"Make it possible for programmers to write in English, and you will find that programmers cannot write in English." (Comment on the possibilities for natural language programming)
"Make it idiot-proof, and someone will find a better idiot." (Caution from human factors group)
A typo is a misspelling that results from a slip of the finger on the keyboard. If the author notices the mistake, it gets fixed. A spello is a misspelling that results from a slip of the mind. If the word is then accurately transcribed, the author beams with pride over the wording of the document while the reader winces.
Most readers on the net these days are reluctant to correct the spelling in email, memos, etc., for fear of being labeled "!@#$%^&*ing nitpickers." This guide is intended as a self-help manual for all who care. More help is available in the orthography section in the back of a dictionary.
I'm not perfect, either, of course. Please feel free to complain about my sloppy grammar or informal idiom, or even spelling.
First, PLURALS. Plural words are NOT formed by adding apostrophe-s to the end of the singular word. This is very common -- and very jarring -- today. Some of these make my teeth hurt. Every one of these examples is one I have seen recently, some of them in email, some of them in signs in stores. :-(
SINGULAR WRONG PLURAL RIGHT PLURAL
car car's cars
box box's boxes
president president's presidents
country country's countries
Second, POSSESSIVES. Generally, possessive nouns ARE formed by adding apostrophe-s to the end of the word.
NOUN CORRECT POSSESSIVE
car the car's engine
box the box's contents
president the president's advisor
country the country's flag
However, possessive pronouns do NOT have apostrophe-s on the end.
PERSON WRONG POSSESSIVE RIGHT POSSESSIVE
I my, mine
we our's ours, our
her her's hers, her
it it's its
you your's yours, your
they their's theirs, their
they there's theirs, their
they theyre's theirs, their
who who's whose
Third, CONTRACTIONS. Contractions are used to indicate the loss of one or more letters in the middle of a common phrase. The apostrophe is inserted in the place where the letters were deleted.
ORIGINAL LETTERS CONTRACTIONSometimes-seen wrong versions include "couldent," "dident," "wouldent," "cant," and so forth.
I am a I'm
we are a we're
you are a you're
he is i he's
she is i she's
it is i it's
they are a they're
is not o isn't
are not o aren't
cannot no can't
would not o wouldn't
have not o haven't
I will wi I'll
Probably the most common error among these is the use of "it's" where "its" is intended. The " 's" on "it's" looks like the possessive form, as in "Charles's," but it's not. In "it's," it's a contraction.
This pair is particularly troublesome
for many: a possessive pronoun with no apostrophe versus a
contraction with an apostrophe. The confusion here is that
apostrophes are used for possessive nouns: Adam's apple,
Eve's apple, Midsummer's eve. But this is not generally the
case for possessive pronouns: his, hers, ours, yours, and
its. He tipped his hat. An idea before its time.
"It's" with the apostrophe in it is a
contraction, not a possessive. "It's" means "it is."
It's easy once you grasp the concept. Some examples:
|possessive: belongs to it
|Grasp the hammer by its
A cat always lands on its feet.
|possessive: belongs to him or
|His favorite color is
orange. Hers is pink.
What's his is hers.
A man's got to know his limitations.
|YOURS, OURS, THEIRS
|possessive: belongs to you,
us, or them
|Yours, Mine, and Ours.
If you show me yours. . . .
|contraction: it is
|It's a bird, it's a plane!
It's my party.
It's time to go.
|adjective, possessive pronoun: belonging to them
|They went to their just reward.
Their house is very nice.
Wait 'til you see the whites of their eyes.
|possessive (absolute) pronoun, adjective: belonging to them
|This room is ours; that room is theirs.
Are you friends of theirs?
|adverb: in that place
|Where? Not here. Over there.
Carry this rock from here to there.
Don't go there.
|pronoun, of an odd sort, or intensive: as in "there is..." or "there are..."
|There is no doubt about it.
There must be some way out of here.
There are seeds in this jam.
|contraction: there is
|There's no business like show business.
There's gold in them thar hills.
Where there's a will, there's a way.
|contraction: they are
|I don't like the way they're staring at us.
They're going to kill us now.
YOUR, YOU'RE, YOURS
|possessive: belongs to you
|I like your style.
Your hat is on backwards.
|contraction: you are
|possessive: belongs to you
|Yours is bigger than mine.
What's mine is yours.
Example: "e'dit" (where the apostrophe indicates an accent) can become "e'dited" without a major change of pronunciation. The "i" is still short because there is no accent on the syllable. On the other hand, "re-fer'" cannot become "re-fer'ed" because it would then rhyme with "revered." Doubling the terminal consonant yields "re-ferr'ed" (rhymes with "absurd"), retaining the short vowel. Simple, eh?
edit edited, editing
target targeted (if you think it's a verb)
travel traveled, traveling
consider considered, considering
journal journaled, journaling (if it's a verb)
rebel (verb) rebelled
This rule differs in the U.K. and probably in Australia, and I don't know about Canada. In English English, the terminal consonant is (almost?) always doubled if it's an L. Even in the U.S., some words, such as "travelled" and "cancelled" are usually rendered with two Ls.
Every good rule has its glaring exceptions, and this one is no exception. Some people today are gainfully employed as programmers. They write programs for a living. Note that the terminal consonant is doubled even though the accent is on the first syllable. Maybe this odd spelling comes from the British "programme" instead of "program."
Similarly, today we format disks. The process is universally spelled "formatting" with two t's. And there are probably a number of other modern examples. Go figure.
Keeping the e is quite rare, but mistakes can happen in both directions.
ROOT WORD NO YES
use useage usage
use useable usable
alternate alternateing alternating
practice practiceing practicing
surprise surpriseing surprising
true truely truly
glue glueing gluing
definite definateley definitely
hard hardley hardly
slow slowley slowly
age ageing aging (in the U.S.)
notice noticable noticeable
manage managable manageable, management
knowledge knowledgable knowledgeable
trace tracable traceable
advantage advantagous advantageous
One odd case is "queueing" as in "queueing theory." The word
was invented only recently, and the commonly accepted spelling
does, note, have five consecutive vowels. I think this
spelling derives from visual aesthetics: "queuing" is just not
quite so pleasing. However, Mr. Google-Ngrams informs us
that the short form is slightly more popular in the last few
Misspellings of this type are extremely common, and our
failure to challenge them when they appear in writing only
perpetuates them by misleading a new generation of programmers
and casual writers. Most of these mistakes are just
plain careless. They originate from a lack of reading,
but they persist because people pay less attention to their
spell checkers than they probably should. Those little
red worms crawling under your words might signify something
consistant consistent (confused with constant?)
primative primitive (confused with primary?)
visable visible (confused with viable?)
dissadent dissident (two mistakes!)
Similarly, "criteria" and "phenomena" are the plurals of "criterion" and "phenomenon," respectively. Similarly, "symposia" has recently been abused into a singular, but is properly the plural of "symposium."
Let's not talk about "data."
CEASAR or CEASER [SALAD]
HOMONYMS AND NEARLY SO
peek peak pique
read read red
present Please lie down on the examining table.
present You have been lying in the sun too long.
past She pushed him, and he lay back smiling.
past The cat lay in wait for its victim.
present Lay the board on the workbench, please.
past When the concrete arrived, they laid the foundation.
past He laid out his suit for tomorrow.
present !WRONG! Lay, lady, lay. Lay across my big, brass bed.
(Dylan used poetic license; it sounds better. No problema.)
TENSE EXAMPLE"Loose" is not the same as "lose." It isn't often a verb at all; it's mostly an adjective, as in "This doorknob is loose."
present Choose one from column A and one from column B.
past On yesterday's quiz, I chose the wrong answer.
present My mommy told me not to lose my wallet.
past I lost my mind, but it was no big deal.
present Lead us not into temptation.
past You led me to believe this crap.
(participle) I was led astray.
Now, on the lighter side, we have a poem from a man who knows how to do it and simply doesn't want to.
Subj: Starbuck is a Prof. at BU who resides in lovely Milford, NH...
Subj: fyi (and, to you Ripley Superspellers, SO THEIR!)
*The Spell Against Spelling*
to be inscribed
in dark places
never to be spoken aloud
GEORGE E. STARBUCK
My favorite student lately is the one who wrote about feeling clumbsy.
I mean if he wanted to say how it feels to be all thumbs he
Certainly picked the write language to right in the first place.
I mean better to clutter a word up like the old Hearst place
Than to just walk off the job and not give a dam.
Another student gave me a diagragm.
"The Diagragm of the Plot in Henry the VIIIth."
Those, though, were instances of the sublime.
The wonder is in the wonders they can come up with every time.
Why do they all say heighth, but never weighth?
If chrystal can look like English to them, how come chryptic can't?
I guess cwm, chthonic, qanat, or quattrocento
Always gets looked up. But never momento.
Momento they know. Like wierd. Like differant.
It is a part of their deep deep-structure vocabulary:
Their stone axe, their dark bent-offering to the gods:
Their protoCro-Magnon pre-pre-sapient survival-against-cultural-odds.
You won't get ME deputized in some Spelling Constabulary.
I'd sooner abandon the bag-toke-whiff system and go decimal.
I'm on their side. I better be, after my brush with "infinitessimal."
There it was, right where I put it, in my brand-new book.
And my friend Peter Davison read it, and he gave me this look,
And he held the book for a little while and said, "George..."
I needed my students at that moment. I, their Scourge.
I needed them. Needed their sympathy. Needed their care.
"Their their," I needed to hear them say, "their their."
You see, there are SPELLERS in this world, I mean mean ones too.
They shadow us around like a posse of Joe Btfsplks
Waiting for us to sit down at our study-desks and go shrdlu
So they can pop in at the windows saying "tsk tsk."
I know they're there. I know where the beggars are,
With their flash cards looking like prescriptions for the catarrh
And their mnemnmonics, blast 'em. They go too farrh.
I do not stoop to impugn, indict, or condemn;
But I know how to get at the likes of thegm.
For a long time, I keep mumb.
I let 'em wait, while a preternatural calmn
Rises to me from the depths of my upwardly opened palmb.
Then I raise my eyes like some wizened-and-wisened gnolmbn,
Stranger to scissors, stranger to razor and coslmbn,
And I fix those birds with my gaze till my gaze strikes hoslgmbn,
And I say one word, and the word that I say is "Oslgmbnh."
"Om?" they inquire. "No, not exactly. OSLGMBNH.
Watch me carefully while I pronounce it because you've got only two
And you only get one more hint: there's an odd number of esses,
And you only get ten more seconds no nine more seconds no eight
And a right answer doesn't count if it comes in late
And a wrong answer bumps you out of the losers' bracket
And disqualifies you for the National Spellathon Contestant jacket
And that's all the time extension you're going to gebt
So go pick up your consolation prizes from the usherebt
And don't be surprised if it's the bowdlerized regularized paperback
abridgment of Pepys
Because around here, gentlemen, we play for kepys."
Then I drive off in my chauffeured Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham
Like something out of the last days of Fellini's Rougham
And leave them smiting their brows and exclaiming to each other
O-U-G-H-A-M Ougham!" and tearing their hair.
Intricate are the compoundments of despair.
Well, brevity must be the soul of something-or-other.
Not, certainly, of spelling, in the good old mother
Tongue of Shakespeare, Raleigh, Marvell, and Vaughan.
But something. One finds out as one goes aughan.
[Published in BOSTONIA, March 1984]
carear, guarentee, high-jacking [a new low] strick [for strict] [typical of sounds-like spelling] desease [for disease] [similarly] comprise [for compromise] teanage [a new low] [almost all of these atrocities make my teeth hurt.] Then there are mistakes that even educated people make: wreck havoc [for wreak] site instead of sight, or vice versa
All contents copyright (C) 1984,1995,2006,2008,2014, Richard Landau. All rights reserved.
Revised: October 31, 2014.