Top 12 Word Usage Errors
Writers repeat common errors, and I’ve listed the top 12 here. In my experience as an editor, I have discovered that most are not used out of ignorance, but from inattention. There is a synaptic flare as a person writes and these errors slip into the manuscript.
The sad thing is that most readers don’t recognize word usage errors, so they seldom mention them. However, for those who take their craft seriously, it is important to double-check for word usage errors before releasing the document to the public.
1. IT’S and ITS
It is easy to use “its” all the time when you’re writing fast, such as people do with text messages. It is important that this shortcut does not enter common usage because the apostrophe plays an important role in communicating ideas.
- “It’s” (with an apostrophe) is a contraction of “It is” or “It has.” Example: “It’s time to go to the store.”
- “Its” (with no apostrophe) refers to something that belongs to the subject. Example: “The store has its own unique charm.”
2. TO, TOO, TWO
- “To” indicates direction or purpose. Example: “I’m going to the store to buy bread.”
- “Too” can be used in place of “as well” or “also.” More commonly, it is used to express the idea of excess. Example: “I ate too much bread.”
- The word “two” is usually not confused with to or too. Two, of course is the word for the number 2. Example: “I bought two loaves of bread.”
3. LOSE and LOOSE
These words play tricks on our minds, and that is the source of confusion. It’s good have a little trick to keep them straight.
- The mind trick for LOSE is to remember that it is the opposite of FIND, another four letter word.
- LOOSE is the opposite of tight.
4. CHOOSE and CHOSE
- “Choose” is the act of making a decision. Example: “I need to choose between white bread or whole wheat.”
- “Chose” is the past tense of “choose.’ It explains the choice already made. Example: “I chose the whole wheat bread.” A mind trick: “I chose the hose.”
5. YOU’RE and YOUR
- “You’re” is a contraction for “You are.” Example: “You’re going to have lunch, right?”
- “Your” refers to something that belongs to another person. Example: “Your sandwich is on the table.”
6. THEY’RE, THEIR, and THERE
- “They’re” a contraction for “They are.” This contraction is one you want to use sparingly. It is usually better to write, “They are.”
- “Their” always relates to the possessions that belong to someone else. Example: “I went to the bakery and their bread looked good.”
- “There” represents a place. Sometimes the place is indefinite. Seeing the hidden word “here” is a mind trick that will help you remember that it is not a contraction or a possession that belongs to someone else, but relates to a place. Example: “The clerk point to aisle 4 and said the bread is there.”
7. AFFECT and. EFFECT
- “Affect” is a verb, so it always relates to action. Example: “I wonder how tea and toast will affect the way I feel?”
- “Effect” is a noun the result of an action. Example: “Tea and toast had a very satisfying effect on my attitude.”
8. EXCEPT and ACCEPT
- “Except” is simply an exception to an idea or statement. Example: “I like rye bread, except the kind that has a thick crust.”
- “Accept” is to receive something. Example: “I accept what you are saying about the benefits of eating bread.”
9. HERE and HEAR
- “Here” is a location. Example: “Come here and help me choose a loaf of bread.”
- “Hear” relates to the perception of sound. Example: “I hear you like Honey Wheat bread.”
There is no such word. You convey the idea correctly when you use “regardless.” Example: “I like jam on my bread regardless of the fact that jam contains sugar.”
11. A LOT
There is no such word as “alot.” If you put a space between the “a” and the word “lot” you are expressing an actual idea. However, it is better to use the “many” to express that thought.
12. I.E. and E.G.
I’m not sure this is an error because of misuse or because writers still use these abbreviations. Some people like to use them to show they are erudite, but effective communicators don’t use them at all because most people don’t know what they mean.
- i.e. is Latin shorthand for id est, which means “that is.” People use it to say, “in other words.”
- e.g. is Latin shorthand for exempli gratia. That means “for example,” so people use it before giving specific examples to an idea they have expressed.
Don’t confuse readers with these terms. They have become archaic, so it is best to banish them from your writing.
You can catch these errors yourself if you read your final draft carefully. It’s good if you catch them as you write, but generally we do not want to edit as we write. We want to let the creativity flow, not impeding it with questions about what we have written. Review and rewrite occurs at a later stage.
There is confusion about different editing tasks since so many novices have started writing and publishing books. Most writers think a proofreader will catch such errors, but that is really the job of a copy editor. Good copy editing is essential. Professional editors understand the distinction and don’t proofread, though many amateurs say they do both.
The best defense against these 12 common errors is to be aware of them, and then to read your completed manuscript out loud. When you do that, these errors will jump out at you.