Freelance Writer’s Guide to Correcting Grammar Gaffes

What’s on the iPod: Crazy Love by Poco

Sign outside Molly Maguire’s
 on St. Paddy’s Day

Just 363 days until St. Patrick’s Day…. not that I’m counting. I shouldn’t be. I behaved myself, but only barely. I made new friends I’ll probably never see again, especially one unforgettable woman: Pamela. She’s unforgettable because she introduced herself three times.

There comes a point when you know it’s time to go home.

Before then, I toasted those who had passed and generally had a great time singing to the bands, and, for about thirty odd seconds, dancing with Pamela. I even worked from the bar — a client I’d sent a file to on Friday inexplicably never received it. I tried in vain to get the file to them, but I’ve found that OneDrive on my Android phone doesn’t seem to want to allow for email attachments. I was desperate enough that I gave the client my login for my OneDrive account in hopes they could pull the file, but no dice.

 Somewhere around 6:30, I knew I wanted to go home. There are only so many hours you can sit on a bar stool and actually enjoy it. The expiration date had passed an hour prior.

So yesterday it was back to work. I didn’t do much beyond organizing some interviews and doing a bit of research. I did look into the missing client file when I got home — sure enough, I had sent it. I suspect it landed in the company spam folder as I’d requested, and received, a delivery receipt. I feel badly because even though it was a clear case of technology screwing up and not humans, the client didn’t get what they needed in time.

I did get some blog reading in yesterday, and I visited some LinkedIn forums I frequent. I’m seeing a lot of grammatical mistakes — maybe you are, too. Not just misspellings, for those happen in a more casual setting, but I’m talking about full-on, ongoing mistakes.

Do I ever screw up and type one word instead of the other? Sure, but where I’m seeing some of the words in question interchanged, it’s clear the writer is not paying attention or perhaps is texting and falling victim to auto-correct. I’ve had auto-correct turn my carefully typed words into garble, so I get the reason why this happens. Time to get reading glasses or double check before we post, perhaps? That serves as a note to myself as well as a reminder to us all.

Here are some of the things I’ve seen. Please feel free to add to the list:

There/their/they’re: As writers, we should know the difference now. There — pointing to something or referring to some place or thing. There is your jacket. There are six cats in the driveway. There aren’t any more cookies. Their — possession. Their coats, their party, their vacation home, their spoiled kids. They’re — they are. They’re coming to the party. They’re always late no matter what time you tell them. They’re never going to believe this story.

Then/than: I know writers (and college graduates of all sorts) who can’t get these right. So for those who mix them up, here’s a hint: “Then” denotes time, “than” denotes comparison. Or thEn/timE (each has an E) or thAn/compArison (each has an A). I will call Marissa, then I will pick you up. I’ll see you then. I’d rather work here than there. She liked John better than Jim.

A whole nother: I’ve heard it from friends to politicians to news anchors. “A whole nother” — when you spell it out, you get it, don’t you? “Nother” isn’t a word. It’s an abbreviation — and a bad one at that — of “another.” It’s like someone took “another” and dropped “whole” in the center. Not only is it not a word, the explanation of what it is makes it illogical — can you have a “whole another” of anything? Please, stop using it and openly correct anyone you hear using it.

Wary/weary/leery: I get why people misuse them — the words “weary” and “leery” sound alike. Wary — unsure, suspicious. I’m wary of his motives. The teacher kept a wary eye on the teenagers. Leery — showing lack of trust or feeling untrustworthy of someone’s motives. I’m a little leery of letting the new neighbor park in my driveway. He’s leery of the man dressed in black and wearing sunglasses. Weary — tired. Yes, tired. You’re not “weary” of someone’s motives, unless they wear you out physically or mentally. I grow weary of your jokes. He’s weary after working 12 hours today. You are not “weary” of suspicious behavior, and you’re not wary and wanting to go to bed.

Hyphens: Okay, the rules. If you’re an “award-winning writer and editor” you hyphenate. Why? “Award-winning” is modifying the noun, and if you’re an award-winning writer or editor, you’d know that (or you damn well should). He was a six-time winner of the baking contest. She just started her first full-time job.  The only time a modifier is not hyphenated is when it ends in -ly  Yours is a carefully crafted letter. This is one wholly unsatisfying meal. Then there are times when a normally hyphenated word loses its hyphen, mostly because it’s no longer acting as a modifier. He works full time. He won the baking contest six times.

Writers, what grammar gaffes are you seeing?
Which gaffes have you trained yourself out of committing?

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  • Cathy Miller March 19, 2014 at 11:20 am

    Okay, you are incredibly brave, Lori. Any time I write about this topic, typos magically appear. 🙂

    But, I'll bravely go where you have gone. Hopefully, I'll live to write another day. I do have a Common Writing Errors list in my Free Stuff. And I survived that. 😉

    We can thank my dad for the following example. It was his pet peeve–ergo, I notice it everywhere.

    Affect vs Effect – affect is a verb. Think verb=action. It starts with an "A" like affect.

    There is one thing I've noticed that is frightening. I used to be the Queen of grammar and spelling. The older I get, the more often the occasional slip appears that has me gasping. Really.

  • Sharon Hurley Hall March 19, 2014 at 1:25 pm

    Great examples, Lori. I love articles like this. :0

  • Jennifer Mattern March 19, 2014 at 5:57 pm

    LOL That's the way it always seems to go, isn't it Cathy?

    Lori — Great post. 🙂 While I've heard people say "a whole nother," I'm grateful I haven't seen it in writing until now. 😉

  • Lori Widmer March 19, 2014 at 6:29 pm

    Cathy, I worried every syllable. 🙂 And thanks for giving me some Google+ love.

    Oh, I hate that one, too. It's never been a hard one for me, but I've seen others struggle with it.

    And I'm with you on the slipping up as age gets the better of us…

    Sharon, glad you enjoyed. Thanks for posting it on Google+.

  • Lori Widmer March 19, 2014 at 6:29 pm

    Jenn, I've heard that one on TV. Drives me completely nuts.

  • Susan Johnston March 19, 2014 at 11:36 pm

    Your/you're is another issue that pops up a lot.

    I see a lot of people hyphenating -ly adverbs as well and it can an uphill battle getting them to change.

    More of a style issue than a grammar issue, but I know a few writers who still cling to two spaces after a period instead of one. It's easy to fix using find and replace, but I know it really bugs some editors!

  • Paula March 20, 2014 at 1:09 am

    Confusing there/their/they're is bad enough. Using "there's" when you mean "there are" is worse.

    Maybe it's a regionalism, but hearing someone say "a whole nother" only bothers me when I'm quoting them because there is no way to make that scan well.

    Hyphens will always be my downfall.

    I have an issue with affect/effect, so I hope I can remember Cathy's tip!

  • Lori Widmer March 20, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    Susan, that one gets to me, too. And putting two spaces between sentences is a huge peeve for editors, agreed! I've taken to doing a search/replace for them in Word, but sometimes the clients think that's the way it should be, and good luck convincing them otherwise.

    Paula, I used to think it was regional, but I've heard people saying that on TV and in different parts of the country. Not sure where it originated.

    Hyphens can be tricky, I agree.