People who use words for a living should use them correctly. This whole post may sound a little harsh, but I know you want to be the best writer you can be!
Write what you know. Write in your own voice.
But pay attention to HOW you write.
DON’T make these mistakes.
1) You use words you don’t know how to spell.
I’m guessing you don’t do it on purpose. Maybe some of your readers won’t notice, but some will. And they will think less of you.
Do you care if some of your readers think less of you? Maybe not, but I think you should. You’re writing to help people, right? You have something to say and you think it will be beneficial to others. How are they going to take your writing seriously if they don’t respect you?
I’m not talking about typos. Everyone, no matter how meticulously they proofread their writings, has a typo slip by once in awhile. I’m talking about actual misspelled words.
Don’t spell words phonetically. Don’t spell words the way you pronounce them. We English-speakers tend to slur words or parts of words, and when you’re talking that’s acceptable and everyone understands you, but when you write it out–unless you’re writing dialogue in a story–it makes you appear less knowledgeable.
“Prolly” is a good example. That’s how a lot of us pronounce the word “probably”. But technically “prolly” is not a word (I looked it up on dictionary.com ), and I literally cringe whenever I see it written in an article or post that is otherwise interesting and engaging. Or even in a comment on someone else’s post, or on social media. People can find and follow you in a lot of places these days, and you want to be seen in the best possible light wherever you are.
I was recently reading a post about the manipulations that young children employ when they’re trying to get their own way. The writer said, “Que the tears.” The only definition I could find for “que” is a slang, shortened term for barbecue. I’m pretty sure she meant “cue”, as in something that incites to action; a stimulus. “Cue the tears” would, of course, mean the child spontaneously starts to cry. I could not get past the misspelling. That’s the only thing I remember about that post.
Spell everything correctly. Don’t guess. At the very least, use spell check.
2) You use the wrong words, particularly homonyms.
This is even more common, and in my opinion, worse. Homonyms are words that sound the same but are spelled differently and that have completely different meanings. Misuse of homonyms happens all day, every day, everywhere.
One of the worst offenses is your/you’re. I constantly see the phrase “Your welcome.” My welcome what? “Your” is a possessive pronoun meaning “belonging to you.” “Your welcome” means the welcome that belongs to you. Does that make sense? Is that what you mean?
Of course not. You mean “You’re welcome.” As in “You are welcome”, where the apostrophe takes the place of the letter “a” and makes the contraction “you’re.”
This is one of those instances where I do not believe that people deliberately use the wrong word. I’m afraid it’s either ignorance or laziness.
For this particular example there is a way to double-check yourself. If you are in doubt, substitute the “your” with the phrase “belonging to you.” If it makes sense, you’ve got it right. If not, change it.
- Your mother called. The mother belonging to you. Yes!
- Your probably right. The probably belonging to you. No. (Should be “You’re probably right.”)
- It’s time for your bath. The bath belonging to you. Yes!
- Do you know where your going? The going belonging to you. No. (Should be “Do you know where you’re going?”
Unfortunately, there are more common homonyms that are not so easy to check and fix. There/their/they’re is a big one. The first one is pointing out a location. The second is showing possession, as in something belonging to them. The last one is a contraction for they are.
The more you pay attention to using the correct version of a word, the easier it’s going to get!
In another post I was reading not too long ago, the writer was describing a situation where she wanted to excite interest in her readers, and she used the word “peak.” That actually means a pointed top, like the summit of a mountain. As opposed to “peek”, which sounds the same but means to look or glance furtively, trying not to get noticed.
What she meant, of course, was “pique”, which means to incite interest or curiosity.
The worst part of inadvertently using the wrong homonym is that spell check likely won’t catch it. You’re using an actual word, you’re probably spelling it correctly. It’s just the wrong word for that particular situation.
Another common misuse involving actual words in the wrong situation is sale/sell. The first one is a noun. The second one is a verb. If you don’t know the difference between a noun and a verb, you probably shouldn’t be writing for a living. (I know that’s harsh, but…seriously!)
So what’s the answer?
Just make sure you’re using resources that will help you!
There is a ton of information online. You know that. But not all of it is helpful, or even correct!
In my opinion, nothing beats an actual, physical dictionary and an actual, physical thesaurus on your desk. MUCH better than the online versions! Use them frequently. Open them and just read a page or two, just for the heck of it. You’ll learn something, I promise! And you’ll stimulate areas of your brain that may have been hibernating since the day you graduated from high school or college!
And finally, practice.
After all, you have something to say, right?