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Common writing mistakes and how to avoid them

Wed, 15/06/2016 - 09:00

Today, everyone is a writer. We show our writing to the world, whether in blogposts, extended opinions on Facebook or even short bursts on Twitter. This means the way we write matters more than ever. Ideas we might never have written down on paper, or maybe put into private diaries, are now there for all the world to see.

There are dangers, aside from damaging our reputation with bigoted or bad opinions. We also might appear less professional if we make too many writing errors.

To avoid that, let’s consider some and, more importantly, learn how to prevent them.

Subject-verb issues

A common issue involves applying the right verb to the sentence’s subject. Consider these two sentences:

  • The rocks she carried was heavy
  • The rocks she carried were heavy

Often, in the midst of writing, we apply a verb to the closest noun, not the sentence’s subject. In order for a sentence to be correct, the verb must align with the who or what is aligned to the verb.

In this instance, the subject of the sentence is “rocks”, not “she”. Therefore, the verb must be “were”, not “was”, since the subject is plural (“rocks”).

This is categorised as subject-verb agreement or error of concord. To summarise, as Writers Write puts it: “If the subject of the sentence is singular, the verb must be singular. If the subject of a sentence is plural, the verb must be plural.”

The problem is some phrases throw us off. For example, both of these are correct:

  • “Any of the information is
  • “Any of the magazines are

The only way to prevent this mistake is to be aware of the verb we’re using. On our edits, we should look at whether we are highlighting the actual subject, not the nearest or most convenient noun.

Contractions

There are many businesses and publications which stress a “no contractions” rule. When we turn multiple words into one – for example “do not” into “don’t” – we are using contractions. What matters here is the placement of the apostrophe, as it replaces letters – usually vowels.

However, we commonly confuse terms. A common mistake, for example, is “you’re” and “your”. Because words sound the same we use the wrong, often shorter, option. Indeed, it’s not even really an option, it’s just wrong.

To help combat this, we should make sure we say the full set of words out loud during our edits, even if we end up using a contraction. This helps us spot where there should and should not be a contraction. By saying out loud “your” or “you are”, we can spot where the contraction should be placed.

Relying on pronunciation*

Apostrophes are also used to indicate a possessive form of a singular noun, for example “men’s clothes”. If a noun ends with an “s”, different places will either require still adding an apostrophe and the letter “s” or merely an apostrophe. This could mean either “the boss’s wife” or “the boss’ wife”.

Be aware that how we pronounce a word doesn’t necessarily reflect the spelling. For example, nobody says “Wed nes day”, yet it is written as such. Similarly, even if we pronounce “boss’ wife” differently, it’s still correct to merely add an apostrophe. Don’t be fooled by spelling or pronunciation.

These are just a few minor but common issues people have with writing. To be fair, even the most seasoned writers still make errors like this.

* Note: It’s “proNUNciation”, not “proNOUNciation”.

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