Writing Mistakes I See Too Often

on July 21, 2011 in Writing & Editing

Typos are a way of life and even reviewing your own work can be tricky since you tend to read what you meant to say rather than what you actually said. Then, there is an entirely different kind of writing goofs – these aren’t accidents from your finger slipping on the keyboard. These are blatant errors and if you’re making them, you’re getting on my nerves. Okay, that’s harsh, you’re not really on my nerves. But if I were to have a bad day, you might be!

 It’s and Its

Yes, English is a confusing language. Yes, we have endless exceptions to the rules. But this is one exception that should be straight forward – its. When you make a contraction or a possessive, you add an apostrophe. “Should not” becomes “Shouldn’t.” “The chair of the girl” becomes “Girl’s chair.”

But, when it comes to the word “it” however, the rules change, and it’s actually supposed to make it easier to understand the word when you use the apostrophe correctly. “It is” rightly becomes “it’s.” That’s easy enough. Something that belongs to “it”, however, is not “it’s.” The proper usage would be “its”, as in “The cat licked its tail.”  That’s right – no apostrophe to show possession. Please stop adding one. It’s annoying.

 Advice and Advise

I’m not sure why these are mixed up so often, but then I’m an English teacher, so what do I know? “Advice” is a noun – it’s something you’re offering to other people. “Let me give you some advice.” You can give it away. The process of giving away that advice, however, is to “advise.”

“Advise” is a verb – it’s an action word. You can’t give anyone “advise”, but you can “advise” them, much like a resident advisor would in the old college dorm. When you ADVISE you’re offering ADVICE. Simple. It’s probably just a pet peeve, but these words drive me bonkers when I see them misused.

 Effect and Affect

Finally, the words that seem to boggle the mind of the average bear. And I’ll readily admit I have to think about them each time I use them, too. Shhhh…don’t tell, it will spoil my rep around here.

Effect is like a special effect. It’s something happening – you can see it, hear it, smell it the gunpowder when it goes off.

Affect is the response to something happening around you. How does it affect you?

This is very tricky since the two are similar in meaning as well as spelling, much like advice and advise, but there you go. Special EFFECTS may AFFECT you adversely. If you don’t like my memory tool, feel free to make up one of your own, assuming you don’t have one already!

Thanks for sharing!
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Rebecca is a full-time everything. She teaches English and reading to her much loved, if challenging, high school students during the day and is a freelance education writer in the evenings. With almost ten years in the classroom and advanced degrees in business and information science, Rebecca specializes in materials that inform, educate and entertain. Rebecca indulges herself by pretending to have spare time and writing about the ups and downs of being a freelancing mama whenever she gets a chance.


  1. Cathy Miller July 21, 2011 Reply

    This always strikes a nerve with everyone. Every time I write a post about this topic, the comments fly. 🙂

    Affect vs Effect was my Dad’s personal pet peeve, so it is definitely one I notice. Here are some other common misteaks-oops-mistakes. 🙂

    Loose vs Lose – is it my imagination or did the birth of the internet breed this? I want to LOSE weight-LOOSE weight is the problem.

    Your vs. YourYou’re welcome. I don’t think you can own a welcome (e.g., Your (?) welcome)

  2. Jennifer Mattern July 21, 2011 Reply

    Advice / advise used to drive me crazy on the DP forums. It was a common mistake for non-native English speakers. Seeing “please advice me” always made me want to scream.

  3. Diana Dart July 21, 2011 Reply

    I would advice that you keep the affect of these typos to yourself. Its a pretty harsh stance 😉 Seriously though, I’m with you. All the way.

  4. Lucy Smith July 21, 2011 Reply

    It drives me nuts when I hear people use “XXX and I/XXX and me” incorrectly. As in: “Do you want to come to the movies with XXX and I?” It’s so easy to get it right, too – just take out the XXX and see if it still makes sense. Here it doesn’t, so it’s “XXX and me”. I think people use “and I” to sound smarter (I even hear politicians on TV doing it), but man, do they sound dumb when they get it wrong.

  5. Megan Collins Quinlan July 22, 2011 Reply

    I received an email from a (now) ex-client who was asking all of the writers to be more careful in finding their spelling and grammatical mistakes. His email contained three incorrect uses of the word “effect/affect” plus many other incorrectly placed commas etc.

    Needless to say I felt it hard to be told that I needed to brush up my writing skills by someone so clearly inept.

    My main problem is that I am not a touch typist and can be a little slow sometimes. This means that in my haste I often make spelling mistakes. But nothing is better than walking away from your writing for an hour and then coming back and checking it again. I often find loads of mistakes by doing that.

    But there are some peo0ple for whom all the checking in the world won’t help. They simply don’t know the rules and can’t be bothered to find out.

  6. Rebecca July 22, 2011 Reply

    Great post! I do my best to proofread my blog posts. I wish I had an editor for my personal websites like I do for my articles. I’ll ask my mom (it gives her something to do) to read my blog posts. She tells me if I made a mistake. Thank God for moms.

  7. Lori July 25, 2011 Reply

    My worst peeve – the misuse of “then” and “than.” Drives me up a wall to see college-educated people screwing that one up. “Then” denotes time, “than” denotes comparison. Grrr….

    Then there’s the use of “supposably” instead of what it really is.

    And “a whole nother.”

    There are days it pains me to talk to people. LOL

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