Wednesday, February 13, 2008

More Common Mistakes

Snow is falling outside my window, flakes the size of silver dollars. These are some of the biggest flakes I've seen in a long time. Of course, it's been a long time since we've had snow like this. It snowed all day yesterday, then turned to sleet in the evening. Everything was a sheet of ice this morning. The poor dog couldn't get her footing on the back sidewalk. The weather sites said the snow was to let up by late morning. It's almost 1 pm, and the snow is coming down hard. (Since I started writing, the flakes have gotten smaller and the intensity has increased.) It would be a perfect day to sit by the fire with a mug of hot chocolate and the John Irving book I've been reading. But I have deadlines, so here I am in my office.

To wake up my brain, which is a little foggy from my cold, I thought I'd continue with the common mistakes I see in the books I edit.

Overuse of the thesaurus. While word variety is good, many people appear to open the thesaurus to find similar words. Except, those similar words are often the wrong word. The other day, I came upon a writer who used gaze or glanced to substitute for glare. Glare, gazed, and glanced are similar, but they don't convey the same meaning in a sentence. Nancy Reagan was famous for gazing at her husband when he spoke. Replace gazing with glaring . . .

Overuse of the word And. It appears many new writers are afraid of short sentences, so they combine sentences. Problem is, using "and" doesn't automatically make the sentences fit together. There is nothing wrong with short sentences.

Overuse of the word That. That is a lot like then. It is needed maybe 1/10th of the amount it is used. People think they need it (in fact, a lot of people would have written "people think that they need it"). Other overused words are just, very, and really. The more you let strong verbs and nouns show the scene, the less you need those filler words.

Confusion between That and Which. Of course, sometimes you need to use that. Or you need to use which. They are similar, but not the same. If a clause is vital to the meaning of the sentence, use that without a comma. But if the clause is not vital to the meaning of the sentence, use which with a comma.

Confusion between it's and its. I see this one a lot. Here's my trick: I mentally say "it is" and if that fits, then use it's. If it doesn't, use its. It's is it is. Its is possessive.

Using apostrophes. Okay, this is the fingernails on the chalkboard for me. If it is plural, you don't use an apostrophe. People get especially confused about names. So I repeat, if it is a plural, you don't use an apostrophe. If you are talking about a family with the last name Smith, you write it Smiths. If you are talking about a dog owned by the family Smith, you write the Smiths' dog. It's not just names, however. I seem to be coming across more people using the apostrophe in every case of a plural. Dogs becomes dog's. The apostrophe is used for contractions (combing two words into one) or to show possession. Not for plurals.


TJBrown said...

Good post... I have to go back and remove like a dozen or so uneeded Thats.

Patti said...

that is so very very true...