As a writer and former editor, language is extremely important to me. I don't like typographical errors in my work, and even proofread emails carefully before hitting send. Call me a pedant if you will, but I think writers should use language with the same care with which a surgeon wields a scalpel.
I have observed with some alarm the changes to language brought on by the rise in text messaging and Internet chat. Words and phrases have been overtaken by abbreviations such as lol (laugh out loud), brb (be right back) and my favorite roflmao (rolling on the floor laughing my ass off). On the other hand, these tools are forcing entire generations to communicate through text, rather than telephone, so it isn't all bad.
Still, I am one of those diehards who cares about spelling, and proper word usage. Over the last few months, I have compiled a list of errors that occur with some frequency. They are presented in the list below, along with notes on correct spelling or usage.
I am not a language snob by any means. I like to write in a conversational style that is accessible to anyone with basic literacy skills. By offering this list, my intent is not to ridicule or insult those who make similar mistakes. To be honest, I was guilty of some of these errors myself early on, and learned the difference upon being corrected by my peers. I offer this list in the same spirit, so that others may mend their ways and start using language more effectively.
Complement versus compliment
Complement means that things work well together; compliment is to say something nice. "That tie really complements your jacket, so I am giving you a compliment."
Affect versus effect
These words are misused by many, including some of my children's teachers. You are affected by something; you effect change. You can also affect or fake cold symptoms, so I can see how this may get confusing. However, climate change is not one of the affects of pollution that's an effect. Use this sentence to check your usage: I was affected by Al Gore's movie and now I am going to effect change.
This should be "would have", and stems from the mispronunciation of the contraction of those words into would've but I have seen it in writing many times. The same applies to "could of", which should be could have'.
Politicians often say this when trying to impress us, inevitably defeating the purpose because it is not a word. "Regardless" is what they should be saying.
This is incorrect and should read "composed of" or "comprises". The soup is composed of three ingredients; or the city comprises several smaller boroughs.
This one is definitely annoying, and people commonly get it wrong.
The correct spelling is congratulations, but I have seen people who should know better misspell this one.
Dialogue as a verb
This one bothers me, perhaps because it sounds so pretentious. You can't dialogue with someone, despite persistent attempts to do so. It is not a verb.
Its versus it's
These are perhaps the most commonly misused words of all. It's is a contraction of it is'. Its is possessive, indicating belonging to it'. The praying mantis wiped its mouth and said, "It's delicious."
This is extremely common. People capitalize that which matters most to them, whether it is a proper noun or not. It is typical for a public servant to capitalize the word Government incorrectly, or for those in the private sector to capitalize the Company that employs them. Many of us need a refresher on the proper use of capitalization. And I say that with the full Authority of a Writer.
I post this list knowing that some evil types are going to sift through all of my previous posts in search of errors, which they will then wave in my face. And fair enough. As I said, I make mistakes too.
No doubt there are instances of incorrect spelling or word usage that you love to hate. If so, please leave a comment and add to the list.
I have also collected a handful of phrases and figures of speech that are often used incorrectly (such as "soothes the savage beast" instead of "breast"). I will save these for a future post. If you have any pet peeves in this category, feel free to send them along.