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Improve your writing - Common spelling mistakes that will not be picked up by your spell-checker

Updated on March 31, 2013

Blogging and internet writing for sites such as HubPages is a popular activity, producing a great many fascinating and well written articles on just about every subject you can imagine. However, with no editorial intervention, the quality of spelling and grammar on these sites is often far from perfect. Otherwise interesting and well-written pieces can look rather amateurish as a result of spelling errors, and the mistakes can often change the intended meaning of the sentence. It is very easy to overlook small typos when writing articles, especially when they are words that are not picked up by a spell checker, for instance when there are two similarly spelled words that mean different things.

In my capacity as a proof-reader I just can't help noticing these annoying little errors, and have made a list below of some of the most common spelling mistakes that I encounter, in the hope that it will help aspiring writers to improve their writing skills and produce more professional pieces. Most of you probably already know what I am about to say, but it never hurts to have a reminder, or to double check things you have written for typing errors that may have been overlooked.

Words that are often confused

Words that sound the same but have different meanings are called homonyms or homophones, some of which are spelt the same, but many are spelt differently and these are the ones that often cause confusion. Some of these are listed below, followed by a brief definition with examples of each to illustrate the point.

Lose and loose

Lose is the word you use when you misplace something, and is also the opposite of "win".

For instance: Don't lose your handbag, I want to lose weight, or I hope I don't lose this game.

Loose means slack, and is the opposite of tight.

For instance: this skirt is too loose for me, or the screw is loose.

Affect and effect

This is a very common mistake, and the difference between the two words is quite subtle.

Affect means "to have an effect upon" or to "make a difference to", as in "the weather affects my mood", "he was affected by the news".

An effect (used as a noun) is a change as the result of something happening. For example, "the effect of the recession on house prices". Effect can also be used as a verb meaning to bring about an action or change, for example "to effect a change in policies".

There, their, they're

These three are sometimes mistakenly used in place of each other, and while they sound the same the meanings are quite different.

There means the location, for example "he is over there".

Their means belonging to them, for example "it is their house".

They're is short for "they are", for example "they're coming to tea".

Led and lead

I think the confusion here arises from the different meanings and pronunciations of the word lead. When we are talking about lead the metal (noun), it is pronounced like the verb led. However, when we mean the verb lead it is pronounced "leed", and the past tense of this verb is led. Confused? Here are some examples:

"this will put some lead in your pencil", or "it felt as heavy as lead" (where lead is the noun)

"you lead the way", or "I will lead you to victory" (where lead is the verb, in present or future tense)

"he led them to victory" or "I was led astray" (where led is the past tense of the verb).

Its and it's

A simple little mistake that crops up again and again:

we use its when we mean belonging to it, for example "the dog hurt its leg"

and we use it's only when it is short for "it is", for example "it's never too late to learn".

Advise and advice

Advise is the verb, used like this: I would advise you to check your spelling

Advice is the noun, used like this: Let me give you some advice

And so on ...

Those above are only a few examples, but there are many more words which are easily confused in the English language, such as:

wear, where and were, which and witch, principal and principle, practise and practice, great and grate, made and maid ... the list is pretty inexhaustible. If there are any pairs of words here that you find hard to distinguish between it could be time to reach for that dictionary!

Further advice

  • Always use the spelling and grammar check when typing in word-processing software
  • Use the spell-checker provided when typing into templated software, such as the HubPages text modules (look for the ABC icon at the top of the module)
  • Use a dictionary if you are not sure if you have used the correct word
  • A thesaurus is also useful if you want to find an alternative word with the same meaning
  • Do not publish until you have read through, and re-read your article for mistakes. I usually come back the next day and re-check before publishing, and invariably find something I'd missed the day before
  • Get somebody else to read your article before publishing, they're bound to spot something you haven't noticed.

Following these few simple steps can save a lot of embarrassment, and will improve the overall quality and credibility of your articles.


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    • sunilkunnoth2012 profile image

      Sunil Kumar Kunnoth 5 years ago from Calicut (Kozhikode, South India)

      Glad to note that you have published an informative hub useful to all. Keep on writing such useful ones in future too.

    • Imogen French profile image

      Imogen French 5 years ago from Southwest England

      Glad to be of assistance Brittanie - thanks for reading and commenting :)

    • Brittanie2216 profile image

      Brittanie Pervier 5 years ago from Seattle WA

      I know I have made some of these mistakes before thank you for clearing up the their there and they're thing I have always had trouble with that one.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 6 years ago from the short journey

      Accuracy in spelling is so important. Thanks for these reminders!

    • vcollum profile image

      vcollum 6 years ago from alabama

      I am not a very good speller or typist...and after this Hub page I'm going to do more careful.

    • MKayDe profile image

      MKayDe 6 years ago

      *In the US too

    • MKayDe profile image

      MKayDe 6 years ago

      Agree with Imogen- Oxford is the best dictionary to use.

    • Imogen French profile image

      Imogen French 6 years ago from Southwest England

      thanks - I do have a tendency to write in colloquial English sometimes, a habit I have to watch. Phrases that sound perfectly normal to me might make no sense to people from other parts of the world!

    • Imogen French profile image

      Imogen French 6 years ago from Southwest England

      Hi Kris, I sometimes do a spelling and grammar check in Microsoft Word, but don't generally use online dictionaries. I usually keep my Concise Oxford English dictionary to hand for anything I'm unsure of. Oxford dictionaries are the most trusted here in England, and they do have an online site which may be of use:

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 6 years ago from Indiana

      Good advice. Do you have any recommended online grammar/spell check websites to use? I've used some that are pretty bad.

    • Gloshei profile image

      Gloria 6 years ago from France

      Good hub Imogen and it happens to the best of us. Like you said the spell check does not always pick it up.

    • profile image

      ecoethicalvegan 6 years ago

      nooo!!!, you did great!, I'm far from perfect and my syntax/grammatical mistakes are legendary!

    • Imogen French profile image

      Imogen French 6 years ago from Southwest England

      oops - got the spelling under control, but I'd better concentrate on the grammar next! :)

    • profile image

      ecoethicalvegan 6 years ago

      Thanks for a great hub, it's very useful & I will definitely vote it up.

      One observation I have is when you said, "Get somebody else to read your article before publishing,[...] would have been better said, 'Have someone else read your article before publishing'

    • Imogen French profile image

      Imogen French 6 years ago from Southwest England

      I hope so :)

    • vespawoolf profile image

      vespawoolf 6 years ago from Peru, South America

      Very useful hub...with correct spelling!