One of my major pet peeves as a reader is finding mistakes in what I’m reading. It’s not uncommon for texts to have errors (a missing quotation mark, a space missing after a comma, a word wrongly capitalized).
As an editor, I know that it’s close to impossible to have a text with absolutely no mistakes.
However, there are some issues that I think go beyond typing errors, and that can make reading a text an ultimately unpleasant experience if you keep finding the mistakes and pausing the reading.
Listed below are a few problems that come up quite often, and that every writer should keep in mind when creating a text (even if it isn’t a novel or story):
- This (refers to a singular noun: this apple) / These (refers to a plural noun: these apples)
- Their (possessive for They: their book) / They’re (contraction of They and Are: they are here) / There (can work as a noun, adverb or pronoun: I’m going over there)
- Your (possessive for You: your book) / You’re (contraction of You and Are: you’re my friend)
- Who’s (contraction of Who and Is or Has: who’s here?) / Whose (possessive for Who: whose book is this?)
- Lose (the opposite of winning: I always lose in sports) / Loose (adjective that’s the opposite of tight: I wear loose shirts)
- Than (compares two things: this is better than that) / Then (refers to passing of time: I’m reading a book, then I’m having dinner)
- Beside (a preposition that can be replaced with “next to”: the book is beside the lamp) / Besides (can be replaced with “in addition to” or “moreover”: besides studying all weekend, I watched a film)
- Couldn’t care less (a phrase that is often misused: “I could care less” means you actually could have less interest in the issue, but saying I couldn’t care less means you have no more interest left in the issue)
- Capitalizations (words are capitalized differently in different languages; in English, you should always capitalize “I”, personal names [Harriet, Luke] and geographic names [Argentina, Mainz], national and regional adjectives [an Argentinian writer], deities [God], royal titles [Queen Elizabeth], days [Thursday], months [August], etc.)
- US vs UK spelling and words (there are words that are spelled differently, such as color [US] and colour [UK], organize [US] and organise [UK], theater [US] and theatre [UK]; and there are different words that mean the same thing, such as pants [US] and trousers [UK], elevator [US] and lift [UK], apartment [US] and flat [UK]).
There are many more issues to keep in mind, but the great thing is that there are many sources to read before, during and after you’ve written your text.
As general guides, I used the Chicago Manual of Style, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (Renni Browne & Dave King), McGraw-Hill’s Proofreading Handbook (Laura Anderson), The McGraw-Hill Desk Reference for Editors, Writers and Proofreaders (K.D. Sullivan and Merilee Eggleston). If I have a specific doubt, I’ll check online at websites I trust, such as Oxford Dictionary or Grammarly, or I’ll just Google the term and see what appears. However, I usually try to check more than one source because rules change over time and adapt to society’s changes, and I don’t want to make a mistake by using a source that’s become outdated.
Do you know the rules I mentioned? What sources do you use to work on your text’s mistakes? Are there any errors that you’ve learned to avoid?