Wednesday, September 30, 2015


Recently, a writer/teacher friend of mine from another state sent me a letter in which she complained that writing is getting worse every  day. She called it “the dumbing down of America” and she fears that critics of self-publishing might be right to blame this problem on writers who hit “Send” before their work is really ready and error-free. I was reminded of Anne R. Allen’s article a few years ago, titled, “Kindle no book before its time.”

Some writers are better than others when it comes to punctuation, grammar and other writing rules. In that case, however, as has been pointed out many times, those who are not proficient in the language need to hire an editor or proofreader. Whether I mostly read well-edited writing or somehow “missed” seeing the things the teacher finds appalling, I don’t know. So, I decided to pay attention for a couple of weeks and see if I find evidence of what she complains about.

And I did.

To be accurate, I didn’t find the exact problems she mentioned in her letter, but there were enough “boo-boos” that I began to think she has a point. Notice, I’m not naming any specific authors or the material I found the mistakes in. If any of my readers are guilty of similar errors, I hope they’ll use this opportunity to try to avoid them in the future. However, in a little over two weeks, my casual reading (not the two novels I was reading at the same time) turned up the following.

Like other languages in the world, English has rules we learned in school which helped us (helped me anyway) remember which word to use for present tense, past tense or past-perfect tense. One such list is “drink, drank, drunk.” In other words, the correct use is, “I drink, he drank, and they had drunk.” So the line, “...she’s already drank too much...” leaped out at me. The word “she’s” is a contraction of “she has,” which makes it past-perfect and therefore “drank” should be “drunk” instead.

A similar mistake occurs in the line, “...his cell phone chimed, and it hadn’t rang in a few days.”  Again, a past tense verb was used instead of past-perfect. The word “rang” should be “rung.”

A word I often see mis-used is “loose” when the writer means “lose.” “Loose” is an adjective meaning the opposite of “tight.” “Lose” is a verb indicating someone is no longer in possession of something. Minor, perhaps, but, if an author makes that mistake often, he might be turning off agents or editors from accepting his work.

Another common error is not knowing the difference between “its” and “it’s”. One is a preposition and the other is a contraction of “it is.” In the sentence, ”Blame technology for it’s lack of popularity,” “it’s” is wrong and “its” is correct.

In the phrase “...she should have staid home...“ staid” is a perfectly good word, but not when the author meant to write “stayed.”

An even worse mistake is in “...companies that have went out of business...” Please, dear writer, replace “went” with “gone.”

To finish, I found two instances of writers apparently not knowing the difference between “affect” (a verb) and “effect” (usually a noun, although there are times it becomes a verb, which may explain some mistakes in its use). In “ long as it didn’t effect the outcome...” Change “effect” to “affect.” The same is true in “... the knowledge of how scenes effect your book’s impact...” where “effect” should be “affect.”

As I mentioned earlier, the material in which I found these errors was not necessarily fiction or other prose the author hoped to publish, but authors do need to respect English and use it correctly. In most cases, it’s the only language we have. Thanks for listening.


  1. Hi Phyllis,

    For me grammar requires constant vigilance. Not that I don't know the rules. I write so fast, sometimes use editors of different strengths, sometimes accept too many 'cooks' and then get overwhelmed by a close inspection. There's so much to it, but I love the art.


    1. Bob: Thanks for your comment. No one is perfect all the time, and I've made my share of mistakes when in a hurry or distracted, but I try to reread everything I write - even e-mails - before sending them. Grammar and other "writerly" rules were easy for me to remember, so I can't take much credit


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