The recent Write Club Meetup on strange words – and a few recent embarrassing goof-ups – got me thinking about how often we get some basic things wrong in English usage. Some of the examples below will show that writers are not immune to these pitfalls at all. If anything, we’re falling into them more often than the regular person.
Not our fault that the language is so weird, eh?
Just the other day I got tagged in a Facebook page where a friend said she wanted to take a peek into my current manuscript. I replied with an excerpt, and added: ‘If you wanted to take a peak, you just had to ask.’
Bad enough when someone does it, but if you call yourself a professional writer, you should be above such things. I know. I messed up. To make matters worse, there was no ‘edit’ button on the page.
Fewer/Less – Amount/Number
This is more of a slip-up in speech than in writing. Especially when trying to refer to the percentages or proportions, I find myself saying, ‘The amount of people who…’ and then I correct myself. Sometimes I don’t bother and chug along, hoping no one would notice.
In my childhood, I used to think complementary angles in mathematics were so named because they liked the look of each other. Just the other day when a lady said ‘my husband complements me well’, I responded with: ‘And you deserve every compliment you get. You’re beautiful.’
When you want to refer to the possessive form of the word, you do not use the apostrophe. Even though we use it for just about every other noun. So ‘Jack’s apple’ is correct whereas ‘It’s apple’ is wrong when you refer to your dog. The correct usage is ‘Its apple’, without the apostrophe.
What’s ‘It’s’, then? Just a short form of ‘it is’, just like ‘what’s’ short for ‘what is’.
Confusing? Here’s a simple tip. Just think of whatever sounds intuitive, and then do the opposite. You won’t go wrong that way.
My wife likes to say she’s feeling nauseous. What she means is that she’s feeling nauseated. If you say you’re nauseous, you’re saying that you’re the one inducing nausea in others.
You still could be, but surely that’s not what you meant.
These two always trip me up. Infamous means you have a bad reputation. It’s almost the opposite (but not quite) or ‘famous’. But what does inflammable mean? Just the same as flammable, really. Why are they two words, then, instead of one word? Don’t ask me. I didn’t write the dictionary.
Do you have a pet word peeve of yours that constantly trips you up? This is the perfect place to rant.
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