Y is for YOU DON’T SAY
Do “wrong form” words sneak into your manuscript? Spell Check won’t catch real words.
Back in 2009 my writer friend Mike Dennis and I had some fun tossing around all sorts of foibles in our quirky English language. So much depends upon the right form of words that we began to write a newsletter column called You Don’t Say. Mike moved to Florida but I continued to write the column for a while. We had also considered writing a book called “You Don’t Say,” but it never went beyond a proposal. I’m happy to say that I will be writing that book next year as the second Writers’ Tricks of the Trade book.
This Sunday, October 9, I’ll be making a presentation to Sisters in Crime/LA entitled “You Don’t Say—Navigating the Quirky English Language.” It is open to the public, so click the link and check it out.
It is so frustrating for a writer is to think they’ve got it right, only to have someone point out something like “That word should be stationery not stationary. See, one little letter and the whole meaning changes.
Instead of the woman grabbing a piece of writing paper, now you’ve said the woman grabbed a piece of not moving. Not exactly a brilliant statement, but it is a real word so how was Spell Check to know?
I’ve read books, articles, descriptions and more filled with these faux pas. For that reason, try to be very attentive when it comes to proofing your work. Sure, your first readers might catch some or most of those errors, and editors generally have a built-in “right word detection radar,” but their job is so much easier and you look professional if you are on the alert. Remember, no one is perfect.
Marcy wanted to get their first, but Milton and Myrtle picked up there bags before she could.
Well, what you’ve said is Marcy wanted to get belongs to them first, Milton and Myrtle picked up that place bags.
It is astounding how many people make this mistake, and it even slips by editors sometimes. Just remember, when you’re using “there” to refer to a place, there is no room for “i”.
The next one is not seen as frequently, but watch out for it.
Alex and I went to a bizarre, and there were people wandering around in bazaar costumes.
The literal translation of this sentence would be: We went to a weird and people wandered around in a marketplace of street vendors. Not quite spot on. Also not as easy to remember, but there are three “a’s” in the marketplace form.
The next two spellings are often confused, and the meanings are definitely different.
I couldn’t wait to complement Suzie for hiring the compliment of 15 researchers we needed.
Okay, so you couldn’t wait to complete or fill Suzie for hiring the praise of 15 researchers. A little bit of nonsense, if you ask me. It’s handy to remember that complement (something that fills, completes or works well together) is spelled similar to complete and compliment and praise both have an “i”.
The list goes on and on and on. Of course you won’t remember everything and can’t be expected to check every word you write. But, here’s what you can do. Get to know the real offenders like there and their, it’s and its, and commit those to memory. You won’t have to flag them often. Pretty soon your brain will get the message.
For everything else, make a mental note when someone catches your error. You might even keep your own list or buy a wrong word dictionaries to keep handy.
One of the steps on the ladder to appearing professional is for your work to mean what you actually intended. So, be careful of righting the wrong word. See how easy it was for me to use the wrong write and not have it caught by Spell Check?
Did this article make you think about making sure the word is correct before you hit print or submit? If you have some favorites, share them by adding them to the comment box at the end of this article. It’s hard to navigate the English language sometimes, and every little hint helps.
MORGAN ST. JAMES is the author of five mystery novels including the new funny Silver Sisters caper “Vanishing Act in Vegas.” Her newly released Writers’ Tricks of the Trade: 39 Things You Need to Know About the ABCs of Writing Fiction is published in paperback, Kindle or eBook. Get your copy on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books a Million, Abe Books and many more online booksellers.or order at your favorite bookstore.
Writers’ Tricks of the Trade appears every Friday in the Los Angeles edition and every Thursday in the Las Vegas edition of knotmove.com. Read Spotlight on Wednesday in Los Angeles and Tuesday in Las Vegas.
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