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.

Tim Challies, an author, blogger, and book reviewer, tells us, “There is a hierarchy when it comes to the ways we express ourselves and our convictions. There are some things we believe, some things we think, and some things we feel. The terms are hierarchical rather than synonymous and over time we ought to see a progression from feeling to thinking to believing. We should want to elevate more of what we feel into what we think and more of what we think into what we believe. I will grant that there can be fine distinctions here, but there is still value in distinguishing them, at least for our purposes.

“The things I believe are the things for which I have the highest confidence. They are the things I am convinced of, the things I hold to be absolutely true, even though you may disagree. I believe Jesus Christ rose from the dead. I believe democracy is superior to fascism or communism. I believe marriage is meant to be a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman.

“The things I think are the things for which I have a little bit less confidence. These are the areas in which I am in a process of growth in understanding and conviction. These are the areas in which absolute right or wrong may not be quite as clear. I believe God tells us to assemble with other Christians to worship him each week, and I think it is best to do this on Sunday (especially here in North America).

“The things I feel are the things I am unsure of, the things I am encountering and responding to on an impulsive or emotional level. I feel that it would be a bad idea for the government of Canada to shut down the office of religious freedom. I feel that because I have only the barest knowledge of the office and its functions and I would need to learn more in order to develop thoughts and then beliefs about it. I feel that it would be a good idea for the Blue Jays to offer a contract extension to Jose Bautista, but I have not read or researched enough to have well-formed thoughts.

“In this way I believe, I think, and I feel have different meanings. And I believe (not “I feel”) that these meanings are consistent with how they have typically been used.”

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 infinitive. 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 Regina Jeffers

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

8 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.

  2. JanisB says:

    This is an excellent and useful guide. Because of my past life as writer and editor of tech materials, I find myself anally editing everything as I read it. With fiction, however, the rules are rather more lenient, as the previous commenter noted. When I find an error in narrative I always want to blue-pencil it. But people do not always speak correctly, so I generally accept dialogue however it is crafted. Otherwise I would never enjoy reading fiction!

    • Some of the errors I note are in books from large publishers, but having gone both the traditional and the self publishing routes, I know traditional publishers often hire editors with an English degree—many not having a formal grammar lesson since middle school. If they learned the rules, they have forgotten them. Like you, I ignore errors in dialogue. That being said, of late, people are driving me crazy confusing the difference between “number of” and “amount of.” I am trying to break my 30-something year old son from saying “the amount of students not passing.” I know where he has picked up the phrase: Every news commentator and talk show host makes such mistakes. We hear it wrong so often, we think it is correct.

    • Recently in Charlotte, two planes came close to a collision on the runway. All three major news stations referred to the event as a “near miss.” If the planes nearly missed each other, they hit. The correct phrase should be a “near hit,” meaning they missed, but, as you said above, people do not always speak correctly. I did send all three stations a comment on their FB pages.

  3. Paula says:

    How does one discuss emotions if “feels” only applies to the five senses and to health?

    Also you have a typo in the first sentence of the last paragraph.

  4. Jennifer Redlarczyk says:

    I love words but they also make me crazy! I’m always looking up words and how to use them, finding out if they were appropriate for the time period I’m writing in. And yet, I still miss oodles! Thanks, Jen

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