Adventures in Machine Learning

Mastering SQL: Avoiding Common Syntax Mistakes and Best Practices

Mastering SQL: Common Syntax Mistakes and Best Practices

As technology continues to permeate every aspect of our lives, data has become an indispensable asset to organizations. Business intelligence, machine learning, and data-driven decision-making are now buzzwords in the industry.

Structured Query Language (SQL) is the cornerstone of every data-driven system because it allows us to interact with and manipulate data. But despite its ubiquity, SQL can be a daunting language to grasp, even for experienced developers.

In this article, we’ll explore the most common syntax mistakes made by developers and share best practices for mastering SQL.

Using Interactive SQL Courses for Immediate Feedback

If you’re new to SQL, getting immediate feedback on your code snippets can bridge the learning gap quickly. Interactive SQL courses, like Codecademy’s SQL track, allow you to practice writing SQL scripts in a sandboxed environment, where feedback is immediate and errors are flagged.

These courses are effective in building the foundational knowledge that will enable you to write SQL scripts confidently.

1) Misspelling Table Names

Understanding the Importance of Table Names

Tables are the building blocks of a relational database. They store data in rows and columns, which can be manipulated and queried using SQL.

When naming tables, it’s important to use descriptive names that reflect the data being stored. A well-named table can make it easier for developers to understand the purpose of the data and can save time when searching for specific data.

When naming tables, consider the following guidelines:

  • Use a descriptive name that reflects the data being stored.
  • Use lowercase letters for table names.
  • Separate words with underscores.
  • Avoid using reserved keywords.

Checking for Misspelled Table Names

Misspelling table names is a common mistake that can cause code to fail. To prevent this, it’s essential to check for spelling errors when writing SQL scripts.

One way to ensure that the table name is correct is to reference the table in a SELECT statement. The following SQL script demonstrates how to check for misspelled table names:

FROM myschema.mytable;

In this example, the SELECT statement references a table called “mytable” in a schema called “myschema.”

If the table name is misspelled, the SQL script will generate an error and will not execute.

By catching misspelled table names early, you can save time and avoid frustration when debugging code.

2) Using Incorrect or Non-Existent Column Names

Importance of Double-Checking Column Names

Selecting the wrong or non-existent column names is another common syntax mistake in SQL.

When using SELECT statements, it’s essential to double-check the column names to ensure that the correct data is being returned. To prevent errors in column names, use the following guidelines:

  1. Reference the column names in the SELECT statement correctly.
  2. Double-check the spelling of column names.
  3. Use aliases only if necessary and ensure that they are not reserved keywords.

Correcting Errors in Column Names

Correcting errors in column names is a crucial step to ensure that code runs smoothly. The first step is to identify the error in the code.

Common errors include misspelled column names, incorrect data types, and misplaced or missing commas. Once the error has been identified, there are several approaches to correct it.

One approach is to update the SQL script manually. This approach works well for small errors in code.

However, for more significant errors, it might be easier to use an Integrated Development Environment (IDE) or text editor that supports syntax highlighting. This feature highlights errors in the code, making it easier to identify and fix mistakes.

Another approach is to use an automated tool to fix the error. Most IDEs have built-in error correction tools that can help identify and fix common syntax mistakes.

Some of these tools also provide suggestions on how to improve the code. This approach is particularly useful for complex queries or when dealing with large databases.

3) Forgetting SELECT List Commas

Understanding the Importance of SELECT List Commas

The SELECT statement is the most used statement in SQL. It is often used to retrieve data from one or more tables in a database.

One of the most common mistakes made when creating SELECT statements is forgetting to include a comma between column names in the SELECT list. This error often goes unnoticed and can cause a lot of confusion if the query returns unexpected results.

SELECT list commas are essential because they help SQL to differentiate between column names in the SELECT list. Forgetting to include a comma between column names can cause unexpected results.

For example, the following SQL statement will generate an error because of the missing comma:

SELECT firstname lastname
FROM customers;

To avoid errors caused by missing commas, it is essential to always include a comma between SELECT list items.

Fixing Missing SELECT List Commas

Fixing missing SELECT list commas is a pretty simple task. All you need to do is identify where the comma should be and add it.

If you have multiple column names in your SELECT list, it’s important to ensure that you include commas for all of them. Let’s take the previous SQL statement as an example.

If we add a comma between “firstname” and “lastname,” the SELECT statement will work correctly:

SELECT firstname, lastname
FROM customers;

By checking for missing commas before executing the SQL code, you can save yourself time and confusion, and ensure that your queries return expected results.

4) Leaving Out Quotation Marks

Filtering Text Values in SQL

SQL is a powerful tool for manipulating and filtering data.

When dealing with text values, it’s important to use quotation marks correctly to filter data accurately. SQL has two types of quotation marks: single quotes and double quotes.

In SQL, single quotes are used to enclose string literals, and double quotes are used to enclose names. In most cases, single quotes are used when working with text data.

For example, if you want to retrieve all customers whose first names are “John,” you would use the following SQL statement:

FROM customers
WHERE firstname = 'John';

This SQL statement retrieves all records from the “customers” table where the “firstname” column is equal to “John.”

Using Quotation Marks Correctly

When using quotation marks, it’s essential to use the right type of quotation marks. As mentioned earlier, single quotes should be used when working with text values.

Additionally, it’s essential to enclose all text values in quotation marks. Leaving out single quotes can result in syntax errors.

For example, the following SQL statement will generate an error because the text value is not enclosed in single quotes:

FROM customers
WHERE firstname = John;

To avoid errors caused by missing or incorrect quotation marks, it is important to double-check your SQL syntax before executing the code.

5) Not Specifying Table Names after SELECTs

Specifying Table Names in SQL Queries

When querying data from a database using SQL, it is important to specify the table name(s) that you want to retrieve data from.

Not specifying the table name after a SELECT statement can lead to syntax errors and unexpected results. In SQL, the FROM clause is used to specify the table or tables that the query will retrieve data from.

The table name should come after the SELECT statement and before the WHERE clause. For example, to retrieve all customer names from the “customers” table, the following SQL statement could be used:

FROM customers;

This SQL statement selects all records from the “customers” table and returns only the “name” column for each record.

Correcting Syntax Errors from Missing Table Names

If you forget to specify the table name after the SELECT statement, the SQL code will generate a syntax error. Typically, the error message will include a description of the error along with the line number where the error occurred.

To correct missing table names, simply add the table name(s) to the FROM clause immediately after the SELECT statement:

FROM customers;

By double-checking the SQL code and ensuring that the appropriate table names are specified in the FROM clause, you can avoid syntax errors and retrieve the data you need accurately.

6) Ordering Statements Incorrectly

Understanding SQL Grammar

SQL grammar follows specific rules for the order of statements in a query.

These rules are intended to ensure correct syntax and prevent errors. When ordering statements in a query, there are several rules to keep in mind:

  1. SELECT is always first.
  2. FROM comes immediately after SELECT.
  3. WHERE comes after FROM.
  4. GROUP BY is used after WHERE.
  5. HAVING is used after GROUP BY.
  6. ORDER BY is used at the end of the SQL query.

Correcting the Order of SQL Statements

Ordering SQL statements correctly is crucial to ensure that code runs smoothly and produces accurate results. If the order of statements is incorrect, the SQL code will generate an error message.

To correct the order of SQL statements, first identify the statement that is out of position. Then, move the statement to the correct position according to SQL grammar rules.

For example, if you mistakenly include the WHERE clause before the FROM clause, you will get a SQL syntax error. To correct this error, move the FROM clause before the WHERE clause, according to SQL grammar rules:

FROM customers
WHERE age > 30;

Note that it’s important not to skip or repeat any of the statements in the SQL code. Each statement has a specific purpose, and skipping or repeating statements can lead to errors.


SQL is a powerful tool used to retrieve and manipulate data from databases. To avoid common syntax errors, it is important to pay attention to the order of statements in SQL queries and specify table names correctly.

By following SQL grammar rules and using best practices, you can write efficient and accurate SQL scripts. In conclusion, mastering SQL requires understanding and avoiding common syntax mistakes.

These mistakes include misspelling table and column names, forgetting SELECT list commas, leaving out quotation marks, not specifying table names after SELECT statements, and ordering statements incorrectly. To correct these mistakes, it is crucial to include proper grammar and syntax in SQL scripts.

Double-checking these scripts is essential for ensuring accurate and efficient results. By following best practices and consistently checking for these mistakes, developers can work with data more effectively, saving time and gaining confidence in their abilities.

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