Can You Right Write? 10 Common Writing Mistakes to Avoid

by Brenda Bernstein on January 25, 2010

Note To Readers: There is no possible way that I could have written this article.  I rely on two editors to make sure my grammar is correct!   So I invited Ms. Brenda Bernstein, the Essay Expert, to come along and write this series of two articles for me.  She is quite the grammarian, and she is much smarter than I.   So you all had better listen to her – and enjoy!

Do you want to impress the people who matter?

For better or worse, many people judge you on your ability to express yourself in words.  Whether you are an entrepreneur, a blogger, a college applicant or a job seeker, it is crucial that you write clearly and coherently.

I read a lot of bad writing, and I have noticed certain errors that occur over and over again.  If you AVOID this list of errors, you will stand a chance of getting in the door.

  1. Its/It’s

    This one might be the most common error of them all.  Its is the possessive of it.  It means “belonging to it.”  E.g., The computer is on its last legs.  The tree lost its leaves.

    The confusion comes from the fact that usually we use an apostrophe to form a possessive, e.g.,

    I stole the dog’s bone.  The President’s speech did not inspire me.

    Exception alert!  Possessive pronouns (yours, hers, ours, theirs) have NO apostrophe, e.g., Is that picnic blanket yours, ours or theirs?

    There’s an exception to the exception:  One’s, which is also a possessive pronoun.  E.g., It’s good to take one’s time when writing a business letter.

    It’s – with an apostrophe – means “it is.”  It’s a contraction like do not (don’t).  E.g., It’s a beautiful day! It’s hard to know when to use “then” and when to use “than.”

    Want to read more?  It’s Time to Get Straight About It’s and Its

  2. Then/Than

    Then refers to time.  Many people tend to use then when than is correct.  Here’s a cool trick:  Then rhymes with whenFirst I saw. Then I came. Then I conquered.

    When?  Then.

    Than refers to comparison.  The Empire State Building is taller than my house.  I love you more than he does.

    If you’re not answering the question “When?”  (Answer:  Then), [know/no] to use than.

  3. Know/No grammarpolice

    Know is what you do with knowledge.  If you know how to spell knowledge you know how to spell know.

    No is used to express the negative and is the opposite of Yes. E.g. No way! No means no!

    I know you can get this [write/right].

  4. Write/Right

    Write is most often used to refer to what you do with words.  Conveniently, “write” and “words” both start with a w.  Write words.

    Right is the opposite of left, or of wrong.  E.g., You write with your right hand, am I right? Right can also mean to set something straight.  E.g., [Everyday/Every day], my cat knocks over my ficus plant, and every day I right it.

  5. Every Day/Everyday
    If you do something every single day, use every day. Try putting “single” in the phrase and if it belongs there, make sure you put a space between “every” and “day.”


    If something is commonplace or done every day, use everyday.

    e.g., I don’t wear my everyday shoes every day. Sometimes I like my shoes to [stand out/standout].

    Want to read more?  Everyday Words We Use Everyday

  6. Stand Out/Standout

    these is goodStand out is a verb.  Try putting the word “right” into the phrase.  E.g., She stands [right] out in a crowd. If the sentence works, make sure you put a space between “stand” and “out.”

    Standout is an adjective meaning impressive or noticeable.  E.g., We attracted a standout crowd on opening night, despite the foul [weather/whether].

  7. Weather/Whether

    Weather comprises things like sun, rain, snow, sleet and hail.

    Whether is a conjunction used to introduce an alternative.  E.g., Whether or not, here I come! Whether raises a question, much like other questions words like “who,” “what,” and “which,” which also start with “wh.”

    As questionable as the weather may be, it does not start with a wh.  E.g., In early Spring, I often [here/hear] weather reports that contradict each other as to whether it’s going to rain or snow.

  8. Here/Hear

    Hear is generally what your ears do.  Notice that “ear” is part of “hear.”  This one should be easy. Can you hear me now?

    Here relates to a place or a time.  E.g., Please come over here.

    The expression “Hear hear!” comes from “Hear ye Hear ye!”  We love what these folks have to say and we want to hear [they’re/their/there] words!

  9. There/They’re/Their

    There is a place.  Look over there. Note it has “here” in it, which is also a place:  There.

    They’re is the contraction for They Are.  You make it the same way you make don’t (do not), it’s (it is), and you’re (you are).

    Their is a possessive pronoun.  It has “heir” in it.  If Bob and Jim are heirs according to [statute/statue] then the money is theirs.

  10. Too/Two/To

    Too means “also” or “as well.”  Think extra.  An extra thing and an extra o.

    Two is a number, also known as 2.  Unfortunately it does not have 2 os in it, which would make things easier to remember.  Just remember w for wacky.  ‘Cuz this is a pretty wacky spelling of a word if I ever saw one.  Or you can think of other words that have “tw” in them like “between” and “twins” that also have a “tw.”

    To is a preposition.  It gets you from one place to another.  It is the beginning of the word toward, which is another word that [affects/effects] your location.

Sam’s Note: I hope this was helpful.   Any guesses for #11-20?    Stay tuned to find out!

Brenda BernsteinAbout the author: Brenda Bernstein is the Founder and Senior Editor at TheEssayExpert.com. She holds B.A. in English from Yale and a J.D. from New York University School of Law, and has been coaching individuals and companies on their writing projects for over 10 years. The Essay Expert provides assistance with college essays, LinkedIn profiles, resumes, cover letters, web copy, business writing, and custom writing projects.

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  • http://www.socialmediasonar.com/ Sean Nelson

    The it's have been dogging me for years and some of my blog readers have been kind enough to remind …over and over and over again.

    Great article.

  • http://www.samdiener.com Sam Diener

    Sean? You! No way!

  • theessayexpert

    Thanks Sean. I'm one of those very kind blog readers!

  • theessayexpert

    Hi Clyde, Affect/Effect as well as Lead/Led are covered in Part 2! Farther/further I'll add to the list. Thanks! Note: your example of “Lead team” is only incorrect if it's a past job you're referring to. “Lead” is correct as a present tense verb.

  • Clyde Manion

    “Note: your example of “Lead team” is only incorrect if it's a past job you're referring to. “Lead” is correct as a present tense verb.”

    Agreed. Another common error I see all the time is…..numbers 1 – 9 not being spelled out. Example: For the last 3 years, I ran the purchasing department……..” It's “three.”

  • Clyde Manion

    Pretty simple stuff. The hard stuff: further vs. farther. Affect vs. effect.

    Common resume errors I've seen…..capitalization of titles in the body of the resume and…led vs. lead

    “Lead team of four reports in the department….” It's led

  • theessayexpert

    Hi Clyde, Affect/Effect as well as Lead/Led are covered in Part 2! Farther/further I'll add to the list. Thanks! Note: your example of “Lead team” is only incorrect if it's a past job you're referring to. “Lead” is correct as a present tense verb.

  • Clyde Manion

    “Note: your example of “Lead team” is only incorrect if it's a past job you're referring to. “Lead” is correct as a present tense verb.”

    Agreed. Another common error I see all the time is…..numbers 1 – 9 not being spelled out. Example: For the last 3 years, I ran the purchasing department……..” It's “three.”

  • Eric Wentworth

    You forgot to put a period at the end of your headline sentence.

  • susan blackman

    What about who/whom?

  • Stacey Harris

    Usage of commas and hyphens are also a problem for many. Also the use of the plural form in some sentences. “The board of directors cordially invites/invite(?) you to attend the conference.” Use of whom vs. who. And finally correctly using “you and I” and “you and me” in a sentence.

  • theessayexpert

    Hi Stacey! In your example I would use “invites” since the subject is the board (singular), not the directors (plural). However, you can refer to the board as a “they” just as you can refer to a family, group, or team as “they.” So it's not completely straightforward.

    Whom/who is a good one and I have it on my list. You and I/me is covered in Part 2!

  • sarahfarrer

    This is great! We all need reminding from time to time. Others that could use expert commentary include: use of I/me, he/him or she/her; who/whom; that/which. Also, the words that are used incorrectly so repeatedly that they become accepted, such as “training” becoming a noun synonymous with “class,” “session,” etc. Keep it up. I hope there will be more.

  • Stacey Harris

    Usage of commas and hyphens are also a problem for many. Also the use of the plural form in some sentences. “The board of directors cordially invites/invite(?) you to attend the conference.” Use of whom vs. who. And finally correctly using “you and I” and “you and me” in a sentence.

  • theessayexpert

    Hi Stacey! In your example I would use “invites” since the subject is the board (singular), not the directors (plural). However, you can refer to the board as a “they” just as you can refer to a family, group, or team as “they.” So it's not completely straightforward.

    Whom/who is a good one and I have it on my list. You and I/me is covered in Part 2!

  • sarahfarrer

    This is great! We all need reminding from time to time. Others that could use expert commentary include: use of I/me, he/him or she/her; who/whom; that/which. Also, the words that are used incorrectly so repeatedly that they become accepted, such as “training” becoming a noun synonymous with “class,” “session,” etc. Keep it up. I hope there will be more.

  • http://twitter.com/captainplanetfd Captain Planet Fdn

    Great article. It's awesome to see a reminder of how we should all write. The Power Is Yours! …to write like a professional!

  • Piyush T Suraiya

    There's another pair of words that writers can be careful about – STATIONERY vs. STATIONARY.
    STATIONERY refers to books, pens, pencils, erasers, paper and other allied desktop usage items. I try and relate the word STATIONERY spelt with an E by asssociating it with Exercise Books.
    The other STATIONARY refers to 'unmoving'. I try and relate it with standing in 'Attention' in the PT class.
    While preparing for a Press Conference it's an easier job enabling the support staff to using the word STATIONERY, and while speaking to speakers providing them with tips on how to address the media reps, it's easier to let them know that they don't have to be STATIONARY while making their presentations and speeches.
    Hope my sharing helps to understand the correct usage.

  • theessayexpert

    How about E for Envelope, or Emboss? Also, stationery comes from the word “stationer” a seller of books and paper. So a stationery store is the store of a stationer.

    I like remembering A for Attention.

    Since there are only two spellings, once you know the trick for stationery you can always be sure to get the other one right!

  • theessayexpert

    How about E for Envelope, or Emboss? Also, stationery comes from the word “stationer” a seller of books and paper. So a stationery store is the store of a stationer.

    I like remembering A for Attention.

    Since there are only two spellings, once you know the trick for stationery you can always be sure to get the other one right!

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