Writing Tips

Common spelling and grammar errors

  1. The phrase is "for all intents and purposes" (not "for all intensive purposes").

  2. A "tenet" is a doctrine, dogma, principle, or opinion. A "tenant" is an occupant who pays rent.

  3. "homogeneous," not "homogenous," a confusion caused by homogenized milk; its opposite is "heterogeneous."

  4. The noun "populace" means "people generally" or "population." The adjective "populous" means "densely populated."
    The majority of the populace lived in one city.
    The caravan traveled through an uninhabited province into a populous district.

  5. "tracts" of land, or housing "tracts" (not "tracks" of land or housing "tracks")

  6. "cut and dried," not "cut and dry"

  7. Things run "rampant," not "rampid" or "rampet" (which are not even English words).

  8. "Bias" is a noun. "Biased" is the adjective.
    A good judge decides cases without bias.
    The professor is biased against me because I never study.
    I'll give you my unbiased opinion.

  9. it's = it is; its = of or belonging to it (similarly: his, hers, ours, yours, theirs, and whose do not take an apostrophe)

  10. The plural of the suffix -ist is -ists: the plural of scientist is scientists, of environmentalist is environmentalists, of atheist is atheists, of Fundamentalist is Findamentalists, etc.

  11. Use "whom" and "whomever" for the object of a verb or preposition and "who" and "whoever" for the subject of a sentence or clause.
    Who owns this? (Subject of the sentence.)
    To whom does this belong? (Object of the preposition to.)
    Give it to the person who asks for it. (Subject of the clause "who asks for it.")
    I will give it to whoever walks in the door. (Subject of the clause "whoever walks in the door.")
    I will give it to whomever I see first. (Object of the verb see in the clause, not of the preposition to.)

A simple guide to plurals and possessives

  1. Plural: Add an s or es (never apostrophe-s) to form the plural of names and most English nouns.
    A knight belonged to a band of knights.
    She chose a dress out of closet full of dresses
    at home with the Smiths
    keeping up with the Joneses
  2. Singular possessive: Add an apostrophe-s to form the possessive of singular names, English nouns, and acronyms (even those that end in s).
    a knight's castle
    a dress's style
    Betty Smith's home
    Sam Jones's car
    The president read the CIA's report.
    Often an exception is made for names that end in two s or z sounds: Jesus' or Moses' or Xerxes'
  3. Plural possessive: Use an apostrophe alone for possessives of plurals that end in s.
    the band of knights' castle
    two dresses' similar style
    the Smiths' home
    the Joneses' car
    Plurals without s: the men's room; women's rights


Quotation marks cause a lot of confusion.
1.  Always used double quotation marks:
    This is an "example" of how to use quotation marks.
2.  Change double quotation marks to single quotation marks within a direct quotation:
    The professor said, "This is an 'example' of how to use quotation marks."
3.  Do not add a comma before quotation marks if the quotation marks are setting off a title, a word, or a phrase. If the quotation marks are setting off a direct quotation that is a complete sentence, a comma sets it off from the rest of the sentence.
    The name of Donald Mathews's "infamous" article was "The Second Great Awakening as an Organizing Process."
    Donald Mathews wrote, "It was an expansion of religious feeling unknown in American history."
4.  Periods and commas always go inside quotation marks. Other punctuation marks (question marks, exclamation marks, semicolons, colons) go outside the quotation marks, unless they are part of the quotation.
    "This is an 'example' of how to use quotation marks," said the professor.
    Who said, "All men are created equal"?
5.  Use quotation marks to set off the titles of short works like chapters, articles, and poems. Put in italics the titles of longer works like books and movies.
    Robert Frost was the poet who wrote "Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening."
    The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald was one of the most influential books of the 1920s.

Restrictive and nonrestrictive appositives: when two related nouns appear sequentially, separate them with a comma when one is necessary to prevent confusion; omit the comma when omission of one would cause no confusion or ambiguity. "My brother, John" means I have one brother and his name is John. "My brother John" means I have more than one brother and I mean the one named John. "The journalist Lincoln Steffens" identifies which Lincoln Steffens I mean. "The journalist, Lincoln Steffens" means you already know which journalist I'm talking about (there's only one in question) and I'm giving you his name. Put a comma both before and after the second item. "My brother, John, likes tea."

In the same way, items set apart from the sentence by a comma should also be followed by a comma. Examples are cities followed by states or other geographical identifiers, the year if it follows a date, and parenthetical comments. "Texas Tech's football team, the legendary Red Raiders, is the pride of Lubbock." "Ralph Waldo Emerson was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on May 25, 1803, to William and Rush Haskins Emerson."

A colon (:) introduces a series.

A semicolon (;) separates items in a series, or two complete sentences, when a comma in the same place would cause confusion or ambiguity.