Horrors in Time for Halloween

I’ve told you how I feel about seeing and hearing “regard(s),” amount,” and “less” misused. After I opened the door to discuss those horrors, I noticed many more horrifying misuses lurking in the back of the writing closet.

When these words somehow make it into published writing, I shudder as if a tarantula crept across the page of my book. I groan as if a skeleton had snuggled up beside me as I read. I moan helplessly as the careless author is vampiring my blood for as long as it takes for me to read the book.

Without a clove of garlic handy, I’m at the author’s mercy if he/she has not hired a copy-editor to clean up the freaky expressions that set any reader’s teeth on edge.

Here are some of the latest horrors I’ve come across.

“Have to” is often used to mean “must,” especially in dialogue. When we say these words, the “v” sounds like “f.” It sounds like “hafto,” but for heaven’s sake, please don’t spell it like that. It is still two words (“have to”).

A similar situation happens with “supposed to” and “used to.” The correct form is not “suppose to,” “suppost to,” or even “s’post to.” Neither is it “use to,” or “useto.”

Another common mistake that makes me prickle is the use of “of” when “have” is meant. Here are some examples of what I mean:

Could of, should of, would of — these are meant to be could have, should have, would have.

While we’re at it, let’s throw in “gonna,” kinda,” “gimme,” and “wanna.” These should say “going to,” “kind of,” “give me,” and “want to.” Yes, in dialogue you may want to write “gonna,” “kinda,” “gimme,” and “wanna,” if that’s how the characters are speaking. Do it if you must, but only in dialogue.

Don’t laugh! Adult authors have published books containing these travesties of writing. These expressions live in published works even outside the borders of Transylvania.

Two Misuses That Drive me Crazy


This one drives me crazy.

Two of the main uses for this word are when it means “about” and when it means “greetings.”

You can correctly say, “I haven’t seen your aunt for a long time. Please give her my regards.” (Notice the “s” on the end of the “regards”?) Used in this way, it means to tell someone that you are thinking of them.

When you are referring to some topic, you can correctly say, “With regard to (the topic)…” or you can say, “Regarding (the topic) ….” But you should NEVER say, “With regards to (the topic)…” unless you are asking someone to say hi to the topic or to give the topic your greetings.

Several news anchor people on CTV News regularly say, “With regards to …” when they mean, “With regard to….” The anchor person says, “With regards to the rioters…” and I immediately roll my eyes, groan, and say, “Yes, please give the rioters my regards too, while you’re at it.”

Many people make this mistake in word usage, and that is not so bad in personal speech or in emails or private communications, but I draw the line at publishing. By that, I mean anything that you write for the public to read. I include signs in the grocery store that tell you the price of broccoli, peppers, and cauliflower, for example. They are not brocolli, pepers, and callaflower.

Especially, if you are publishing a program on TV, it is your duty to use the correct form. Otherwise we would soon have news anchors reading the news with all sorts of bad grammar habits. (I fear it may be too late already).

While I’m ranting about news anchors and their mistakes, here is another one that I hear frequently.

Amount/number, less/fewer

This one drives me almost as crazy.

News Anchor: “The amount of people who came to the meeting was overwhelming.”

Me: “So about how many pounds of people would you say were there? Three thousand pounds? Four?”

It should be the number of people.

News Anchor: “There were less people at the meeting this year.”

Me: “Oh? About how many pounds less would you say?”

It should be fewer people, not less people.

If the quantity is something you can count individually, you say, the number of people or fewer people.

If those people were just so much hamburger all in a lump, you could say, “The amount of hamburger  was overwhelming,” and “There was less hamburger at the meeting.”

Amount and less are words used for measuring something that could be a mass or something that could be weighed as a whole (if necessary).

Now I’m shaking in my boots that I’ve made a typo in this post. After all, I’m publishing it, and to the best of my ability, it should be correct. I should probably hire a copy-editor.

More Troublesome Words

Troublesome words fill the English language. Here are some more to add to your list of words to watch for.


She preferred the pear to the apple. She loved pears so much that she took two from the bowl and ate the pair of them. They had some blemishes so she decided to pare them first.


Just as she took the peel off the pears, the church bells began to peal.


Her aural senses told her that the church bells rang twelve times. Since that meant it was lunch time, she gratified her oral senses by biting into the pears.


“I must get the recipe for that pear cake,” she thought. “But is it too expensive to make pear cake? I’ll check the receipt from the store to see how much I paid.”


The sound of phones ringing was continual in the call center, but when the fire alarm rang, the shrill sound of it was continuous for several minutes.


The principles of gravity are fundamental truths. Isaac Newton learned of one of them in 1666 when an apple hit him on the head as he sat under an apple tree.

He went to the principal’s office to report this revelation about gravity. No one believed him at first, but he was determined and stuck to his principles as he minded his manners and insisted that he would be famous one day.


We walked for miles through the forest, and although weary we kept our eyes open and were wary of any strange rustling sounds in the bushes.


I was conscious of the subtle pressure from my employer, but my conscience would not allow me to go along with his suggested illegal action.

At this point I think you have all been very conscientious if you are still with me.


Did you know that redundant comes from the Latin verb “redundare,” to overflow? Sometimes we use superfluous words without realizing it. Some writers do it on purpose, mistakenly thinking that more words will make a good impression. Instead, wordiness can be a boring turn off.

Words beginning with the prefix “re,” which means “again,” or “back,” can be particularly troublesome. If you see the prefix, “re,” in a word, chances are that it means to do something again.

Restart – start again

Remake – make again

Redo – do again

Revert – go back

(You get the picture.)

When “re” does the job of “again,” it is redundant (superfluous) to repeat “again.”

Be careful not to use this needless repetition.

“He restarted the car again.”

“Let’s return back home again.”

“She reverted back to her childhood.”

“The teacher insisted I redo the homework again.”

Again” and “back” are redundant.


Here are some more cases of redundant word usage. You can remove the words marked in red and not lose the meaning.

He is a man who says what he believes.

There is no doubt but that he will be late.

She spoke in a rough manner (roughly).

As to whether he will be there, I don’t know.

The fact that … (Completely unnecessary)

Owing to the fact that … (Replace with “since”)

In spite of the fact that … (Replace with “although”)

Politicians like to use repeated (redundant) words for emphasis.

Here is a man who is honourable.

Here is a man who is hard working.

Here is a man who is reliable.

And here is a man who is trustworthy.

This could all be said in one sentence.

This man is honourable, hard working, reliable, and trustworthy.

Unless you are trying for emphasis, it is best to stay away from redundant words and phrases. Even so, there are better ways to make an emphatic point.

Overused Words and Expressions

We all have words and phrases that we tend to overuse. In our writing, we need to watch for repeated words. If possible, avoid using the same word twice in one sentence and check for repetition within a paragraph.

Often they are words we overuse in our speech as well. Some of mine were “maybe,” “just,” and “so.” But more than being annoying to the reader, what starts out to be only a bad habit can damage our writing in more serious ways. By using our favourite expressions, we add a chattiness to our writing that may or may not be called for. It also prevents us from searching for a more specific, suitable word.

If you know what some of your pet repeated words are, you could use Find in your Word program and it will take you to each instance of the repeated word. You then have the option to change it to something more interesting or to delete it. You’ll be shocked at the repetitions you’ll find.

Another method that is surprisingly simple but works well is to read your work out loud. You’ll be amazed at what you notice. You’ll make corrections automatically because what you wrote doesn’t “sound right” when read aloud.

Why not give it a try and read a page of your writing out loud?

You may find that some of your repeated words and expressions are clustered in a small section of your work. Almost in the same way that we get a song on the brain, so we have a word or expression that comes out in our writing almost without our bidding. Perhaps by the time you write another page, you have had a break, or a night’s sleep, and that word is no longer “on your brain,” so it won’t reappear until later on, if at all.

Many of the repeated or overused words are not even necessary to the writing. Try it out and see if you really need that pet word.

Some commonly overused words:

then, now, maybe, even, anyway, so, like, pretty, very, really, little, kind of, bit of, big, you know, would, nice, said, finally, at last.

There are many more, but we each have our own special expressions. We need to become aware of what they are. Then we must ask ourselves, “Is this exactly what I want to say, or is it filler?”

Common Word Usage Errors

Most writers mix up a word or two now and then. Some writers mix up a lot of words a lot of the time. In novels that have not been copy-edited, I find a disturbing number of errors and those of word usage are some of the most glaring.

They are also the easiest for the writer to fix and to avoid in the first place.

Here are some examples of words and phrases that are often confused or misused.

I shudder when I see lay and lie misused, but it is such a common error that I have devoted a whole post to it. You can visit it here.

raise, rise

You rise when you get up, but when you lift something else up, you raise it.

The past tense is rose, or if you lifted something you raised it.

loose, lose

A knot could come loose, and then you might lose something you had tied up with it.

breath, breathe

When you take a breath, you breathe.

loath, loathe

You might be loath to do something that you loathe.

peek, peak, pique

Let’s take a peek out the window at the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro. Oh, no, not now. Maybe later. But you have piqued my interest.

But later, she was piqued by his rudeness, and huffed around the house in a fit of pique.

horde, hoard

A horde of people pushed their way towards the speaker.

During the Covid crisis, some people were hoarding toilet paper.

hang, hung

The picture was hung on the wall, but the man was hanged from the gibbet.

ensure, insure

You ensure (make sure) that something happens, but you insure (buy compensation) against losing money in case of an accident.

less, amount, fewer, number

Less and amount are used with quantities that cannot be counted individually, while fewer and number are used for things that can be counted.

There has been less cloud this week, but we have had fewer cloudy days.

A number of people have said that the amount of meat a person eats has a direct effect on their health.

affect, effect

What he said does not affect me directly, but the overall effect of his way of talking is that people like him less for it.

The list of word usage errors is quite long and I may post another list at a later time. For now, this is a start.

Long Sentences

Do you know what is both the shortest and the longest sentence in the world? Some say it is  — “I do.”

But this post is not about marriage counseling; it is about sentence length.

I know that when I’m reading, I don’t like overly long sentences. I was traveling in Germany many years ago and needed a new book to read. The local bookstore had no books in English, but I was desperate. I picked up one of the few German titles that looked familiar to me and decided to try reading it (in German) as a challenge. It was Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy. I had learned German as a child and I looked on this book as a way to improve my command of the German language.

I was able to read and understand the words, but two things made my job extremely difficult. First, many of the sentences were very long. Second, the verb was usually at the end, as it often is in German. These two challenges nearly finished me. Luckily it was a good book and I wanted to know what would happen next. That helped me through it.

I came to the conclusion that I do not like to read long sentences. If I don’t like reading long sentences, why would I write them and inflict them on others?

Readers lose interest if they have to struggle to get the point of the sentence. Who wants to work that hard?  It takes the pleasure out of reading.

So! As a writer, I am offering some tips about writing sentences.

  • Vary the length of sentences.
  • Vary the type of sentences. (Don’t use the same structure for each one – Noun, verb, object. Noun, verb, object. Boring!)
  • Use short sentences for emphasis. Occasionally, it might even be just a fragment (not a complete sentence).
  • Use short emphatic sentences sparingly or you will lose the effect.

Generally, shorter is better. As a rule of thumb, more than 17 words is too long. Don’t think of that as a hard and fast rule, but rather as a guideline. Many writers string ideas together with connecting words such as but, and, while, since, which, so, and then. Often, these sentences would be much more effective if the connectors were taken out. The long boring sentence can then be reshaped into two good ones.

After you write a paragraph, check it for strong vocabulary and strong verbs. Add modifiers where warranted. If your writing is about a character, think about how he feels and add details to support this. Use rich language without being pretentious or unnatural.

Change it up. Mix it up. Pace yourself. Keep it interesting.

Apostrophes – Commas in the Air

Common mistakes I see when copy-editing


Many people confuse the purpose of apostrophes in their writing. So when should you use an apostrophe? 

Apostrophes have two separate uses. One is for showing ownership, as in the cat’s whiskers. The other is to show that one or more letters have been taken out (contractions).

Often, I see apostrophes in words that are meant to be plural, but not possessive.

e.g. The photo’s look great.

It should say: The photos look great.

Sometimes, people use apostrophes with pronouns.

e.g.  her’s, it’s, our’s, their’s, who’s, your’s — these are all WRONG if you’re trying to show ownership. They should be written: hers, its, ours, theirs, whose, yours.

Some of the words can be confusing.

e.g. Let’s means let us, but if you meant to say that someone allows you do do something, it should be, “She lets me go to the movies.”  

Who’s means who is, but if you meant to ask who owns something, you would say, “Whose dog it that?”

And the most troublesome of all … it’s or its.

It’s means it is, but if you are attaching ownership, you would say, “The dog should pay attention to its master.”

There was a time when the general rule was to use apostrophes to show possession for people and animals (the dog’s fur, the lady’s hat), but to use “of” for inanimate things (the hood of the jacket, the eye of the needle), but this is now being disregarded in many cases. It seems to me that it’s perfectly acceptable to refer to “the car’s windshield” or “the book’s cover.”

One of the most common errors I see is the use of an apostrophe  with decades.

e.g. The  Beetles were popular in the 1960s. There should be NO apostrophe.

But if you shorten the decades to refer to the ’60s. This apostrophe is correct because it shows that something has been left out — in this case,  the 19. Be sure that the apostrophe is turned to face the same direction as a comma (not as at the beginning of a quotation).

Placement: The apostrophe comes after the word that has the ownership. If it is a singular noun, then you would put the apostrophe after that noun. If it is a plural noun, then put the apostrophe after the end of that word.

e.g. This is the dog’s collar.

These are the two dogs’ collars.

The use of apostrophes is more complex than one page  can do justice to, but consider this a beginner’s list of basic helpful hints.

Grammar Manners – Say it Right

Writers, do you struggle with grammar? Here is one way of helping yourself sort out how to “say it right.” But first, look at these sweet little dogs.

Exemplary Behavior – by Horatio Henry Couldery (1832-1893)

Having and using good manners will always be important to me. Although I don’t feed my dogs at the table, I couldn’t help admiring the good manners displayed by the dogs in this painting.


My old “Good Manners for All Occasions” says it’s polite for the man to open the door for the lady, and for that matter, for any younger person to open it for the older one. This custom is considered to be polite, but in the penguin world, letting someone else go first is based on survival.


Penguins stand in a line at the edge of the ice, ready to go for a dip in the ocean for a bit of fishing. Who will test the waters first? The crowd gathers at the water’s edge jostling each other until finally, one of them falls in. If he isn’t attacked by a lurking leopard seal in the next few moments, the rest of the penguins dive in.

But surely, we humans have evolved from these primitive, yet effective, tactics. We now consider it polite to allow others to go first. We offer others the first choice from the food platter, even though it occasionally backfires on us.

This was the case when at dinner, Joe passed the meat platter to his brother Bob first before helping himself. When Joe complained because Bob took the biggest piece, Bob asked, “What would you have done?”

Joe sniffed. “I would have taken the smaller piece, of course.”

“Well, you have it,” Bob said. “So what’s the problem?”


In spite of these odd cases, modern society generally agrees that we should let others go first. And so it is with grammar.

We name the other person(s) first and then ourselves. If it is that simple, why is it still such a problem in our writing?

Following are some tips and guidelines.

When naming others first, we would not begin a sentence with: Me and Joe, Me and him, Me and her, I and Joe.

Okay, we know we should name Joe first, but even so, is it Him and me, Joe and me, or Joe and I?

Let’s look at some sample sentences where you and Joe are the subjects of the verb. Here are the possibilities:

Joe and me / Joe and I / Him and me / Him and I / He and me / He and I / drove to town.


When in doubt, leave Joe out. Without Joe in the car, you are in the driver’s seat and of course you would say “I drove to town” not “Me drove to town.” When you take on that extra passenger, if you need to get the feel of whether it’s Joe or him or he, try leaving yourself out. “Joe drove to town” or “Him drove to town” or “He drove to town”?

“Him drove to town” simply does not work, so you can use either “Joe” or He.”


I’m still shocked when I see sentences like “Me and him went to the party.” You would never say “Me went to the party” or “Him went to the party,” so why would you say “Me and him” or even “Him and me” (went to the party)?

And now we come to the other situation where you and Joe are the objects of the verb. Which is correct?

The sun shone on:

me and Joe

Joe and me

Joe and I

him and me

him and I

he and I

First rule is to mention others first so that narrows it down to Joe/him/he and me/I. Second, leave out me/I and we have “The sun shone on Joe (or him).” Then leave out Joe and we have “The sun shone on me” (you wouldn’t say “I”). So together we have “The sun shone on Joe/him and me.” Better yet, say “The sun shone on us.”

Now may the sun shine on your grammar and mine.

When you have finished writing your book, why not check out my webpage for copy-editing and other goodies?




Love Triangle

“Love triangle”: an awkward situation when two people love the same third person. But doesn’t the triangle have three points and don’t they all connect to each other?

Let’s say Michael and Karl (A and B) each love Julia (C).  A and B each connect to C. What about that third connection, between A and B? Without that “rub” the world would be too rosy for C.

Julia and Michael are young and in love. No one plays the violin as sweetly as Michael does. But circumstances interfere, the love affair ends, and Michael disappears. Julia marries someone else. Their two children are lovely, and life is grand.

Then war in Europe changes everything. Alone with two small children, Julia suffers through desperate times.  Her new suitor seems to be the answer to her problems. She marries again, perhaps more for security, although she does come to love him, and the two children they soon have together.

But what happens when the bloom is off the rose and only thorns are left?

What if, out of the blue, a letter finds her, and a voice from 20 years ago and now on the other side of the world asks her to come live with him?

“I’m alive. I’ve searched for you through the Red Cross for years and am overjoyed to have found you at last. I’ve never stopped loving you. Please say you’ll come to me,” Michael writes.

OMG! What to do?
What would Karl say? Or do?

Should she leave this thorny bed and flee to a bed of roses? But she can’t have Karl meet Michael, her beautiful violinist ….

What to do? What to do?

Abandon everyone, everything?  Not her children, and another one on the way.

How desperate is she? And what about the “rub” between the other two points of the triangle?

Find Julia’s Violinist for Kindle or paperback on amazon.com. http://amzn.to/YerEJ7

and for paperback and all e-reader types on Smashwords.com. http://bit.ly/VzlHFR