The Ones Spell Check Won’t Catch

by Peg Herring

Thanks to Evelyn David for inviting me to visit your blog! Last Friday’s post, “The Dreaded Adverb” is at

The Post: The Ones Spell Check Won’t Catch

O, Moon, when I gaze on thy beautiful face,
Careening along through the boundaries of space,
The thought has often come into my mind
If I ever shall see thy glorious behind. (Anonymous poem, c. 1900)

Like the poet above, we’ve all said or written things that we would have expressed differently had we but stopped to think. As an English and speech teacher, I often found humor (which I tried to suppress for the sake of students’ dignity) in unfortunate wording and misunderstood words. For example, there was the student who did a book report on Poland by James Michener and informed the class that Poland once had a really talented piano player named CHOP-in. The girl, a talented music student, was embarrassed to learn she’d been reading about Frederick Chopin.

Lack of experience limits students as they attempt to comment on the world, but the rest of us are held responsible for what we say and write. There is no spell check for speaking, so we must think carefully before we talk. And spell check can’t help with some problems in writing, either. We all know the difference (if we’re paying attention) between the right to “bear arms” and the right to “bare arms”, but to your computer, one is just as good as the other.

Things Spell-check usually won’t catch:
1. Homonyms: Too/two/to- especially when the sentence structure allows both possibilities, e.g. “She saw two the fire.” Sales/sails-particularly bad mistake on a resume: “I increased our sails.”
2. Words easily mistyped: was/saw, form/from, friend/fiend
3. Words that are often confused: complimentary/complementary, insure/ensure, affect/effect, through/threw, then/than, further/farther
4. Pronouns and contractions: its/it’s, they’re/their/there, your/you’re (and maybe even “yore”).
5. Incorrect usage: “Would of” instead of “would have”. “I would have gone with you” is correct. “Try and…” instead of “try to…” “Try to do better next time” is correct. “Suppose to” instead of “supposed to” “We were supposed to be there by four” is correct.
6. Missing or reversed Smart Quotes. You might have half a set. You might have two facing left instead of curled around the words, or singles instead of doubles or vice versa. The computer doesn’t care.

What to do:
1. Always Use Spell- and Grammar-Check. They are not foolproof, but they make a good start, calling your attention to areas in question. If it irritates you that the program won’t let you spell “Charlie” your way (“Charley”), there’s the “Ignore all” command.
2. Use the computer’s dictionary/thesaurus to check anything you’re unsure of. It’s convenient and quick.
3. Keep a list of the mistakes you make most often. Do a word search for them when a project is finished.
4. Look up the rules/definitions/standards and make a conscious effort to learn them. Yes, it is work, but what were you doing when they taught it in high school?
5. Proofread, proofread, proofread: there is no substitute for careful proofreading, and honestly, nobody cares about your work being 100% correct more than you do—At least, that’s how it should be.

The Poser: Name three novels/series in which the protagonist works in forensics.

The Prizes-Weekly Prizes: (your choice of THE DEAD DETECTIVE AGENCY in e- or print format) drawn from the names of those who comment on the blogs as we go. Comment once/day, but the first commenter each day gets entered twice in Saturday’s drawing!

The Pathway: The next entry, “Metaphors and Figurative Language” and the answers/comments to the Poser will be up tomorrow at

The Pitch: THE DEAD DETECTIVE AGENCY, First in The Dead Detective Mysteries, paranormal mystery. Tori Van Camp wakes in a stateroom on a cruise ship with no memory of booking a cruise, but she does have a vivid recollection of being shot in the chest. Determined to find out what happened and why, Tori enlists the help of an odd detective named Seamus. Together they embark on an investigation like nothing she’s ever experienced. Death is all around her, and unless they act quickly, two people she cares about are prime candidates for murder. Read more about this book and the author at

The Perpetrator: Peg Herring writes historical and contemporary mysteries. She loves everything about publishing, even editing (most days). Peg’s historical series, The Simon and Elizabeth Mysteries, debuted in 2010 to great reviews. The second in the series will be available in November from Five Star.

Peg’s Blog Crawl-February, 2011

January 31-Post schedule of Blog Crawl, explain prizes, etc.
Feb. 1 Chris Verstraete-Slowing Readers—Bad Policy
Feb. 3 Melissa Bradley-He Said, She Panted
Feb. 4 Marilyn Meredith-The Dreaded Adverb
Feb. 5 Weekend-Draw for Prizes from Week 1
Feb. 6 Weekend—
Feb. 7 The Stiletto Gang-The Ones Spell Check Won’t Catch
Feb. 8 Nancy Cohen-Metaphors
Feb. 9 Kaye George-Names Into Words
Feb. 10 Lisa Haselton-Losing the Spice
Feb. 11 Chris Redding-Inventing Words
Feb 12 Weekend-Draw for Prizes from Week 2
Feb.13 Lelia Taylor Syntax and Sentence Structure
Feb. 14 Jenny Milchman-Why Do We Say That? Part II
Feb. 15 Pat Brown-Dialogue and What It Reveals
Debbi Mack-Portmanteau Words
Feb. 17 Bo Parker-Read It Aloud
Feb 19 Weekend-Draw for Prizes from Week 3
Feb. 20 Weekend
Feb. 21 Jeff Marks-And What About Contractions?
Feb. 22 Geraldine Evans-Idioms
Feb. 23 Maryann Miller-Eccentric Phrases
Feb. 24 Peg Herring Being Precise
Feb. 25 Peg Herring Open Topic
Feb. 26 Weekend-Draw for Prizes from Week 4

Feb. 27 Weekend
Feb. 29 Stacy Juba-Why Do We Say That? Part III
March 1-Final Drawing for Prizes from All Entries

6 replies
  1. Terry Odell
    Terry Odell says:

    I gave up on grammar check. It never got anything right. Plus, I write commercial fiction, and fragments abound. However, the killer for me was when I'd written a line of dialogue when character A showed up at character B's door. Character B said, "What the "F" are you doing here at two in the morning."

    Grammar check told me it should read, "What the "F" IS you doing here because "F" is singular."

    I trust my grammar skills a lot more than those green squiggly lines.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist–of Mystery

  2. Author Peg Herring
    Author Peg Herring says:

    I love it!
    My disagreement comes with lie/lay verbs.
    Still, it points out things I might have missed, and when it's wrong, it makes me think about the rule that makes me right!

  3. Zita
    Zita says:

    Forensics series: Jeff Lindsay's Dexter, Patricia Cornwell's Scarpetta, and Kathy Reichs' Bones

    So Terry, what the f is you doing here, anyway? 🙂

    My favourite grammerisms are the serial comma and that/which. I'm going to write a book called "The Mysterious Death of the Serial Comma" and my main protagonist will be a witch called Which. I think my spell checker will have heart failure and die.

  4. Susan McBride
    Susan McBride says:

    I'm with Terry! I had to turn off my squiggles as they were driving me crazy. But I do spell-check even though it misses a lot of things (like correcty spelled words that aren't the right words!). Thanks for joining us today, Peg. Have fun on your very busy blog tour!

  5. Donna Fletcher Crow
    Donna Fletcher Crow says:

    Hi, Peg, I'm going to have to get up earlier if i want to be a first of the day entry, but I'm still trying.

    Oh, yes, I alwasy run my spellchecker, but there's really nothing like the old-fashioned eagle-eye read-through.

Comments are closed.