The Nitty-Gritty of Writing: Words that aren’t Words

I’ve written several posts before out words that are easily confused with other words, words that are often misspelled, and other spelling slip-ups. So to add to that list, here are three words that I hear a lot in conversation – and often see written, as well – that are commonly used, but aren’t actually real words at all.

Supposably – The word you’re looking for is SUPPOSEDLY. It’s true that in English, a D and a B can often be misheard for one another, especially if the speaker mumbles or talks quickly. But supposably seems to have caught on to such a degree that I felt the need to let people know that what they’re hearing from others isn’t necessarily correct. Continue reading

Why Spell-Check Should Not be Your Only Editor

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.

Homophone mix-ups:

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 mistyped 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 andthen 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.

Run-on sentences:

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.

Spelling inconsistencies:

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.

The Nitty-Gritty of Writing: Frequently Misspelled Words

This subject could be novel-length—or at least long enough for several blog posts—but I’m going to cover just a select few words that I often see misspelled or misused. I encounter these a lot, whether it be the quick Facebook comment where spelling doesn’t matter as much, or the story or blog post by a professional where correct usage does matter.

Alright: This is not actually a word at all. The correct spelling is all right—two words. It is used in place of okay, such as “All right, Joe, we’ll do it your way,” or “What happened to you? Are you all right?”

It’s not related to the word already, which seems to be the popular belief, judging by the common usage of alright. Already and all ready have two different meanings: “Is it time to go already? Wow, time went fast,” versus “Are you all ready to go?”

But all right stands alone, as a two-word phrase.

Then/Than: Both of these are perfectly legitimate words, but I see them mixed up all the time.

Then is most commonly an adverb, and describes time or an order of events. It’s also used in a cause and effect scenario. “I took a shower, and then went to bed,” or “If you drop that bowl, then it will shatter.”

Than is primarily a conjunction, and is used as a comparison word. “I like turkey more than chicken” or “She is older than her brother.”

The most common misuse I see of “than” is it being used in the cause and effect-type of sentence, like “If Stan wants to talk to me, than he will call me.”

And similarly, I see “then” being misused as a comparison word, such as “I like apples more then oranges.”

If you’re not sure how to keep the words straight, then take a moment to analyze the sentence. If the sentence involves time in any way, it’s probably going to use “then.” If it’s a comparison of any sort, “than” is usually a safe bet.

Ya’ll: This is not a word either. The correct spelling is y’all.

First, a quick definition for anyone who doesn’t live in the American south—y’all means “you guys,” as in more than one person. It’s a contraction of “you all.”

The apostrophe indicates that there is a letter taken out—same as in words like don’t (do not) or it’s (it is). In this case, it’s the –ou taken out of you. Spelled ya’ll, it makes no sense.

And also remember, it’s a plural word. Y’all should not be used if one person is talking to one other person, unless the speaker is talking about a group of more than one. If you’re writing a story with a character from the American south, make sure that you don’t use this word if the character is having a one-on-one conversation with someone.

Correct: “Hey, Sammy, are you coming over tonight?” (Sammy alone has been invited)

or,

“Hey, Sammy, are y’all coming over tonight?” (correct only if it has been revealed earlier that Sammy, his wife, and his son have all been invited. In this case, the context indicates that Sammy is representing his whole family)

Incorrect: (romantic moment between guy and gal)—“So, Clara, do y’all love me?” (romantic moment turns disturbing here. Does Clara have someone else living inside her?)

I hope this helps to clear up some confusion about some of those troublesome words!