Is that really a mistake in the copy? Don’t be too smart for your own good.


Nobody’s perfect. But isn’t it sometimes tempting to show the client how close to perfection you are? For example, every so often, you encounter what looks like mistake in a script, and have to decide how – or whether – to point it out to the client, director or producer.

But is it really an error? Here are some apparent mistakes that aren’t, and what to do (or not do) about them.

What's in a word? Or the absence of one?

The script, talking about doors, said, "They lead different places." Shouldn’t that be "lead to different places"? Well, yes it could, but it’s also okay without the proposition. Before citing an error, consider other possible meanings of a word. One way to test that is by substitution. One sense of the word “lead” means “go.” And although the doors themselves don’t “go,” the paths from them do, and “they go different places” would surely be decent vernacular speech, so the script as written seems okay. Another test would be to search with the core phrase enclosed in quotes (so the search engine will find examples with that exact construction). In this case, “lead different places” turns up lots of cases, many of them in professionally edited publications. For that matter, “lead different directions” produces yet more.

Furthermore, if you include the word “to,” your listeners might think you meant “two.” The statement that “they lead two different places” has a very different meaning!

(Taking a larger view, consider what assumptions the listener might make. Various people have various understandings and expectations as to what they expect to hear. Depending on their particular set of "hearing assumptions," different people might understand the same words differently. For example, if the scene is an Alice in Wonderland type of scenario, the word “different,” might not mean that the places are different from each other, it might mean that both places are similar to each other, but VERY different from the rest of the world.)

So, if you encounter a “mistake” such as this, you might ask if the writer meant to say “lead to,” but don’t argue the point, and it’s probably safe to avoid it.

Note: When searching for example of usage, there are a few tests you should consider. Does it yield an authority? If not, does it yield enough hits to seem at least a common vernacular usage? Do its users seem educated (e.g., professional authors). Are the usages all very old, or all very new? (The actual uses, not the web page.) A usage might be correct, but almost antique, which could affect the script’s tone.

Formal pronunciation, or the more common one?

Consider “February.” Most VO coaches will advise that it’s okay to pronounce it as “Feb-you-ary,” rather than the “correct” pronunciation, “Feb-roo-ary.” As a pro, you should be facile with both versions, so which should you use unless instructed differently? It probably doesn’t matter, but consider the script’s persona and tone. Is the audience (or the speaker) young and hip? Or is it more of an “academic” situation. There’s your answer.

But, don’t take this as license to drop the first R in “library.”

And, if “Feb-roo-ary” gives you trouble, here’s and approach you might try: You can easily say the word “airy,” right? Keep that thought. Now say “Febroo.” That’s easy, too. So simply put them together, thinking of the two parts as you say it, but having it come out as one continuous word: “Febroo/ary.” It will help if you pay attention to your lip movements. Don’t let your lips be lazy – pucker up a bit as you say “roo.” And don’t let it become “Febrary.” That’s simply sloppy.

Does the script contain a confusing homonym, or a phrasal homonym?

For example, “win cash and/or prizes” sounds like “win cash and door prizes.” With your professional enunciation skills, you can make the correct meaning clear. That’s probably best in this case, since contest copy (especially) has probably passed a legal review, and changes might be risky. But in more general copy, you might point out this potential listener confusion and alternative wording, especially if the client has not used a professional audio copywriter. In this case, it might be “win cash, or prizes or both.”

Is that grammatical error a technicality that everyone ignores?

Sticklers for grammar have various pet peeves. For example, failure to use the subjunctive verb form when a statement is hypothetical. (E.g., “were” instead of “wasn’t” in “It isn’t true, but if it were true, we’d be toast.”) In scholarly and highly literate circles, the subjunctive might be appreciated. But in some cases (as with some characters), it might be perceived as too high-falutin’. Watching usage over the years, we see no pattern – use and failure to use the subjunctive seems to go back consistently for generations. Even in old movies and TV shows, some well educated people and characters fail to use it. So this is another case where your character and audience might be your guide, and it’s most likely best to read the script exactly as written.

Then, there’s the case of the “misplaced ‘only’.” As you may have been taught in English or logic class, the meaning of a sentence can be significantly changed, depending on where you place the word “only”:

He only painted the little Corvette red. (He did no engine work.)

He painted only the little Corvette red. (The other one he painted blue.)

You can only use this program on an Apple computer. (You do not own the program.)

You can use this program only on an Apple computer. (It won’t work on a PC.)

But, as one of our staffers has noted in an informal, unscientific monitoring of virtually every time he’s heard the word “only” over a period of years, the “proper” placement of “only” is extremely rare – you might hear it used “correctly” only a few times a year. Virtually everyone puts the “only” before the entire phrase, sooner than it sometimes belongs. (As in, “You might only hear it used ‘correctly’ a few times a year.”) So, unless it’s technical copy where the difference in meaning is critical, this is probably not a serious error. Mention it if you want, but listeners probably won’t perceive it as an error, and the scriptwriter might not be aware of the difference. If it still troubles you, how you phrase and hit words might help.

An obvious, indisputable mistake? Should you even mention it?

There’s a school of thought, perhaps just facetious, that if the session is a union job and you spot an error, don’t mention it – if the client doesn’t notice till later, you’ll get paid extra to fix it.

That’s funny, but there is a more serious possibility: The script might have been signed off by a veritable committee of authors, and your question might be considered to be meddling, or picking at a sore that’s already been extensively discussed and finally resolved. Should you even ask?

We think so, if you spot what is clearly a mistake that apparently everyone else has missed. Raise your hand and humbly ask about it.

For one thing, clients like providers who over deliver a bit. For another, you might happen to have knowledge that the client doesn’t. You may not know their widget-making processes and market as well as they do, but you could be better at spotting confusing language, especially as it is spoken.

And if it’s clearly an error that they missed, you might be saving someone’s bacon.

What’s more, heaven forbid the client finds out you caught the error but kept it to yourself. You might get paid for correcting it, but next time they hire talent, maybe they’ll consider someone who puts client interests first, giving them better value, yet without wasting their time.

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