that ‘John and me want to go’ is incorrect, we never learnt the correct usage of the word me.

People often use either I or the reflexive pronoun myself instead of me. How often do you hear or read something like this:

Would you please call John or I before you leave?

Would you please call John or myself before you leave?

If you take John out of the sentence, you’re either asking the person to ‘call I before you leave’ or ‘call myself before you leave.’ And of course neither sounds nor looks right.

Compose your sentence as if you were the only subject. It is fine to say:

Would you please call John or me before you leave? [Would you please call me before you leave?]


John and I have decided to go next week. [I have decided to go next week.]

Use myself when you want to emphasise that you, alone, will be handling something.

I myself will sort this out.


Only – careful where you put it

The position of only in a sentence can completely change its meaning. As a guide, keep only close to the word it belongs to.

Only my son eats carrots for breakfast (as distinct from anyone else in my family).

My son eats only carrots for breakfast (carrots are all he eats for breakfast).

My son eats carrots only for breakfast (he won’t eat them at any other meal).

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