Don't accidentally write something funny.
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Frankly, the only way to catch word errors is to become suspicious, paranoid, and worried. Not very relaxing, but it gets the job done. When you proofread yourself, imagine it’s a worst-case scenario. Suspect it’s wrong and it might be. The other day, I came across this sentence: “The strong current—with an -ent—hindered the rescue.” I couldn’t help laughing as if it had really said, “The strong currant (with an -ant) hindered the rescue.” I imagined a large, beefy fruit blocking the way. There wasn’t a mistake, but my brain was ready—and enjoying itself, too.
Start thinking like a proofreader. Pair up similar-sounding words in your brain, and when you come across one, do a double take to ensure you’ve written the right one. For me, alarms go off with these words: it’s with and without an apostrophe, compliment with an i and complement with an e, affect and effect, conscience and conscious, hoard as in "to hoard the chocolate" and horde as in "the angry horde came after the chocolate," and my favorite—public and that other word without the l.
Even when my brain is ready, I still need to do more. It is so difficult to find lurking word errors that I have to resort to an embarrassing robotic chant to catch them. I can’t just read the words as if I were a regular person relaxing with a book. I have to shut myself up in the attic and say each word aloud in a monotone, syllable by syllable. This slow, ridiculous reading prevents my brain from skimming over the words. You should try it too, but not in front of a first date or anyone you want to impress.
Word errors will embarrass you and will make you shriek in horror if you discover them after they’ve been printed. But if you try my unconventional advice to be a bit loony, your writing will be cleaner. You’re chant mite even help yew fined sum other errors, two!
This show was written by Bonnie Trenga, author of The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier, who blogs at http://sentencesleuth.blogspot.com. This article previously appeared in Writer’s Digest magazine.
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