Common Mishaps in Copywriting

Common Mishaps in Copywriting

Revision is absolutely a part of the writing process, and thanks to spell and grammar check, we seem to have a better grasp of the written language, at least. The only problem is that tools to check spelling and grammar are frequently wrong or not observant enough, making us look silly.

Common Mishaps in Copywriting

If you’re writing for potential customers, your job is to bring your visitors into the fold and make them click, fill out a form or “buy now!” While you can get away with a few grammar and spelling mistakes with the average reader, blatant errors in your copy can turn off your more educated and well-read visitors.

That being said, it’s often a challenge to know exactly which version of a word or phrase to use in a piece of copy. Even the “pros” often disagree about word usage and the rules of English are constantly changing – you can now start a sentence with “but” and you don’t always need a comma when joining two independent clauses, for example:

But if we’re hungry, we can eat dinner now. Dinner is delicious and we’re all glad to be satisfied.

Common Copywriting Mishaps

With a constantly evolving language and different rules for copywriting and formal writing, it’s not surprising that so many of us struggle with the written language. Rest assured, at least, that you can keep a few of the trickiest areas straight – we can clear those up right now!

Except and Accept

The prefix or root “ex” means “out of”, so when you say, “I want everything except the donut”, you’re saying you want to leave the donut out of your pastry box. If you “accept” the donut, you’re welcoming it – like the acceptance speeches at an award ceremony. Except and accept are close to opposites, or at the very least have the opposite intent in use.

Except

Through, Thorough and Though

These are three of the most confusing spellings in the English language. “Through” (not to be confused with threw, which is said the same way) means you’re passing into and then out of something. You’re going through a long, dark tunnel. Or a long, dark depression.

“Thorough” is how well you’ve done something. “I hope you’ve done a thorough job cleaning up your room!” Thorough is a positive word meaning you’ve done enough to be praised for doing well.

“Though” is a word of exception. “I don’t want the ketchup, though.” “Though we walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I shall fear no evil.” It’s pronounced “th-O”.

Through

Advice and Advise

I see these mixed up all the time, and it always makes me cringe when a self-purported professional offers some “advise” on a website. The breakdown is as follows: “Advice” is a noun, you offer advice. You give someone kind words of advice. “Advise” is a verb, an action word. You advise someone against walking in the rain wearing a metal hat.

Advice

All Together and Altogether

This is another one that is misused by all but the most rigorous grammarian. “All together” demonstrates a group who are acting as a single entity. “All together, we jumped in the freezing lake.” “Altogether” is a word to combine ideas or express a complicated thought pattern more simply. “Jumping in a freezing lake is altogether a terrible idea!”

Altogether

All Ready and Already

Similar to all together, “all ready” simply means that we are all ready for something. “Are we all ready to walk to the park?” “Already” means something has happened in the past – “We’ve already walked to the park today!”

Already

Among and Between

Hazy at times, among and between are a bit tricky to sort out. “Between” is something that happens with two people. “Between you and me, these Partagas cigars are outstanding!” Among happens with three or more people. “Among the members of the group, I was obviously the most intelligent.”

Among

Effect and Affect

The most abused twin set of the English language, effect and affect are so often misused, many people simply avoid either word out of fear of getting the wrong one. An “effect” is a noun – it’s something you can see. “The fiery special effect was brilliant!” “Affect” is usually a verb – it’s an action. “That fire is starting to affect me in a negative way – I’m getting a headache.”

Effect

Then and Than

These two words are a non-native English speaker’s nightmare, but I notice more and more that native English speakers also confuse these two words.

“Then” indicates something following on from something else: “We went to the park, then we went to the museum.” “Than” is a word of comparison: “She is younger than him.”

Then

Irregardless

Sadly, the powers that be in the English language have decided to make “irregardless” an official word in the language. Perhaps even more depressing is that we all know what you mean when you say it, but in actuality it makes no sense at all. “Regard” is to care. RegardLESS means “without a care”.

So you might say, “Regardless of his feelings, she flirted shamelessly with others.” This means she didn’t care a bit for his feelings. The prefix ir – means “the opposite of.” So when you put it all together you have irregardless meaning the opposite of not caring. So you care. Why didn’t you just say so?

Irregardless

Elicit and Illicit

Another pair of fun words to play with, “elicit” means you’re drawing something out – you might elicit a reluctant smile from a crying friend, for example. Something illicit is outrageous and probably illegal. Illicit relationships, for example, would be affairs or other unlikely couplings. While they sound similar, the two are worlds apart – use with care!

Eicit

Its and It’s

What should be simple simply is not. It would be a common pronoun. It can stand for anything that doesn’t have an associated gender. A chair, a table, a cow, what have you. Normally when you want to make a noun possessive, you add an apostrophe and s. “The boy’s turtle escaped.” In the case of “it” you don’t add the apostrophe for the possessive. “Its paint peeling, the barn looks old and derelict.”

“It’s” complete with the apostrophe is reserved for situations where you’re using the contraction for “it is.” “It’s too bad that the cow bit its tongue.” This particular mistake is one that often the grammar check on Microsoft Word gets wrong, so don’t feel especially bad if you’ve missed it in the past as well.

Its It's

Conclusion

While there are certainly more pairs of words out there to stumble upon as you write copy and improve your website’s content, there’s no need to give up hope of getting it right every time. Use these simple explanations to get started and then actively seek out words that have tripped you up a time or two in the past.

If a word looks wrong on the page, double check it before you finish editing your work – a quick search online can give you plenty of examples of how to use words correctly or which spelling is correct. The English language is evolving constantly, and as an English writer, you should be evolving, too.

Rebecca Garland is working hard to populate the internet with interesting, engaging content one blog post at at time. With advanced degrees in business and information science as well as teaching certifications in seven areas, Rebecca enjoys a dual career as both a freelance writer and a high school English teacher.

Comments

    • Marlou,
    • July 29, 2011
    / Reply

    Thank you!
    English is not my native language so posts like these are always handy.

  1. / Reply

    Great tips, I often run into the problem with “Thorough” and “Though”

    • Greg,
    • July 29, 2011
    / Reply

    you forgot “your” and “you are”

    1. / Reply

      That’s a good one.

    • Greg,
    • July 29, 2011
    / Reply

    and of course, really useful article, thanks for sharing.

    • Jessica,
    • July 29, 2011
    / Reply

    I had a client write threw instead of through the other day. That one was pretty bad! But it is always helpful to have these kinds of reminders. Thanks!

    • Sally,
    • July 29, 2011
    / Reply

    The one that makes me cringe is when people confuse their subject and object pronouns: “Her and her husband went to the store.” Like nails on a chalkboard, folks.

    • DJ,
    • July 30, 2011
    / Reply

    Why didn’t you use the single most misused pair in the US? Bring and Take? “Take that with you to the party” NOT “bring that with you to the party.” 15 years ago this atrocity on the language seemed to be isolated to the northeast US – sort of an adorable colloquialism. Now – it’s almost rampant.

    1. / Reply

      Ah, I heard this first from a Scottish guy I worked with in the UK about 30 years ago. It drove us all mad!

      He explained it like this, which of course doesn’t make it right.

      It all depends on your location when you will be doing the carrying. (bringing or taking)

      If he is at work now, talking about something he is going to give me tomorrow (at work), he will start the process of transportation from home, his frame of reference is home, therefore to him it would be correct to ~~take it~~ to work irrespective of him being at work when he is explaining this.

      This of course is incorrect for me as for me, he will bring it to work which is correct for my frame of reference.

      Conversely he would bring things home- as explained at work.

      Sadly he died some years ago so this explanation is dedicated to him, Dave ‘the cardboard box’ Daniel.

  2. / Reply

    LOL! There are hundreds of these misused words and phrases out there, and it looks like they annoy everyone as much as me. Ah well, they say English is an evolving language.

    • kc rajput,
    • July 30, 2011
    / Reply

    Rebecca Garland.. Thanks dear.. it’s simply awesome.. :)

  3. / Reply

    I absolutely hate “Irregardless”. I’ve tried to tell people for so long it can’t be a word and it doesn’t make sense.

    I’m so upset someone thought it should be a word! Thanks for including it on here anyway. Now when I hear everyone say it, I’m just going to have to somehow try to brush it off ….ick.

  4. / Reply

    Oh – and just becasue a lot of people do it, doesn’t make it right!
    ;)

  5. / Reply

    Affect and effect and the two that always get me, no matter what. I find I have to keep Googling the difference just to remind myself when to use them properly :)

  6. / Reply

    Correct and intended spelling is a great start but not the complete story.

    There are many other aspects to good copywriting such as only having one idea per paragraph and trying not to use one noun twice in the same sentence.

    i.e. ‘Dave worked hard to dig the whole garden in one afternoon, he used his father’s spade to dig it.’
    The 2nd ‘dig’ could be better replaced with ‘do’.

    You could also consider readability., what?

    Readability measures of the level of education required to understand a text on first reading.
    Supermarket tabloids or Red Tops as we call them in the UK write in a very simple manner but the Wall St Journal or The Financial Times use more complicated language .

    The easier it is to read, the better you be in getting your message to your audience.

    You could do worse than search Wikipedia for ‘fog index’. This is a measure of readability invented by Robert Gunning in the USA in 1952. There is a rather technical explanation, but at the bottom of the article, there are links to readability calculators which will allow you to paste in your text and check your readability score. Less than 12 is considered good.

    The Fog Index measures readability in grade years.

    Simpler = better.

    This post – including this sentence has a Fog Index of 9.45

  7. / Reply

    Brilliant article! Anyone who struggles with English should keep this handy. People who have genuine problems writing have my total sympathy but a lot of people just get sloppy. My pet hate is “of” instead of “have”. “To have” is pretty much the first verb you learn on a language course so why do so many people have trouble using it?

    • ANA,
    • August 1, 2011
    / Reply

    Great list! It speaks to the grammar police in my head.

    My own grammatical pet peeve is when people use an apostrophe then s to pluralize something. As in the phrase “I have two dog’s”. That makes me cringe.

    People, in most cases, to make a noun plural, you only need to add an “s”. Leave out the apostrophe.

  8. / Reply

    Thanks! I often mix it’s and its. Very helpful.

  9. / Reply

    Valuable guide.

    • ManagementPawn,
    • August 2, 2011
    / Reply

    I think the three most egregious errors are:

    APOSTROPHE’S FOR PLURAL’S (aaaaargh!!!)
    IMPLY and INFER
    FEWER and LESS

    PS @Drew Clarke

    Dave worked hard to dig the whole garden in one afternoon, he used his father’s spade to dig it.

    That’s a compound (run-on) sentence, which is one of the other things that annoys me most. Independent clauses need to stand alone. That should read:

    Dave worked hard to dig the whole garden in one afternoon. He used his father’s spade to dig it.

    1. / Reply

      Or, since we’re talking about simplicity here (or at least Drew was) we can say, “Dave worked hard to dig the garden in one afternoon with his father’s spade.”

      Or join the two clauses with a semicolon – my personal favorite.

      “Dave worked hard to dig the garden in one afternoon; he used his father’s spade.”

      1. / Reply

        Surprisingly, I dislike the semicolon and prefer an em dash. Great article.

    • Frederick Ocean,
    • August 7, 2011
    / Reply

    Brilliant article altogether very thorough!
    There/Their/They’re could also join that list.

  10. / Reply

    I am afraid for the state of writing in general if these are common copywriting mistakes, and not just common mistakes in lay, or casual, writing. Nobody should be writing anything more than a grocery list without knowing these basics.

  11. / Reply

    @Drew and Rebecca, I have seldom seen the verb ‘dig’ applied to a garden, in simple or run-on sentences. One digs a hole, but how does one dig a garden?

  12. / Reply

    i done a lot mistakes before, this is cool tips sort out my problems, thanks

  13. / Reply

    thanks rebecca for sharing this. It is very useful.

  14. / Reply

    oh this is interesting. I always have problem with advice and advise. I always use that when asking for approval and I would like to ask the advice/advise of the client (should they need modification). Should I use “please advice” or “please advise”?

    thanks! :)

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