Five online mistakes writers should never make

Clare’s post yesterday about social media has inspired me to add my own two cents about social media. Specifically, I’d like to discuss some of the language errors I see online at many sites (Fortunately, I don’t notice these mistakes here at TKZ, which reinforces my already high regard for this community). 

Anyone can make a typo or a mistake when they fat-finger something in haste or after consuming too many Singapore Slings. But there are a few gooflaws which seem to reflect a lack of understanding about the use of language. 

Here, in no particular order, is a list of the five language mistakes that have been driving me absolutely bat poop crazy lately, especially when they’re made by people who claim to be writers:

  1.  Loose/Lose: Perhaps because my series deals with body image issues, I lurk at a few sites where people discuss their need to lose weight. Too often, someone will say she needs to “loose” weight. Whenever I encounter this error, I have to control my itchy typing finger to keep from replying with a snarky correction. Nobody likes snark.
  2. Its/It’s: This is the mistake I see the most. People often use “it’s” when the correct form should be “its”. “It’s” is used as a replacement for “it is”. “Its” is a possessive pronoun, as in, “This post has got its dander up.” When unsure, try replacing the word with “it is”, and see if it makes sense,
  3. Your/You’re: Sigh. I don’t think I even have to explain this one to our readers. This offense seems to be committed mostly by Millennials, including some who claim to be writers. These people make me despair of the current state of English teaching in America. On the other hand, I don’t have to wonder how their literary ambitions will pan out.
  4. Their/There/They’re: These words seem to get misused on news sites a lot, mostly by online bloviators who use anonymous IDs and savagely attack the opinions of other people, no matter how benign those comments are. So, to recap: “Their” is used when you are referring to more than one person and something they possess. “There” is the word that is most often misused in place of the other forms. “They’re” is a contraction for “they are.”
  5. Compliment/Complement: “Compliment” is something nice you say to someone. “Complement” is something that adds to, enhances, or completes something else. It can also be used as a verb with an object.

 So that’s my rant for today. Do you have a pet peeve about language you’d care to add to my list?

50 thoughts on “Five online mistakes writers should never make

  1. And a good rant it is. I knew of all except comliment/complement, since I do neither.
    Its/it’s just a personal/personnel thing.



    • My pleasure.
      And I think that’s a capital / capitol idea.
      But it’s just the principal / principle of the thing.
      Sorry, I can’t help myself.
      Keeps you up at night, eh?
      (Yeah, I know .. “knight”)
      OK. I’ll stop now.

  2. Stationary and stationery, the first means to stand still and the second means a type of writing paper. I hate it when an author uses the second one wrong.

  3. “Really unique.” Unique can’t be qualified. A thing can’t be more or less or rather unique. It is either completely unlike anything else, or it’s not. If you mean “unusual,” then that’s what you should say.

    Anxious for eager – They aren’t interchangeable. “I’m anxious to get started.” You’re nervous about it? No? Then you’re probably eager.

    Ironic used when coincidental is meant.

    And I’ve noticed younger people these days (those darn kids!) assuming that if one thing is done “on purpose,” then the opposite thing must have been “on accident.” Aaaggghhh!

    Yes, you guessed it. I’m a copy editor.

    • General speech errors seem to be in the process of being written into popular culture, too. The only young person I actually correct is my daughter–from time to time I remind her to use “Mom’s English.” πŸ™‚

  4. These errors stand out to me as well, Kathryn, along with such gems as “these ones” or worse, “These here ones”.

    I just put down a mystery by a British author (one unknown to me) that was so full of British slang that I was lost half the time. I gave her grace since, after all, it is a British novel. But then I found such a glaring error that I couldn’t forgive her research laziness.

    She couldn’t even get a cliché right. She had a character slouching off “like Thomas after the cock crowed three times…”

    Maybe that’s another bit of foreign slang that is lost on me.

  5. I see alot on a lot of blogs. The thing is, if I am misusing a word, I would like to be told. Preferably not a snarky correction, but gently, somehow. Probably with an emoticon of some sort, just to ease the pain.

    And Kathryn, what week are we in? Must be at least five. I fixed my hair problem. Bought a hat.

    • I was really hoping you gals had forgotten that promise, since I snuck out on the First Hour of Week 5 to get my hair done! I hang my head in shame for not taking a picture, but Evil Vanity overcame me. You are a true friend for staying loyal, Amanda, much appreciated! (If anyone is wondering what we’re talking about, you’ll have to go back in my Facebook log and look for the cat wearing the propeller beanie. That’s all I’m sayin’…) πŸ™‚

  6. This made me think of an easy rule that I saw recently. If you use it, I guarantee you won’t screw up you’re/your again. Just recite this one to yourself:

    Sometimes you feel you’re nuts.

    Not to be mistaken for:
    Sometimes you feel your nuts.

  7. I saw one the other day that made me laugh – someone said it was a ‘mute point’ rather than ‘moot point’ …on Facebook I only wish people would consider some of posts ‘mute’!

  8. I’m still laughing over Kris’s contribution, but mine is “counsel” and “council.” “The defendant was not represented by counsel”; as opposed to “The clerk read the minutes of the last council meeting.”

    • Another good one. Usually I have a visual sense of when something “looks” wrong as written, probably picked up from years of reading. Of course, one can always be undone by Auto-correct, so it pays to check twice!

  9. Along Joe’s line, one I see quite often is “counsel” misused for “consul”, the diplomat stationed in a foreign land.

    Another one that rubs me the wrong way is the frequently-misused “disenfranchise”. The word is “disfranchise” (although I certainly wouldn’t want to disencourage anyone from misusing it).

    And then there’s the redundancy we’ve all had hammered into our brains: “pre-existing conditions”.

    I could go on, but the room is starting to spin.

  10. I’m so embarrassed for anyone over the age of twelve who misuses your/you’re, its/it’s, and there/their/they’re. Seriously, how do you graduate elementary school not knowing the difference? It makes you look so stupid and ignorant, particularly when you’re a college-educated adult!

    I also see a lot of confusion between whose and who’s, and were, we’re, and where. Another big one is the current massive misuse of the word literally. I’m well aware that some people might feel my Pittsburghese speech and writing (like saying “The plants need watered” or “The place they were at”) is grammatically incorrect or hickish, but at least I don’t make basic spelling and grammar mistakes that can’t be attributed to regional differences!

    • I KNOW, right? I’m not above throwing a few Southernisms into the language mix, because I spent some formative years in South Carolina. But I try to wield my ungrammatcal forays with a sense of purpose. πŸ™‚

  11. Oh, honey, I could go on… What drives me bonkers isn’t just it’s/its, but the misuse of the apostrophe for plurals and possessives. As in: 1950’s instead of 1950s, Ben’s rat’s instead of Ben’s rats, etc. Is it a plural? No apostrophe, please. Is it a possessive? Use the apostrophe. Why is this so hard for people?

    Another one: being as how. Not that I haven’t been known to use this every now and then. I’ll stop now being as how JSB could care less. Or couldn’t he? πŸ˜‰

  12. Kathryn,
    Don’t blame the teachers without also laying a lot on the students. Especially when discussing millenials. The comment “Well, you know what I meant!” has replaced the old “Ooops, you’re right. Sorry Mr./Mrs. So-and-so.”
    A lot of kids no longer care if it’s right, as long as they can get lots of retweets or likes for writing it.

  13. I am currently waging war on “could of,” “should of,” and “would of.” So far I only have one other pledged to help me, so we’re a small army but mighty. We could have prevailed if someone would have helped. πŸ™‚

  14. Someone needs to redesign the language such that we don’t have so many similarly spelled words. I hereby volunteer to head up the Ministry of English Spelling and Similar Word Or Readings Disambiguation (MESSWORD).

    To start off its and it’s are going to be unscrewed up and forced to follow the possessive form that everyone else does. Second, I propose adding letters to the alphabet to more easily and realistically incorporate non-word verbalizations such as gun shots, car engines and making the motor-boat sound with your lips.

    Please feel free to contribute your ideas at the MESSWORD website

    • Okay so: Full disclosure here. I’m not above (or below?) making up my own words when need arises. I just don’t want to be accused of misusing existing words. (Did I get that one right, Mike?)

  15. I will go on the record, however, and admit I don’t know when to use lay, lie, lain, laid etc…

    I try but I always seem to get it wrong, as my editors and copy editors have always pointed out to me.

  16. “Try and” as in “I’m going to try and fix that …” You mean you’re going to try, and you’re going to fix it? No, you probably mean “I’m going to try TO fix that.”

    God, I’m a grumpy old man.

  17. Here are four common errors that curdle my bones:

    1) Using “hung” when referring to a person’s death:

    He hung himself.

    Instead of invoking the clue, “People are hanged; clothes are hung,” to produce:

    He hanged himself.

    2) Using a double possessive construction:

    They are friends of Carol’s.

    Instead of either of these constructions:

    They are friends of Carol.
    They are Carol’s friends.

    3) Using reflexive pronouns incorrectly:

    The reunion committee includes Tom, Harry, and myself.
    John and myself drove to work.

    Instead of non-reflexive pronouns:

    The reunion committee includes Tom, Harry, and me.
    John and I drove to work.

    The fourth error drives me the craziest, because it’s so common in all types of writing and on television. Whenever I see or hear it, I turn homicidal:

    4) Using a nominative case pronoun:

    She discussed it with Carol and I.

    Instead of an indirect objective case pronoun:

    She discussed it with Carol and me.

    • Thanks for those excellent examples, Marbles. Sometimes I hesitate before writing the correct version of a construction online, probably because the errors are beginning to “sound” normal due to constant repetition!

  18. I am surprised that no one has mentioned: to, too, two. This is not alright/all right. Of the 3 to, too, two, the first two are the most misused. I see this to often as I go too Facebook. I review debut authors on my blog. One book was ruined for me when i read this line: “That backpack must way a ton!” I wondered if they new there weigh around grammar. πŸ™‚

    • Those are frequent ones too–I probably should have written the heading as'”25 online mistakes”! It would kill a debut author for me–what happened to copyediting? Yikes!

  19. Oh, what a fun thread! I love hanging out here. πŸ™‚ Best blog on the web, hands down.

    I believe my pet peeves have been covered here, my top one being the misuse of “its” and “it’s”. Sadly, I often find this goof smack dab in the middle of otherwise solid, credible copy.

    And, since I’m not accountable to educational powers-that-be, I’m definitely using Kris’s example! That one is even better than the “Let’s eat Grandpa” illustration.

    So, what are the chances of a Kill Zone Authors Writers Conference? I’d definitely sign up for that one, even if I had to beg, borrow and/or steal to get there.

  20. Literally seconds after reading this post I came across the following on a site which will remain unnamed because the prominent author who hosts it surely knows better: “…she always uses the principals of story architecture…”. Ah, no. So we can add principals/principles to this ever-growing list.

  21. I grit my teeth when I read, “the man that” instead of “the man who.” One of our political candidates had huge billboards with that particular error. I almost ground the enamel off my molars before the election was over.

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