By Pam McCutcheon

There’s a lot of misunderstanding as to the proper usage of some words in the English language, and many mistakes even make it onto the page, especially in these days of self-publication and rushing into print. It’s very difficult to proof your own writing, as I know all too well. As a freelance editor, writer, and avid book consumer, I see a lot of these mistakes. So, each month, I highlight a few of the errors I see most often.


He is going to loose his pants if he doesn’t tighten his belt.


People confuse “lose” and “loose” all the time. “Lose” is used when you have lost something or it will become lost (lost is the same number of letters as lose, which may also help you remember it). “Loose” is how his pants fit when he doesn’t tighten his belt. It also means to let go or release, as in, “Loose the hounds!”

Strangely enough, people say these two words correctly (lose rhymes with booze, and loose rhymes with noose), but when it comes to writing these words, they get confused (and a spellchecker may not catch it). Try saying it aloud to see which word it rhymes with. Or, remember it this way: His pants are too loose so he’s going to lose them.


After the meeting, they disbursed.


I read this recently in a manuscript I edited. “Disburse” means to pay out money, so this sentence says they handed out cash after the meeting. However, “dispersed” means they scattered to different destinations, which is what the author really meant. The two words sound alike, but have totally different meanings. It should read: After the meeting, they dispersed.


Lightening flashed across the sky.


I see this error way too often. Lightning (no “e”) are those jagged bolts of light that accompany a thunderstorm. So, it should be: Lightning flashed across the sky. “Lightening” is something you do to your hair to make it blonder—a lighter shade. And, speaking of making hair blonder:


He lightened his hair to blonde.


There seems to be a lot of confusion about whether to add an “e” to blond(e) or not. Here’s the skinny: think of blond as an adjective and blonde as a noun (a woman with blond hair, not a man).

So, leave the “e” off if you can substitute the word “brown” for “blond”:  He lightened his hair to blond  (brown). Use the terminal “e” if you can substitute the word “woman” for “blonde”: The blonde (woman) walked into the room.


picProse Pointer on Word Emphasis:

Amateur writers are so afraid readers won’t “get it” that they tend to overuse typography to show emphasis. So, they write something like, “Yes, I CAN!!!” They put words in bold and italics, and add several exclamation points so you can’t possibly miss their meaning. Kind of feels like they’re screaming at you, doesn’t it?

But readers are smarter than you think, and they’re trained to recognize that italics show emphasis. So, if you want to appear professional, leave off the capital letters, the bold font, and the excessive exclamation marks (one is sufficient), and use simple lowercase italics (without the bold font) to show your emphasis. Most of the time, if you have a strong verb (say, with dialogue), you don’t even need the exclamation mark. This is how I’d write it: “Yes, I can,” he yelled.


Pam Jean Jacket small


Pam McCutcheon is a freelance editor, writer, and speaker who pens romantic comedy, fantasy short stories, and nonfiction books for writers under her own name, and YA urban fantasy as Parker Blue. Her books include the popular Writing the Fiction Synopsis and The Writer’s Brainstorming Kit (with Michael Waite). Learn more about her at pammc.com.


%d bloggers like this: