Following up from last week’s editing checklist part 1, today I’m focusing on words that are easily confused.
Some say English is one of the most difficult languages to master because it has many words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings. As writers, we need to know which to use when.
Even if you already know which to use when, it’s easy to mistakenly use the wrong one when you’re typing away concentrating on characters and story. And it’s easy to read over it when it you’re editing and not notice that it’s the wrong one — our brains read what they know should be there.
These mistakes won’t be picked up by spell check, but you can still find and fix problem usage. Do a Find search in Word or whatever program you use to write and make sure you’re always using the correct form.
Here’s a handy checklist for the most common switcheroos writers do:
There/Their/They’re: The uses for these are location/plural possession/shortened version of “they are.” Examples of the correct usage for each are:
- The pen is over there.
- Their dog is so cute.
- They’re the prettiest flowers in the whole garden.
Passed/Past: Passed is the past tense of “to pass,” so if the usage involves the passing of time, or any kind of forward movement, this is the correct version. Example: “We passed three gas stations before we finally pulled in.”
Past is related to location in place or time and has many uses:
- Adverb meaning to go by, as in “Birds flew past the window.”
- Noun meaning time, as in “The economy was so much better in the past.”
- Adjective meaning an action is over, as in “Our school days have past.”
- Preposition meaning beyond, as in “Wedding guests will start arriving at quarter past three.”
Further/Farther: Both of these mean distance, but farther is physical distance and further is figurative. Examples:
- The grocery store is farther down the road.
- I wish I had gone further in school.
Loose/Lose: Despite their similar spellings, these words have very different meanings.
- Loose is when something is free-flying, example, “The awning came loose from the wall.”
- Lose refers to possession, something you don’t have or will not have anymore, example, “Don’t play for money if you often lose at poker. “
To/Too/Two: To is related to motion or the limit of motion, as in “We walked from one side of the mall to the other” or “Visiting time is three to five.” Too means as well, example, “My friends love chocolate and I love it too.” Two is the number, a pair, as in, “I have two more hours to work on my manuscript.”
Who/Whom: Who is used when you’re referring to the subject, the person who’s doing something, and whom for the object, the person to whom something is being done. To make it easier, turn it into a question and see if the answer would use he or him. If it’s he, use who, for him, use whom. For example, “Who ate the last cookie?” You wouldn’t answer “Him did.” You’d answer “He did.” So “who” is correct. If you want to ask who received the last cookie, the answer would be, “I gave it to him,” so “whom” is correct, as in, “To whom did you give the last cookie?”
That/Which: Okay, these aren’t similar in spelling, but they are often mixed up. Both attach descriptions, but in different ways. (There are other uses for that, but I’m focusing on the one that causes the most confusion.) Here’s the trick: If what comes after is necessary to the meaning of the sentence, use that; if it’s additional information, use which. For example, “My hair is so curly that I have to keep it in a ponytail” or “My hair is so curly, which I like.”
Sometimes, both versions of the same sentence are correct, so you have to consider the context. For example, say someone is looking for a wood coffee table, “I have a square coffee table that is made of wood” is correct. If the person is looking for a square coffee table, “I have a square coffee table, which is made of wood” is more appropriate.
Quick note on “that” — many times, it’s not necessary. If you don’t need it, delete it. An example of where it’s not needed: “The gardeners that are working on the landscaping have green thumbs.” Try, “The gardeners working on the landscaping have green thumbs.”
Manuscript Format: When you’ve fixed all the problems in your manuscript, it’s time to format it properly before you send it out. (Of course, you can do this earlier if you’d like.) Now, there is some different information on the Web regarding formatting, but here are the basics.
- Document size should be 8 1/2 x 11 white paper
- 1-inch margins on each side
- Use 12-point text that’s either Ariel or Times New Roman
- Consecutive numbering on pages
- First page should have the writer’s name and contact information in the top left corner single spaced, title halfway down the page, the byline double-spaced below the title and the story text beginning two-thirds down the page (Why so much space? Editors and agents like to write notes on that first page.)
- Double-space all the text of the story
- Start each chapter at the top of a new page
- Put your name, a shortened version of the title and your phone number and/or email address in the header of each page (This is so the agent or editor can still contact you even if they accidentally lose the first page.)
What to do after you’ve done all these checks, polished and formatted your manuscript and sent it off to editors and agents? Start writing another one.
Any questions? What are your problem areas?