Let’s start with a few basics. While you may know these rules, they are common mistakes and very easy to make. Even small errors such as these can impact how someone views your work and the impression of professionalism and expertise you give. Reviewing the basics will help avoid these errors, or remind you to check for this errors when proof-reading your final draft. Many native speakers also make these errors occasionally and need proof-reading of their work to correct.
English only uses the word ‘the’ for specific things, whereas in Spanish ‘the’ is used more frequently. Over-using the word ‘the’ in English is a common mistake Spanish speakers make.
Approximately 40% of children are obese. (We are talking about children in general)
Forty percent of the children studied were obese. (We are talking about a specific group of children)
‘The environment’ and ‘the economy’ are exceptions to this rule, and are always preceded by ‘the’.
2. Its vs. it’s
The use of an apostrophe s (‘s) indicates possession, i.e. ownership. For example, Maggie´s boat is the boat that belongs to Maggie.
However, ‘its’ is an exception to this rule. We do not use an apostrophe in its to indicate possession.
Example: Our sample is limited to obese men drawn from a population of draftees from Copenhagen and its surrounding counties. (The surrounding counties of Copenhagen)
It’s solely is a contraction of ‘it is’.
Example: It´s widely believed that smoking is detrimental to health.
3. Their vs. There
These two words sound the same and using one for the other is a common mistake even for native speakers. However, they mean two completely different things and a spell checker may not find this mistake for you. This error is good to keep in the back of your mind when proof-reading.
Their: Belonging to them.
Example: The neighborhood into which they are born and live their lives may impact both directly and indirectly on their lifetime health profile. (The lives belong to ‘them’)
There: in that place; at that location; to or into that place; at that point in a process, activity, story, etc [Merriam-Wester]
Example: There are many factors to consider in the developmental phase.
4. Affect vs. effect
These two confuse many people and also sound very similar. The rule of thumb is ‘affect’ is almost always used as a verb and ‘effect’ is mostly used as a noun (although can be used as a verb).
Affect: verb meaning to influence or make a difference to [oxforddictionaries]
Example: The month chosen for data collection affected the results.
a. Noun meaning a result or an influence [oxforddictionaries]
Example: The detrimental effects of smoking are widely known.
b. Verb meaning to bring something about as a result. [oxforddictionaries]
Example: A more global policy is needed to effect change.
In English, compared with Spanish, there are many more instances in which we capitalize words. The following list is not exhaustive but includes the most common rules:
- The pronoun ‘I’
- Specific place names (including countries, cities, mountains, rivers, buildings etc.)
- Months and Days
- Languages and nationalities
Rule of thumb: If it´s a unique person, place, or thing you should capitalize.