"It's" So Easy
On paper many people are tripped up by it's versus its. The apostrophe in it's ("it is"), just like the one in we're ("we are") or I'm ("I am"), is standing in for a missing letter, in this case the i in is. That is its role. As opposed to: "That is it's role." Which would mean "That is it is role." Which in fact means nothing.
Beware the "Literal" Agenda
A literal-minded person lacks imagination. So does a "literal" expression: It means exactly what it says. So if you tell someone, "I'd kill to have your job—literally," watch out! You've just made a death threat.
That's Repetitive. And Redundant!
A sentence that starts with "The reason is" shouldn't continue with "because." "The reason" has already done all the work, leaving nothing for "because" to do. Other notorious wastes of words: "I thought to myself" (who else would you think to?), "advance reservations" (yep, that's when they're made), and "I am busy at this time" (but not so busy that you didn't have time for three useless words).
This story is part of O's Live Your Best Year Toolkit
Next: How to break the ice
Barbara Wallraff, author of the weekly Word Court column for King Features Syndicate.