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.
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.
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”.
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.
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!”
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!”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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?
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!
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.
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.