Falling into Easy Writing Traps: Do You Know These Rules?

7178225_fd10bbb6b2_o.jpg.736x0_q85 (image via 4 Common Academic Writing Mistakes and How to Fix Them from http://www.noodle.com)

Falling Into Easy Writing Traps…

1.  The word “hold” is confusing to some. Essentially a person can hold a baby, a spoon, a smart phone, etc., but how does one “hold” a meeting, a party, or a conversation?

Example: The committee held its meeting last week. (should be) The committee met last week.

Example: The elected representatives will hold a meeting Monday to vote for officers. (should be) The elected representatives will vote for officers Monday.

2.  The words “feel,” “think,” and “believe” are not interchangeable. “Feel” refers to your sense of touch and to refer to your health. “Think” is to express an opinion. “Believe” refers to a conviction or a principal.

Example: The senator thinks (not “feels”) the new bill will pass.

Example: The preacher believes (not “thinks” or “feels”) in God’s salvation.

Example:  He feels sympathetic for those who grieve for lost loved ones.

3.  “Bad” is customarily an adjective, while “badly” is an adverb. Because “badly” is an adverb, it describes the manner in which an action is performed. Therefore if you say, “I feel badly about…,” you are saying that your sense of touch does not perform well. “Feel” is not an action verb, and so one is use “bad” to describe the pronouns “we” and “I.”

Example: I feel bad about missing the appointment.

Example: The runner performed badly in the 400 m race. (“Performed” is an action verb. “Badly” tells how the runner performed.

4.  “Everyday” written as a single word is an adjective that indicates days in general, without emphasizing a specific day. “Every day,” written as two words, has a different meaning. “Every” is an adjective describing the noun “day.” [Hint: Substitute the word “each” for “every.”]

Example: Sam’s Hardware has everyday low prices. [You cannot substitute “each” in this sentence and have it make sense. “…has each day low prices.”  Therefore, one word is needed.]

Example: Sam’s Hardware has the lowest prices every day. [ You can substitute “each” in this example. It would sound fine to say “the lowest prices each day.” Therefore, two separate words is required.}

5. Plurals are easy to confuse.

Add “es” to form plurals from words ending in ch, sh, x, s, ss, and zz. [batches, blushes, boxes, buses, addresses, buzzes]

Change the singular “sis” ending to “ses” for the plural. [analysis – analyses]

If “y” is preceded by a vowel, just add an “s.” [alley – alleys, Monday – Mondays]

If Proper Nouns end in “y,” just add an “s.” [Barry – I know two Barrys.]

If “y” is preceded by a consonant, drop the “y” and add “ies.” [apology – apologies]

Most words ending in “o” add an “s” to form the plural. [cellos, pianos, studios zeros]

Some words ending in “o” add “es” to form a plural. [echoes, heroes, mosquitoes, potatoes, tomatoes, vetoes]

Some words have both endings. [cargos/cargoes, placebos/placeboes, lassos/lassoes, mementos/mementoes, tornados/tornadoes]

images16.  Forming the possessive of proper nouns ending in “s.”

Example: [singular possessive … Charles = Charles’ (or) Charles’s; Lucas = Lucas’ (or) Lucas’s; Hayes = Hayes’ (or) Hayes’s]

Example: [plural possessive … Hayes (singular)      Hayeses (plural)    Hayeses’ (plural possessive)

William (singular)     Williamses (plural, more than one William)   the Williamses’ house

7.  “Healthful” refers to something that promotes good health (i.e., food, exercise, etc.). “Healthy” refers to being in good physical and mental health.

Example: He believes that running is healthful (promoting health).

Example: Fruits and vegetables are healthful (not healthy) for you.

Example: After running the 5K race, he is feeling healthy.

8.  There is a multitude of phrases that require editing because they are too wordy.


matinee performance = matinee

joined together = joined

Jewish rabbi = rabbi

made good his/her escape = escaped

on account of = because

off of = off

in the near future = soon


9. Some words are easily confused.

“Blond” is the adjective used for all references. As a noun, “blond” refers to males, while “blonde” refers to females.

“Credibility” means believability, while “credulity” means to be gullible or unsuspecting.

“Each other” is used when two people, places or things are involved. “One another” is used for three or more.

Use “farther” to refer to distance.” Use “further” to refer to degree or extent.

“Brief” is used to refer to time, while “short” is used to distinguish something that is neither long or tall.

“Compared to” is to liken one person, place, or thing to another. Compared to is used for similarities. “Compared with” is to provide a more concrete and factual comparison of similarities and differences.

“Famous” means well known for favorable reasons. “Infamous” and “notorious” means to be well known for unfavorable reasons.

“Burglary” is when the culprit breaks into a building to steal. The victim is not present or is not confronted. “Robbery” is the unlawful use of force or threat of force to take something belonging to another.

10. Of late, I’ve been doing some editing of my own, as well as scoring the manuscripts of others for writing contests. I am a West Virginia Hillbilly by birth, but even so, I am still sensitive to split infinitives. That does not mean I do not use them occasionally; yet, I do attempt to correct them in my work.

What is an infinitive? It is the verb root, written as “to” + “the verb,” as in “to read,” “to call,” and “to love.”

What is a split infinitive? It is a construction consisting of an infinitive with an adverb or other word inserted between “to” and the “verb,” e.g., she seems to really like it. (“to diligently read,” “to consciously call,” and “to devotedly love”).

I recently read a manuscript for a contest where FEW infinitives used in the work were not a split infinitives. Many experts are mixed on the “rule” not to split infinitives; however, I am still of the persuasion to avoid them. (Remember that I spent 40 years teaching English.) In the dialogue of a work of fiction, I can overlook the split construction, for people often use them orally. However, I’d like to see more diligence in eliminating some of the damage found in the narration. 


About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and contemporary novels.
This entry was posted in books, editing, Industry News/Publishing, language choices, manuscript evaluation, publishing, vocabulary, word choices, word play, writing. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Falling into Easy Writing Traps: Do You Know These Rules?

  1. KP Pryce says:

    Agree with most of what you said (I’m a former teacher as well). But item 2 is very black and white and anyone who adheres to it, as written, will lose a golden opportunity to deepen their characterisations.

    Did you know, for instance, how revealing is the use of ‘think’, ‘feel’, and ‘believe’ are in any individual’s conversation? The person who says ‘I believe that boy is a loser,’ is someone who deals with hard-core fact. The person who says ‘I feel that boy is a loser,’ is someone who functions more at the emotional level, not the cognitive/logical level. The person who says ‘I think that boy is a loser,’ is someone who can and does function from both realms, and as such, is the one who is more tolerant because they know that observable actions do not always reveal the motives within another person.

    To have all characters say “I believe ‘whatever'” would make them all opinionated clones of one other. Boring. Cardboard. Same voice. All bad if you’re a writer.

    People do not consciously teach themselves to say ‘I believe…’ when expressing an opinion. Your core character drivers form the way you express yourself, and not everyone (thank goodness) comes from the purely intellectual level. It is this extremely telling distinction which served me well in federal government – it revealed to me very quickly, who were the logical parties, who were the emotive ones, and who were the more ‘listening’ ones – a very useful skill to have when you need to ‘take your losers first’ so you can sell whatever idea or policy you’re bringing to the table.

    Hope this makes sense.

    • Your examples make perfect sense in the situation you described. I come from a journalistic background, where unless editorializing, emotive words are left unsaid. Thanks for the other perspective.

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