Common Writing Errors & AP Style Rules To Know

Having practiced PR for 15+ years and writing “semi-professionally” for over 20, I consider myself somewhat as an AP Style guru and writing snob. Clients, colleagues, interns, friends and family frequently turn to me for grammar and writing advice, and so below is my “cheat-sheet” highlighting the most common mistakes I see and grammar rules you need to know. You’re welcome.

Your/You’re

This is definitely the most common mistake I see. Obvious to me, but I guess not to others?

  •  “You’re” is a contraction for “you are.”
    • “You’re going to love the new Brad Pitt movie.”
  • “Your” shows possession.
    • “I love your new car.”

It’s/Its

So so simple. 

  • “It’s” is a contraction of “it is” or “it has.”
    • “It’s up to you.”
    • “It’s been a long time.”
  • “Its” shows possession.
    • “PAVLOV expanded its PR department.”
    • “Austin City Taco Co. updated its menu.”

Two/Too/To

Many people confuse these and don’t even realize they are doing it. Follow these rules:

  • “Two” is a number.
    • “I have two children.”
  • “Too” is an adverb that means “also.”
    • “I, too, would like to become a writer.”
  • “To” is a preposition used to express motion, direction, limit of movement, contact, a point of limit in time, purpose, intention and destination…to name a few.
    • “I would like to become a writer.”

Then/Than

When you are talking about time, use “then.”

  • “We are going to grab lunch and then head back to the office.” 

When you are making a comparison, use “than.”

  •  “This iPhone update is much better than the previous version.”

Affect/Effect
Affect means “to change” and is usually used as a verb.

  • “The weather affected my sinuses.”

Effect is the result of something and usually used as a noun.

  •  “I didn’t like the effect the weather had on my sinuses.”

Peak/Peek/Pique

A “peak” is the highest point or maximum.

  • “She reached the peak of Mt. Everest.”
  • “She peaked during the third lap of the race.”

“Peek” means to look quickly or secretively.

  • “I took a peek at the Christmas presents.”
  • “Join us for a sneak peek of the new restaurant.”

“Pique” means to stimulate interest.

  • “My curiosity was piqued when she mentioned Taylor Swift.”
  • “I fell asleep because this article failed to pique my interest.” 

Toward

It is always “toward,” without an “s.” Always.

  • “I walked toward Main Street.”
  • “She’s always had a bad attitude toward Taylor Swift.”


Oxford Comma in a Series

This is a topic that causes much controversy, but if you’re following AP Style, here’s the rule:

  • Do not use the oxford comma before the conjunction in a simple series.
    • “The flag is red, white and blue.”
  • Do use the oxford comma before the conjunction in a complex series.
    • “Last week, I went to the Taylor Swift concert at AT&T Stadium, ate dinner at Riscky’s, and saw the new Brad Pitt movie.”

Apostrophes

Apostrophes are tricky and misused all the time, despite the fact they’re used for only two purposes: to indicate missing letters in contractions (can’t is short for cannot), and to show possession or ownership (This is Claire’s computer…That is the man’s car).

Despite these simple purposes, apostrophe mistakes are made constantly. Here are my top apostrophe tips & tricks:

  • Never use an apostrophe to make a word plural
    • CORRECT: “It is raining cats and dogs.”
    • INCORRECT: “It is raining cat’s and dog’s.”
    • One exception: Apostrophes should be used to make a single letter plural, so make sure to dot your I’s and cross your T’s.
  • To indicate possession of a singular noun, add an apostrophe and an “s” at the end of the word.
    • “The car’s windows are dirty.”
    • “The witness’s testimony was convincing.”
    • One Exception: if the singular noun is proper and ends with an “s,” only add an apostrophe after the “s.”
      • “Texas’ weather is unpredictable.”
      • “Dickens’ novels are beloved.”
  • To indicate possession of a plural noun, add an apostrophe at the end of the word.
    • “I ordered my dogs’ beds from Amazon.”
    • “My kids’ shoes were dirty.”
  • Plurals of figures (1920s) and multiple letters (ABCs) don’t require an apostrophe.
  • Use an apostrophe if a measurement precedes a noun.
    • “Our company offers two weeks’ of paid vacation.”
  • Don’t use an apostrophe if a measurement precedes an adjective.
    • “She is seven months pregnant.”

Composition Titles

The names of books, movies, albums, songs, poems, plays, podcasts and TV shows should be capitalized and placed inside quotation marks.

  • “Every time I watch “This Is Us,” I bawl my eyes out.”
  • One exception: the Bible, the Quran, and other holy books should not be placed inside quotation marks.

Job Titles

Always lowercase. It doesn’t matter if you are the chief executive officer, vice president, chancellor, or highest-paid executive, your title is lowercased.

  • One exception: Formal titles (government, royal, nobility, and military) that proceed a name are capitalized.
    •  i.e. Pope Francis, President Donald Trump, Dr. Benjamin Spock, retired General Colin Powell.

These rules may seem simple, yet they are some of the most common offenders. Make sure you aren’t making them.

Need writing assistance, or help raising your PR profile? Contact PAVLOV’s PR team today at pr@pavlovagency.com.