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Posted on 12.01.2009

Eight Common Errors in Writing

Eight-Common-Errors-In-WritingWriting is a large part of my job, and as a communications professional it is my job to make sure my writing is accurate and error-free. Thank goodness I have grammatical gurus as colleagues because making a few common errors in writing can hinder a great communications message! Here are eight common errors that I hear, read and struggle with most often: 1.    Confusing affect with effect. This is one the most common errors people struggle with, including myself. Remember that affect is usually a verb meaning to influence and effect is almost always a noun meaning result (usually preceded by the word the). Examples:
  • Your attitude affects the way you look at your work.
  • The effect was overwhelming.
  • (Effect as a verb) He will effect many changes in the company.
2.    Using could of, would of, should of. These phrases are born from sloppy speech patterns using would’ve, could’ve and should’ve. The correct usage is could have, would have or should have. 3.    Confusing that with which. If you can drop the clause and not lose the meaning of the sentence, use which; otherwise use that. A which clause is surrounded by commas. Examples:
  • I remember the day that we met.
  • The team, which finished last a year ago, is in first place.
4.    Treating singular nouns as plurals. I see this mistake all the time! There are a handful of nouns that seem to be plural in form but are actually singular and, thus, take a singular verb. Examples:
  • The staff gets bonuses at the end of each year.
  • The couple gives donations to the local shelter.
5.    Confusing complimentary and complementary. Complimentary refers to a compliment or in reference to something that is free. Complementary refers to someone or something that completes someone or something else. Tip: A simple way to distinguish complimentary from complementary is to remember that complementary means to complete and both begin with comple-. Examples:
  • They received complimentary tickets to the show.
  • The husband and wife have complementary careers.
6.    Repeating yourself. This is a mindless mistake I see and make on a regular basis. PIN stands for personal information number; therefore, you cannot say PIN number without being redundant.  Similarly, it is redundant to say CD or DVD disc. 7.    Using over when you mean more than. If you’re referring to numerals or if the amount is countable use more than. Over refers to spatial relationships. Examples:
  • The employee worked more than 40 hours last week.
  • The dog jumped over the fence.
8.    Confusing lie and lay. Even the grammar gurus have trouble with this one! The action word is lay. It takes a direct object. Lie does not take a direct object and indicates a state of reclining. So you lie down on the sofa (no direct object), but you lay the book on the table (direct object). So the present tense seems pretty easy, but then everything goes haywire because lay is the past tense of lie.  Here’s a chart that may help you decipher the difference in the present, past and past participle.
Present Tense Past Tense Past Participle
Lie Lay Lain
Lay* Laid Laid
* Requires an object When I need a quick refresher I visit Grammar Girl. Her site has some “Quick & Dirty Tips” that’ll do just the trick! What writing errors do you see or struggle with most often?

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