As an editor, I see a lot of words and phrases misspelled and/or misused. Often this is due simply to one letter (or number) difference and the misspelling makes for an amusing read. Such as when someone intends to say, “I made a complete 180 degree change in my life,” and instead they say, “I made a complete 360 degree change in my life.” One hundred eighty degrees IS a change. Three hundred sixty degrees just means you’ve made a complete turn; you may have gotten a bit of exercise, but you’re still going in the same direction. 😉
So I thought I’d share with you some of these common misspellings and mistakes, ones you’ve probably come across in your writing or reading, to hopefully help you avoid them in the future.
- Nip it in the butt: I think you mean nip it in the bud? Nipping something in the butt is probably not going to make you any friends, whereas quashing something before it grows (hence, “bud”) out of control – a rumor, for instance – is often what this idiom refers to.
- Phase vs Faze: A classic example of a homophone (two words that sound exactly the same, but have different meanings and may be spelled differently). Phase is a noun that refers to a point of view or a stage of development. Faze is a verb that means to disturb or disconcert.
- Site vs Sight: Another homophone. Site refers to a location (a website). Sight refers to your sense of vision.
- Extract revenge vs Exact revenge: The correct phrase is “exact revenge.” To extract something means to draw out, to take it out of something else. Then again, I suppose you could extract revenge…if you wanted to make it quite painful…
- Regardless vs Irregardless: Regardless means without regard. Adding the negative prefix “ir” changes an already negative word into a double negative. You’re doing more work than necessary and it really doesn’t make any sense.
- Conversating vs Conversing: Conversating isn’t a word. Conversing means engaging in conversation.
- He did good vs He did well: “He did well” is correct. “Good” is an adjective; it describes the noun (He is a good singer.) “Well” is an adverb and typically follows a verb (such as in this case). It’s rather awkward, and incorrect besides, to force an adverb to modify an adjective.
- Further vs Farther: Further indicates verbal or figurative distance. Farther indicates physical distance. (Ex: If you do not wish to travel farther today, further discussion is necessary.)
- Where vs When: Perhaps you think this one is obvious. I think so, too. But in a sentence such as “Do you have moments where you occasionally feel lazy?” Is it correct to use “where” or better to use “when”? Well, let’s break it down even further. Both words are conjunctions. “Where” has to do with place or source or position. “When” has to do with time or circumstance/occasion. So, because the example is describing a time or occasion, instead of a position or source, when is the correct word choice: “Do you have moments when you occasionally feel lazy?”
When in the writing zone, it’s quite easy to make mistakes such as these. Often, saying aloud what you’ve written can help. If it sounds awkward (he did good) or ill-mannered (nip it in the butt), chances are you’ve said/written it wrong. Try again. Sometimes it comes down to writerly common sense. That’s why editors and proofreaders such as myself will always be needed. That doesn’t mean we’re immune from mistakes such as these, we just see them often enough to catch on quicker than the typical writer. Hopefully, you’ll learn a thing or three along the way from us. 🙂
Are there any words or phrases that constantly trip you up in your writing? Or do you ever find your enjoyment of a new book marred by a common misspelling or incorrect use of a phrase? Feel free to let me know in the comments. I’m always looking for more material to help writers improve their grammar skills.