Here’s my confession for the day: I have, on multiple occasions, publicly defaced restaurant menus and posters that have spelling or punctuation errors on them. Not typos, but errors that show a blatant misunderstanding and abuse of the English language. What’s worse is that I sometimes commit the same crimes myself. I’m neck deep in editing madness for my latest novel now, and I cringe when I think of some of the mistakes I’ve caught. Many people make these mistakes because they don’t know they’re wrong. English is a living, changing language and every year dictionaries and language associations have to change to keep up. What you were told was incorrect in elementary school might be fine now, and so most people don’t need to worry. But if you want to look good for readers and publishers, you’ll need to take it up a notch. Keep it traditional, keep it safe (unless you have a very good reason for breaking a rule). Everyone will thank you. What are these mistakes?
- Alright. No. That’s alwrong. It’s supposed to be “all right,” no matter what your spellchecker doesn’t say.
- Alot. This isn’t as common, but it does happen. “A lot” is two different words.
- Snuck. Maybe your main character snuck out of the house in the the middle of the night, but as far as your agent needs to know, she sneaked out instead.
- “”. I see this in menus and advertising all the time. “Sentence”. It’s wrong. The period goes on the inside, even if it’s not a part of the quotes. The opposite goes for
- “;” This isn’t as common, but I’ve seen it more in novels. Keep semicolons and colons on the outside, please!
- A whole nother. There is a linguistic term for sticking one word inside of another, but you don’t know it because it isn’t used in proper English. Ban this phrase from your speech and your writing!
- To and too. Sometimes I still mess these up. Too has too many o’s, while to is short and to the point. Pun intended.
- ?! I did read somewhere that this is a legitimate English punctuation mark, but there’s never any excuse to use it in writing.
- ALL CAPITALS FOR EMPHASIS, SHOUTING OR EXCLAMATIONS!!!! No. Please no. You’re shouting in my ear. Usually you shouldn’t even need an exclamation point–the words and context should be clear enough.
- this: that, this: That. When using colons, you can go either way with capitalization. Just stay consistent.
- Misplaced apostrophe’s. If you know what I just did there, I applaud you. Far too many people fling around apostrophes like they don’t know what they do. If you’re wondering what they do, they either show a possessive case or indicate a missing letter or letters. In American English they are also used to indicate the plural form of a noun that is made up of initials, like DVD’s and UFO’s.
- Back in the 70’s… Believe it or not, the apostrophe rule I just mentioned does not apply to numbers. 1930s is written without any apostrophe, as is 1990s and 2000s. If you’re cutting back to double digits, use an apostrophe to indicate the missing numbers, like ’30s and ’40s.
If you get these rules right, you will be much more respected as a writer and as a person in general. I will warn you that now you know these tips, you will be tormented by all of the mistakes around you. It’s a necessary sacrifice.