Unless you string titles after your name (e.g., Ph.D., M.A.), your reader doesn’t know how much education you have. The reader only has the words you write, and your reader will judge your intelligence, education level, and credibility based on how well you write. No, this isn’t fair.
Let me be perfectly clear about this: The manner in which you write is only loosely connected to your intelligence, education level, and knowledge of the topic. Many intelligent, educated, knowledgeable people write poorly, use ungrammatical sentences, and misspell words. I am convinced that the way a person writes has little to do with his education or intelligence. Your ideas are a far better indicator.
As Claudius Caesar is quoted saying (paraphrased), “Is not what a man says more important than how he says it?” I agree with him. In spite of this, your reader may still judge you unfairly and discredit your ideas based on the way you write. Readers are wrong to do so, but they will.
With that in mind, here are some words, phrases, and expressions (in no particular order) that may cause your reader to ask, “Didn’t this writer ever go to school?”
1. More better
“More” + “-er” is redundant. That “-er” word already means “more.” Other examples of this problem are “more smaller,” “more faster,” and “more lazier.” The word “more” should be dropped.
2. Most biggest
“Most” + “-est” is redundant, too. That “-est” word already means “most.” Other examples of this problem are “most smallest,” “most fastest,” and “most laziest.” The worst use of this incorrect expression is “most best,” which means the “best best.” Only one thing can be the most of anything. The word “most” should be dropped.
3. My sister, she . . .
This is an example of telling the readers who the subject is, then telling them who the subject is again using a pronoun. You only need one. If your reader doesn’t know who “she” is (which is why you wrote the actual subject, “my sister”), then don’t use the pronoun. Instead, only write “My sister . . . .” Other examples:
“My uncle and I, we . . .” should be written “My uncle and I . . .”
“The dog and cat, they . . .” should be written “The dog and cat . . .”
4. Me and her went . . .
“Me” and “her” are not a subject pronoun. This should be written “She and I.” The subject pronouns are “I,” “you,” “he,” “she,” “it,” “we,” “they,” and “who.” Anything else is wrong. The second problem is the order of the words. In nearly every case, you should write the other person’s pronoun first. More examples:
“Me and him are . . .” should be written “He and I are . . .”
“My mom and me took . . .” should be written “My mom and I took . . .”
5. . . . for her and I
“I” is not an object pronoun, so it cannot be the object of the preposition “for.” The object pronouns are “me,” “you,” “him,” “her,” “it,” “us,” “them,” and “whom.” Anything else is wrong. More examples:
“. . . sent to John and I” should be written “ . . . sent to John and me.”
“. . . followed after Frank and he” should be written “ . . . followed after Frank and him.”
“Been” is the past participle of “to be.” You don’t actually need to know this. What you need to know is that if you are going to write “been,” you also must write “have,” “has,” or “had.” If you use “been” without one of those words, you will have a grammatical error. So, instead of writing “I been to the museum,” you would write “I have been to the museum.” More examples:
“Susan been here for 12 days.” This should be written “Susan has been here for 12 days.”
“The dogs been to the vet every year.” This should be written “The dogs have been to the vet every year.”
“Seen” follows the same rules for use as “been.” So, instead of writing “I seen that movie,” you would write “I have seen that movie” More examples:
“She seen the ghost in that room.” This should be written “She has seen the ghost in that room.”
“Bob seen her before she saw him.” This should be written “Bob had seen her before she saw him.”
This is not a word. The correct word is “regardless.”
This is also not a word. The correct way to write this is “a lot,” which is 2 words. [The word “allot” exists, but it means something very different.] An Internet search for “allot of” resulted in around 1.3 million entries—and every one of them is wrong. The correct way to write this is “a lot of.”
10. Apostrophe-S for plurals
Apostrophes are not used to make plurals. They have two functions: 1) replace missing letters in contractions and 2) make possessives from nouns and pronouns. This mistake is becoming more common, but that doesn’t make it right. Sentences like “These book’s are missing page’s” are never right.
11. To, too, two
Any mistake using these words will be obvious to educated readers.
“Too” means 1) an excessive amount, 2) also.
Example: Too many people use this word incorrectly. Do you make this mistake, too?
“Two”: the number
“To” is 1) part of the infinitive form of the verb, 2) a preposition indicating movement away from one thing and in the direction of another.
Example: She sent a letter to me that explained how to use this word correctly.
12. Could of
The correct form is “could have.” The common contraction “could’ve” sounds like “could of” when spoken, but writing this is wrong. “Could’ve” is the contraction for “could have.”
13. Their, there, they’re
Any mistake using these words will be obvious to most educated readers.
“Their” is a possessive pronoun meaning, roughly, “belonging to them.”
Example: Their grammar is their own business.
“There” indicates a place, and is often used in poor writing as a placeholder for the subject.
Example: There is a dog in there.
“They’re” is the contraction for “they are.”
Example: Want some strawberries? They’re ripe now.
14. More than three dots for an ellipsis when indicating missing words.
You use an ellipsis to indicate that you have removed some words from a quote. An ellipsis is only three dots. Sometimes, you might use four dots if you need one to represent the period at the end of a sentence. Anything else, though, looks amateurish and uneducated.
Here’s a correct example: “The soap . . . is missing.” In this example, the ellipsis is representing the missing words “that you bought me for my birthday.”
15. Using more than one exclamation mark.
One is enough! Really.
16. Like or goes/went instead of said
Using “like” or “goes/went” in place of “said” is juvenile slang. While you might be able to get away with this in speech, it will damage your credibility in writing. For example, if you write “He was like, ‘I’m bored,’ ” you will sound uneducated. This is the same for “Then he goes, ‘I don’t like pizza.’ ” The correct way to write this is “Then he said, ‘I don’t like pizza.’ ”
17. Your, you’re
“Your” is a possessive pronoun. “You’re” is a contraction for “you are.” Choose the one you need.
18. Any type of “chat speak”
Chat speak includes using “ur” for “you are” and “your,” “frenz” for “friends,” “gud” for “good,” and “lol” or “lolz” to indicate your amusement. Many more examples are possible. They may be amusing or “hip” when chatting online or sending text messages to your friends, but they are all inappropriate for formal writing.
19. Pretentious writing
This one doesn’t have a specific example, so I’ll try to describe it. Writers use pretentious writing to make their writing sound very formal and professional. This may include using many official sounding words, lingo, acronyms, and long, complex sentences with many commas. While these can be used effectively, if they are not part of the writer’s normal speech patterns or are overly formal for the purpose or audience, a reader may recognize that the writer is trying too hard to be impressive. This makes the writer seem insecure and will damage the writer’s credibility. Instead, write simply and clearly so that the reader can focus on your ideas—not on you.
Some final notes
Why doesn’t this list include problems with “who” and “whom” or “that” and “which”? While mistakes using these words are very common, many readers will not recognize them as errors. Also, because so many “educated” writers have difficulties with these words, making mistakes with these words might not make you seem uneducated, at least not like the 19 items above.
If any of these items apply to you, I hope that this list will help you produce professional writing. Your reader will respect you as a writer and will focus not on you but on your ideas, which is the goal of good writing.