Brushing Up Your English – Part 3

Contributed by Jens Petersen

Here are some more common errors I encounter when editing text. Writers could save themselves money if they carefully reviewed their own manuscripts or articles before submitting them for editing. There are many useful sites on the Internet that list common grammar and usage problems (like my list below). Create your own list and use it to check your manuscript. The “Find & Replace” function in Word is great for finding individual words in a document.

Now you have a checklist to go through, like a pilot preparing to take off—only in your case, you’re preparing to send your manuscript off to the editor.


1/ passed   past

passed” is the past tense of the verb “to pass”. For example,
“He passed the library.”
“She passed the test.”

past” is a preposition (and also an adjective, noun, adverb) but NOT a verb. It locates something in time, and sometimes in space. For example,
“It is half past two.”
“My house is just past the library.”

Write “The train passed the village.” NOT “The train past the village.”


2/ sew   sow 

sew” refers to working with a needle and thread or a sewing machine.

For example,
“I sewed a button on my coat.”

sow” means to scatter or plant seeds.

For example, the following well-known sayings,
“You reap what you sow.”
“He wanted to sow his wild oats.”
When “sow” is rhymed with “cow”, it means an adult female hog.


3/  affect  effect

a] “affect” is a verb that means to have an influence on. For example,
“The drug affects his ability to concentrate.”

b] “effect” is a noun that means a result or influence. For example,
“The drug had no effect on him.”

effect” can ALSO be a verb that means to achieve or bring about. For example,

“Her organization wanted to effect major changes in society.”


4/ Here are some other small errors I find all the time in manuscripts and articles.

NOT “I had a couple beers.” BUT “I had a couple of beers.”

NOT “There were every day sales.” BUT “There were everyday sales.”
(“everyday” is an adjective describing a noun, whereas “every day” is an adverb describing a verb, for example, “She went to school every day.”

NOT “The book has a short forward.” BUT “The book has a short foreword.”
(I get this one a lot—“forward” is the opposite of “backward”.)

NOT “She found the cereal in the third isle.” BUT “She found the cereal in the third aisle.”
(A small island is an “isle”.)


Jens Petersen is an editor with a wide range of clients. He primarily edits books, but also articles, brochures, advertising, etc. For more information, check his LinkedIn profile at
He can be reached at

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