Five Easy Fixes for Frequent Faux Pas

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.

22 Responses to Five Easy Fixes for Frequent Faux Pas

  1. Avatar
    Tim Eichenbrenner December 9, 2020 at 5:34 am #

    “Who” is a simple pronoun. “Whom” is an objective pronoun, and should be used when the rest of the sentence is directed to the pronoun.
    Who knew English could be so confusing?
    To whom should we send our comments?

    • Avatar
      DAMON J GRAY December 9, 2020 at 6:29 am #

      Yup. I generally ask if I can say who the who is I’m whoing, and if the answer can be “him” I know it’s “whom.”

      It doesn’t always work, but it helps me more often than not.

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler December 9, 2020 at 10:09 am #

      100 points for youm, Tim. And youm too, Damon.

  2. Avatar
    Cole Powell December 9, 2020 at 6:09 am #

    Great list, Bob! Couple of things.

    1. I noticed you used “in between.” I was taught that double preposition constructions such as “in between” and “at around” were redundancies that should never be used in formal writing. However, I see them frequently employed by professional writers these days. Has their use become acceptable?

    2. The word I see most frequently misused by professional writers is “comprise.” Until I looked it up a couple of years ago, I too thought that “comprise” was interchangeable with “compose,” but it isn’t. While the two words are similar, “comprise” is used more like “contain.”

    Example 1: “The Pentateuch comprises Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.”

    Example 2: “The Pentateuch is composed of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.”

    Example 3: “Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy compose the Pentateuch.”

    All three sentences are correct, but a sentence using “comprised of” would not be.

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler December 9, 2020 at 10:12 am #

      Good catch, Cole, on the “in between” thing. I won’t say I’m caught in between a rock and a hard place, because that’s a cliche which is also a misused biblical allusion.

      • Avatar
        Cole Powell December 9, 2020 at 3:04 pm #

        Thanks, Bob! Look forward to reading your next post from around here at about the same time in between next Tuesday and Thursday.

  3. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser December 9, 2020 at 7:25 am #

    Your or you’re, where do I turn
    to dodge all the fau passes?
    And what of the Southern your’n,
    or better still, y’allses?
    Perhaps its something I infer
    while writing for your gimlet eye,
    and writing pot, well, its astir
    as you read it and imply.
    A rash of errors are now quick-born,
    a minefield full of mine’s,
    and writers heart, so quickly torn
    sees them grow and multiplies,
    and throws up it’s bloodied hand’s:
    “Its just not what I had planned!”

  4. Avatar
    Linda McLaughlin December 9, 2020 at 7:51 am #

    Not a writer but I try to help one whose passion it is to put pen to paper. Thank you so much for the chuckles and fun you add to your wisdom. Warm hugs and wishes for a very Merry Christmas.

  5. Avatar
    Sue Doble-Dumoulin December 9, 2020 at 8:02 am #

    Thank you for all the wonderful tips. I think I may have to compile a book of all your tidbits.
    I look forward for more.

    Sue

  6. Avatar
    Kristen Joy Wilks December 9, 2020 at 8:05 am #

    This is such a clear and easy guide. Thanks so much!

  7. Avatar
    Deborah Raney December 9, 2020 at 8:05 am #

    Great list! #5 came up recently on a writers group and it was noted that there are a few exceptions to #5.
    According to CMOS at 7.15:
    “Capital letters used as words, numerals used as nouns, and abbreviations usually form the plural by adding s. To aid comprehension, lowercase letters form the plural with an apostrophe and an s (compare “two as in llama” with “two a’s in llama”). ” Some sources suggest also using ‘s to make plurals of the letters A, I, M, and U for clarity. #neversaynever 🙂

  8. Avatar
    Deena Adams December 9, 2020 at 8:17 am #

    I appreciate your humor in correcting many of our writerly blunders. You should compile your tidbits into a book. Would be much more enjoyable reading all our mistakes with your sense of humor to soften the cringing.

  9. Avatar
    Ellen Engbers December 9, 2020 at 11:10 am #

    Love it! It’s a field full of mines…

  10. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D. December 9, 2020 at 12:33 pm #

    Some of my writing students have told me that they don’t have to prove reed ’cause they’re writing is prefect. Be still my soul……

  11. Avatar
    Tim Eichenbrenner December 9, 2020 at 7:55 pm #

    Not trying to be a wise guy, Bob, but if an apostrophe never makes a word plural, did you use “Do’s” just to mess with us?!

  12. Avatar
    Jan Johnson December 10, 2020 at 9:38 am #

    Thank you!! I am a retired teacher. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cringed when I’d see a sign or email with the mistakes you listed. Even principles and superintendents.

    Around here it’s common for people to say “ I seen it” or “her n I”.
    Ugh!

  13. Avatar
    Hope Ann December 15, 2020 at 6:06 am #

    I hadn’t heard the imply/infer before. Though also I hardly ever use those words and I think I’ve used them mostly properly. *crosses fingers* What really gets me is effect and affect. I still struggle with those.

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  1. Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 12-17-2020 | The Author Chronicles - December 17, 2020

    […] process can be grueling. Askold Mewlnyczuk brings us reflections on editing, Bob Hostetler shares 5 easy fixes for frequent faux pas, Nathan Bransford tells us what to expect when working with a freelance editor, and Christine […]

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