Thank God for spell-check, right? Without it, even the best writers would be spending more time with their dictionaries than actually writing. Or everything that’s published would be so riddled with mistakes that no one could read it. But spell-check isn’t everything.
Spell-check will alert us to simple typos and transposed letters (am I the only one who often types “hte” instead of “the” when I’m in a hurry?) Even the grammar-check that’s part of most word-processing programs is far from infallible. Here are some examples of mistakes that even the best spell-check software won’t catch, and why it never hurts to have another pair of human eyes to look over your work.
Homophones are words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings.
Example: My car is parked over their.
It should read: My car is parked over there. (There is a place, their refers to something that belongs to them). In this sentence, “their” is spelled correctly, it’s just the wrong word for this sentence.
Easily Confused Words
These can be homophones, or words that sound sort of similar, or simply a word that the writer isn’t familiar with so he gambles on something he thinks is right.
Example: Please except my apology.
It should read: Please accept my apology.
Except means “excluding,” or sometimes replaces the word “but” in a sentence. Accept means to receive or agree to. Since these words are almost-homophones, they’re often confused. Very different meanings, though – but something that spell-check won’t catch.
Easily mis-typed words
These are words that are spelled correctly, but are simply the wrong word for the sentence.
Example: I’ve loved dogs every since I can remember.
Every is a fine word – but in this case, the word should be ever.
Other correctly-spelled words that can often be mistyped: any instead of and, then instead of than or the other way around, food instead of good. I could go on, but these are some that I’ve mistyped on more than one occasion.
British versus American spellings
This one isn’t so much about typos as it is about consistency. “Colour” and “color” are both correct spellings – you just need to know which one is appropriate to use. My American word processing program puts the red “misspelled word” line under “colour” because that’s not the correct spelling for American English. So if you’re a Canadian writing for an American publication, or an American writing for a European publication, just remember which is the correct spelling for your market, and be consistent.
Example: I love the colour pink, and my favorite ice-cream flavor is strawberry.
As I said, either spelling is correct, but consistency is what is needed. Either have “favourite” and “flavour” match your spelling of “colour,” or change them all to the American standards.
Example: We went shopping, then had lunch and later had ice cream – chocolate, of course – and my sister said that we should get together every weekend and do this and I agreed.
There’s technically nothing ungrammatical here, nor any misspellings. It’s just a simple run-on sentence. It would be easier to read as two sentences. If you’re done with the developmental edits of your work and just need that final polish of copy editing or proofreading, this is the sort of thing that a good editor will catch. Spell-check won’t.
This one is sort of like the European vs. American spellings, as in there is no right or wrong. Consistency is what counts here.
Example: Sara vs. Sarah.
If you have a character named Sara, make sure that her name is Sara the entire way through the story. Readers might get confused if her name suddenly changes to Sarah in chapter seven. Again, spell-check and even a high-tech grammar-check won’t catch this.
I’m sure there are plenty of other examples to point out why everyone needs an editor or at least a few sharp-eyed critique partners. And I’m sure that I have provided such examples in many of my blog posts! I’m also not trying to bash spell-check or other automatic editing programs. Let’s just not forget the human element. A trained editor’s eyes and brain will still trump a computer program and help you to put your best writing forward.