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As an editor, I’ve found I run into several common mistakes on a regular basis. So I thought I’d put these out there as a sort of refresher course for any interested writers who might find themselves falling into the same traps. This is by no means a comprehensive list of all editors…that would be way too long a post. Instead, these are just the ones I’ve noticed most often. Hopefully this helps!

COMMONLY MISSPELLED & MISUSED WORDS

Wrong: alright

Right: all right

They’re/their/there

They’re: means they are

Their: means something belongs to them

There: means a location

Your/You’re

Your: means it belongs to you

You’re: means you are

Then/Than

Then: use to something happened “first then this happened next.”

Than: use to show something is “bigger than” something else

Woke/Awoke

If you are saying “I (woke/waked/awoke/woke up) from a nap,” it should be “awoke” or even “woke up,” not “I woke.” Basically, it should always be “awoke,” but it is also acceptable to say “woke up.”

Lay/Lie/Laying/Lying/Laid

An object LIES on something (present tense)

A person LAYS on something (present tense)

An object is LYING on the ground (also present tense)

A person is LAYING on the bed (also present tense)

A person LAID their head down on the pillow (past tense)

Bare/Bear

Obviously, the animal is BEAR.

BARE is the same as naked. That’s about the only way to use that word.

BEAR can also be used like this: “I could not bear the weight any longer.”

Than/Then

Than:  His feet are bigger THAN mine.

Then: I went to the fair first, THEN to the musical.

Than is when you are comparing something and then is when you are listing something in order.

To/Too/Two

To: “I’d like to be there with you.”

Too: There are too many fish in the sea.

Two: A number

Affect/Effect

Affect: The recession affected sales negatively

Effect: The recession had a negative effect on sales.

Hold/Ahold

You grab “hold” of someone’s hand, not “ahold.”

Was/Were

Was – Singular

Were – Multiple/plural

But, also, keep in mind when trying to decide which to use to look at the nouns that was/were is modifying. Is it a singular word? Or is it multiple or plural words?

“The bells and whistles she heard as she entered WERE alarming to her.”

I used WERE because the word we’re picking modified “bells and whistles,” right? So those are two things, not one. So we use WERE.

Same goes with:

“The alarms she heard as she entered WERE alarming to her.”

Same thing because we are modifying “alarms,” which is a plural word.

BUT, if the word we are modifying is singular, we do this:

“The sound she heard as she entered WAS alarming to her.”

In that case, we are modifying “sound,” which is a singular word. So we use WAS.

Another common spelling mistake:

Making a word a single word when it should be two or vice versa. For example, it’s “headlights” not “head lights.” But since it’s impossible to list every single common word done this way, I highly suggest going online and Googling a word or looking in a dictionary if you’re unsure. Dictionaries (even online) can be a writer’s best friend.

Also…

Lightning (not ligthening or lighting) – what comes from the sky in a storm

POSSESSIVE WORDS

Singular

Wrong: chairs’

Right: chair’s

Plural

Wrong: dogs’s

Right: dogs’

BUT if the singular noun or proper noun you are wanting to make possessive ends in an S, like a name that ends in S, THEN you write it this way:

Alexis’s

IF the proper noun/name you want to make possessive IS plural AND ends in an S, you write it this way:

The Jones’s

PUNCTUATION

Sentence fragments – make sure each sentence is complete with standalone, independent thoughts.

When someone’s speech is being cut off, you write it this way:

I was going to go with you, but—

(Use an emdash by typing two hyphens then hitting ENTER)

When someone’s speech is trailing off (but not cut off), as if they lose their train of thought, write it then way:

I was going to go with you, but…

(these are called ellipses and you create them by typing three periods)

QUOTATION MARKS

DO NOT use question marks and exclamation points together (?!)

Instead, just use the question mark and then use your dialogue tag to indicate yelling/excitement. For example:

“What on earth are you doing?” she exclaimed.

or 

“Come back here!” she shouted.

PARENTHESIS

Avoid using parenthesis, but if you do use them, use them sparingly.

HYPHENS

Hyphens – these are often misused. Here’s the rule of thumb:

If you are trying to set apart a clause in a sentence without using parenthesis, you can use hyphens instead: “He wanted to go – despite his broken leg – with his sister to the zoo.”

Also, people often misuse hyphens in spelling. For example: kind-hearted, feeble-minded, lightly-salted, etc. If you’re not sure if a word should be one, two, or hyphenated, again, I highly recommend looking it up.

COMMAS

Always be sure to use a comma after introductory clauses:

In the beginning,

At that moment,

When we got there,

When you are combining a descriptor and a verb, be sure to hyphenate!

Too-tight

Well-groomed

Highly-anticipated

Comma Splices – Don’t link two independent clauses with a comma. Instead, use a semicolon or period.

Overused Commas – don’t, use, commas, between, every, single, word. Only use them to separate two dependent clauses.

Missing Commas – Be sure to use commas, especially to separate two independent clauses that cannot stand on their own.

When you’re unsure if you should use a comma or not, ask your self if you would normally pause when speaking the sentence out loud. If not, no comma. If so, add the comma.

MISCELLANEOUS RULES

Do not use all caps to indicate someone is yelling or mad. Most publishers frown on this. Instead, use normal size font and just use your dialogue tag to indicate excitement/anger, etc.

Do not start nearly every sentence in a paragraph with the same word. Commonly, I see authors starting lots of sentences over and over, back to back, with the word, “I.” For example: I awoke. I went to the shower. I turned on the water. I stepped inside. This is tedious and annoying to readers. Try to vary your sentences up so they start differently.

Hypothetical questions are okay, but do not overdo it. For example, don’t do this:

Was he really there? Was he a figment of my imagination? Was I seeing things? Did he still love me? Was I all alone in my feelings?

See how that can be overwhelming and a bit annoying? Don’t do that. Just..don’t.

Watch for tense-switching. Stick to the tense in which you chose to write this book. So if you chose to write in past tense, then make sure all of your verbs (unless used in dialogue or thought) are kept in past tense.

Watch for head-hopping. Stick to the POV with which you chose to write the book. So if your book (or scene) is written from Susie’s POV, make sure you don’t write anything that tells the reader what Lucy is seeing/thinking/hoping/feeling. Even in third person. We can ONLY know what Susie is thinking/seeing/hoping/feeling. NONE of the other characters’ thoughts can be revealed. Easy to do, but watch for this.

PARTING THOUGHTS

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Talk soon,

Christina Kaye