As I work with written content, I often stumble over the same types of errors from multiple writers. Perhaps I simply notice these more because they’re somewhat akin to needles scraping glass when I see them (we all have our nerdy things), and this blog is my quest to stamp them out.
- Allot/a lot: If you have a large quantity of something, you have a lot of it. The a cannot be combined with the lot because it’s an article (a, an, the) and not a prefix here. However, a can be a prefix as it is with allot, which means “to assign a share or portion.” Personally, I recommend not using a lot a lot in your writing, since the phrase is too general to mean much of anything.
- Lightning/lightening: If you mean the electric discharge that lights up the sky and is followed by a loud boom of thunder, then use lightning (e.g., the storm filled the night with lightning). If you mean that the sky (or anything dark) is becoming brighter or less dark, then use lightening (e.g., maybe you should try lightening up the dark blue in your painting).
- There/their/they’re: We can all slip up with these homophones on occasion (I confess that I do). There is mostly used to show a place (e.g., we went there) or a relation (e.g., there are three potatoes in my sock). Their shows ownership by a third-person group (e.g., I found their potatoes in my sock). And they’re means “they are” (e.g., they’re getting on my nerves with the potato thing).
- To/too: This one is easy to overlook. Just make sure that if you mean “also” or “excessive,” you use too (e.g., he took too many cookies, too). The trickier use is when you want to emphasize your point or respond to a claim (e.g., you did too put mashed potatoes in Mrs. Humperdink’s chair).
- Breath/breathe: You can thank the meandering history of the English language for this, but a few verbs need an e on the end to work (soothe is another). With breathe (to inhale and exhale), the confusing part is that the noun (that thing you inhale or exhale) doesn’t have an e. To add to the confusion, the two often appear close together: Breathe in. Now, hold your breath for ten seconds. Breathe out.
I’ll have more on common errors later.
As always, feel free to ask any grammar or writing questions you have.