I’m a terrible editor. There, I admitted it. I don’t pay a lot of attention when reading and tend to overlook things. That’s why I specialize in rewriting, and why I tend to refuse editing jobs. And it’s why I tell my clients I will happily pick their manuscript apart and rewrite it top to bottom if they have a proofreader on hand, but I will never be that proofreader.
Still, freelancing has taught me a few things and my editing skills have greatly improved since I began. Most authors will make a lot of mistakes to begin with, because most of us start writing from a very young age, long before we have a full grasp of the English language. Mistakes are therefore excusable, but if you’re being paid a lot of money to write, then you need to avoid making them at all costs.
And the more inexperienced you are, the more of these mistakes you will be making without even realizing it.
Stationery vs Stationary
One word, one sound, two meanings. “Stationary” refers to something that is standing still, something that is motionless, whereas “Stationery” refers collectively to pens, pencils, cards, etc.,
“He stood stationary in the stationery cupboard”.
Than vs Then
I’m ashamed to say that I constantly mixed these two up when I first began, but I dropped out of school before puberty had run its course and spent the next 5 years playing video games, so I had an excuse.
“Than” is used as a comparative word where “Then” is used to describe a sequence of events. If you’re confused, ask yourself if something is being compared, if something is “Greater Than” or “Worse Than” and if not, then you might need to use “Then”.
Lightening vs Lightning
This is a very common mistake, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the most common usage of the word “Lightening” was with people mistaking it for “Lightning”.
“Lightening” simply means to become lighter, and it is also used as a term to describe something that happens during pregnancy. “Lightning”, on the other hand, refers to the electrical surge.
“The skies are lightening as the lightning strikes”
Compliment vs Complement
Again, it’s just one letter and they both sound the same, but the meaning changes. The issue is that the meanings are quite similar, which only confuses people even further.
You can pay someone a “compliment” by saying they look nice or that their hair isn’t as ugly as it was yesterday, and you can also tell them that their shoes “complement” their ugly hairstyle.
To vs Too vs Two
I have yet to see a writer make this mistake, but it’s something I see a lot from non-writers. Still, we all have weaknesses, and you might find yourself struggling with this one.
“Two” is always a number and never anything else; “To” is a preposition; “Too” is an adverb. It might help if you think of “To” as a place, an objective or a replacement for “Toward”, while using “Too” in place of “Excessively”.
So, if you are “Too” greedy and have put on “Too” much weight, then you can go “To” the gym to burn it off.
Peak vs Peek vs Pique
These three are always mixed up, and I can think of a few writers who have been guilty of this early on in their careers. “Peek” is to look; “Peak” is a summit, whereas “Pique” can be used as a verb in place of “Aroused”.
To put it in another way: “You can pique someone’s interest by letting them take a peek at the mountain peak.”
“Pique” can also be a noun, with synonyms including “Resentment” and “Annoyance”, but it’s rarely used in this way.
Meet vs Meat
You shouldn’t be making this mistake, but I’ve seen it more times than I would like.
I remember a confused and somewhat appalled friend coming to me once when he was 15. He had been online, back when chat rooms were as close as you got to social media. After spending 30 minutes talking to a young girl from the other side of the country, she asked him if he would “meat her”. Being well educated but clueless, he never thought for a moment that she wanted to “meet him” and instead was appalled by the idea that this was some sort of code for a sordid sexual encounter. He vowed never to use chat rooms again and I never had the heart to tell him.
People eat “meat” but they go to “meet” other people.
“I will meet you to buy some more meat”
It’s vs Its
Although this mistake is far more common than it should be, I think the majority of uses stem more from sloppy writing/editing than anything else. If you are not sure which word to use, simply ask yourself whether you can change it to “It Is”, in which case it should be “It’s”.
Your vs You’re
As with “It’s”, this is not a mistake you should be making, but there is an easy fix if you are not sure. It’s usually a case of meaning to write “You’re” and writing “Your” instead, and as with most of the other entires on this list, it stems from the fact that both of these words sound the same.
Just remember that “You’re” is short for “You Are”. So put this in its place and see if it still fits.
Their vs They’re vs There
“They’re” is short for “They Are”, so as with “It’s” and “You’re”, you can swap these over to see if it fits.
“There” is basically the opposite of “Here”, as in “Over There”.
“Their” is a possessive adjective and is used before a noun to show that it belongs to them. So, “Their hat is too big” or “That hat is theirs”.
Spell Check Mistakes and Other Mistakes
If you make any of these mistakes yourself, then you can always use the CTRL & F function on your word processor to work your way through your MS fixing them. This function is available on most popular software, including MS Word and Apple Pages.
It’s not just similar words though, as many of us struggle with spell check errors and with words that are completely different, but go unnoticed, much like Lightning and Lightening mentioned above.
To see more of these, read our article on Common Writing Mistakes And Spell Check Mistakes.