Writing Faux Pas: Lazy Usage

English: Taylor Mali at the international scho...
Taylor Mali should be poet laureate of the U.S.A. (Photo courtesy Wikipedia)

As an English teacher I have seen it all, it seems.  Over the course of nearly 15 years of teaching, I have seen many mistakes and have corrected my fair share of lazy usage.  Unfortunately students often write like they speak or use texting language on everyday writing assignments.

The following are some of the most glaring errors:

1. Could of – This usage error comes from bad usage in speech flowing into the written word.  What students are saying when they say “could of” or “should of” or “would of” are the contractions could’ve, should’ve and would’ve.  These contractions are lazy in themselves because they really mean could have/should have/would have.  Using contractions is usually not allowed in formal writing anyway, so using could have/should have/would have is more desirable and correct.

2.  You/Your – I absolutely hate person shift.  It is probably one of the biggest problems in usage found in student writing today.  Why do students use it?  We could fold in using “like” as a filler as well.  I point to the mighty and incredibly relevant Taylor Mali for this one.  Watch the video and then continue with my commentary afterward.

Use of second person assumes that the reader automatically agrees with the writer and therefore rudely forces the reader to follow along. It is not used in academic writing at all.

3.  Wanna/Gonna – Please spell out words rather than shortening them into strange Frankenstein hybrids of their former selves.  “Wanting to” and “going to” are also misused.  I would write “I am going to the store.”  I would not write “I am going to get my baseball glove”.  Possibly if a person were to say this, they do not need to tell us that they are “going” or “moving in a general direction toward” getting their baseball glove.  “I am grabbing my baseball glove” is much better because we have used a more descriptive verb than “getting”.  “Wanting” is like “wishing” and is not specific enough for a formal paper.

4.  There/Their/They’re – Learn the difference between these three words because using them properly makes all the difference.  “There” means direction as in “Put the plant down over there.”  “Their” means possession as in “Their car is a 1975 Pinto.”  “They’re” is a contraction meaning “They are” as in “They are not able to tell the difference between these three words.”

5.  Loose/Lose – To “loose” is to “release from a grasp” or the opposite of “to tighten” or to “release” something.  To “lose” is to not win or to misplace something.

These are my five.  If you would like to list any other usage faux pas not discussed in this post, please do.  We can all learn to work harder at this craft of writing.

Published by Roger Colby, Novelist, Editor

Roger Colby is a novelist and teacher who has taught English for nearly two decades. He is also an avid reader of science fiction who feels, like many other sci-fi readers, that he has read everything. He writes science fiction for the reader who is looking for the next best thing, something to excite them into reading again. This blog is his journey as a writer and his musings about writing. He also edits manuscripts for a fee and is an expert at helping you reach your full potential as a writer.

12 thoughts on “Writing Faux Pas: Lazy Usage

  1. My O.C.D. contribution: then/than; to/too

    That said, why bother feeling even a little irritated about others’ deficient attention to grammar? I personally find it far more annoying, having to learn all the ins and outs of a language that requires more memorizing than reasoning. English is less of a functional [i]system[/i] than it is a sloppy hodgepodge of many other languages, slang, and absolutely pointless formalities (which, I dare I suggest, only serve to help some folks maintain a false sense of intellectual superiority over others).
    Example: The mere existence of homophones is more stupid than the clumsy misuse of them.
    I find it more useful to focus on subtle writing slips, such as unintended alliterations, which often cause the reader to involuntarily jumble words and lose a point.
    In all honestly, there seems to be a lot of confusion here, regarding the practical nature of human communication and sociology. It never has and never will remain consistently true-to-form.

    It’s probably not psychotherapy that would help to ease the kind of personal frustrations and anxiety levels expressed here. It’s more likely a healthy dose of philosophy — deep consideration of the ultimate purpose for all rules and customs; acknowledgement of the difference between intelligence and Wisdom — that would smooth out some of these emotional jags. Keeping an edge of academic vigilance in Life is awesome! Being too ‘edgy’? Not so much…

    If I’ve committed grammatical sacrilege here, I’m not at all sorry to inform you that I’m not at all sorry. If I’m being too hippo-critical, I do sincerely apologize.
    I love to see unshackled minds soar in their writing.

    1. Some interesting points have been expressed here. However, how do we then preserve a uniform standard of understanding? If people are allowed to write whatever they desire, to use whatever incorrect homophone (for example) that they desire, then how do we determine meaning? Diction is extremely important to this purpose. It is not that a policeman feels better than the person he/she pulls over when they speed or break the law. They are doing their job. Rules are in place for a reason.

      1. Certainly doing away with any and all structure would be madness.
        Such would likely even widen subcultural gaps (age, race, values, beliefs, etc.). I recall once hearing a group of African-American and Caucasian veterans of the Vietnam War break into in laughter over how difficult it had been at times in the field, to understand each other’s ‘dialects’.

        The line between prioritizing the substance of a literary piece, and maintaining some semblance of interpersonal coherence through language, is necessarily drawn where the substance of the piece becomes critically obscured by its own presentation. When it’s unreasonably difficult to determine whether the author meant a., b., c., or none of the above, then naturally, more emphasis on adhering to traditional form and correct word usage is the only sensible recourse.

        To preserve a sense of rational-integrity throughout our collective pursuit of understanding, we’ve got to prioritize substance whenever possible.
        Of course the rules are there to support this, but they should no more become the focus than should careless deviations and intended departures from tradition be allowed to overrun the stage of human expression.

      2. Thank you, Roger, for all that you do to help empower aspiring minds bridge the way to their hearts.

  2. Roger. Did you know that the education department in England is seriously considering allowing the use of text-speak in the general a-level school examinations? Like, seriously.

    1. That is horrible. How does one standardize text-speak? I have written and am writing a post-apocalyptic fiction novel, but every day it is news like this that leads me to believe that my novel is more of prophesy and less of fiction.

  3. Excellent post, Roger! Incorrect grammar is a major pet peeve of mine (makes my teeth grate and I want to strangle someone, lol), and it’s good to see someone who knows what they’re talking about posting on the subject. There are a lot of rules that writers can break in their writing – using correct grammar is NOT one of them! Thanks for this. ~ Julie 🙂

  4. Recently been guilty of loose/lose errors … maybe I was just trying to type too quickly, and wasn’t paying attention? I can hope. I’m still having trouble with affect/effect though, I know that.

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