No one likes to think about spelling and punctuation errors in their writing. It’s the story that’s important. No-one’s gonna care about typos when it’s the content that counts. It’ll get corrected when it’s typeset. Yada yada yada.
You can make excuses until you’re blue in the face, but the fact remains that literary professionals (including script readers) like to read well written English and if you’ve got pesky errors you will set off their grammar police sirens.
Thing is, though, these mistakes are far easier to check for and to correct than you think. It just takes a little time. The hit list:
The biggie. Très annoying little buggers.
- Possessive: Matt’s dictionary/the footballers’ ball
Singular usually means the apostrophe comes before the “s”. Matt’s dictionary. The library’s dictionary. The festival’s dictionary. Plural usually means it comes after the “s”. The [group of] boys’ dictionary. The three festivals’ dictionary.
For “they’re”, always split up the word into “they are/they were”. They’re [they are] good at grammar. Correct! The dictionary’s over they’re [they are]. Erm, no, that sounds odd.
For “there”, try to think of it as a word that describes a direction/fact/opinion. I used to elongate the “er” bit in my mind and imagine pointing at things. “The dictionary is over theeeeeeeeeere”. “There was once a little girl called Dictionaryette. Fact.” No, there wasn’t really, but you get the jist.
For “their” I try to think of possession. It belongs/applies to THEM. It’s their dictionary. They were possessive over their dictionary. The girls hated having their hair cut. Their days off were filled with dictionary reading.
Again, split up the word into “it is/it was/it has” and test it out. It’s [it is] a lovely day. It’s [it has] been dumped. The bird spread it’s [it is] wings – erm, no.
This can sometimes merge with the apostrophe thing. If something’s plural, you think of adding an “s”. Librarys. Dictionarys. You might then feel tempted to add in an apostrophe as well. There are lots of library’s around here. That’s wrong. So is “librarys” and “dictionarys”. You see, often, these words don’t have just an “s” on the end at all. They have endings like “ies” to make them plural (usually words that end in “y”). Libraries. Dictionaries.
Some are more complex, too. It could be argued that photo’s is the correct way of pluralising photo, because “photographs”, when made into a shorter word, is “photo’s” (the apostrophe symbolises missing letters).
Well sadly, there’s no quick fix, really. If in doubt, you simply must check your dictionaries!
These are those dots that separate words when there’s hesitation, or which symbolise missing words. So often I see writers putting as many dots as they like………… and it’s silly!
Stick to three. If you’re symbolising a gap after a sentence has finished, four is OK. If the ellipsis comes in the middle of a sentence, you can … carry on without capitalising the first letter of the first word after the ellipsis.
Even I struggle with these skinny little dashy lines. But the most glaring instances where proofreading is concerned usually occur when they ought to be used to correctly describe things. Consider this sentence: The tightly woven green ball of string was perfect for the blue eyed pink nosed cat.
Think about which words are being described in the sentence. It’s the ball that is tightly woven, so it’s a tightly-woven ball (of string). Green doesn’t need a hyphen, but tightly-woven does because these words are describing what the “green ball of string” is like.
The cat has blue eyes. The cat has a pink nose. We can change these sentences so that the cat is being described by the characteristics of its eyes and nose. To do this we use a hyphen. So it’s a blue-eyed cat. It’s a pink-nosed cat. It’s a blue-eyed, pink-nosed cat.
5) Words joined together
Sometimes it amazes me how writers manage to stick more than one word together in a sort of strange new compound word. Admittedly, some of them are really tricky to recognise as being wrong. Some are widely recognised, such as the American “someplace” and “someway” and are therefore acceptable. Some have become, or are becoming, acceptable like “rearview” and “bathmat”. Other examples of [currently] wrongly put-together words I’ve seen recently include phonecall, deathrow, allover and pinecone. If in doubt, check the dictionary.
Quick tips for even quicker fixes:
- Use your search function in whichever program you’re using. It can usually be summoned by pressing CTRL + F. Then you can input “its”, “it’s” “they’re”, etc., and do the quick fix tests to make sure you have got their usage right.
- Install a dictionary on your computer. It’s much easier to type, or copy and paste, words into that than to have to look them up manually in a book.
- If you search online, be sure to use a reputable dictionary website or discussion forum.
Seek out a proofreader. Sometimes all it takes is a friend or peer with a good eye for the English language, but there’s plenty of professional proofreaders out there who are always happy to help you. I offer good-value proofreading for scripts as well as prose over at Writesofluid.
ON THIS BLOG BEFORE ABOUT THIS:
- 3 Killer Typos That Blow Writers Out The Water
- 7 Big Mistakes In Spec Novels
- Creative Ways To Edit Outside The Box
- Improve your punctuation and grammar – all the exercises and explanations you could ever need!
BIO: Michelle Goode is a script reader, editor and writer who operates from her little online empire Writesofluid, where she compiles writing resources, writes her blog and offers her services. When she’s not creating fictional worlds through scripts and prose or writing articles, she’s helping strengthen the work of others or assessing scripts for production companies, competitions and initiatives. Follow her adventures on her Facebook writer page, Writesofluid page and on twitter: @Sofluid .
You know what is funny? I’m not a dolt. I know the difference between their/there/they’re. As plain as day, I know which one to put where. But for some damned reason when I am tweeting my brain decides that the three homophones are absolutely interchangeable. When I am writing a script or an email or even a note on the fridge for my wife, there is never a question which word to use. But when I am typing on my iPhone my mind turns into mush and I haphazardly thumb the words with no discretion.
Thanks for the post!
I find myself torpedoed by the nincompoop who programmed my phone’s predictive text default settings; s/he confuses its/it’s and your/you’re. Not me! Honest guvnor!
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*instant bookmark* Ellipsis and hyphens absolutely sink me. Great article. I claim credit for pinecone!
“There’s plenty of people…” Hmm. Sort of jars, for me. “There is plenty of people…”? There are plenty of people who would use “are” rather than “is”.
Traditionally you’d use “were” in place of “was” (ie. “if I were to …”), but plenty of people use the latter now. Majority rules!
Great article…BUT, I can’t think of a single instance where it was could be contracted to it’s. Is it just me?
Is/was can often be used interchangeably, especially when thinking about the past, ie. “it’s me”.
ah…maybe as in the archaic usage of ‘t’was’…makes more sense now