This is the last installment (for now anyway) of my “Common Writing Mistakes” series. I subscribe to a few blogs that focus on writing techniques and tips, and I figured I’d end this series with a list of some of the more important of these. Many of these came from “Daily Writing Tips,” which I recommend that you subscribe to.
CAVEAT!– While Daily Writing Tips is an excellent blog, the blog site itself is rife with ads, including some by (ugh!) Vanity Publishing services. My citing this blog does not in any way mean that Scott or I condone or recommend those services, and those of you who read our blog on a regular basis, know how we feel about Vanity Presses. The upside of Daily Writing Tips is that by subscribing you receive emails with the content of the blog but with no ads. So, I apologize that the links in this post will take you to their site with the ads. Nevertheless, don’t let that deter you from reading the articles. I promise you will benefit greatly from them.
(1) have drank, have went, have ran
These are all grammatically wrong and the only time you should be using these is if your characters say them. Despite the fact the dictionary.com and even Merriam-Webster says that “drank” is an acceptable past participle of “drink” (instead of drunk), its use is NOT correct in formal writing or speech. Perhaps, as Daily Writing Tips suggests, people use “Drank” because of the negative connotations of “drunk.” I do hear a number of people say “I should have went…” I don’t correct them, but it does make me cringe when I hear it spoken. Don’t make your readers cringe.
(2) Trademarked words
Most of us know that Coke, Pepsi, Band-Aid, Google, and Kleenex are trademarked names and must therefore be capitalized in our writing, but did you know about the ones listed below? Note the spellings and where the capital letters are. For a more complete list I’ve provided a link below the list.
AstroTurf, Bubble Wrap, Crescent Wrench, Dumpster, Fiberglass, Jacuzzi, Kitty Litter, Laundromat, Ping Pong, Scotch tape, Super Glue, Tarmac, Taser.
The word “Laundromat” is not on their list, but it is also a trademarked name. I bet you didn’t know that.
NOTE: Daily Writing Tips has one spelling error on their list. “Tarmac” (not “Tarmack”) is the correct spelling of that trademarked name. Lesson here: Always, always, always double-check trademarked names! Do not rely on a single Internet source, not only because mistakes can occur, but because sometimes companies change name spellings. Kmart, for example, has gone through several name spellings.
Be careful when using Apple product names (like iPod and iPhone) in your writing that you capitalize them properly, as shown. The initial “i” is NEVER capitalized, not even at the beginning of a sentence. For that reason, it’s best not to start a sentence with these names.
(3) different from vs. different than
We were taught in school always to use “different from” and that “different than” was always incorrect. Well, “different than” is acceptable in some cases. When a noun or noun phrase follows, then “different from” is correct. When a clause follows, the use of “from” may be awkward.
The party turned out different than what I expected.
Bicycles today are a lot different than they were in my day.
While in the first sentence, “from” would work, the idea behind “different from” is to contrast things (Emeralds are different from rubies), whereas “different than” implies a comparison.
In the second sentence, using “different from” would be completely awkward. Of course, some would say that you should rewrite the sentence in that case: Bicycles today are different from those in my day. But that changes the feel of the sentence. Bottom line: When a dependent clause follows, the use “than” instead of “from” is perfectly fine, even if some hardcores say it isn’t.
(4) okay or OK or O.K.
And what about when it’s a verb, as to OK or okay something?
Until somewhat recently, “okay” seemed to be the preferred form, but now it seems that OK is the preferred form (and without the periods). Only dictionary.com shows the O.K. form. The main reference dictionaries, Oxford English (OED) and Merriam-Webster (M-W) both show OK as the preferred form. The form “Ok” is never correct.
When it comes to using it as a verb, there is no complete consensus among the various dictionaries:
M-W: OK’s (noun plural, verb present tense), OK’d/okayed (verb past tense), OK’ing/okaying
OED: OK’s, OK’d, OK’ing
Dictionary.com: OK’s, OK’d, OK’ing (also shows O.K. and okay as alternative spellings for OK)
The AP Stylebook goes for OK, OKs, OK’d, OK’ing and specifies not to use “okay.”
So who do we believe and trust as a writer, assuming you’re not writing for something that requires AP rules? While I’m partial to spelling it out as “okay,” I’m in the minority. I recommend that you go with the following since the sources I trust the most pretty much agree on these as the preferred choices: OK, OK’s, OK’d, OK’ing.
In the US “towards” is rising in popularity, but it’s prominent only in the UK. In the US, use “toward.” While the other “-ward” words (forward, backward, upward, downward) are often seen with the “s” in the US and are acceptable, the Chicago Manual of Style recommends leaving the “s” off for consistency.
Minimize your use of this word. When you’re tempted to add it as an intensifier, consider if perhaps a better word would work better, or maybe the “very” is too much.
I am very happy. I am elated/overjoyed.
She has a very bad headache. She has a horrible headache.
His death left me very heartbroken. (Do not need the “very” here)
He found the new job very overwhelming. (Same here. Doesn’t “overwhelming” convey it all? If something is already overwhelming, how can it be more overwhelming. It’s like saying something is more bigger or the most biggest.
In compound descriptions, do not hyphenate adverbs (especially those that end in -ly) with an adjective:
It was a badly-drawn picture.
A thoroughly-confused James didn’t know what to do next.
They live in a badly-run-down house.
However, if the -ly word is an adjective, then hyphenation is appropriate
That’s a friendly-looking dog.
She’s wearing a silly-looking hat.
An exception to hyphenating adverbs occurs when the adverb does not end in -ly and the sentence could be misread otherwise:
I saw an ill-clothed homeless man.
Here “ill” is an adverb, but without the hyphen, the sentence could be misread as saying that the man was clothed but ill (as opposed to an ill man who isn’t clothed), particularly if the expected comma in the case (an ill, clothed man) is left out.
For more on these fine points of hyphens, check out the following article.
(8) Capitalizing personal titles unnecessarily.
We know that family terms, like mom and dad, are capitalized when used in direct address, but not when preceded by a possessive pronoun.
“I’ll be right there, Mom.”
My dad is the greatest.
The capitalization comes from “mom” or “dad” acting as a nickname or a replacement for the person’s name. But what about the words below when used in addressing a person in a more general sense?
dear, boss, hon, dude, sweetheart, brother (when it’s not you actual brother), professor, jerk, idiot, buddy, sir, ma’am.
Most of the time these should not be capitalized. If the term is a substitute for the person’s name, if it’s a title, or if everyone in your office calls your boss “Boss” instead of using his name, then it’s acceptable to capitalize it. Otherwise, stick with lowercase. If a modifier (my, his, her, the) precedes it, definitely lowercase.
When it comes to capitalizing titles, here’s a quick article that will help. We’ve also covered this in our punctuation book.
(9) Wood vs. wooden and similar -en adjectives
Once upon a time, words like wood, brass, silk, and wax were nouns only and referring to wood floor, brass fixtures, silk clothes, and wax candles were considered grammatically incorrect. Here’s the latest info on those.
(10) Is it wrong to use contractions like “gotta” and “gonna”?
First, these are not contractions. They’re reductions and are considered colloquial usage, not incorrect usage. They are, therefore, fair game in fiction.
(11) Do we misuse “get”?
Well, that depends. Our English teachers decry our use of the word “get” to substitute for stronger and more precise words, but it’s a formidable word and perfectly acceptable (as long as it’s not overused). Because it is such a ubiquitous word in our speech, we should not ignore it in our writing.
(For those readers who think they’ve found a typo in that last sentence where I wrote “a ubiquitous word” instead of “an ubiquitous word,” I did not make a mistake. The rule of a/an deals with the sound that follows, not whether a vowel follows. In the same way that we can say “an historical event” if we leave the “h” silent, the word “ubiquitous” begins with a “y” sound (you), not a vowel sound (oo).
(12) A sample of amateur writing
I’ll list one more common writing error that I’ve talked about recently: the overuse of “it was/there was” especially in descriptions. Here a link to reinforce that.
As you’ve seen in this handful of common mistakes (some of which are not considered to be mistakes), the Daily Writing Tips blog can be very useful to writers, both inexperienced and experienced, by pointing out things you may not know are problems in your writing. I promise that you will encounter a lot in this blog that you do not know.
I’ll close with a few more links without comment.