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What is a Typo?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A typographical error or typo is a mistake made by accident while typing or transcribing something. Most people distinguish between accidental errors like this and errors of ignorance like poor spelling and grammar. These errors are extremely common and very frustrating for editors since they can sometimes hide well enough that they are not caught before publication. Some typing errors are so common that they have become running jokes in some communities; “teh” is sometimes deliberately used for “the,” for example, since many people transpose these letters so frequently.

One of the most common typing mistakes is a transposition of letters, in which all of the letters needed to spell a word are present, but in the wrong order. This sort of error often occurs when someone is typing rapidly and not paying enough attention to his or her work. It is also not uncommon to see substitutions of letters caused by a slip of the fingers on a keyboard.

Duplications and omissions are also common print errors; for example, someone might type a word twice in a row without realizing it, leading to a duplication error. In other cases, someone might accidentally leave a word out, or, more commonly, leave a letter out of a word to cause a typo. Duplication errors can be tricky to catch if a written work is only lightly skimmed, and if an omission error spells a different word by accident, it can make the mistake challenging to find.

Spelling and grammar errors are not considered typos because they are not typographical errors — they are signs of ignorance in which the typist's mind, rather than the printed material, must be corrected. In some cases, someone will type a homophone for a word by mistake, in which case the error may be referred to as a “thinko,” acknowledging that the error is grammatical in nature, but caused by a genuine mistake. Some common thinkos include the substitution of "its" for "it's," or "there" for "their," and vice versa.

Preventing typos and catching them when they occur is very important to most people who produce printed material. This is why scrupulous editing by another person is extremely important, since it can find basic mistakes that the author might miss. On a computer, the use of spell checkers can help to catch fat fingered errors, but nothing substitutes for a careful visual review; a typing error can be extremely glaring and distracting to a reader.

It is also extremely important to check for such mistakes in computer coding, since a single one can render a program useless. This is also true with programming languages like HTML, which can be very unforgiving of typographical mistakes.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Language & Humanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By donasmrs — On Feb 16, 2013

@MikeMason-- If you learn to look at the screen instead of the paper or the keyboard while you type, you can catch typos as you work. This way, you can fix them right away, instead of having to erase a lot of writing and re-write it.

We're still lucky because we're not using typewriters. Back then, if someone made a typo on a typewriter, he had to throw away the whole page and re-start. It was a waste of paper, ink and time.

It's easy to fix typos nowadays. I usually have my daughter read over things I write. A second eye can catch typos much better.

By stoneMason — On Feb 15, 2013

When I don't place my fingers on the keyboard correctly, I make a lot of typos. It's because I accidentally hit the letter next to the one I'm supposed to hit.

How can I avoid this? I've had to go back and re-write my homework so many times because of this.

By ddljohn — On Feb 15, 2013

Thankfully, our computer software now tells us when we've made a typo. This has eliminated most instances of typos in my work. There are times when a typo is not caught by the computer however, so re-reading work is still necessary.

Sometimes I can't even believe the type of mistakes I find in my writing. I think some of it is inevitable because I'm thinking and typing so quickly.

By myharley — On May 04, 2011

A free online dictionary can also be a great resource tool. There are many websites available for this purpose.

Not only do you get help with your typos and spelling errors, but there are also links for different languages, a thesaurus, acronyms and a wide variety of tools to help with printed text accuracy.

A typing error can be very distracting, and with all the free online resources available at our fingertips, every effort should be made to eliminate common typos.

By sunshined — On May 03, 2011

@lllych I agree with getting into the habit of re-reading what you have typed. It is often too easy to rely on spell check only, but nothing is as thorough as going back through and reading it again.

If it is something that is very crucial, reading the text out loud can be very helpful. It may take a little longer, but gives you a better chance of accuracy.

By Illych — On May 01, 2011

I make omissions of words all the time when I'm writing. I guess my fingers can't quite keep up with my head! It has however gotten me into the good habit of re-reading what I've typed as often as possible.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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