Phylis A. Humphrey


The more I read–and I read a lot–the more discouraged I become about the use of English by today’s writers. It appears it’s not being taught well in schools, and texting and e-mail make it worse. To say nothing of self-publishing and some authors not having their books professionally edited. Please, fellow authors, don’t make the following mistakes, which will mark you as an amateur, or illiterate.
1. could’ve – could of. There is no legitimate reason to use “could of.“ I’ve seen it even in traditionally published books, and it apparently stems from the author or editor missing an English class. The correct word is “could’ve,” a contraction of the two words “could” and “have.“ Example: “I could’ve been a contender.“ or “I could have danced all night.”

2. doctors – apple’s. Plural words don’t get apostrophes. Example: “The apples were ripe and the doctors ate them.“ If you put an apostrophe before the “s” you have turned the word into a possessive. Example: “The doctor’s time was limited.”

3. It’s – its. Both are correct but have different meanings. “It’s” is a contraction of the two words, “it is” or “it has.” “Its,” without the apostrophe, is a possessive. Example: “The cat had its claws removed.”

4. Try to – try and. Technically there is no “try and” (or almost none.) If your character is going to attempt something, use “try to,” not “try and.“ Example: “I will try to help you.“ If you say “try and” you imply you’ll succeed. But what if you don’t succeed? You’ve told a lie.

5. I couldn’t care less – I could care less. Once again, the second construction should never be used. After all, if you could care less, then you must care somewhat. But you’re trying to say that you care so little that it would be impossible for you to care any less than you do.

6. lose – loose. Stop putting the extra “o” in “lose.” Look them up in the dictionary. To lose something is to no longer have it. Example: “I don’t want to lose the lovely watch you gave me.“ Something which is loose is of an unstable consistency. Example: “The watch slipped off my wrist, because the band was too loose.”

7. incidents – incidentses. The latter is not a word. One event is an “incident.“ Two or more events are “Incidents” (add an “s” to make a plural). There is no such word as “incidentses.”

8. roll – role. As a noun, a roll can be a small pastry you eat. As a verb, it means moving or turning over or around. Example. “He let the car roll down the incline into the ditch.“ Role is a noun which describes a part you might play in a film or in life. Example: “The role required him to exit the stage.“ or “I’m tired of playing the role of your wicked stepmother.”

9. I hope I don’t have to tell you that–unless you’re writing dialogue in the voice of an illiterate character–you should never write, “Me and my brother,” “Her and I,” “we was,” or “She don’t.“ But I often see “myself” instead of “me. “ Don’t try to get fancy. Wrong: “She gave the book to John and myself.“ Right: “She gave the book to John and me.“ If John were gone, you’d say, “She gave the book to me.“ Wouldn’t you?

10. breath – breathe. Breath is a noun. Example: “He took my breath away.“ Breathe is a verb. Example: “It’s so hot, I can hardly breathe.”

So that’s my Top Ten list of Boo-Boos that make me cringe. Improving your writing will not only mark you as a professional but help readers enjoy your work and want to read more.

About Phyllis A. Humphrey:

Phyllis Humphrey’s writing credits include thirteen romance novels, a mainstream novel, a memoir about her husband’s aunt and a non-fiction book. In addition, she’s sold several short stories and many articles to national magazines, and her two 30-minute radio plays were produced by American Radio Theatre. She’s a member of Romance Writers of America, where she was a Golden Heart finalist. Another novel won the San Diego Book Award in 2002, and she’s a member of Mensa.

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