Magazine article Policy & Practice

Most Common Writing Mistakes, Part 2

Magazine article Policy & Practice

Most Common Writing Mistakes, Part 2

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 32 years of writing and editing news articles, legal summaries, congressional comments and academic studies, I have compiled a list of common errors in the writing business. You may not agree with my collection. If you don't, feel free to try your rules and follow your conscience.

21. Hanged, hung. A person is hanged if he is executed. A picture is hung.

Correct: In frontier days a murderer was hanged after being convicted of a crime.

Correct: The certificate of appreciation hung in the commissioner's office for his staff to admire.

22. "An" historical ... Wrong article. The correct article for this consonant is "a" because the letter "h" isn't silent. You wouldn't use "an hole" for the same reason.

23. It's, its. "Its" is the possessive. "It's" is the contraction of "it is."

Wrong: What is it's purpose?

Correct: What is its purpose? Its purpose is to tell time.

Correct: It's the first time that he has scored a hit tonight.

Correct: It's my coat.

24. Lay, lie. Lay is the action word; lie is the state of being.

Wrong: The body will lay in state until Wednesday.

Correct: The body will lie in state until Wednesday.

Correct: The prosecutor tried to lay the blame on him.

However, the past tense of lie is lay.

Correct: The body lay in state from Tuesday until Wednesday.

Wrong: The body laid in state from Tuesday until Wednesday.

The past participle and the plain past tense of lay is laid.

Correct: he laid the pencil on the pad.

Correct: He had laid the pencil on the pad.

Correct: The hen laid an egg.

25. Leave, let: leave alone means to depart from or cause to be in solitude. Let alone means to be undisturbed.

Wrong: The man had pulled a gun on the homeowner but the policeman intervened and talked him into leaving her alone.

Correct: The man had pulled a gun on her but the policeman intervened and talked him into letting her alone.

Correct: When I entered the room, I saw that Jim and Mary were sleeping, so I decided to leave them alone.

26. Less, fewer. If you can separate items in the quantities being compared, use fewer. If not, use less.

Wrong: The Rams are inferior to the Vikings because they have less good linemen.

Correct: The Rams are inferior to the Vikings because they have fewer good linemen. …

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