The famous American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne once said that "Easy reading is damn hard writing".
Well, as your editor, your writing wingman, it's my job to make your writing a little easier – for you to write, and for your readers to read. I've edited a lot of manuscripts, and there are always some common spelling and grammatical errors that pop up to disturb the flow and comprehension of the story. Identifying and fixing these usual suspects will put you ten steps ahead of the writing game.
They're, their and there
You're and your
It's and its
To and too
Then and than
Who's and whose
Let's and lets
Loose and lose
Affect and effect
Alot and alright
Have you ever made any of these common grammatical mistakes before? Have I missed any?
I still remember my religious studies teacher, Mrs Strickland, teaching me the difference between 'they're, their, and there'. As her name suggests, it wasn't a gentle lesson, and I think she started with the words "You're doing this all wrong!" But I learnt my lesson, and, years later, it's pretty much the only thing I remember about that class.
Please share any comments about this article or stories you have of your own grammar mishaps.
The famous playwright George Bernard Shaw once said that Britain and the United States are two countries separated by a common language. There certainly are some funny and peculiar inconsistencies in the English language depending on which side of the pond you're from. I found this article online – British vs American English: 100+ Differences Illustrated. It's a funny and fascinating read to learn the different words Brits and Americans use when describing the same thing. And it isn't just dropping an 'o' from 'honour', or switching to a 'z' with 'realize' either.
For example, if you said 'jumper' in the US, people would think you're in danger of jumping off a roof rather than just talking about your 'sweater'. Whereas in Britain, 'suspenders' are what women use to hold up their stockings (a 'garter belt' in the US), not their pants. And if you're wearing pants in the US, no one bats an eye. But if you went outside in your pants in Britain, people would be asking you where your 'trousers' are, because in Britain 'pants' refer to your 'underpants'.
Here's a sentence in British English: 'I'm feeling peckish, but it's nippy outside, so I'll put on a jumper and go buy some chips before I head to the cinema.'
Here's the same sentence in American English: 'I'm hungry, but it's cold outside, so I'll put on a sweater and go buy some fries before I head to the theatre.' The meaning is the same, but the vocabulary used is different.
In Canada, you can use either British or American English, as long as you're consistent in your usage. But there are some words that Canadians prefer to use that are different from either their British or American counterparts. For example, a Canadian is more likely to use 'pharmacy' over the American 'drugstore', and never the British 'chemist'. Canadians will also diverge from American English by saying 'runners' before 'sneakers', 'soother' before 'pacifier', and 'washroom' or 'bathroom' before 'restroom'. In my editing I read that Canadians will often keep the 'u' in 'labour' but prefer the 'z' over the 's' in 'organize'.
As a British-Canadian, I have a rather mixed selection process. For example, I won't switch to 'z' in 'apologise' or drop my 'u' in 'colour', but I actually prefer to say 'hood' and 'trunk' over 'bonnet' and 'boot' (though I admit that the British vocabulary is decidedly cuter!). I prefer using 'apartment' to 'flat' and 'subway' to 'underground', but I agree with the British version that a 'queue' isn't just a 'line', that 'chips' are better called 'crisps', that going on 'holiday' is easier than saying you're on 'vacation', and I've never used the word 'restroom' in my life!
Oh, and I'll tell you what transatlantic confusion isn't in the linked article. Football! Because even at the risk of being misunderstood I often refuse to interchange 'soccer' with 'football'. In fact, I make the additional effort and add 'American' before 'football' to distinguish the two. But that's just me.
So whatever you choose in your writing – Limey or Yank English – please remember to be consistent in your usage.
And, as a bit of fun, try and come up with your best sentence to confuse either cousin from across the pond.