We all make mistakes.
My wife reminds me often … with a strange sidelong glance that makes me wonder if—well, never mind.
But some mistakes are more costly than others. A few can even hinder a writer’s chances for publication. But fear not, writer friend; there’s hope. Because a few of the most common and embarrassing writer mistakes actually have easy fixes. Really. Honestly. I’m telling ya. Stay with me, and I’m hopeful that we can agree on easy fixes for five frequent faux pas.
1. Imply and infer
Repeat after me: Speakers imply, hearers infer. Say it again: Speakers imply, hearers infer. There. That’s it. I would never imply otherwise, and I advise you not to infer anything else. One more time: Speakers imply, hearers infer.
2. It’s and its
This should be so easy; but even experienced, accomplished writers trip up on this one. But here’s the fix. Whenever you see that apostrophe in “it’s,” un-contraction it. (I know I just made up a word, but just go with it.) In other words, whether you’re writing or proofreading, always pronounce “it’s” as “it is.” If “it is” doesn’t make sense in the phrase or sentence, guess what? It should be “its.” Every time. You’re welcome.
3. Your and you’re
This is the corollary to #2. Whenever you see that apostrophe in “you’re,” un-contraction it. If “you are” doesn’t make sense in the phrase or sentence, write “your.” Again, you’re welcome.
4. Subject/verb agreement
You did finish third grade, right? So maybe you remember problems like “A litter of kittens [was/were] born in our backyard” and “The isthmus, with its many lakes and more than three hundred miles of trails, [appeal/appeals] to hikers and sportsmen of all kinds.” It’s a minefield, to be sure. (Did you do it? Did you read that sentence as “It is a minefield, to be sure?” If not, deduct fifty points. Come on, pay attention!) But the fix is pretty simple: Take out the words in between the subject (litter, isthmus) and verb (was/appeals). See how simple it’s?
5. The pluralized apostrophe
You’re thinking that pluralized is a made-up word, like “un-contraction,” aren’t you? Well, look it up, smarty-pants. But one of the most egregious mistakes you can make is to try to make a word plural by using an apostrophe. Such as, “Deep-fried Oreo’s.” Nope. Or “Open Sunday’s.” No, just no. Or “Using Apostrophe’s Well.” Nopity nope nope. Repeat after me: An apostrophe never makes a word plural. Say it again: An apostrophe never makes a word plural. One more time: An apostrophe never makes a word plural.
I acknowledge that the above fixes won’t solve all of your problems. After all, there’s still who and whom. But even that has a fairly easy fix, which I’ll leave for someone among this blog’s readers to reveal in the comments.