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Malaprops and Other Writing Problems

Copyright © 2002-2006, 2008, 2020 by David E. Ross

Words that are spelled differently and have different definitions but are identically pronounced
Ludicrous misuse of a word, especially by confusion with one of similar (but not identical) pronunciation
The wrong word in a malapropism

I am an avid reader with eclectic tastes in both fiction and non-fiction. So with great delight, I discovered a wealth of fiction on the Internet. Available for free, most of this is written by amateurs (i.e., by individuals who are not paid to write). Some of this fiction is excellent. Indeed, some writers have advanced from amateur to professional; the stories they wrote for free on the Internet are now included in anthologies that are available only by buying them in bookstores. However, much of what I find is so filled with writing errors that I cannot get beyond the first 100 words of a 8,000-word story without quitting.

Sometimes, I start to read a story on the Web; and I want to reach into my computer and along the cables of the Internet to strangle the author. I want to scream:

What's the matter with you?
Why can't you write a literate, coherent sentence?
Don't you know the English language?

If English is really not your first language, tell us in a note at the beginning of what you write. Then your readers will be more forgiving. But if English is indeed your first language — or (worse) your only language — have some respect for your readers, yourself, and the English language. Learn how to write.

Learn the mechanics of grammar and punctuation. Learn how to spell and how to proofread. Until you learn these, please don't inflict your ignorance on the rest of us.

If you are a writer and want others to treat your work seriously — even if you are an amateur — you must proofread your work. Some of the best writing I see on the Internet relies on having someone else proofread and edit.

Pay attention not only to spelling, grammar, and punctuation but also to style. I highly recommend Strunk and White's Elements of Style (even if I do not always abide by its recommendations). I also like Follett's Modern American Usage.

Remember, if you are creating literature, you should be literate. Being literate involves NOT using Twitter, instant messaging, or other such means of communication as guides.

cartoon with signposts pointing to various entrances to Hell, labeled with writing errors



Troubles with Apostrophes

The Pronoun Problem

Foreign Terms

Proofread, Then Proofread Again

Writing for the Internet

Tense, Number, and Other Peeves

Characters and Characterization


William Strunk, Jr., and E. B. White, The Elements of Style (Third Edition), Macmillan Publishing Co., New York, ©1979. (The 1918 edition is online via The Project Gutenberg.)

Willson Follett (edited and completed by Jacques Barzun), Modern American Usage, Hill & Wang, New York, © 1966.

* Actually, these are homophones (sounds the same). True homonyms (named the same) not only sound the same but are also spelled the same, having different meanings and origins. Common usage, however, uses the latter term.

20 February 2004
Updated 6 February 2021

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