Littered with Errors: Can Typos Kill You?

We’ve all done it – typed “here” for “hear” or “you’re” for “your” – especially when we’re dashing off a quick email or meeting a deadline. I don’t know of an agent or editor who’ll reject a submission based on one or even a few typos, particularly if the material is so compelling the reader can’t resist losing the afternoon in your book.

However, not all errors are typos. This becomes apparent as a manuscript progresses. Some of us, never dreaming we’d be professional writers one day, slept through the “it’s vs. its” lesson in English class – or Language Arts if you’re under 30. And speaking of generational differences, grammar was one of my favorite subjects all through school. However, my daughters’ teachers insist that much of what I was taught is now considered to be wrong. Mrs. Hamilton and Mrs. Powers (who also taught my mother) would beg to differ!

Some grammar rules don’t change, though, and these are the errors I see the most frequently:

It’s versus its:

It’s means it is. It’s is not the possessive of it. Its is.

It’s strange that the turtle carries its house on its body. (How do you like the bonus its?)

Plural Possessive:

When you have two parents who own a house and you are visiting them, the apostrophe is after the “s” in parents.

We went to my parents’ house.

If you are just visiting Dad, you can say:

We went to my parent’s house.

Affect versus Effect:

“Affect” is usually a verb and “effect” is usually a noun.

An error-filled manuscript will affect the editor’s impression of you.

The effect of a perfect manuscript is immeasurable.

A writer no longer needs to be a grammar maven to succeed in presenting a pristine manuscript to agents and editors. For instance, when I was writing books for publication, I read the manuscripts aloud before submitting. And now, I always run the review program on work leaving my office. While no computer program is perfect, running every manuscript through yours should greatly reduce the number of errors.

Better yet, make friends with grammar. Then writing nearly flawless manuscripts will be second nature to you. My cousin once asked me, “Do you proofread your emails before you send them? They never have any errors.”

Still, perfect grammar won’t save a manuscript the editor doesn’t want. I once earned a rejection letter stating that my work was “technically flawless.”

The above statements guarantee that I will send out a batch of letters with a glaring grammar error in the very near future.

“Enough about you,” you say. “What about me? How do I make friends with grammar?” I suggest you purchase and buy a copy of the 4th edition of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style (originally published in 1918).

Since they recommended Strunk and White many moons ago, Mrs. Hamilton and Mrs. Powers would approve.

Your turn:

What is your biggest grammar bugaboo?

What errors do you see most often?

 

50 Responses to Littered with Errors: Can Typos Kill You?

  1. Avatar
    Brennan McPherson October 20, 2016 at 3:28 am #

    The Elements of Style is the most useful grammar/composition book I’ve purchased. Small enough to fit in a pocket, but relevant for every writer in every stage of their career. Not to mention way easier to read than the Chicago Manual of Style. 🙂

  2. Avatar
    Lisa Evola October 20, 2016 at 5:21 am #

    I almost always check over my emails for errors. Unfortunately sometimes they still get through. What irritates me the most is when I am writing from my phone and auto correct takes over. I’m sorry, but it isn’t always right! Then there are the times that I thought I was thorough and send it off only to realize after that there are some key mistakes. I guess that is why we hire proof readers 😉

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray October 20, 2016 at 8:33 am #

      Lisa, the other day, autocorrect changed “your” to “yoyo” — or at least I thought I’d typed it correctly!

  3. Avatar
    Johnnie Alexander October 20, 2016 at 5:50 am #

    My pet peeve is when pour replaces pore. “He pored over the research.” He didn’t pour over it!

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray October 20, 2016 at 8:34 am #

      Even when you fall asleep burning the midnight oil, you’re still not pouring (melting?) — Good one, Johnnie.

  4. Avatar
    Judith Robl October 20, 2016 at 5:54 am #

    Never proof your own writing within twenty-four hours. You’ll always see what you meant, not what you actually wrote.

    That’s why we have critique groups and beta readers.

    The “your/you’re” thing is a pet peeve of mine, as are split infinitives which grate like fingernails on a chalkboard. (I have always hated the Star Wars tagline.)

    Possessive and objective pronouns misused:” they gave the books to he and I.” OUCH! “John and me went to the store.” Or, “me and him went fishing.”

    Hearing the like from educated people who are educating our youngsters is a double whammy.

    Does anyone here remember diagramming sentences?

    • Avatar
      Jay Payleitner October 20, 2016 at 8:20 am #

      Hmmm.
      I believe typing “Star Wars” when you meant to type “Star Trek” is actually a bigger mistake than typing “your” when you meant “you’re.”
      Just a thought.

      • Avatar
        Judith Robl October 20, 2016 at 10:25 am #

        Thanks, Jay. As you can see, I’m not really a fan. (grin)

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray October 20, 2016 at 8:37 am #

      Judith, that’s a great tip! If we can all get in the habit of writing early so we have time to proof properly, that would be a good thing. I know many book writers let their work mellow a couple of weeks. This is always a good thing.

      And yes, I hate split infinitives, too.

      And yes, I always loved diagramming sentences. I think I could still do that now, no problem!

  5. Avatar
    Christine L. Henderson October 20, 2016 at 5:59 am #

    I do run a grammar check on my emails before I send using Grammarly. Occasionally, that runs a bit wonky. Last week, it was correcting my spelling of flavor to flavour and color to colour. I was always taught that if you can say, “It is” then it should be “it’s” as the contraction, but that is also one word that my grammar check occasionally gets wrong.
    My personal grammar error that I have to remind myself about is “Here’s the…” I need to remind myself if the noun that follows is singular or plural – here’s the book or here are the books. And passive voice drives me crazy

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray October 20, 2016 at 8:39 am #

      It’s good that the passive voice drives you crazy since it’s so maligned as telling versus showing!

  6. Avatar
    Diana Harkness October 20, 2016 at 6:13 am #

    I don’t worry too much about emails because they are mostly to friends and as long as the substance is there and understandable I’m fine with a typo now and then. For manuscripts, legal documents, and other important writing, I try to avoid typos. I learned my lesson early when I had to file amended complaints because I typed an amount accurately but when putting in numbers, I made mistakes. All of the lost time, repeated work, and travel to the courthouse taught me a lesson I will never forget. So I proofread and read aloud and use an app that reads it to me. That’s the best way I’ve found to pick up grammatical errors, overused or wrong words, and repetitious statements. If I see errors in a pre-release book I have been given for review, I will let the author/publisher know. If I see errors in an already published book, I can excuse 1 or 2, but more will keep me from continuing to read.

  7. Avatar
    Rebekah Love Dorris October 20, 2016 at 6:16 am #

    Great article! Just curious: What do grammar teachers say have changed?

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray October 20, 2016 at 8:45 am #

      Well, Rebekah, I just put whatever they said out of my mind because Mrs. Hamilton and Mrs. Powers will always be right in my view! But I told my daughters to listen to their teachers.

      Mrs. Powers told us that if someone said, “Where’s it at?” that (unless an adult said it), you should answer, “Between the a and the t.” So we had a grammar lesson and one in the etiquette of not correcting one’s elders as well!

      I have noticed the woeful disappearance of the Oxford comma, as well as the equally woeful disappearance of a comma before “too” at the end of a sentence. I’ve also noticed that commas after states have disappeared. Not, “I’m from Victoria, Virginia, and proud of it.” but “I’m from Victoria, Virginia and proud of it.”

      Clearly, lots of people really, really hate commas and have kidnapped them.

      Not that I have an opinion or anything…

      • Avatar
        Rebekah Love Dorris October 20, 2016 at 9:59 am #

        Amen! Commas these days are like guns. Absolutely necessary, but in danger of being outlawed because of the indiscriminate actions of a few.

        As Chuck Norris says, “They can have my Oxford comma over my cold, dead, and lifeless body…”

        God bless! 😀

  8. Avatar
    Kathy October 20, 2016 at 6:24 am #

    You wrote: my work was “technically flawless.” This is the one I worry over most.
    Since you wrote it this way, I am thinking the “old” way is still correct. It would NOT be written “technically flawless”. We see this all too often.
    Please weigh in on this one.
    Yes, I remember diagramming sentences! My favorite grammar chore! When I home educated my daughter, I taught her this technique. She and I both still take to task sentences using parsing. (I love that old-fashioned word.)

    Thanks!

    PS I see all manner of grammar and spelling errors, especially in the newspaper, and wonder what they teach in school these days. Don’t the editors know editing rules?

    • Avatar
      Sarah Hamaker October 20, 2016 at 6:41 am #

      Kathy, since newspapers have pared down their staff to the bare bones, copy editors have been a favorite for downsizing, which leads to your aforementioned grammar/spelling errors in newspapers. Unfortunately, many people in the business world have a view that it’s not hard to write, and therefore “anyone” can do it, whether it’s writing a letter or a blog post. As a result, precise and accurate writing is becoming less of a priority in today’s fast-posting and texting world.

      That said, I love grammar and my favorite go-to book is The Careful Writer by Therodore Bernstein, thankfully now back in print (I had to hunt down a copy in a used bookstore but it’s not available on Amazon.com).

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray October 20, 2016 at 8:50 am #

      Kathy — What Sarah said.

      As for my “technically flawless” manuscript, that comment was given to me some years ago, and the editor was clearly a grammar maven, too.

      And I wouldn’t let worries about grammar keep me from sending out manuscripts if I were you, Kathy. As I said, the publisher can always add or subtract commas according to what they follow. The basics haven’t changed.

  9. Avatar
    Janet Ann Collins October 20, 2016 at 7:37 am #

    I majored in English and seldom make that kind of errors, but sometimes spell-check puts them in. That drives me crazy!

  10. Avatar
    Carol Ashby October 20, 2016 at 8:26 am #

    A typo could kill you if someone leaves out a comma.
    “Let’s eat, Mother” is safe.
    “Let’s eat Mother” could lead to murder charges.

  11. Avatar
    Diane T. Ashley October 20, 2016 at 8:28 am #

    A mistake I see often in novels is misuse of the words peak, peek and pique. Here’s a rather long sentence to use all three: My curiosity was piqued at the sounds coming from the floor beneath the cabin’s peaked roof, so I climbed the ladder and peeked through a second-floor window to see the cause.

  12. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D. October 20, 2016 at 8:31 am #

    Tamela, The Elements of Style stays within my reach every time I sit down at the computer. My students usually mix up “there” and “their” (and this is college!) and “defiantly” and “definitely.”

  13. Avatar
    Carol Ashby October 20, 2016 at 9:31 am #

    One of my peeves is the pressure to avoid using the progressive tense (is/was running) when I really do want to convey an ongoing action. Too many contest judges seem to think a progressive form is passive voice simply because some form of the verb “be” is present. There is pressure against using “had + verb” to make the distinctions between when something occurred in the past.

    Let’s get back to using plain, progressive, and perfect tenses to convey the nuances!

  14. Avatar
    Kathy Ide October 20, 2016 at 9:51 am #

    Years ago, when I was doing freelance proofreading for Moody Publishers, I found myself repeatedly looking up the same rules in The Chicago Manual of Style. So I created a “cheat sheet” for myself–a list of the grammar and punctuation rules I looked up most often, along with the CMOS rule number. And I rewrote the wording for the explanations into something that made more sense to me. I ended up with quite a long list. And I added to it whenever I found myself repeatedly marking the same thing in manuscripts I edited.

    Eventually I turned that list into “Polishing the PUGS: Punctuation, Usage, Grammar, and Spelling,” which later became “Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors.” It has all of the examples you gave plus several more. It also explores some “Grammar Myths,” like ending sentences with a preposition.

    My personal grammar pet peeve (among several!) is the current acceptance of the secondary usage of “literally.” The main (in my opinion ONLY proper) definition for this word is “actually.” But Webster’s Collegiate also gives a second definition, “virtually”–which is literally the opposite of the first definition. Webster’s notes that this word is used with the second definition as “pure hyperbole intended to gain emphasis, but it often appears in contexts where no additional emphasis is necessary.” I would add that using “literally” with the second definition can be either amusing or disgusting if you imagine what the person is saying actually happening. Like “My heart literally burst out of my chest.” Ew. 🙂

    • Avatar
      Judith Robl October 20, 2016 at 10:30 am #

      Aha! Polishing the PUGS is one of my favorites, Kathy. Thanks for the story of its genesis.

    • Avatar
      Carol Ashby October 20, 2016 at 10:52 am #

      I have a copy of Kathy’s “Proofreading,” and I heartily recommend that everyone here get a copy.

      Even though grammar is one of my strong areas, I still found it worth every penny since it includes the latest recommendations from CMOS, which sometimes differ from what I learned in school.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray October 20, 2016 at 2:27 pm #

      Thanks for sharing, Kathy. Great story!

      I have to say that I’d rather “paint the town red” figuratively than literally!

      And how about, “I could care less,” when it really should be, “I couldn’t care less.”

      I could go awn and awn. Um, I mean on and on…

  15. Avatar
    Pat Lee October 20, 2016 at 12:43 pm #

    Peak, Peek and Pique–I see these in error a lot. It grates on my nerves because I used them incorrectly no long ago.

  16. Avatar
    Pat Lee October 20, 2016 at 12:44 pm #

    And of course I left a typo to prove my point. Laughing.

  17. Avatar
    Tisha Martin October 20, 2016 at 1:38 pm #

    Back in college, I went berserk with the commas. My teacher took them all out. I learned how to put them in correctly. 🙂 Now, I cringe when I make a comma mistake. One comma error can throw off the meaning of a sentence entirely. Scary stuff because I see comma errors all the time now.

    Although I’m a writer, I love my part-time job as an editor. Incorrect commas make me as uneasy as if someone scraped their fingernails across a blackboard.

  18. Avatar
    Angie Arndt October 20, 2016 at 1:46 pm #

    My biggest bugaboo right now is it’s/its (and I thought I’d finally conquered it). I want to put an apostrophe “s” for the possessive form but most of the time I remember to ask myself if it’s, “it is.” (Did you see what I did there?)

    Thanks for the reminders!

  19. Avatar
    Carol Ashby October 20, 2016 at 2:42 pm #

    I’d like to comment on “technically flawless.” That would describe the formal writing of my scientific life where infinitives never were split and prepositions never ended a sentence. Since I’ve started writing fiction, I’ve learned to bend or break many grammar rules to have a more colloquial and approachable style as I’ve moved from omniscient narrator to scenes with a focused POV. I tend to slip toward formal on this blog out of habit; my style in my novels is very different from what I might write here. Using a grammatically flawless style would make a novel too formal for many readers today.

    Another thought on the new CMOS rule about no comma before “too.” For the majority of readers who aren’t writers, that looks like the writer didn’t know how to punctuate properly. I find it a turnoff myself, and I plan to keep using that comma. Just exactly WHY do we have to conform to the new CMOS style? Why should we accept their pronouncement that a long-standing form is no longer correct when most of the reading world thinks it is?

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray October 20, 2016 at 3:33 pm #

      Carol, I think authors need to use informal language in dialogue when appropriate, but be sure the narrative is technically flawless. 🙂

      As for CMOS? Is there any rule book that generates a 100% agreement among users?

      Thanks for making good points.

      • Avatar
        Carol Ashby October 20, 2016 at 3:42 pm #

        That’s the tack I’ve taken. Flawless but not formal. Glad to hear it’s what you’d do!

    • Avatar
      Kathy Ide October 20, 2016 at 3:51 pm #

      Writers who are self-publishing can ignore CMOS rules if they want. But writers who wish to go with the traditional publishing houses, especially the bigger ones, would be wise to follow CMOS guidelines, even if they don’t necessarily agree with them, because that’s what their editors and proofreaders go by.

      Even if you’re self-publishing, if a good portion of your readers know the CMOS rules–either because they’ve studied them or because they’ve intuitively picked up on them from reading lots of traditionally published books–they may think your grammar and punctuation are “wrong” if you don’t follow those guidelines.

      • Avatar
        Carol Ashby October 20, 2016 at 4:17 pm #

        Good point in general, Kathy. I’m conforming to most of CMOS, but I think I’ll be safe using the 2014 CMOS rule and keeping my “too” commas. It will take at least five years before the 2016 comma rule gets embedded in the subconscious of the reading public. Even then, the older style will still feel “right” because most of us read older releases as well as new ones.

  20. Avatar
    Shannon Redmon October 20, 2016 at 5:09 pm #

    My pet peeve is who and whom.

    Who went to the store?

    She mailed the letter to whom?

    My mother used to drive this one into my head. It was her pet peeve too. 🙂

  21. Avatar
    Frenchy Dennis October 21, 2016 at 7:43 pm #

    I was told just yesterday that Skrunk’s has changed a few rules. The one I was referred to is the period-quotation mark..

    Is it true that the period is now to go on the outside if the sentence ends with a title?

    Those kinds of changes rattle the brain of an old editor.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray October 24, 2016 at 9:41 am #

      I hadn’t heard that, Frenchy. I think you can use the “old” rule because generally speaking, if you look at printed manuscripts. the quotation mark is usually on top of the period. If only we could do that on our computers so we don’t have to wrestle with this question!

  22. Avatar
    Janet Ann Collins October 21, 2016 at 7:59 pm #

    Actually I think it makes better sense to have the punctuation clearly not part of the title, especially if it’s a question mark or exclamation mark.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray October 24, 2016 at 9:42 am #

      Janet, I can see your point, but since a title is generally set off in italics or underlined, the punctuation isn’t in question.

  23. Avatar
    Natalie Monk October 25, 2016 at 3:23 pm #

    Great post!

    Grammar is one of my favorite things, but mistakes still creep up on me when I’m not looking. Too often I find myself typing “payed” instead of paid.

    With my current manuscript, the problem of repeating words close together has left me laughing. “Desperate,” “brief,” and “door” seem to have become my favorites this time around, not to mention the usual “eyes,” “face,” “turned,” and “walked.” 🙂 Not exactly typos or grammatical errors, but definitely something that interrupts my “reader dream.”

  24. Avatar
    Cathy Krafve May 22, 2017 at 7:37 am #

    A group I admire “ate good people,” I commented on Twitter. Immediately, friends responded with jokes about cannibalism. I could blame autocorrect, but r and t are next to each other on the keypad.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. A Typo Hear, a Typo Their - Typo, Typo, Everywhere - - May 22, 2017

    […] to look past it. It is a “red” check mark in the mind, but we can be a forgiving lot. (See Tamela’s post on typos here) But it is better if we don’t find […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get New Posts by Email

Get New Posts by Email

Each article is packed with helpful info and encouragement for writers. You can unsubscribe at any time with one click. 

You have Successfully Subscribed!