List of Sneaky Typos to Look Out For


1/26/20242 min read

In addition to whatever spelling demons or usage errors you struggle with, some typo patterns are less obvious and thus crop up everywhere, even when we know the correct way of writing something. They pop up like dandelions and often sneak past our editing eyes.

My advice: Know thy enemy.

Apostrophes and "Smart Quotes"

“Smart” quotes will be the death of me.

I wish I could like ‘em, but they just automatically turned my apostrophe into an opening quotation mark, didn’t they? ’Tis a wee bit annoying.

It’s all fun and games until you need to contract the start of a word!

Revision Corpses

We all know that Staring at a piece of writing for too long can cause all sorts of things to go wrong.

Like forgetting to lowercase what used to be the start of a sentence before you fiddled around with it for the umpteenth time...

Other common revision corpses are mixed tenses and ending prepositions (if you're someone who tries to eliminate those). For example:

  • "This prompted John to rushed down the hall" revised from "John rushed down the hall."

  • "We seek your light by which to see by" revised from "We seek your light to see by."

Nondiegetic Punctuation

“While not an official term, I happen to call these ‘nondiegetic.’”

“What’s ‘nondiegetic’?”

“You don’t know ‘nondiegetic’!”

Nondiegetic is usually referring to music in a movie that isn’t actually part of the story’s universe—only the audience is hearing it. Punctuation is nondiegetic (in my brain, at least) if it isn’t part of the quote.

This mostly goes out to my fellow US punctuators. Because we’re told to leave periods and commas inside quotation marks, we often (incorrectly) do the same thing to question marks and exclamation points, ignoring the effect it could have on what’s in quotes.

  • And the same goes for interior dialogue, he thought. Better keep that comma roman.

Prime Marks

While arguably not the most dreadful of mistakes, people often use quotation marks in place of prime marks when describing a character’s height.

  • The average male is 5′ 9″, not 5’ 9”.

You can avoid this by turning your “smart” curly quotes off. Or you can add to your never-ending list of ALT codes for Microsoft Word (8242 for single prime; 8243 for double).

Reopening Quotation Marks after Action Beats

Action beats are a fantastic tool for pacing dialogue and creating useful pauses or adding crucial description.

But every now and then, readers are forced to backtrack as they realize (hopefully) that an author forgot to place opening quotation marks where the dialogue continued.

In some cases, what was intended for continued speech can often be mistaken for internal dialogue. For example:

  • “It’s been this way for as long as I can remember.” I wiped the tears from eyes. Nobody ever understands. And why would they?”

Double Spaces and and Words

While a quick find-and-replace and deal with some of these unwanted clones, it can help to know where they're most likely to materialize. Perhaps as a sort of cognitive habit or interjection, writers often will type the same word two or three times in a row—almost like the mind is "buffering."

Consequently, we especially struggle with double articles and conjunctions: really any of the less substantive words we use between more content-heavy words.

They're words we don't really have to think about as much as what surrounds or follows them, so we take a break to consider our next words. Then, we either type the article or conjunction again as our starting point or manage to type it absentmindedly a second time while pondering.