The following "master list" of errors comes from a (still-incomplete) document of advice for amateur writers which writer Robert M. Schroeck has been composing on and off since early 2007 (a similar list by the same author can be found here). While it is in no way definitive or exhaustive, it is rather extensive and ever-so-faintly snarky in places. It is more-or-less organized in alphabetical order by the erroneous word or phrase, although in some cases two or more terms may turn out to be interchangeably misused for each other, in which case the "key" entry is pretty much arbitrarily selected.
Additional examples are always welcome.
A term that will be found frequently in the following, but which may not be immediately familiar, is "eggcorn". "Eggcorns" are words or phrases that a person has only ever heard and never seen written, which when that person needs to write them down get written the way they sound to them. The term comes from the transcription someone once made of the word "acorn", which they had somehow gotten through their life without once seeing in print. The eggcorn is the half-sibling of the mondegreen.
An excellent guide to known eggcorns can be found here.
Related to the eggcorn is "eye dialect." This is a term for the writer's device of spelling words as they sound to give a sense of a speaker with a foreign accent, an odd dialect, or poor education. For example, using "gonna" for "going to". In general, this is a deliberate stylistic choice made by a writer, but on this page it's used also to reflect a variety of eggcorn that is caused by poor literacy skillsthe key example would be writing the contraction "'ve" as " of" (as in "could of", "would of") out of simple incomprehension that the words in question are a contraction.
As a final note, the original core set of examples here were primarily collected from Fan Fics (mostly for anime, at least at first). As a result, you will occasionally find specific references (though not links) to the fics in question; this is to allow the reader the opportunity to view the errors in their native environment, should they so choose.
Making any of these booboos is likely to incur the wrath of a Grammar Nazi.
- Any compound word vs. its component words written separately. Similarly, any prefix that shares its spelling with a word vs. the word itself. The word "overusing" doesn't mean the same as the phrase "over using".
- And, since it doesn't fit anywhere else on this list, turning a singular noun (usually one ending in "-y") into a plural noun with a simple "-s", as in "storys", instead of the proper replacement of the "-y" with "-ies".
- With some exceptions, such as given names, and words that have a vowel before the "-y". Therefore, the plural of "story" note is "stories," but the plural of the British spelling of the same word, "storey", is "storeys." Ahh, the joys of English!
- Another pluralization issue: NOTHING is pluralized with an apostrophe. Lex Luthor can take forty cakes, but never forty cake's. God help you if you combine this with the above and conjure up the abomination "story's" when you mean "stories". The apostrophe-S construction is possessive.
- Come and hear the story's story, the tale of the fortieth floor.
- Numbers aren't pluralized with an apostrophee.g. it's "the '60s", not "the 60's". The apostrophe in "the '60s" denotes an elision, not a plural.
- The "s" denoting the third person singular present tense of a verb never has an apostrophe, either.
- Style guides have differing opinions on the possessive of words ending with "s". Some say that the house owned by James would be "James' house", others say "James's house", others say both are correct. However, the house belonging to "it" would always be "its house", not "it's house".
- Yet another pluralization problem is the misuse of some plurals as if they were singular"bacteria" for "bacterium" and "data" for "datum" have already been mentioned earlier on this page; other common ones include "criteria" for "criterion", "dice" for "die" (some people even use the nonexistent noun "dices" as the "plural" of "dice", though of course it's valid as the third-person singular present conjugation of the verb "to dice"), "phenomena" for "phenomenon", and "vertebrae" for "vertebra".
- "Cut the muster" instead of "cut the mustard." Bizarre as the correct phrase sounds, mustard is the right noun. Cutting "muster" (a military assembling of troops) would be negative behavior, which is the opposite of the phrase's meaning, which is to be satisfactory. The phrase's origin is that a sufficiently sharp knife is needed to cut mustard seedsa dull knife wouldn't "cut the mustard."
- One frequent problem is erroneous "corrections" by ignorant editors; there was the electronic-music album whose sleeve-notes mentioned what was obviously (from the context) supposed to be a "sine wave" (as in the trigonometric function) but had been changed to "sign wave"; and the edition of Larry Niven's Ringworld in which some idiotor had changed "holo-projection" to "hollow projection".
- Another common problem is that people, instead of looking up an unfamiliar word in a dictionary, try to guess the meaning from the contextand more often than not, guess wrongly. For instance, if someone is "perusing" a book, it doesn't mean that they're skimming lightly through it; it means that they're reading it carefully, paying rapt attention to every word.
- The name of a show is always singular, even if the last part of a title is plural. Therefore, saying "The Fairly OddParents are getting stale" is incorrect, assuming you are referring to the show and not the title characters.
- A company name is always singular in American English. In British English, you can use a plural, but this should only apply when you are talking about the components of a collective noun. "BP have a bit of a problem" (meaning the employees of BP have a problem) would be fine; "Disney have bought Marvel" would imply that Disney employees pooled their money and bought Marvel.
- A painfully common mistake is using "headless" when the person/creature clearly has a head that is detached or detachable.
- Not helped by Washington Irving having his "Headless Horseman" throw his head at Ichabod Crane.
- If you use 12-hour notation for time, it's best to avoid "12 a.m." or "12 p.m." in a legal context, as they're ambiguous. While the way digital clocks and watches work has given us "12 a.m. = midnight" and "12 p.m. = noon", both of these are unofficial in many countries and may lead to confusion with someone who uses "12 p.m. = midnight". The 24-hour notation avoids this, as it has notations for midnight at the start of the day and midnight at the end of the day (0:00 and 24:00 respectively).
- Because of this issue, legal contracts use "12:01 a.m.", "noon", or "11:59 p.m." to refer to 0:00, 12:00, and 24:00 respectively.
- The correct usage in the 12-hour system was originally intended to be "12 a.m." for midnight at the start of the day, "noon", "midday", or "12 m." for the middle of the day, and "12 p.m." for midnight at the end of the day. However, this convention was probably never widely known, and as mentioned above, was destroyed by digital timepieces anyway.
- The abbreviations "a.m." and "p.m." are for "ante meridiem" (before midday) and "post meridiem" (after midday), not "after midnight" or anything like that.
- On a similar note: if you're using the 24-hour clock, you do not need "pm" for times after midday; this is already shown by having a number higher than 12 (for example, 1:15pm would be 13:15).
- Fewer (smaller in quantity) and less (smaller in amount) are often confused. If a cake has twelve slices and you eat two of them, you're left with less cake (mass noun) or fewer slices (count noun). Unless one is referring to mathematics or computer programming where a smaller number is always "less (than)".
- "Of" is often used in place of "have", in situations like "I should of done that" or "He could of said something", because people use the contractions "should've" and "could've" and don't realize that the second syllable is short for "have".
- When discussing the limits of a given range, the distressingly often-seen "between X to Y" is not correct. You can use "between X and Y" or "from X to Y", but don't switch in the middle.
- On a similar note, "both" doesn't match up with "but also". Choose between "both X and Y" and "not only X, but also Y".
- And if you're using a dash (–) to denote a range, omit "from". "From X – Y" is wrong. (And use an en dash, not a hyphen if you can avoid it, with small spaces on either side.)
- If you want someone to cease a given action, or just to talk about the cessation of it, the phrase you're after is "stop doing X", not "stop to do X". This mistake is generally the result of translation to English from a language like French or Spanish, where the phrase does use the second verb's infinitive form. "Stop to do X" in English means to stop what you're doing and do X instead.
- Some notes about US and UK currency:
- The dollar or pound sign goes before the number ("$50", not "50$").
- Use either the symbol or the word, but not both ("£25" or "25 pounds", not "£25 pounds")
- The symbol and a decimal point are enough to designate cents or pence. ("£1.25p" is redundant and wrong.)
- If you're using a symbol and a decimal point to indicate cents, that symbol should be a dollar sign. "0.25¢" is one fourth of a cent, not one fourth of a dollar.
- Be cautious when talking about numbers. "One and a half million" is 1,500,000; "a million and a half" may be 1,000,000.5.
- One billion is always 109 in American English, but some older Brits use "billion" to mean 1012. The UK formally adopted the American usage in 1974, but the old usage still shows up occasionally.
- Also, when reading numbers aloud or spelling them out by name, American English sometimes omits the word "and"; for example, "103" can be pronounced either as "one hundred three" or as "one hundred and three". Likewise, thousands, millions etc. are separated by commas much as they are in numeral form. 4,842 is "four thousand, eight hundred [and] forty-two". In British English, "103" is always pronounced "one hundred and three".note
- Fractions use a forward slash. "3/7", not "3\7".
- Fractions also do not need "-ths" afterward. They're not ordinal numbers, which is where "-st", "-nd", etc. are properly used.
- "Plus", "minus", and "times" are already prepositions, and as such do not need other prepositions such as "with", "to", "from", or "by". The verb form of the operation ("added", "subtracted", "multiplied", or "divided") should be used when you use a preposition to indicate the direction of the operation— e.g., "5×5" is either "five times five" or "five multiplied by/with five", and never "five timesed by five".
- "The reason ... is because ..." This is ubiquitous these days, but incorrect because "because" begins an adverbial clause, which cannot act as a predicate noun or predicate adjective modifying the subject "reason." Two ways to correct it are to replace "because" with "that" turning it into a noun phrase, or by rewording the sentence to remove "reason" and let the "because..." clause modify an adjective or verb:
Incorrect: The reason we are late is because we had a flat tire.
Correct: The reason we are late is that we had a flat tire.
Correct: We are late because we had a flat tire.
- Beware of prefixes; as noted above, although "in-" is usually one ot the "not-" prefixes, "flammable" (can burst into flame) and "inflammable" (can be inflamed) are the same thing. Likewise, "indecent" is specifically the opposite of "decent" meaning "moral"; to negate other senses (good, fitting) you need "non-decent". Then there's "a-", "an-" and "as-"; words with these beginnings are often negatives (e.g. "azoic" = "not from a living thing"), but not always. "An-" (or "ana-" when before a consonant) in particular can also mean "back" or "again" (e.g. "Anabaptist", one who belives in adult baptism) or "down" ("analyze", to break downthe nominal opposite of "catalyse", which etymologically ought to mean "to break up"). "Ab-" is another problem prefix; it can be an intensifier ("absurd", and the related "irrational" meaning the same thing, both come from the Pythagoreans' prejudice against square roots (surds) because most of them cannot be expressed as rational fractions; or "aboriginal" meaning the most-definitely-original population) or a negator ("abnormal"=not normal).
- An interesting case: the Japanese word for "animation" — and the resultant English loanword — is "anime". If you add an accent, what you have is the French word "animé", which means "animated" and is an adjective, not a noun.
- Not including "have" before "never", while common in colloquial language, is grammatically only acceptable when it refers to something that is no longer possible to do.
- You don't replace X by Y. You replace X with Y. This is very likely a result of direct translation similar to the "stop doing X" entry.
- The proper way to spell the abbreviation for Tyrannosaurus rex is "T. rex", not "T rex", "T-rex" or "Trex". Abbreviations for binomial names always follow the form of: (first letter of genus name) (period) (second word of species name). The species name is always non-capitalized.