11 writing mistakes anyone can make

  1. Affect vs. Effect

‘Affect’ is a verb that means ‘cause a change in’ or ‘influence’. ‘Effect’ is mostly used as a noun, although when we write in a formal style we occasionally use it as a verb meaning ‘to carry out’ or ‘cause to happen’.

She was greatly affected by the latest news.

Smoking will affect your health.

Take care of your personal effects.

The sound effects are amazing.

The lawyer effected a great result.


  1. Me, Myself, I

While many of us learnt at school that ‘Kate and me want to go’ is incorrect, we never learnt what is correct.

People often use either ‘I’ or the reflexive pronoun ‘myself’ instead of ‘me’. How often do you hear or read something like this:

Would you please call Kate or I before you leave?

Would you please call Kate or myself before you leave?

If you take Kate out of the sentence, you’re either asking the person to ‘call I before you leave’ or ‘call myself before you leave.’ And of course, neither sounds nor looks right.

Compose your sentence as if you were the only subject. It’s fine to say:

Would you please call Kate or me before you leave? [Would you please call me before you leave?] Or Kate and I have decided to go next week [I have decided to go next week].


  1. Compliment vs. Complement

‘Compliment’ as a noun, means ‘an expression of praise or admiration’ and as a verb ‘to pay a compliment to’. As a noun a ‘complement’ is ‘something that completes or makes perfect’ and as a verb means ‘to complete’.

When you compliment Sheila’s new dress, mention how well the blue pattern complements her eyes.


4. Principal vs. Principle

A school principal should stick to her principles.


  1. All together vs. Altogether

Use ‘altogether’ when you mean ‘entirely’ or ‘in total’. Use ‘all together’ when you mean ‘assembled’ or ‘all in a group’.

Mistake: All together I think there were about 60 visitors.

Correct: Altogether I had about 60 visitors.


  1. Both vs. Each

‘Both’ means ‘two’ and always comes with a plural verb.  ‘Each’ means ‘one’ and takes a singular verb.

Both houses are new.

Each house is new.


  1. Can vs. May 

‘Can’ applies to what is possible, and ‘may’ to what is permissible. Another way to look at may is to think ‘must’, or ‘must not’, or ‘should’ and ‘should not’. For example:

You can drive your car the wrong way down a one-way street, but you may not (or must not or should not). Thank you to Bill Bryson’s Troublesome Words.


  1. Advice and advise, practice and practice

‘Advice’ is a noun, and ‘advise’ is a verb. Just as ‘practice’ is a noun and ‘practise’ is a verb.

Follow his advice.

She runs a large design practice.

I advise you to say nothing.

I will practise every week.


  1. Disinterested vs. Uninterested

‘Uninterested’ is the opposite of ‘interested’. ‘Disinterested’ means impartial or unbiased, (but not a lack of interest).

A judge should be disinterested in the case, but interested in the proceedings.


  1. Whether or not

If you are using ‘whether’ as in ‘if’, you can drop the ‘or not’.

We will soon find out whether [or not] Clare Smith will make a good President.

But use or not if you are stressing it as an alternative. For example:

He’s going to the party whether you like it or not.


  1. All of

We sometimes include ‘of’ after ‘all’ when it’s not necessary.

All the readers are now happy.

But use ‘of’ if it is followed by a pronoun:

I love all of them.


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