Everybody knows to use spellcheck or Grammarly when going over their writing. However, the following mistakes aren’t generally caught by these two programs. And if you want to stop an editor’s eyes from rolling to the back of her head, you should check your writing for the following errors:
1. They’re, their, there. I know you know the difference between they are (they’re), the possessive their, and the location there. But when you’re writing fast, it’s easy to mix them up. You’re and your/it’s and its are also words to check that you’re using correctly. Spellcheck may not catch them.
2. It’s espresso not expresso coffee. Even though Merriam Webster considers expresso to be used often enough in English to warrant an entry, every editor I know will red pen it back to espresso.
3. For all intensive purposes is wrong, for all intents and purposes. That’s right, the correct phrase is “for all intents and purposes.” Linguist Geoffrey Pullman coined the word “egghorns” (acorns) for these types of phrases that were misheard and misinterpreted. In the case of this idiom, when you say “for all intents and purposes” aloud, it sounds similar to “for all intensive purposes.”
4. Watch out for homophones. Homophones are words that sound alike, but are spelled differently and have different meanings. Compliment/Complement, Past/Passed, New/Knew, To/Two/Too, Peak/Peek/Pique, etc.
5. Punctuating dialog tags wrong. If the dialog ends with he/she said, there is always a comma at the end of the sentence, and the he/she is lower case. For example:
“I love grammar,” he said.
However if an action follows the dialog, you would end the sentence with a period, and capitalize the he/she because it’s the start of a new sentence.
“You’re a nerd.” She swatted him upside the head.
6. Using words other than “said” in a dialog tag. While it’s okay to use asked/replied/questioned/etc. sparingly, you don’t want to change it up that often. Readers will skim over the word “said” as if it’s not there. And that’s what you want. The other words tend to break the reader out of the narrative. The last thing you want the reader to do is think about your word choice, instead of paying attention to the dialog.
7. Affect / Effect. The only way I can remember this one is that Affect starts with “A” and so does “Action.” An action word is a verb. If it causes an action in the sentence, it’s affect. If it is the result of the action, then it’s effect. Effect also usually has an article like “the” or “an” in front of it. For example:
Good grammar affects how editors see your work.
The effect of sending chocolate to the editors worked, until they saw the comma splices.
8. Lie / Lay. Forget what you’ve heard in songs. Bob Dylan’s Lay Lady Lay should be Lie Lady Lie, and Eric Clapton’s Lay Down Sally should be Lie Down Sally. And that’s because you lie down, but you lay something down. For example:
I’m going to lie down until the grammar headache goes away.
My husband was nice enough to lay a warm cloth over my eyes.
9. Alot. A lot is two words. If you use it as one word, editors think of the cartoon by Hyperbole and a Half and start picturing a shaggy monster instead of what’s going on in your story.
10. Referring to your character in different ways. If you’ve got a character named Bob, call him Bob. Don’t confuse the reader by calling him “the boy,” or try to put in some backstory in his description. It slows down the narrative. For example, we’re talking about Bob in all four sentences:
Bob was at bat.
The first pitch had the boy sweating when the umpire called a strike.
The .342 batting average hitter swung wildly at the next pitch.
Tapping his bat on his shoe, the freshman knew his shot at varsity was gone if he struck out.
It draws the reader out of the story because they’re wondering if “the boy”, “the .342 batting average hitter,” and “the freshman” are all still Bob. It’s also clunky writing. It’s much easier to revise the above four sentences to:
Bob started to sweat when the umpire called a strike. In his freshman year, Bob had a batting average of .342. He swung wildly at the next pitch. Strike Two. Tapping his bat on his shoe, Bob knew that his shot at making the varsity team was gone if he struck out.
Other ways to catch common errors is to read your writing aloud (not out loud, which is technically correct, but another one an editor may change on you) or have your computer’s speech to text function read it back for you. You can also have a friend take a quick look at it, or you can read your work backwards one word at a time. In some cases, you can even consider hiring an editor to read over your work. Just remember, no one writes a perfect draft the first time, so don’t feel bad if you’ve caught some of these errors in your own work.
USA Today bestselling author, Jamie K. Schmidt, writes contemporary love stories and paranormal romances. Her steamy, romantic comedy, Life’s a Beach, reached #2 on Barnes & Noble and #9 on Amazon and iBooks. Her Club Inferno series from Random House’s Loveswept line has hit both the Amazon and Barnes & Noble top one hundred lists and the first book in the series, Heat, put her on the USA Today bestseller list for the first time. Her dragon paranormal romance series from Entangled Publishing, has been called “fun and quirky” and “endearing.”