The Cardinal Sins of Writing (And Why You Should Give Them Up)

Thursday, February 18, 2016
With Lent in full swing, many of us have given up something in the hope that we’ll become a better person. So I was thinking it’s a good time to give up some of our more despicable writing sins in the hope that we’ll become…well, employed.

You see, there are a number of blistering blunders that keep us from getting writing work. There are some mistakes that are so egregious that an agent, editor, or publisher will immediately pass on whatever we’ve offered, no matter how brilliant the concept, pitch, or query may be.

What are these epic errors? I thought you’d never ask.

The Worst Spelling Mistake Ever

You have spell check; you never have to worry about a spelling error. Except every writer knows that’s not true. Misspelled words often slip through, but I’m not talking about “food” when you meant to type “good.” That’s not exactly fingernails-on-the-chalkboard bad.

But when you write “their” and the sentence calls for “there” or possibly ‘they’re”, then you have just made my eyeballs bleed. Basically, you have signaled—nay, you have sent up a flaming flare—that says, “I’m not a professional writer!”

Always check your there/their/they’re! And you might also want to check yourself on the use of “lose” and “loose.” For some reason, this, too, is a common writing error. It’s definitely wince-worthy, but I don’t think you’ll lose a job over it. On the other hand, there is one punctuation error that you shouldn’t let run loose.

But It Was Only One Apostrophe

Ah, the poor apostrophe. Yes, you can talk about your commas all day long, but for my money, it’s the apostrophe that can really grab one’s attention and say, “Whoa! You have no idea how punctuation works!”

First, let’s make this point clear: its’ is never correct. If you want to show possession of an it, then it’s its.

Secondly, an apostrophe is not something to be thrown around willy-nilly, just to be on the safe side. If you are not sure how to make a plural or show possession with numbers or abbreviations or whatnot, then look it up. Because plenty of editors will let a misplaced comma go on its merry way, but an errant apostrophe will always stand out in a sentence.

The Grammar Thing

I’m not going to go into a long preamble here. I’m just going to say do not use a subjective pronoun in an objective phrase because you think it “sounds right.”

“I brought sandwiches for you and I” is never right.

No, it’s not.


I am so tired of hearing broadcasters say “I” when they should say “me.” I’m tired of reading it in the paper or hearing it at a conference. To be honest, I don’t know how editors, agents, or publishers feel about this particular wrong. But I am on a mission to stop it in its tracks before it becomes common usage.

So please, think before you write. Give up those cardinal writing sins once and for all, and may your workbasket be ever flowing!

~Cathy C. Hall


Rev. Linda M. Rhinehart Neas, M.Ed. said...

Love this article Cathy! I have also become an advocate for the poor old apostrophe. Drives me nuts to see President's Day (We celebrate all presidents so it should be Presidents' Day.) Or, signs on businesses - Daves Cafe???? Do you mean, Dave's Cafe?

Thanks again for raising the standard!

Cathy C. Hall said...

You are very welcome, Linda!

(I blame texting for all the errors out there now. I mean, nobody bothers to capitalize or use apostrophes correctly, or any punctuation. Makes me crazy!Sure, it's just texting, but have a little pride in your text, right?) :-)

Sioux Roslawski said...

Are grown up people really screwing up their/they're/there? That's scary. Or sad.

Yeah, I've heard newscasters use I when they should have used me. It makes me cringe.

And an apostrophe every time i and t and s get together? I see that all the time.

Maybe we should just cover our heads with our blankets because grammar... well, it's rules are their for us to follow, since you and me like to adhere to the rules of standard English...

sally said...

I'm so guilty. I used to be so careful. Now I'm always cringing when I read my blog posts. My biggest errors are leaving words out or talking like my Alaskan Native mother-in-law (who spoke English a million times better than I spoke Yup'ik so I'm not not knocking her) or I'm Irish.

So, I once texted a client and told her there were rejections rolling in. And then I was traveling all day and had not cell access. She spent all day crying before I got the chance to tell her I meant there were NO rejections rolling in ARGHHHH.

I then had to write like my Native mother-in-law and tell her, "You book is lovely. No one had rejected it."

Faith and begorrah, It is enough to make me clients hate me.

sally said...

SPEAKING LIKE I'm Irish. See what I mean?

sally said...

Oh, and I add in letters, too. Alway say NOT when I mean NO.

We could this all day.

Cathy C. Hall said...

Sioux, it is VERY scary.

Sally, ha! Hahahahhahahaa!

sally said...

ha ha ha I swear I did not leave out the "s" and the "do" on purpose. I should be banned from the Internet. I sometimes wonder if I have Early Onset Alzheimer's. But I think I'm just typing too fast. And I have a very efficient brain. It fills in the blanks or erases the extra letters. Uh huh. I'm sure that's the deal. Efficient brain. That or Alzheimer's ("Disease" is implied, hence the apostrophe . . . right?).

The bad news is that my brain does not fix other people's mistakes for them. So your post is still true, Cathy. Say, "He gave sodas to Harry and I," and I'm going to wince.

OK. I'm leaving now, and I'm not coming back to read any more comments because I'll accidently look up and see a mistake in this one. I'm sorry I highjacked your comment section. You may have it back now. :) Thanks for the fun diversion. Guess what I've been doing all day. Editing. Is that scary or what?

Cathy C. Hall said...

Editing? All day? All is forgiven, Sally. ;-)

Linda O'Connell said...

The I/me comment sent shock waves, as I just heard a reporter make this error repeatedly.

Lisa Ricard Claro said...

You're right on all counts, as per usual. Unfortunately, with every website scrambling for content, it's not surprising that there would be so many errors. Things are being posted without being edited. It's sad, really, because it used to be that one could depend on the news outlets to offer up proper grammar. Not true anymore. :-/

Lisa Ricard Claro said...

I will admit, though, that I sometimes make boo-boos that I shouldn't make, usually in comments on blogs where I'm typing to fast and not paying attention.

Donna Volkenannt said...

Timely post, Cathy. Because the topic of your post is cardinal sins of writing, I thought I'd chime in about a priest who always used the word I when he should've used the word me. It wasn't easy listening to his homilies while silently correcting his grammar.
Another one that makes me cringe is the misuse of your and you're. Of course, I've made all these error myself, so I guess I'll just say mea culpa and move on.

Donna Volkenannt said...

Umm. Make that errors.

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