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Five Common English Writing Mistakes You Can Avoid

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English is our second language, not our native tongue. It’s understandable that Filipinos make mistakes in English writing every now and then. You can mark some of it down as typos. But with the Internet; every Juan, Jose, and Maria, can now write, edit and publish his or her own content for the entire world to read, which is cool.

The problem is when Filipinos who get paid to write; such as bloggers, PR writers, and even journalists commit the same mistakes time and time again. When that happens editors must feel like stabbing themselves with their pens, only they can’t because now they have keyboards and doing it with a mouse will take such as long time.

Here are some common Filipino mistakes in English writing:

1. Word War. Being non-native English speakers, Filipinos often get confused with words that sound alike but have different meaning, also known as homonyms (no, this is not a person).  Here’s a few that tops the list:

  a. Effect and affect – “Effect”, a noun, is the result.   The effects of the new law will be felt by generations to come. “Affect”, almost always a verb, means to influence. Ex. The new law has affected many generations.

  b. Their & they’re – The former shows possession. Ex. Their real estate property is vast. The latter points out a group and is a contraction of two words “they” and “are”. Ex. They’re the owners of vast real estate properties. This mistake is a close relative of the “your and you’re mishap.”

  c. Special and especial – Don’t sweat it. Special and especial are almost interchangeable. You’d be correct to use either most of the time. Their adverb form which has an “ly” is a different story. Use “specially” when something is made according to a specific purpose. Ex. Those basketball shoes were specially made for John. Use “especially” to emphasize better quality but not uniqueness. Ex. John can change a game especially from the three point line.

  d. e and e.g. The former is an abbreviation for “id est” which means “that is”. When used, it should be followed by the specific point being made. Ex. We won’t move an inch, i.g., until we get paid. While “e.g.” stands for “exempli gratia” meaning “for example” and should be followed by examples. Ex.  Do consider specifications when buying a computer, e.g., RAM, CPU, hard disk space, monitor, and sound.

  e. Ensure, assure and insure. You “assure” someone to build his or her confidence. You “ensure” something will happen with certainty. You “insure” someone to an insurance policy.

  f. Lose and loose. Lose means to be deprived of something. Loose means unfastened, not tight, or move freely.

  g. Since and because. “Since” refers to time. “Because” refers to the cause.

  h. Few and less. Use “few” when you can count the subject. Use “less” for concepts.

2. Subject/verb disagreement. A quirky thing about English is that nouns are plural when they have an “s” but a verb with an “s” is singular. Most Filipino writers have this rule down pat. Things get murky when more than a few words come between the subject and the verb. In “Bats fly at night,” Filipinos would know to use “fly” without an “s” even in their sleep. However, in “One of these bats flies during the day,” we have to do a double take to ensure that the subject is “One” and not “bats.” But then “news” goes with “is”, while shoes go with “are” unless it’s a pair. Did we say English can be quirky?

3. Mixed metaphors. Look to campaigning or grandstanding politicians to spew not more than a few of these confused concepts. Metaphors invoke imagery to stress a point. It’s a fun way to drive home a hammer but if we get carried away, we may fall flat on our side.  Here are more classics: “dots the Ts and cross the Is”, “the tree doesn’t fall far from the fruit”, and “born with a silver lining.”

4. Repetitive Redundancies. Pinoys love English, sometimes too much. Look to politicians again for inspiration in this category. Some of the chart toppers are: foreign imports, general public, free gifts, absolutely necessary, actual facts, advanced planning, alternative choice, anonymous stranger, 7 a.m. in the morning, ATM machine, closed fist, crisis situation, current trends, empty space, face mask, favorable approval, final conclusions fly through the air, introduced for the first time, irregardless, live studio audience, mix together, natural instinct, oral conversation,  palm of the hands, passing fad, past history, personal friend, protest against, revert back, separated from each other, and sudden impulse.

5. Positioning prepositions: These are words that tell where something is in time and space such as “to,”under,”above,”for,””with,””in,””inside,”into,”etc. For non-native English writers, propositions can be guess-work. We move something “into” such as when backing “into” the garage. When something is enclosed we use “in” or “inside” such as place the coin “inside” the bag. Different is always used with “from” not “than.” You compare something “to” not “with.” You go “with” someone when traveling. You live “in” a house “along” 6th Street “on” Main Avenue.

These are just the more common mistakes, other examples abound. You can do two things to limit these errors in your writing. First, do not depend alone on automatic grammar and spell check which do not catch the context of what you are trying to communicate. Auto spell check cannot tell if you mean “fly” (insect) or “ply” (to bend). Relying on them can get you into trouble. Remember the story about the editor who forgot the “L” in public for the next day’s headline?   Exercise caution when using these productivity tools.  Check your work the old-fashioned way.

Second, get another set of eyes to edit and proofread your article. Our brain tends to skim over familiar things and miss details. A fresh set of eyes is better at spotting details and can even offer a unique perspective. This is one of the reasons there are writers and there are editors.  Behind every best-selling writer is a great but underpaid editor.

One final example, Internet is always spelled with a capital “I.”


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