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Writing Notes: Some Common Errors in Writing

There are plenty of books on this topic, but I find that there are specific errors that crop up with remarkably high frequency in the student writing I read. This page started out as a catalog of these that would grow over time, but I rarely get around to adding to it. Meanwhile, Kate Wilke at Telus has pointed me to Paul Brians' excellent site which catalogs common errors in writing.

But the original catalog of errors I started to construct is still here, and still may get updated at some point ...

  1. alot is not a word. You probably mean 'a lot'.

  2. dependant is not a word. You're probably thinking 'dependent'.

  3. it's is the contracted form of it is. It's not a possessive; that's its, as in 'its tail was long'.

  4. MAC: if you really want to abbreviate the name of the Apple Macintosh computer, then the appropriate form is 'Mac', not that ugly capitalised sequence. 'MAC' in all caps suggests an acronym; and in fact 'MAC' is an acronym, standing for Media Access Control.

  5. PC's: that's really a possessive form. If you want to refer to a multitude of PCs, notice that the plural form has no apostrophe. Well ... actually this is a little contentious; there are other sources that may disagree. The problem is that pluralisation of acronyms (and a number of other typographically related forms) is potentially ambiguous, since you may not be able to tell if the 's' is part of the acronym or not. Unfortunately, the orthography we all grew up with has no standardised convention for delimiting acronyms. I'd nominate the use of vertical bars, as in
    There are sixteen |PC|s in the room.
    but I doubt that this will catch on. Notice that the same problem crops up in other related forms; for example, 1980's is often used as a plural, when really it should be 1980s.

[Did you find this page useful? Did it miss out something on the topic you thought was important? Is some part of it wrong? Mail me and let me know.]

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Last Modified: 18 May 2009