Lest you come home from the Minnesota State Fair empty-handed, here’s a grab bag of parting gifts — a collection of common writing mistakes and ways to correct them.

1. Affect vs. effect. Affect means “to influence.” If you’re going to influence something, you will affect it. The result of your effort is an “effect.”

2. Impact. Impact is a noun, not a verb. A driver in a car crash can be injured on impact. You can have an impact on something. But you cannot “impact” something. When tempted to use “impact” as a verb, use “affect” instead. 

3. Irregardless. This word does not exist. The correct word is “regardless.”

4. Upcoming. Another nonexistent word, created in the early days of telegraph service, which charged by the word. Reporters wiring stories to the newsroom economized by combining two words — “coming” and “up” — into one. “Coming” will suffice.

5. Fewer vs. less. “Fewer” refers to a quantity: “Dynamics Corp. has fewer than 5,000 employees.” “Less” refers to an entity: “I got less sleep last night than I needed.”

6. Presently. This does not mean “at present” or “now.” It means some time in the very near future (a few minutes? hours? days?) Surprised? Presently is an adverb, communicating a gradual approach: “I’ll be there presently.”

7. Protest. People often say: “They protested high taxes.” No. To be precise and clear, write: “They protested AGAINST high taxes.” But you are correct when you write, “I protested my innocence.”

8. Compared to vs. compared with. Use “compared to” for a favorable comparison; use “compared with” for a negative comparison.

9. Comprise vs. compose. People often mistakenly say, “The league is comprised of eight teams.” The correct form? The league “comprises” eight teams. “Comprises” means contains. The league is “composed of” eight teams.

10. Their, they’re and there. Use “there” for a location; “their” to indicate possession; and “they’re” when you mean “they are.”

11. You’re and your. If you mean “you are,” write “you’re.” If you mean to indicate possession, write “your.”

12. Try. Don’t write, “Try and (do something).” Write, “Try to (do something).”

13. Like. We too often hear “Like I said” when it should be “As I said.” Use “like” for comparisons: “Frozen yogurt is supposed to taste like ice cream.”

A State Fair postscript. In 1981, I interviewed the boss of the Royal American carnival midway, Pete Andrews, who said: “People have the mistaken impression that what we do here is all about gambling. It is not. What we are doing is selling stuffed animal toys at exorbitant prices.”

Challenge winner. The winner of my last column’s challenge to submit a delectable example of dangle and drift is Rainer Schulz of Bloomington. He sent this: “Squeezed by too many other shoppers, the woman refused to buy the tomatoes.”

That’s how Rainer illustrated dangling modifiers for his high school students in Beaver Dam, Wis., in the 1980s. He says it really hooked them. Hooked me, too.

Rainer’s prize: lasting fame.


Gary Gilson, a Twin Cities writing coach and five-time Emmy Award winner in public television, has taught writing-intensive journalism courses at Colorado College for 22 years. Contact him through: www.writebetterwithgary.com