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How to Write Well - Quick Tips for Avoiding Those Frequently Misused Words

Updated on March 16, 2012

I have just finished reading several hubs and other online articles that had great information. They were almost well-written.

However, the reading experience for me was diminished, because the authors didn't know how to spell and did not properly proof their work.

I find it annoying to begin reading an interesting article, only to find that the writer didn't spell check or spend any time proofing.

People who don't take the time to proof their own work should not expect to make an income writing, or to gather any online credibility. By publishing work that isn't polished, they are actively damaging their own possibilities.

Using the writing tools normally found in word processing applications to check spelling and grammar, and proofing for readability before publishing are as essential as the writing is.

After you think your piece is complete, there is more work to do.

Proof your work several times, after you've made sure that your writing says what you want it to say.

  • Spell check it - make sure that it has no typos that spellchecker can catch.
  • If you're not sure about your grammar, most spellcheckers can assist you with grammar checking, if the "check grammar" option is also turned on.
  • Set your article aside for at least a few hours, and read it again for additional mistakes.
  • As Sinea Pies says, read your work aloud. That can not only locate errors, but it helps to make sure that the writing flows well.
  • Before you click the "publish" button, proof your copy by using the "preview" option to check for both mistakes and formatting problems.
  • After you've published your article, proof the final copy before you walk away from it.

After noticing some common mistakes in word usage, I've listed examples below of the correct way to use certain words. I haven't given complete instances of when the words below are used, but rather the most common usage.

The most common mistake by far is misuse of the word "your" when "you're" should be used. "Your" is a possessive pronoun. "You're" is a contraction of two words, a pronoun and a verb.

Your = the possessive case of the pronoun "you". If a thing belongs to you, it's your thing.
Example: Your jacket is beautiful.
NOT Your going to the beach tomorrow.

You're = you are
Example: You're going to the beach tomorrow.
In other words, "You are going to the beach tomorrow."


And there are more...

Another frequent misuse of words shows some confusion about when to use "their", "they're" and "there".

The words "there" and "their" seem to be used randomly as substitutes for each other, and "they're" is left out in the cold.

There = in that place or at that point
Example: There is a car in the parking lot.
Another example: He was reading, but he stopped there, before the story was finished.

They're = they are. "They're" is a contraction of two words.
Example: They're ready to go. NOT Their ready to go. Also, NOT There ready to go.

Their = a thing or trait belonging to them
Example: Their house was close to mine.
Another example: Their attitudes were excellent.

Some people also think that "an" and "and" are interchangeable.

An = indicates a single item that begins with a vowel sound.
Example: An elephant crossed my path.

And = a word that joins two items or concepts.
Example: Dogs and cats are both family pets.

Some writers also think that "who's" is the possessive case of "who". It isn't. "Whose" is the possessive case of "who".

who's = who is This is a contraction of two words.
Example: Who's going to the show?

whose = the possessive case of who.
Example: Whose elbow did I bump?

There also seems to be doubt about when to use "It's" and when to use "Its".

It's = it is This is a contraction of two words.
Example: It's getting late. (It is getting late.)

its = the possessive case of "it"
Example: Its long tail was fluffy.

Notice that when you're looking at a pronoun, there are no apostrophes when it's possessive. my house, your house, his house, her house, its house, our house, their house, whose house

If you are using a contraction, "you are", is "you're". The contraction for "they are" is "they're". The apostrophe exists to represent the combining of two words by eliminating the space between them and a letter. So "they are" loses the space between the two words and the first letter of the second word, and becomes "they're". "You are" loses the space and the first letter in "are", and becomes "you're".

Another point of confusion is when to use "than" or "then". The simplest way to choose between the two is to think of "than" in terms of comparison and contrast, and "then" in terms of time or sequence.

Use "than" when you want to compare things.
Example: This is larger than that.
Another example: The coffee pot was hotter than I thought it would be.

Use "then" when you want to continue with the next thought in line.
Example: I sat on the beach. Then I got up and walked farther down to the pier.
Or if you want to indicate a point in time.
Example: It will be quieter this afternoon. I thought I'd do it then.

If you're unsure of how to use a word, you can check for proper word usage by typing the word in Google, preceded or followed by the word "definition" or "grammar".

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