10. When You Should Use Who Or That
Here’s a common problem I see a lot when editing work for others. Luckily, this has a very simple fix. If you’re talking about a person or an animal with a name, you should use who. If you’re talking about an object or an animal with no name, you should use that.
Here are some examples:
Incorrect: The boy that was hit by the car wasn’t seriously hurt.
Correct: The boy who was hit by the car wasn’t seriously hurt.
Incorrect: The car who hit the boy was green.
Correct: The car that hit the boy was green.
9. There vs. Their vs. They’re
This is so common even veteran writers and editors mess up sometimes.
Here are the right ways to use these:
- There is a location, physical or otherwise (“The boy is right there”)
- Their is possessive (“Their car”)
- They’re is the contraction of “they are” (“They’re going to the movies”)
8. Don’t Use Quotation Marks To Add Emphasis
This is a problem a lot of newer writers make. Many think if you want to emphasize a specific word in a sentence you should put it in quotations. This is incorrect. You should use italics if you want to emphasize a word or phrase.
Here’s an example:
Incorrect: Maybe he wouldn’t have gotten hurt if he didn’t always “run” with sharp objects.
Correct: Maybe he wouldn’t have gotten hurt if he didn’t always run with sharp objects.
7. This is her/him vs. This is s/he
This comes back to the old “my friends and me” vs “my friends and I” way of speaking. The latter is correct. You should refer to yourself as he or she rather than him or her in such sentences.
Incorrect: “Hello? Yes, this is him.”
Correct: “Hello? Yes, this is he.”
6. Toward vs. Towards
This one actually has more to do with which style of English you’re writing in. Yes, there are different styles: mainly American English and British English. If you’re using American English you use “toward.” British English adds the s to make it “towards.”
American English: The boy ran toward the door.
British English: The boy ran towards the door.
5. Using A Hyphen Instead Of An Em Dash
If you want to know what will be the most common complaint you’ll receive when getting notes back from an editor, it will most likely be the misuse of hyphens. Don’t worry, these can get confusing. To put it simply, hyphens connect two words into one while dashes show the switching of thoughts.
Hyphen Example: That was a really fast-paced race.
Em Dash Example: It was weird how Ron—a man normally timid and unsure of himself—stood right up and gave the speech with such incredible confidence.
4. Not Knowing Where To Put Punctuation When Using Quotation Marks
Here’s another minor error which derives from the difference in American and British English writing styles. Some writers have a hard time knowing where the punctuation goes in relation to the quotation marks. Is it outside or inside? There’s an easy answer to that.
American English the punctuation always goes inside, and in British English they go outside.
American English: “They sure are annoying,” Jake said.
British English: “They sure are annoying”, Jake said.
3. Not Using A Comma After An Intro Phrase
This mistake occurs when you don’t use a comma where the natural break of a sentence should be, which makes the sentence feel longer and more laborious to read aloud.
Here’s an example:
Incorrect: After he left the gym he stopped at home.
Correct: After he left the gym, he stopped at home.
This mistake also happens at the end of certain sentences.
Incorrect: “It was a pleasure meeting you sir.”
Correct: “It was a pleasure meeting you, sir.”
2. The Comma Splice
This one is a bit tougher and the exact opposite problem as the last entry. To connect two independent clauses you must use the proper conjunction. It’s considered wrong to separate thoughts with just a comma. Use the helpful acronym FANBOYS to remember the proper list of conjunctions. It stands for: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so.
Here’s an example:
Incorrect: Dave decided to go home for the night, he hated waiting around.
Correct: Dave decided to go home for the night, for he hated waiting around.
One way to avoid this clunky way of writing is to use a semicolon. Just don’t abuse them.
Since I mentioned them, we should discuss semicolons. There are a few ways to use them properly. First, you can use them to connect two separate clauses.
Incorrect: He hated watching tennis; for he found it very boring.
Correct: He hated watching tennis; he found it very boring.
Secondly, semicolons are used to make lists when things have punctuation within them.
Incorrect: They’re looking to establish more learning opportunities for students, who’ve said that’s what they want, more excitement for the teachers, who, quite frankly, are bored at the moment, and more team-building overall.
Correct: They’re looking to establish more learning opportunities for students, who’ve said that’s what they want; more excitement for the teachers, who, quite frankly, are bored at the moment; and more team-building overall.
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