We have all been guilty of mangling the English language at one point or another. Sometimes a handy reminder is all that is needed to keep your writing error-free and your communication clear. Here is a list of 9 common writing mistakes and how to avoid them.
1) Its versus It’s. The incorrect use of an apostrophe can cause confusion or make you appear to be a sloppy writer. Remember, in the case of “its” versus “it’s,” the apostrophe is a conjunction, the mark taking the place of the “i” in the word “is” or “ha” in the word “has.” The word “its” grants possessiveness. For example: “It had the bird in its teeth.”
If you are confused about whether the right word is “it’s” or “its,” simply replace the apostrophe with “is” or “has” and choose the one that makes sense.
2) Spell-Check: friend and foe. Spell-check is a marvelous invention, but remember that a human eye is usually necessary to avoid unintended meanings. As humorist Dave Barry points out, spell-check would say “A-okay!” to the following: “Deer Mr. Stromple: It was a grate pleasure to meat you’re staff and the undersigned look foreword too sea you soon inn the near future.” Whoops!
3) Their, they’re, and there. An easily overlooked mistake is the misuse of the words “their,” “they’re,” and “there.”
- “Their” is a pronoun: “Their vacation home is in Jamaica."
- “They’re” is a contraction of the words “they” and “are”: “They’re on their way home.”
- The trickiest word is “there” because it can be an adverb, pronoun, noun, or interjection. Examples: “She is from there originally” (pronoun); “You can take it from there, Watson!” (noun). “There! I am done with it!” (interjection).
4) Dates and numerals. Be careful when spelling out dates and numerals. It is proper to write “November 11, 2007” or “42nd Street.” When writing dialogue, however, it is usually best to write the numeral out, as in, “Yesterday, I turned eighteen.”
A very common error in punctuating dates is to grant possessiveness to a time period. For example, you should write, “Disco was the music of the 1970s,” not “Disco was the music of the 1970’s.” In this case, you are expressing a plural idea, not a possessive one.
5) Don’t add unnecessary words. Make your writing work, not your reader! Don’t use several words to do the job of a single one. For example, the phrase “at the present time” should be changed to “now.” The phrase “in the immediate future” should be shortened to “soon.” And “for the reason that” is much more clear when you simply write “because.”
6) Make word order clear. While you may know exactly what you mean, your reader might be left scratching his or her head. If you write, “Mom wanted to take me to the movies with Charlotte, but she was too busy,” it is not clear who was too busy...Mom or Charlotte?
7) Avoid pretentiousness. Simply your sentences whenever possible. If you attempt to sound grand, chances are you’ll just come off as pompous. Which sounds better? “The blazing solar orb slipped beneath the arboreal vista” or “The sun sank below the trees”?
8) Leave out the clichés. Clichés are words or phrases that are so overused that they are no longer powerful. Whenever you find examples of the following clichés in your writing, delete them immediately:
- “blessing in disguise”
- “boggles the mind”
- “dead as a doornail”
- “each and every”
- “fierce fighting”
- “in this day and age”
- “in today’s society”
- “tip of the iceberg”
9) The 25-word rule. If you are guilty of the run-on sentence, try to stay within 25 words per sentence. Beyond this point, your reader will probably become distracted and your ideas might seem convoluted. Though you may sometimes ignore this rule, typically you’ll find that longer sentences can be separated or condensed. Your reader will thank you!