Proofreading Tips: Common mistakes, errors, lapses and typos

This week, Catriona Tippin aka @ProofReadingTip highlights some common errors in English usage...  

Less and fewer

If you can count them, there are fewer. If you can’t, use less. Here are a couple of sentences demonstrating why this matters:

The editor wants fewer pedantic articles. (The editor wants a lower number of articles, but as pedantic as ever).

The editor wants less pedantic articles. (The editor wants the usual number of articles, but seeks a reduction in the pedantry contained therein).

Try and 

Try and usually means try to. Some argue that as we say try and so often in colloquial speech it has become acceptable in writing. I still amend this when proofreading though, as it doesn’t work if you change tense, so I don’t thinks it has earned its place in the English language yet.

For instance, here’s a phrase from a recent mailing from a bank which had me cringing:

“...If you don’t have enough money in your account to a pay a standing order when we try and make the payment...”

Try that phrase in the past ‘when we were trying’ or in the future ‘when we will be trying’ and you’ll see what I mean.

Could of 

Could’ve is not could of though we all pronounce it as if it is. If it needs spelling out it’s could have. Use your Find function to make sure could of has not slipped in when typing fast. It’s easy to let could of appear in dialogue as your characters’ voices play in your head!

Who and whom 

Use of whom is disappearing, and is now at the stage where you’d only use it to convey a specific tone in a character’s speech. The test for correct usage is to remember it’s the objective form of who. Turn your sentence around and if you need a subject (he, she, it or they) it’s who. If you need an object (him, her or them) it’s whom.

Plus a couple of pet hates, do you have any? 

Ground rules 

Do you really mean ground rules? Ground rules are specific rules for specific sports grounds. St Lawrence Cricket Ground in Canterbury has a tree within the boundary so it has ground rules. Wrigley Field Baseball Stadium in Chicago has an outfield wall covered in ivy so it has ground rules. It’s rare that you need to refer to ‘ground rules’. You probably mean... rules.


You know the sort of thing:
  • combined together
  • summarise briefly
  • a temporary respite
  • a round circle

Sometimes this sort of repetition is appropriate in writing for children of course – there’s the teeny-tiny voice that says “Give me my bone!”
Catriona Tippin aka @ProofReadingTip will be back next month with more proofreading tips. 
To see previous tips, click on this proofreading link.

Catriona Tippin has been a member of SCBWI since 2006 and helps organise venues for SCBWI North East. Details of her writing and illustrating here. She proofreads study guides, house magazines and publicity material for two national educational charities, in addition to working on a variety of proofreads and copyedits for the growing self-published world. Her monthly column is intended to give you food for thought, remembering “Any correction of the speech or writing of others will contain at least one grammatical, spelling or typographical error” (McKean’s Law, named after its inventor Erin McKean, editor of the Oxford American Dictionary). 


  1. I hate 'at this moment in time'.

    1. Yes, an excellent example of verbosity or verbiage or waffly padding.

  2. You did really good work. I really appreciate your new and different post. Please guys keep it up and share with us some unique post in the future proofreading practice

  3. 'There's less people' always gets me. Wrong in more than one way. Though, a look at the Beeb link says LESS is perfectly acceptable. A great topic, explained well. Thanks Catriona.


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