12 most unforgivable writing mistakes

The occasional typo happens—though that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t proofread all your writing—but certain major gaffes can and will undermine your authority and your message. Here’s a dirty dozen.

We all make mistakes, but there are some that writers should never make.

Though the casual, personal tone of blogging has allowed us to be less formal with the written word, that doesn’t mean we can simply ignore the fundamental rules of writing and grammar. Certain typos can often be brushed off as an innocent oversight, but there are some writing mistakes that are just unforgivable.

These are the ones that can ruin your credibility as a writer and a blogger:

1. Fewer vs. less

Unforgivable: There are less days in February than in March.
Correct: There are fewer days in February than in March.

Use fewer when referring to things that can be counted—for example, “She ate fewer cupcakes tonight than she did last night.” Use less when referring to amounts that cannot be counted, or volumes: “The cupcakes had less frosting yesterday.”

2. Affect vs. effect

Unforgivable: Our services will have a positive affect on your business.
Correct: Our services will have a positive effect on your business.

Although affect and effect can be both be used as a noun and a verb, the rule of thumb for common usage is affect as a verb and effect as a noun. In the example above, the effect is the result of the services. In the sentence, “Our services can affect how customers see your business,” affect is to produce an effect upon, or to influence.

3. Pronoun/antecedent disagreement

Unforgivable: If you hire a professional copywriter, make sure they know how to write.
Correct: If you hire a professional copywriter, make sure she knows how to write.

In the above sentences, copywriter is singular. So the pronoun should be singular, as well. Many people avoid gender-specific pronouns, but all too often that just leads to bad grammar. The correct choices include using “he or she,” picking either he or she and sticking to that gender throughout the copy, or using a plural antecedent (which is the noun to which the pronoun refers): “When hiring copywriters, make sure they know how to write.”

4. Misspellings

Unforgivable: Are you on Goggle+?
Correct: Are you on Google+?

Be sure to proofread your work. Misspelling the name of a company, a website, or a person is a sign of sheer laziness.

5. It’s vs. its

Unforgivable: The pizza became famous for it’s unique flavors and toppings.
Correct: The pizza became famous for its unique flavors and toppings.

This is a common mistake, because it’s seems to follow the rule of using an apostrophe to convey possession (for example, the pizza’s flavor), but that does not apply to possessive pronouns (yours, hers, ours, theirs). An apostrophe is used for the contraction of it is or it has: “It’s the best pizza ever!”

6. Misuse of the semicolon

Unforgivable: I love to write; but I hate using semicolons.
Correct: I love to write; I hate using semicolons.

Semicolons can get confusing, so rather than make an unforgivable mistake, I tend to avoid them whenever possible. Use a semicolon to connect two related independent clauses without a conjunction, or within a complex series: “I’ve lived in Waukegan, Ill.; Alameda, Calif.; and Bartlett, Tenn.”

Do not use a semicolon with a conjunction (and, but, for, or, so, nor, yet).

7. Alot vs. a lot

Unforgivable: Alot of people make this mistake.
Correct: A lot of people make this mistake.

Alot is not a word!

8. Inconsistency

Unforgivable: His favorite colors are red, blue and green. My favorite colors are yellow, purple, and pink.
Correct: His favorite colors are red, blue and green. My favorite colors are yellow, purple and pink.

All four of the above sentences are actually right, but the top two are inconsistent because the second sentence uses the Oxford comma and the first does not. Don’t use the Oxford comma in one sentence and leave it out the next. Don’t spell out ten in the first paragraph and write 10 in the last.

Writing rules change depending on which style of writing you follow (Chicago Manual or Associated Press), but whatever style you use, be consistent throughout your copy.

9. Poorly cited stats and quotes

Unforgivable: Women make up 97 percent of Pinterest users.
Correct: According to AppData, women make up 97 percent of Pinterest users.

Back up statistics and quotes by citing the source of the information. If you can, link to the exact Web page where you found the data. Failure to document your facts will weaken your message.

10. Then vs. than

Unforgivable: I enjoy sitting much better then running.
Correct: I enjoy sitting much better than running.

Than is used for comparisons, whereas then is used to refer to a point in time or “in addition to.” For example: “Back then, I was strong enough to run a marathon. Now, my body and health are different than they used to be.”

11. Lose vs. Loose

Unforgivable: If you loose your keys again, I’m not letting you in.
Correct: If you lose your keys again, I’m not letting you in.

Lose is a verb, and loose is most commonly used as an adjective. Use loose when referring to something that doesn’t fit or isn’t secure, such as loose pants or loose attachments. Loose can also be used as a verb—for example, “loose a knot”—but in these cases, loosen is a more common word.

12. Stolen content

Unforgivable: Always.
Correct: Never.

This one isn’t really a mistake, but rather just plain wrong. Never steal and use content that isn’t yours and play it off as your own work. Not only is that theft-it’s also copyright infringement. Write original, informative content, and always proofread your work.

Any common writing mistakes that you think are simply unforgivable? Please share them in the comments.


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