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The Now, The New & The Next in Careers

Can You Write Right? 21 Common Writing Mistakes to Avoid

17 Dec 2015 8:57 AM | Anonymous

By Brenda Bernstein
The Essay Expert

Do you want to impress the people who matter?

For better or worse, many people judge you on your ability to express yourself in words. Whether you are an entrepreneur, a blogger, a college applicant or a job seeker, it is crucial that you write clearly and coherently.

I read a lot of bad writing, and I have noticed certain errors that occur over and over again. If you AVOID this list of errors, you will stand a chance of getting in the door.

NOTE: There is a game in this article! If you see two word or phrase choices in brackets, see if you can choose the correct one. What’s your grammar score?

1. Its/It’s

This one might be the most common error of them all. Its is the possessive of it. It means “belonging to it.” E.g., The computer is on its last legs. The tree lost its leaves.

The confusion comes from the fact that usually we use an apostrophe to form a possessive, e.g.,

I stole the dog’s bone. The President’s speech did not inspire me.

Exception alert! Possessive pronouns (yours, hers, ours, theirs) have NO apostrophe, e.g., Is that picnic blanket yours, ours or theirs?

There’s an exception to the exception: One’s, which is also a possessive pronoun. E.g., It’s good to take one’s time when writing a business letter.

It’s – with an apostrophe – means “it is.” It’s a contraction like do not (don’t). E.g., It’s a beautiful day! It’s hard to know when to use “then” and when to use “than.Then/Than

2. Then/Than

Then refers to time. Many people tend to use then when than is correct. Here’s a cool trick: Then rhymes with when! First I saw.Then I came. Then I conquered.
When? Then.

Than refers to comparison. The Empire State Building is taller than my house. I love you more than he does.

If you’re not answering the question “When?” (Answer: Then), [know/no] to use than.

3. Know/No

Know is what you do with knowledge. If you know how to spell knowledge you know how to spell know.

No is used to express the negative and is the opposite of Yes. E.g. No way! No means no!

I know you can get this [write/right].

4. Write/Right

Write is most often used to refer to what you do with words. Conveniently, “write” and “words” both start with a w. Write words.

Right is the opposite of left, or of wrong. E.g., You write with your right hand, am I right? Right can also mean to set something straight. E.g., [Everyday/Every day], my cat knocks over my ficus plant, and every day I right it.

5. Every Day/Everyday

If you do something every single day, use every day. Try putting “single” in the phrase and if it belongs there, make sure you put a space between “every” and “day.”

If something is commonplace or done every day, use everyday.

e.g., I don’t wear my everyday shoes every day. Sometimes I like my shoes to [stand out/standout].

6. Stand Out/Standout

Stand out is a verb. Try putting the word “right” into the phrase. E.g., She stands [right] out in a crowd. If the sentence works, make sure you put a space between “stand” and “out.”

Standout is an adjective meaning impressive or noticeable. E.g.,We attracted a standout crowd on opening night, despite the foul [weather/whether].

7. Weather/Whether

Weather comprises things like sun, rain, snow, sleet and hail.

Whether is a conjunction used to introduce an alternative. E.g.,Whether or not, here I come! Whether raises a question, much like other questions words like “who,” “what,” and “which,” which also start with “wh.”

As questionable as the weather may be, it does not start with awh. E.g., In early Spring, I often [here/hear] weather reports that contradict each other as to whether it’s going to rain or snow.

8. Here/Hear

Hear is generally what your ears do. Notice that “ear” is part of “hear.” This one should be easy. Can you hear me now?

Here relates to a place or a time. E.g., Please come over here.

The expression “Hear hear!” comes from “Hear ye Hear ye!” We love what these folks have to say and we want to hear [they’re/their/there] words!

9. There/They’re/Their

There is a place. Look over there. Note it has “here” in it, which is also a place: There.

They’re is the contraction for They Are. You make it the same way you make don’t (do not), it’s (it is), and you’re (you are).

Their is a possessive pronoun. It has “heir” in it. If Bob and Jim are heirs according to [statute/statue] then the money is theirs.

10. Too/Two/To

Too means “also” or “as well.” Think extra. An extra thing and an extra o.

Two is a number, also known as 2. Unfortunately it does not have 2 os in it, which would make things easier to remember. Just remember w for wacky. ‘Cuz this is a pretty wacky spelling of a word if I ever saw one. Or you can think of other words that have “tw” in them like “between” and “twins” that also have a “tw.”

To is a preposition. It gets you from one place to another. It is the beginning of the word toward, which is another word that [affects/effects] your location.

11. There/They’re/Their

There is a place. Look over there. Note it has “here” in it, which is also a place: Where? There.

They’re is the contraction for They Are. You make it the same way you make don’t (do not), it’s (it is), and you’re (you are).

Their is a possessive pronoun. It has “heir” in it. If Bob and Jim are heirs according to [statute/statue] then the money is theirs.

12. Affect/Effect

Affect is almost always a verb meaning “to have an impact on.” E.g., How did the news affect you? It starts with the letter a – remember a is for action, and verbs, including affect, are action words. Affect can also be used as a noun meaning an attitude or countenance. E.g., Whenever she went to a dinner party, she put on a snooty affect. A is for attitude! Effect is almost always a noun meaning “impact.” E.g., What was the effect of the recession on your finances? Effect can also be used as a verb meaning to implement. E.g., Jane is the only person I know [that/who] takes action to effect change in environmental policy.

13. Who/That
I often see people referred to as “that.”

IMPROPER USE: I’m looking for a lawyer that can help me with my divorce.

PROPER: I’m looking for a lawyer who can help me with my divorce.

When you’re choosing a word to refer to a person or people, always use who. Use that when referring to things, e.g., There are many grammatical errors that drive me crazy, and I really wish people would make [less/fewer] of them!

14. Less/Fewer

Less is used to refer to something that can’t be counted, or that you would describe an amount. E.g., I wish there were less violence in the world. Or, Tastes great, less filling!

Fewer is used to refer to something that can be counted, or that you would describe as a number. E.g., I wish there were fewer incidents of violence in the world.

Dollars are somewhat of an exception. Whenever we refer to a dollar amount, we’re really referring to an amount of money and not a number, [irregardless/regardless] of the fact that we can count dollars.

15. Regardless/Irregardless

Irregardless is NOT a word. Trust your spell check on this one. Don’t ever use this non-word! It means “without regard.” Why did anyone ever add an “ir” to it?

E.g., I know you love your father and [I/me] regardless of how many times we take away your TV time.

16. I/Me/Myself

The most common mistake I see with these pronouns is usage ofI where me would be proper.

IMPROPER USE: I know you love your father and I.

PROPER USE: I know you love your father and me.

To figure out which word to use, strip away all parties other than yourself. You wouldn’t say “I know you love I” so why would you change it to “me” when adding the father into the picture? If you would say “I know you love me,” then say “I know you love your father and me.”

Second most common error: Inappropriate use of the word myself.

IMPROPER USE: Your father and myself love you even though we give you timeouts.

PROPER USE: Your father and I love you even though we give you timeouts.

Once again, just take father out of the picture and you have your grammatically correct answer. You wouldn’t say “Myself loves you” so why change it when you add the father? If you would say “I love you” then say “Your father and I love you.”

Very simply, your best bet with pronouns is always to strip the sentence down and see what’s left. Then you’ll have [your/you’re] answer.

17. Your/You’re

This example is our third lesson in contractions.

You’re is a contraction for you are. If you’re using the word to mean you are (2 words), write it as a contraction. E.g., Do you know that you’re about to miss the 5:00 train?

Your is a possessive pronoun. E.g., I mistakenly [lead/led] you to believe that your train is leaving in 2 minutes.

18. Lead/Led

Lead is a type of metal and also the present tense of the verb “to lead.” For some reason, it is very common, especially on resumes, to use “lead” as a past tense verb. This usage is incorrect.

Led is the past tense of the verb to lead. E.g., I led my team to a 200% gain in profits last year by decreasing the [incidence/incident] of production error by 25%.

19. Incidence/Incident

An incident is an event of some kind. It is something that happens. E.g., It was not uncommon for there to be thousands of incidents of AIDS in one small African village.

Incidence is the frequency at which something occurs. E.g., The incidence of AIDS [between/among] the people of Africa is astounding.

20. Between/Among

Between is used when there are only two things. E.g., Between you and me, I can’t really tell the difference between the twins.

You might remember this one by thinking b stands for “both” (another word that requires 2 things) or by remembering the tw(tween/twins) connection. As we saw with the number two, “tw” refers to things that come in 2s.

Among is used when there are lots of things. [I.e./E.g.], Among the many errors made by writers, the 20 listed here are the most common I have seen.

21. I.e./e.g.

I.e. is Latin for id est, meaning “that is,” or “in other words.”

E.g. is Latin for exempli gratia, meaning “for example.”

They do not mean the same thing and should not be used interchangeably! Use i.e. when you are stating something in another way. Use e.g. when you are giving examples. For example:

There are 7 colors in the rainbow, i.e., red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. (complete list)

There are 7 colors in the rainbow, e.g., red, orange and yellow(examples/incomplete list)

I hope the examples above lessen your everyday incidence of grammatical error. I also hope this article has led you to feel more confident in your writing. It’s not rocket science, and regardless of whether you are a job seeker or a business person, it’s important to get these words right. It will have a positive effect for you with anyone who cares about the quality of your professional writing, making you stand out in a positive way.

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