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Be a Better Writer--AVOID THESE COMMON ERRORS

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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Be a Better Writer--AVOID THESE COMMON ERRORS

Postby glorybee » Sat Jan 10, 2015 10:05 am

This week’s lesson is a compilation of some posts I made last year to the Facebook page of my editing business—primarily observations about things I’ve edited or read. Most of these are words that are commonly confused, and I hope that one or two of them will resonate with you.

• Writing names of breeds or species of plants and animals can be tricky--sometimes they're capitalized, and sometimes not. In general, if a breed is named after a person or place (St. Bernard), then you'd capitalize it. If not (monarch butterfly), don't.

• Don't write ‘upmost.’ The word is ‘utmost.’

• Don't confuse ‘phase’ and ‘faze.’ ‘Phase’ is usually a noun, meaning one stage in a process, or one aspect of a whole. As a verb, it has a related meaning--to schedule or introduce a stage or a process, or an aspect of a whole. ‘Faze’ is always a verb--to disturb or disconcert.

She wasn't in the least bit fazed when her daughter escaped from her crib. She realized that Griselda had reached a new developmental phase.

• There's a difference between 'ground coffee' and 'coffee grounds.' Ground coffee is the stuff you put in your coffee maker to make a delicious cup o' joe. Coffee grounds are what they become afterward, or the gross little bits that end up in the bottom of your mug.

• Don't write 'balling' when you mean 'bawling.' All sorts of misunderstandings will happen.
‘Bawling’ is crying. ‘Balling’ is a couple of other things (winding something into a ball, for example, or...well, look it up).

• It's door ‘jamb’, not door ‘jam.’

• I’ve heard people say that they were ‘on tenderhooks.’ The correct expression is ‘on tenterhooks.’ A tenter is a device used to stretch cloth, and the tenterhooks assist in that process. Thus, when people are on tenterhooks, their emotions are figuratively stretched tight.

• Don't say (or write) ‘You have to times that by ten.’ Use the word ‘multiply.’

• There is a commercial in which the spokesperson says, ‘The outdoors are beautiful...’ Nope. Despite that ‘s’ at the end of ‘outdoors,’ it's a singular noun, calling for a singular verb.

• That place you take your clothes to wash them when your washer is on the fritz--it's a laundromat. No 'y' in the middle.

• More frequently confused words: conscience, conscious, consciousness, conscientious, unconscious, subconscious.

Conscience--(noun) that little voice that bugs you when you're doing something wrong.
Conscious--(adjective) awake, aware
Consciousness--(noun) state of being awake or aware
Conscientious--(adjective) wanting to do the right thing
Unconscious--(adjective) not awake, not aware
Subconscious--(adjective, noun) relating to the part of the mind that operates below the level of full awareness, or the part of one's mind that operates that way

Be conscientious in your use of these words.

• Frequently confused words: ‘duel’ and ‘dual.’ Both words share the concept of ‘two-ness,’ but a duel is a fight between two people, often for the cause of honor, while 'dual' is an adjective describing something that has two parts or purposes.

• ‘Flustrated’ and ‘flustrating’ are not words.

• One of the most common errors I see is incorrect placement of commas with small conjunctions. In general, put commas before these conjunctions: and, but, so, yet, and because.

• Confusing words: ‘hurdle’ and ‘hurtle.’ As a noun, a hurdle is a fence-like obstacle (or metaphorically, some other obstacle). As a verb, to hurdle is to leap over such an obstacle. On the other hand, 'hurtle' is always a verb, meaning to move very quickly, often violently (especially when paired with 'into'). Here in the US, they're often pronounced the same, which is probably what contributes to the confusion.

• Also confusing: ‘imminent’ and ‘eminent.’ Both are adjectives, but 'imminent' means 'about to happen.' It also carries a connotation of threat, so it would be better so say that a thunderstorm is imminent than to say that time for chocolate cake is imminent. On the other hand, 'eminent' means 'outstanding or noteworthy' when applied to a person, or 'protruding' when applied to, say, an outcropping of rock.

• Don't confuse ‘hoard’ and ‘horde.’ ‘Hoard’ can be a noun or a verb, both of which have meanings indicating a large quantity of objects stored or treasured, often hidden away. On the other hand, ‘horde’ is always a noun, meaning a crowd, a mass of people.

• Don’t say ‘verse’ when you mean ‘versus.’ When I was teaching high school, I frequently heard my students say something like ‘we’re going to be versing St. Joe tonight.’ It always made me imagine a bunch of students in a poetry contest. (Also, ‘versus’ is not a verb, it's a preposition meaning 'against.')

• I frequently see ‘shudder’ used for ‘shutter,’ and vice versa. ‘Shudder’ is that involuntary motion you make when you’re afraid or disgusted. A ‘shutter’ is something that covers windows, or part of a camera. Once again, I blame American pronunciation, which converts those two internal ‘t’s to ‘d’ sounds.

• Many people write ‘anxious’ when they mean ‘eager.’ Both words are about one’s emotions when anticipating the future, but 'anxiou's means ‘looking toward the future with fear or dread’ and 'eager' means ‘looking toward the future with excitement.’

I am eager to go back to Disney World this fall, but I am anxious about riding the Tower of Terror.

• The most usual meaning of ‘lowly’ is as an adjective meaning ‘humble.’ As an adverb, it’s closer in meaning to ‘humbly’ than anything, so it’s not correct to write something like ‘She spoke lowly to him’ if you mean that she was speaking in low tones.

• To ‘clamor’ is to make a loud noise, frequently with shouting. To ‘clamber’ is to get quickly to one’s feet or up a set of stairs. So usually, if someone writes that a character clamored up to the attic, she meant to write ‘clambered.’

• A callus is a thickened area of skin or other tissue. ‘Callous’ means cold, hard, unfeeling toward others. I think they’re often confused because it’s tempting to use the metaphor of a callused heart to indicate that a person is callous.

HOMEWORK: If any of these bullet points surprised you, or if you found that you’ve been using a word incorrectly, practice the correct usages by writing a few sentences. Using different forms of the word (plurals, other tenses) is fine.

Questions or comments? I’d love to hear them.


If you like this sort of thing, and you’re on Facebook, be sure to ‘like’ Superior Editing Services. I post there several times a week—sometimes posts like this, sometimes links to articles about writing or about literature (or just links that appeal to me), and sometimes (very rarely) contests with teeny tiny prizes.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--AVOID THESE COMMON ERRORS

Postby wheelygirl58 » Sat Jan 10, 2015 7:21 pm

:thankssign Jan, again! As usual, excellent timing for this writer!! A great times, I wonder if I am using THE right word, or rather, the correct spelling of that right word. Again, a huge :thankssign
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him who are called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28 This is,another of my life verses!!

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Re: Be a Better Writer--AVOID THESE COMMON ERRORS

Postby gracelikerain » Sun Jan 11, 2015 9:48 am

Fantastic list, Jan. Thanks.

And I especially liked "versing". :D
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Re: Be a Better Writer--AVOID THESE COMMON ERRORS

Postby DustBSH » Sun Jan 11, 2015 9:54 am

Thanks Jan
Very good.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--AVOID THESE COMMON ERRORS

Postby KatKane » Sun Jan 11, 2015 11:32 am

I mixed up compliment and complement. Thankfully my eagle-eyed challenge buddy spotted my blunder. Oops! :oops:

Please send my compliments to the chef. That meal was superb.

The purple background and silver stars complement each other perfectly.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--AVOID THESE COMMON ERRORS

Postby Shann » Sun Jan 11, 2015 4:02 pm

This is brilliant. I'll admit I didn't know about the door jamb. Now I have a great word for Scrabble! (I have trouble coming up with J words for some reason.) I didn't know that complement (spelled with an email not an i) was even a word until Gregory Kane told me. Since then I've seen it used incorrectly many times.

Flustrated (which came about from people combining frustrated and flustered) is a pet peeve of mine. I grimace whenever I hear it.

Another one I often see, which goes along with capitalizing St. Bernard, is I have my bachelor's degree. Sometimes people capitalize the first letter; some people take out the apostrophe. Though I'm not nearly as adept (another common mix-up with adapt and adopt) at explaining as Jan, if using it in the generic sense, no capital letter.
I received my bachelor's degree in nursing.
Add the specific name, though, and not only is it capped, but you lose the apostrophe.
I received my Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing at Alfred State College.
Maybe, you can explain it more clearly, Jan.

The last comment I'd like to stress (Jan pointed it out subtly) is don't be afraid to look things up. It doesn't make you dense if you need to double check things. No one can possibly remember all the rules all of the time. When I edit or write, I'm constantly using my favorite resources. Not only does it help me feel more secure, but I find I'm often learning new things. I'll admit that I sometimes cringe when Google reminds me, "This is the sixth time you've visited this site since November 7, 2013." However, I'm getting older and it's hard to keep it all straight. :mrgreen:

One question I had was using a comma before the word because. I'm having a hard time thinking of an example where I would place a comma before it. Maybe it's another rule I've been doing wrong. I'd usually say no comma at all. Should there be a comma before because in this sentence:
I like going to that store because the manager is gorgeous.

After looking it up, I realized it's often used for clarity especially with negative clauses. Does it mean if I change the prior sentence, I should add a comma?
I don't like going to that store, because the manager is gorgeous.

I tend to restructure sentences like that.
Because time was running out, he didn't obey the speed limit.
Something is still not clicking in my brain. It doesn't seem unclear to me if written the other way:
He didn't obey the speed limit because time was running out.
Could you help clarify it for me? I'm not sure why, but the difference isn't clicking in my brain.

These are the resources I used to try to clarify it:
http://www.dailywritingtips.com/5-calls ... re-because

http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/educat ... re-because

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/qan ... q0018.html

On that note, would you mind sharing your favorite resources?
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Re: Be a Better Writer--AVOID THESE COMMON ERRORS

Postby glorybee » Sun Jan 11, 2015 4:16 pm

Shann wrote:One question I had was using a comma before the word because. I'm having a hard time thinking of an example where I would place a comma before it. Maybe it's another rule I've been doing wrong. I'd usually say no comma at all. Should there be a comma before because in this sentence:
I like going to that store because the manager is gorgeous.

After looking it up, I realized it's often used for clarity especially with negative clauses. Does it mean if I change the prior sentence, I should add a comma?
I don't like going to that store, because the manager is gorgeous.

I tend to restructure sentences like that.
Because time was running out, he didn't obey the speed limit.
Something is still not clicking in my brain. It doesn't seem unclear to me if written the other way:
He didn't obey the speed limit because time was running out.
Could you help clarify it for me? I'm not sure why, but the difference isn't clicking in my brain.

These are the resources I used to try to clarify it:
http://www.dailywritingtips.com/5-calls ... re-because

http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/educat ... re-because

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/qan ... q0018.html

On that note, would you mind sharing your favorite resources?


In smaller sentences like the example you gave, the comma is not necessary, just as sometimes you don't need to put commas before 'and' when connecting shorter clauses. Thus:

I walked to the door and slammed it dramatically.
Ben didn't notice because he was watching his football game.

And thus:

I reopened the door to see if he'd noticed, and decided to try something more drastic.
Unfortunately, I still got no response even though I danced between him and the television, because he was sound asleep.


In cases like this where the rule is "soft," and dependent in large part on your voice, you may use the comma or not. But not AFTER the conjunction.

I don't really have a favorite resource. If I come upon a point of grammar or usage that I'm not sure about, I google it and I read several sites. Even grammar experts frequently disagree, so I generally read until I find an answer that I like, and I go with that one.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--AVOID THESE COMMON ERRORS

Postby Shann » Sun Jan 11, 2015 4:33 pm

Thank you so much. That did help. I was focusing on the wrong thing, the word because, not the placement of the comma. The urge to go through everything I recently edited has passed. :mrgreen:
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Re: Be a Better Writer--AVOID THESE COMMON ERRORS

Postby Anja » Sun Jan 11, 2015 5:36 pm

glorybee wrote:I don't really have a favorite resource. If I come upon a point of grammar or usage that I'm not sure about, I google it and I read several sites. Even grammar experts frequently disagree, so I generally read until I find an answer that I like, and I go with that one.


Pretty much.
Add to that, until I find something I like that is CANADIAN usage.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--AVOID THESE COMMON ERRORS

Postby TracePezzali » Tue Jan 13, 2015 8:46 am

Teehee, I have to say I giggled through every entry on this subject matter! Hopefully there are a few writers out there that like the aussie series "Kath and Kim". They are at their funniest when having fun with word play... just to show how ocka they are with the English language!
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Re: Be a Better Writer--AVOID THESE COMMON ERRORS

Postby Shann » Thu Jan 15, 2015 5:37 pm

I came across another commonly mistaken phrase while editing recently. I'd always thought the phrase was deep-seeded. It made sense to me because I thought of a seed that is planted deeply would have strong roots. Never taking anything for granted (not granite like I've often seen as well), I googled it and discovered the author was correct and the phrase is actually deep-seated. Just thought I'd share my ignorance (again!) :mrgreen:
Last edited by Shann on Thu Jan 15, 2015 6:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--AVOID THESE COMMON ERRORS

Postby glorybee » Thu Jan 15, 2015 5:40 pm

Shann, that's one that I covered on my FB editing page, too--but maybe too long ago for it to make this list. Unfortunately, I see it all the time.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--AVOID THESE COMMON ERRORS

Postby swfdoc1 » Thu Jan 15, 2015 7:35 pm

I once had a biblically illiterate editor change “every jot and tittle” to “every job and title,” whatever that was supposed to mean. I also had the same editor change the idiom “best lights” (as in, e.g., “proceed according to your best lights”)to the completely different idiom “best light” (as in, e.g., “cast it in the best light”).

Two other problematic words: loath and loathe.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--AVOID THESE COMMON ERRORS

Postby glorybee » Thu Jan 15, 2015 7:38 pm

swfdoc1 wrote:I once had a biblically illiterate editor change “every jot and tittle” to “every job and title,” whatever that was supposed to mean. I also had the same editor change the idiom “best lights” (as in, e.g., “proceed according to your best lights”)to the completely different idiom “best light” (as in, e.g., “cast it in the best light”).

Two other problematic words: loath and loathe.


I laughed out loud at "job and title." Good grief.

I'll admit that I've never heard the idiom "best lights." Maybe a regional thing? Or it could be that I'm idiomatically illiterate. :)
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Re: Be a Better Writer--AVOID THESE COMMON ERRORS

Postby swfdoc1 » Thu Jan 15, 2015 8:14 pm

Actually, as I think about it, I'm pretty sure the "job and title" thing happened to someone else. I've done so much editing and been edited so many times, it all starts to blur. (I think the reason my mind played this trick on me is because I had an interest in the mistake because of quite a back-and-forth correspondence about this with several folks.)

I don't think "best lights" is regional; probably just rare-ish. I quickly found a fair number of examples in books and nationally distributed magazines of recent and not-to-distant vintage, and a famous historical example, George Washington's statement on neutrality in his Farewell Address:

In relation to the still subsisting war in Europe, my proclamation of the twenty-second of April, I793, is the index of my plan. Sanctioned by your approving voice, and by that of your representatives in both houses of Congress, the spirit of that measure has continually governed me, uninfluenced by any attempts to deter or divert me from it.

After deliberate examination, with the aid of the best lights I could obtain, I was well satisfied that our country, under all the circumstances of the case, had a right to take, and was bound in duty and interest to take, a neutral position. Having taken it, I determined, as far as should depend upon me, to maintain it, with moderation, perseverance, and firmness.
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things are gone." C.S. Lewis
“The chief purpose of life … is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks. To do as we say in the Gloria in Excelsis ... We praise you, we call you holy, we worship you, we proclaim your glory, we thank you for the greatness of your splendor.” J.R.R. Tolkien

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