Thursday Thirteen

Thirteen Common Writing Mistakes

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that I have a “thing” (defined as an interest, not an obsession – though I do get pretty annoyed with people when they constantly substitute “loose” for “lose” – GRR) for language. I have an electronic dictionary somewhere on my person at all times (mostly). I routinely listen to how words are pronounced on because even though I know what the word is, what it means, I SUCK at pronouncing it out loud and my husband makes fun of me, (“You would think that as much as you read, you’d know how to pronounce that word.” I READ, I don’t read OUT LOUD – sheesh). I love to read the Chicago Manual of Style, when I’m in the mood to do so; I’m not a TOTAL geek. And I copy and paste my blog posts into Word to check my spelling (because, well, I really am that anal about my writing).

And I enjoy refreshing myself on language rules from time-to-time because I’m only human and I find myself either forgetting a rule or breaking a rule all for the sake of, well, breaking them (and it’s FUN). A lot of times, grammar, or syntax, rules are broken here because they make more of an impact on whatever I’m trying to say – this is assuming that the people who visit here know the rules to begin with. If not, then forget what I just said – I’m an AWESOME wordsmith who NEVER makes language mistakes. *wink wink nudge nudge*

In other words (get it?), I like language, I like language rules and I’m a bit of a snob when I read other people’s work if they routinely use the wrong word for something or misspell something (and notice I said ROUTINELY; we’re all human, we all have days when our brains shut down, I’m not talking about THOSE days. I’m talking about the material that reads like a second grader wrote it – you know what I’m saying. *nodnod*).

So, I hope posting these tips help you. I hope they don’t bore you. But this sort of stuff interests me and being the self-absorbed peon that I am, I always assume anything that interests me, interests YOU. If I’m wrong, I do apologize. 😀

I did not write these tips. These tips, and many more like these, can be found at Common Errors in English. So, if you disagree with these rules, then please, don’t kill the messenger. These are here just for your learning/entertainment, nothing more, and nothing less.

Now that you know my disclaimer, let’s move on to the juicy stuff … *rubs hands together in glee* …


1. AESTHETIC/ASCETIC: People often encounter these two words first in college, and may confuse one with the other although they have almost opposite connotations. “Aesthetic” (also spelled “esthetic”) has to do with beauty, whereas “ascetic” has to do with avoiding pleasure, including presumably the pleasure of looking at beautiful things.

St. Francis had an ascetic attitude toward life, whereas Oscar Wilde had an esthetic attitude toward life.

2. ADMINISTER/MINISTER: You can minister to someone by administering first aid. Note how the “ad” in “administer” resembles “aid” in order to remember the correct form of the latter phrase. “Minister” as a verb always requires “to” following it.

3. ADULTRY/ADULTERY: “Adultery” is often misspelled “adultry,” as if it were something every adult should try. This spelling error is likely to get you snickered at. The term does not refer to all sorts of illicit sex: at least one of the partners involved has to be married for the relationship to be adulterous.

4. ACCEPT/EXCEPT: If you offer me Godiva chocolates I will gladly accept them—except for the candied violet ones. Just remember that the “X” in “except” excludes things—they tend to stand out, be different. In contrast, just look at those two cozy “C’s” snuggling up together. Very accepting. And be careful; when typing “except” it often comes out “expect.”

5. AFFECT/EFFECT: There are five distinct words here. When “affect” is accented on the final syllable (a-FECT), it is usually a verb meaning “have an influence on”: “The million-dollar donation from the industrialist did not affect my vote against the Clean Air Act.”

Occasionally a pretentious person is said to affect an artificial air of sophistication. Speaking with a borrowed French accent or ostentatiously wearing a large diamond ear stud might be an affectation. In this sort of context, “affect” means “to make a display of or deliberately cultivate.”

Another unusual meaning is indicated when the word is accented on the first syllable (AFF-ect), meaning “emotion.” In this case the word is used mostly by psychiatrists and social scientists— people who normally know how to spell it.

The real problem arises when people confuse the first spelling with the second: “effect.” This too can be two different words. The more common one is a noun: “When I left the stove on, the effect was that the house filled with smoke.” When you affect a situation, you have an effect on it.

The less common is a verb meaning “to create”: “I’m trying to effect a change in the way we purchase widgets.” No wonder people are confused. Note especially that the proper expression is not “take affect” but “take effect”—become effective. Hey, nobody ever said English was logical: just memorize it and get on with your life.

The stuff in your purse? Your personal effects.

6. AFFLUENCE/EFFLUENCE: Wealth brings affluence; sewage is effluence.

7. AFTERWARDS/AFTERWORDS: Like “towards,” “forwards,” and “homewards,” “afterwards” ends with -wards.

“Afterwords,” are sometimes the explanatory essays at the ends of books, or speeches uttered at the end of plays or other works. They are made up of words.

8. ALL OF THE SUDDEN/ ALL OF A SUDDEN: An unexpected event happens not “all of the sudden” but “all of a sudden.”

9. ALLEGED/ALLEGEDLY: Seeking to avoid prejudging the facts in a crime and protect the rights of the accused, reporters sometimes over-use “alleged” and “allegedly.” If it is clear that someone has been robbed at gunpoint, it’s not necessary to describe it as an alleged robbery nor the victim as an alleged victim. This practice insultingly casts doubt on the honesty of the victim and protects no one. An accused perpetrator is one whose guilt is not yet established, so it is redundant to speak of an “alleged accused.” If the perpetrator has not yet been identified, it’s pointless to speak of the search for an “alleged perpetrator.”

10. ALLUDE/ELUDE: You can allude (refer) to your daughter’s membership in the honor society when boasting about her, but a criminal tries to elude (escape) captivity. There is no such word as “illude.”

11. ALLUSION/ILLUSION: An allusion is a reference, something you allude to: “Her allusion to flowers reminded me that Valentine’s Day was coming.” In that English paper, don’t write “literary illusions” when you mean “allusions.” A mirage, hallucination, or a magic trick is an illusion. (Doesn’t being fooled just make you ill?)

12. ALOUD/ALLOWED: If you think Grandma allowed the kids to eat too much ice cream, you’d better not say so aloud, or her feelings will be hurt. “Aloud” means “out loud” and refers to sounds (most often speech) that can be heard by others. But this word is often misused when people mean “allowed,” meaning “permitted.”

13. ALL READY/ALREADY: “All ready” is a phrase meaning “completely prepared,” as in “As soon as I put my coat on, I’ll be all ready.” “Already,” however, is an adverb used to describe something that has happened before a certain time, as in “What do you mean you’d rather stay home? I’ve already got my coat on.”


And that concludes our lesson for today, boys and girls. You can pretty much count on more lessons in the near future. Bring popcorn next time – the teacher will allow it. *grin*

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tags: thursday thirteen

Prompt Fiction

Fiction: Hell Freezes Over

Thursday Thread
Thursday is the day I post a bit o’ fiction.

This was originally published March 23, 2007

These prompt fiction pieces were all written in a hurry and haven’t been edited (much). I’m using these prompts to free / speed write – just some warm-up exercises.

You can find a ton of writing prompts at Write Anything. Click over today and write YOUR version!

Hell Freezes Over

“So, this is what I’m thinking,” Cyndi whispered. She glanced toward the tall, lanky, dark-haired boy in the corner of the hallway talking to his other geeky friends and pushing his black-rimmed glasses back up his nose.

Stephanie impatiently tugged on her cheerleader skirt while trying to juggle her stack of books looped under one arm. “You, think? Brace yourselves girls, this outta be good.”

Cyndi ignored her friend’s waspish tone of voice and continued. “I’m thinking of asking Lane to the dance this Friday.” She clasped her notebook tightly to her chest and warily watched for her friends’ reactions.

She wasn’t disappointed.

“Girl, you have lost yer min’.” Missy said under her breath.

“You can’t be serious,” Stephanie squeaked.

“With Lane?” Tina chimed.

Nell’s eyes simply blinked, owl-like, behind her round glasses.

“But … why him?” Stephanie asked. “You could pick from any of the more popular guys and – ”

“– and be bored out of my mind,” Cyndi finished for her. “Look,” she leaned in closer to her circle of friends. “I have Lane in English class. Ya’ll know I hate English, right?” All four girls nodded in unison. “But Lane,” she suppressed the urge to sigh, “he makes it fun. He helps me understand stuff. He cracks jokes. He’s a really nice guy. And you know what else?” Her head popped up from the group for a mere second to look toward Lane before lowering once more. “He has really nice eyes.”

There was a long pause.

“But … aren’t you afraid of what people will say?” Stephanie asked.

Cyndi shrugged. “Who cares? I want to have fun and it’ll be nice to actually be myself for a change instead of someone I think everyone wants me to be, ya know?”

Again, all four girls nodded emphatically.

“Okay then,” Cyndi took a deep breath. She shoved her notebook into Nell’s arms and stepped out of the circle. “I’m going to go ask him. Wish me luck!”

“Uh … good luck?” said Missy.

Cyndi squared her shoulders, threw back her long reddish-blonde hair and began to walk toward Lane and his friends.

One of the boys, catching sight of Cyndi heading their way, was so astonished at seeing her that his gum fell out of his mouth. The other boys moved instinctively away from Lane to make room for Cyndi to join their group.

“Ladies,” Stephanie said from the corner of her mouth, her eyes trained on Cyndi, “Hell hath frozen over.”