Common Errors – Page 3

Five Common Usage Mistakes to Avoid – Sheet 3 of 4

#1) Could Have vs. Could Of (etc)

This one is a simple phonetic problem. When you say the contraction “could’ve,” “would’ve,” or “should’ve,” it sounds like you are saying “could of” (etc). But you should NEVER write “could of” as in, “He could of gotten a perfect score.” Just don’t.

#2) Council vs. Counsel

You all have a guidance councilor. Or is it a guidance counselor? A council is an official group that deliberates, like the Student Council, while counsel is another word for advice. So when you go down near the school store to look for advice on course selections or whatnot, you are visiting a guidance counselor. You can remember this because the S in counselor stands for school store.

#3) Compliment vs. Complement

Most commonly, a compliment is something nice that you say about someone, like “My English teacher is compassionate and enthusiastic.” A complement is something that goes along with or matches something else, like how a nice pair of shoes can complement a sharp outfit, or how two very different athletes on the same team can complement each other’s skills. To keep these straight, remember that the I in compliment stands for “I like getting compliments”, or that a complement completes something else. PS – the adjective forms are complimentary and complementary. While it may make logical sense to assume that a free gift is complementary (because it completes me), IT IS NOT! A freebie is complimentary (because the person giving it to you is being nice). Any time being nice comes into the equation, use compliment or complimentary.

#4) Site, Cite & Sight

A site is a location, either physical (the site of the accident) or technological (a web site). It is a place where you can sit yourself down. You cite a source in your essays if you are doing research, because you want the reader to “c” where your idea comes from. Sight is one of your senses. There are five senses, and there are five letters in almost every one of them (hearing is the only exception)

#5) Using first-person pronouns in a list

OK, first, a reminder, a first-person pronoun is one that involves me, the speaker (e.g. I, me, we, us). Now when one of these shows up in your writing as a part of a list, you’ve run into an odd area where the rules of grammar seem to be guided by the rules of civility. If you ever have a list that includes “I” or “me” in it, you always put “I” or “me” last perhaps because it is polite to let others go before myself. The same is true for “we” or “us,” but those are less common in lists. 


Could’ve ve Could Of (etc.)

Dani (should’ve  should of) studies more for her driver’s exam. She failed.

The security guard (would of   would’ve) let us in if we were nicer. 

Compliment or Complement?

You look awfully nice today:

Earrings that match well with a purse:

A musical duo with a great vocalist who can’t play any instruments and a musical genius who has a terrible voice:

Site, Cite or Sight

The skyline at midnight was a wonderful __________________

The police officer returned to the ____________ where the money was found. is my favorite web _____________

I forgot to ______________ my sources, so my English teacher penalized me by ten points.

Counsel vs. Council 

Give three examples of official councils (try to avoid only selecting ones with “council” in the name)

Give three examples of people whom you might look to for counseling

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