Magazine article Policy & Practice

Most Common Writing Mistakes

Magazine article Policy & Practice

Most Common Writing Mistakes

Article excerpt

Most writing errors are a mixture of misspellings and grammatical errors, although these days there is an increasingly thin line between what is right and what is acceptable as proper usage, what is literate and what's colorful. Over my past 31 years of writing and editing news articles, legal summaries, congressional comments and academic studies, I have compiled a list of 50 common errors in the writing business. You may not agree with my collection. If you don't, feel free to try your rules as your conscience allows.

1. Adage. An old saying that has been accepted as truth. Don't use old adage unless you are prepared to sound like some illiterate radio commentators, who at least have the excuse of speaking, thus avoiding the jarring effect of a misused phrase in print.

2. Affect, effect. Generally, affect is the verb; effect is the noun. "The letter did not affect the outcome, but it had a significant effect on the reader." But effect is also a verb meaning to bring about. Thus, "It is almost impossible to effect any changes in a deadwood environment."

3. Afterward, afterwards. Use afterward. Most dictionaries allow use of afterwards only as a second form. The same applies to toward and towards.

4. All right. That's the way to spell it. The dictionary may list alright as a legitimate word, but it is not acceptable in standard usage, says Random House and most style books.

5. Allude, elude. You allude to (or mention) something. You elude (or escape) a pursuer.

6. Alternative, alternate. They aren't the same, no matter how many times the traffic reporter tells you to find "alternate" routes or the manager talks about the "alternate option." One means one or the other, the other means one after the other.

7. Annual. Don't use first with it. If it's the first time, it can't be annual, not yet, even if you plan to have it next year.

8. Averse, adverse. If you don't like something, you are averse (or opposed) to it. Adverse is an adjective: Adverse (bad) weather, adverse conditions.

9. Bloc, block. A bloc is a coalition of persons or a group with the same purpose goal. Don't call it a block, which has more than 40 dictionary definitions.

10. Compose, comprise. Remember that the parts compose the whole and the whole is comprised of or comprises the parts. You compose things by putting them together, the object comprises or is comprised of the parts.

11. Couple of. You need the of. It's never "a couple tomatoes." And try to distinguish between the uses of "couple of" when you mean several rather than two so that the waiter will know how many hamburgers you want to eat. …

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