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Common Writing Mistakes and How to Amend Them

Common Writing Mistakes and How to Amend Them

Before we launch into this article, let’s take a moment to remember that no piece of writing will ever be perfect. Since people first rammed styluses (styli?) into clay to get their cuneiform scribblings down before they forgot what they wanted to say, there have been spelling errors, awkward modifying sentences, and countless other gaffs. These are inevitable any time words move from the spoken realm to that of paper, papyrus, or computer screen—the key is to recognize issues that spring up in our own writing so we can learn from them and not repeat them in the future.

As an editor, I’ve noticed certain issues that pop up more often than others, and I’ve listed some of them below. Hopefully these will you polish up your writing, which will in turn prevent editors and proofreaders everywhere from sustaining brain damage caused by banging their heads on their desks.

Dastardly Dashes

Many people don’t realize that there are several different dashes used in writing, and they don’t all serve the same purpose. Most will use hyphens on either side of a sentence to emphasize it, when an em dash should be used instead, or use a hyphen when citing a period of time. Here’s what they’re actually used for:

The hyphen (‐) is a punctuation mark used to join words and to separate syllables of a single word.

Hyphens between words can also differentiate between concepts:

A man-eating shark is a shark that likes to eat people.

A man eating shark is a man who has sat down to nibble a shark steak.

Now for the dashes. I’ve taken the descriptions from Wikipedia, as they’ve explained things very clearly:

A dash is a punctuation mark that is similar to a hyphen, but that differs in length and function. The most common versions are the en dash (–) and the em dash (—), named for the length of a typeface’s lower-case n and upper-case M respectively. Either version may be used to denote a break in a sentence or to set off parenthetical statements, although it’s best to use a single form consistently in your work. Generally, en dashes are used with spaces, and em dashes are used without them:

[Em dash:] In matters of grave importance, stylenot sincerityis the vital thing.

[Spaced en dash:] In matters of grave importance, style not sincerity is the vital thing.

The em dash (but not the en dash) is also used to set off the sources of quotes:

“Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.”  Oscar Wilde

There are additional rules for attributive compounds, as well as compound adjectives in which one of the elements is an open compound, but I don’t want to send anyone into apoplexy right now. Unless you’re writing for textbooks or government papers and have to be really pedantic about the dashes you choose, stick to the guidelines above and you’ll do just fine.

Mixed Up Plural and Singular Forms

If the noun you’re using is in its plural form, your modifier has to reflect that, and the same goes for the singular form.

Examples:

  • There are enzymes that gets mixed in your mouth. “Enzymes” is plural, so the modifier would be “get”.
  • The container of eggs in my fridge is falling apart. “Is” modifies “container”, so it’s singular.
  • The eggs in the container have gone bad.

Misused Closed Compound Words

These seem to be popping up more and more (probably as people read less in favour of watching TV), and I cringe every time I see them. Spell-checking won’t highlight them either, because they’re spelled correctly; it’s merely the form of the word that is misused.

Everyday vs Every Day

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Everyday is an adjective that means normal, commonplace, and ordinary. For example: An umbrella is an everyday essential for someone who lives in a rainy climate.

Every day, however, means “each day”: Pugsley takes his umbrella to work every day, just in case it rains.

Other commonly misused compound words include:

There’s also the issue of compound words vs. verb phrases. These can change form and meaning depending on whether they’re being used as nouns or adjectives, causing no end of frustration.

  • We went back up the hill to Gran-gran’s house to teach her how to make a backup disk. (“Back up” = verb form, “backup” in this sense is an adjective that modifies “disk”.)
  • Did you set up the camera for the secret comedy show? This is going to be a great setup. (“Set up” = verb, while “setup” = noun.)

Has your head exploded yet?

Vital Differences

Less vs. Fewer

Use “less” if you can’t count individual items, and “fewer” if you can.

Our new car uses less gas than the last one.

Your mother drinks less vodka than she used to.

Try using fewer words to express yourself.

Much and Many

Same idea as above: “much” for volume, “many” for items you can count.

How many hipsters can you cram into a vintage Volkswagen?

How many imported cigarettes will each of them smoke?

How much smoke will accumulate during their journey?

“Who” vs. “That”

When writing about people, it’s important to always use “who” as the relative pronoun, rather than “that”. Referring to a person by using “that” seems to indicate that they are somehow less than human, i.e. a person referring to their stepmother as “the woman that married my father”. It implies a sense of disdain and animosity, and is best avoided.

Examples:

  • “He’s the guy who loaned me fifty bucks.”
  • “Therapists who prescribe LSD to patients are usually arrested.”
  • “The dog that ran off with the chicken still hasn’t been caught.”

Primer-Style Writing

There seems to be a trend in web-based writing in which the articles are constructed from a series of single sentences, rather than full paragraphs. This kind of writing is extremely jarring and halting, and reminds us of the early learning books we had in first grade:

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Here are Sam and Sandy. They are twins. They like to play games. They like soccer and baseball. Their favourite food is ice cream. They like cake too. On weekends, they visit their grandmother. She gives them cake. Sometimes ice cream too.

Horrible, isn’t it?

A better way to write is to consolidate several single sentences into full paragraphs by rephrasing those sentences, and joining them with coordinating conjunctions, semicolons, dashes, etc:

Twins Sam and Sandy enjoy playing games like soccer and baseball. They visit their grandmother’s house on weekends, where they get to indulge their love of sweets with ice cream and cake.

Ellipses

Also known as the “dot, dot, dot” at the end of a sentence (…), ellipses tend to be overused, especially in places they’re not meant to be. They’re intended to be used as place-holders for missing blocks of text, such as before and after a quote when you don’t want to use the entire piece, and can also be used to imply that the story is trailing off, giving the impression of anticipation. When used too often, it makes the writing seem scattered and flighty.

Ellipses are never used in lieu of colons, so you don’t use them if you’re introducing a new sentence or paragraph. Be sure to never use more than 3 dots for an ellipses (some people go overboard and use 4 or more), and try not to use them more than twice per article unless you want your post to look like Morse code.

Mistaken Homophones

There are many words out there that either look or sound similar, and people often mistake one for another. When in doubt, look up the word you want to use to double-check if it’s the right one.

They’re, There, and Their

Remember that an apostrophe stands in for a missing letter, so they’re is a contraction of they are. There is a place, and their refers to something belonging to another.

Their table needs to be put over there, or they’re going to be upset.

Its and It’s

Its implies possessiveness, while it’s is a contraction of “it is”.

The platypus uses its poisonous spurs to ward off enemies: it’s a defense mechanism.

You’re and Your

As mentioned above, apostrophes replace letters, so you’re is a contraction of you are. Your refers to something you own. Your new puppy ripped the pillows apart, so you’re vacuuming the house tonight.

Effect and Affect

Effect is a noun, while affect is a verb. If you don’t know which one to use, swap out a different verb to see if it would work:

Losing one’s hair is an effect of chemotherapy.

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Losing one’s hair is an agree of chemotherapy. (No. Use a noun here.)

We will all be affected by the plague if more rats escape the lab.

We will all be killed by the plague if more rats escape the lab. (Yes! It’s a verb. Have a biscuit.)

Stationery and Stationary

Stationery is something that you write upon. A bicycle that doesn’t go anywhere is stationary.

Peek, Peak, and Pique

You would peek around a corner to look at something. A mountaintop is known as a peak, or you could say that someone reached the peak of their career when they were rich and famous. If something interests you, it has piqued your curiosity.

Compliment and Complement

“I like your hat” is a compliment, while tomato sauce is a complement to pasta.

Allowed and Aloud

Allowed = permission, while aloud = not silently. The opposite of silent is loud, correct? Remember this example:

He isn’t allowed to play Slayer aloud after 2 am. 

Although they’re not homophones, lose and loose are often used in place of one another, but they’re far from interchangeable. “Lose” is a verb, while “loose” is an adjective:

I set out to lose 300 pounds, and now my pants are loose.

Lose rhymes with snooze, while loose rhymes with juice. Remember this one or I’ll hunt you down and knot your arms behind your head.

Another issue that often comes about is when people write something phonetically, instead of using the correct spelling. One of the most egregious errors that has come up in recent years is the use of “should of” in lieu of “should have” or the informal “should’ve”. Yes, when you hear it said aloud, “should’ve” SOUNDS LIKE “should of”, but it isn’t. The same goes for the following:

Could’ve is the condensed form of “could have”.

Would’ve = “would have”.

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You get the idea. “Should of” doesn’t mean a sodding thing, and will just infuriate your editors and readers beyond possible measure.

Hyphens in Phrasal Adjectives

Phrasal adjectives cause a fair bit of grief for most writers, but there’s a fairly easy way to remember when there’s a need to hyphenate them: when you have a noun that’s preceded by two or more words that describe it, those words tend to be hyphenated.

Examples:

  • Traffic is so bad that it’s causing two-hour delays. Note that if “two hour” wasn’t hyphenated, it would imply that there were two separate hour-long delays.
  • The room was full of six-year-old kids. This tells us that the room was chock full of first-graders, rather than six toddlers.
  • Other examples: Razor-sharp wit, over-the-top character, larger-than-life personality.

The exception to this rule would be adjectives that end in an -ly suffix, such as poorly, badly and the like: there’s no need to put a hyphen after them.

Apostrophes

I can’t tell you how often I come across apostrophes that have been used to pluralize words. NO. BAD PUPPY. Apostrophes are only used in contractions, or to imply possessiveness.

Examples:

  • Won’t = contraction of “will not”.
  • Doesn’t = contraction of “does not”.
  • Possessiveness: Johns mother used to be a stewardess. Other peoples houses are bigger than ours.

An incorrect usage is as follows:

  • This goes out to all the mommy’s and daddy’s out there. = NO. Change Y to an I and you ad “es” to get mommies and daddies.

If you’re going to use the word mommy’s, it will be in reference to something the mother owns, or is in the process of doing:

  • Don’t hide mommy’s copy of Fifty Shades of Grey, or she’ll freak out. = possessiveness.
  • Mommy’s going to lose her mind if she can’t find her book. = contraction of “mommy is”.

Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers

This one is a bit more advanced, but it deals with an issue that even experienced writers will have on occasion. A modifier is an element in a sentence (generally descriptive), that changes the meaning of the noun that immediately precedes it, as in a pre-modifier, or follows it, as with a post-modifier. These modifiers can generally be removed from a sentence without changing the basic meaning of it.

Confused yet? Okay, consider this example:

I followed the brown dog down the street.

The adjective “brown” is a modifier, as it describes the dog. You could remove the word “brown” from that sentence without changing it too much—the reader would still understand that you followed the dog down the street. When we don’t use modifiers correctly, we can end up with muddled, confused, and even rather horrifying sentences like this one:

After rotting in the cellar for weeks, my brother brought up some oranges.

With the way this sentence is set up, it implies that your brother is a zombie that’s been rotting in your basement for a while, because the first noun that follows rotting is “brother”.

As a final note, please be sure to write as though you have an education higher than that of a standard third grader. This includes not using phonetic replacements for entire words (like U R instead of “you are”), emoticons ( :P ), or inappropriate acronyms. Referring to someone as the CEO of a company instead of calling him/her the Chief Executive Officer is fine, but peppering your article with things like OMG WTF ROTFLMAO is not. Also, use exclamation marks sparingly—preferably no more than 2 per 1000-word article. It’s understandable that you may be excited about the topic you’re writing about, but using too many ex!cla!ma!tion! marks!!! makes a piece look as though it’s being shrieked by a sugar-fuelled, hyperactive pre-teen.

*Caveat: Muphry’s Law dictates that I will have undoubtedly screwed something up in here, which brings us back to the earlier point that no writer is ever error-free, and we’re all on a journey of self improvement.

Happy scribbling.

More by this author

Catherine Winter

Catherine is a wordsmith covering lifestyle tips on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on November 17, 2019

40 Amazing Date Ideas for Valentine’s Day

40 Amazing Date Ideas for Valentine’s Day

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, starry-eyed lovers worldwide are getting ready to celebrate their love and planning the perfect date for their partner. However, there are many loving, caring, and generally great people out there who simply can’t think of a single romantic thing to do, let alone create the ultimate Valentine’s Day experience for their loved one. If you are looking for some great date ideas that will put a smile on your partner’s face and melt their heart, then just keep on reading. I’ve got a pretty big list of choices for you. Here are some great ideas ranging from tried and true classics, to the fun and slightly unconventional.

1. Rom-coms marathon

This is a very basic yet highly romantic way of spending the day with your partner. Take a few days to prepare the right playlist and create a romantic atmosphere at home. You can order out some food, open a bottle of wine and cuddle up in front of the TV.

2. Recreate your first date

Rated pretty high on the “romantic gestures scale,” this is guaranteed to impress your significant other. It requires a good memory and a bit of work to make it just right, but it is well worth it. Walk down the same streets where you first kissed and have a couple of drinks in that old coffee shop where you had your first drinks together. Don’t be afraid to spend a bit extra and add a little romantic gift into the mix.

3. Cook for your loved one

Start researching good recipes for a romantic dinner for two, get the right ingredients and prepare a couple of practice dinners to make sure you’ve got your technique and presentation down pat. Cooking for someone can be a big turn on and you can create some incredible meals without spending too much money. Take it up a notch by dressing classy, decorating your dining room and presenting your partner with a printed menu.

4. Organize your very own ancient Greek party

Here’s another one of those creative date ideas for the stay-at-home couple. The ancient Greek private party can be a very fun and erotic experience. You can decorate by using big bowls full of grapes, spreading some white sheets all over the place, placing some plastic vines here and there, putting up a few posters depicting Greek parties and having plenty of wine lying around. Wear nothing but light sheets or costumes and channel some of that hot-blooded Greek spirit.

5. A romantic weekend getaway in the mountains

For those looking for a change of scenery and an escape from the busy city, there is nothing better than a quiet, romantic weekend in the mountains. There are plenty of fun activities like skiing that will keep you active. You can have fun making a snowman or engaging in a snowball fight, and, of course, there is plenty of privacy and great room service waiting for you back at your room.

6. Fun day at the shooting range

A bit unconventional but an incredibly fun and exciting date that will get your blood pumping and put a huge smile on your faces. Try out a number of guns and have a bit of a competition. Some outdoor ranges have fully automatic rifles, which are a blast to shoot.

7. Rent an expensive sports car for a day

Don’t be afraid to live large from time to time—even if you can’t afford the glamorous lifestyle of the stars, you can most definitely play pretend for a day. Put on some classy clothes and drive around town in a rented sports car. The quick acceleration and high speed are sure to provide an exhilarating experience.

8. Go on a shopping spree together

Very few things can elicit such a huge dopamine rush as a good old shopping spree. Get some new lingerie, pretty shoes, a nice shirt and tie, a couple of new video games or whatever else you need or want. This is a unique chance to bond, have fun and get some stuff that you’ve been waiting to buy for a while now.

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9. Hit the clubs

For all the party animals out there, one of the best date ideas is to go out drinking, dancing, and just generally enjoying the night life. Visit a few good clubs, then go to an after-party and keep that party spirit going for as long as you can.

10. Spend the day driving around the city and visiting new places

This one is geared towards couples who have been together for a year or two and want to experience a few new things together. Visit a few cool coffee places on the other side of town, check out interesting restaurants you’ve never been to, and consider going to see a play or having fun at a comedy club on open mic night.

11. Wine and chocolates at sunset

Pick out a romantic location, such as a camping spot on a hill overlooking the city or a balcony in a restaurant with a nice view, open a bottle of wine and a box of chocolates and wait for that perfect moment when the sky turns fiery red to embrace and share a passionate kiss.

12. Ice skating

There is something incredibly fun about ice skating that brings people closer together and just keeps you laughing (maybe it’s all the falling and clinging to the other person for dear life). You can have some great fun and then move on to a more private location for some alone time.

13. Body painting

Speaking of private locations and intimate moments, body painting allows you to spice things up back at your place and add a new element of fun to foreplay. You’ll need adequate body paints and some brushes and the rest is up to you. You can do tiger stripes, paint a t-shirt on your partner, or go for something more abstract—the choice is yours.

14. Model clothes for each other

This one goes well when combined with a shopping spree, but you can just get a bunch of your clothes—old and new—from the closet, set up a catwalk area and then try on different combinations. You can be stylish, funny or beautiful. It’s a great after-dinner show and a good way to transition into a more intimate atmosphere.

15. Dance the night away

If you and your significant other are relatively good dancers, or if you simply enjoy moving your body to the rhythm of the music, then a night at salsa club or similar venue is the perfect thing for you. Alternatively, you can set up dance floor at home, play your favorite music, have a few drinks and dance like there is no tomorrow.

16. Lock the doors, turn off the phones and have the whole house to yourselves

This one might seem a bit obvious and kind of redundant seeing as how I’ve already mentioned a bunch of stay-at-home date ideas that require this step as a prerequisite, but when I say, “Have the whole house to yourselves,” I literally mean turning the whole house into romantic stage where you can explore your fantasies. Decorate each room a bit differently, have a lot of snacks and drinks lying around, put a bunch of blankets and pillows on the floor and go from room to room throughout the day. You can start off with a steaming shower, have a romantic meal, then watch a movie cuddled up on the couch and eventually make your way to the bedroom.

17. Organize a nature walk

Being outside has many health benefits, but what you are going for is the beautiful view, seclusion, and the thrill of engaging in some erotic behavior out in the open. You can rent a cottage far from the city, bring some food and drinks, and explore the wilderness. This is nice way to spice things up a bit and get away from the loud and busy city life.

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18. Act out a fun scenario wearing costumes

Some role-playing may be just the thing you need to spice up your love life after a few years of being together, but it can be a very fun experience for new couples as well. Work on the scenario together (wounded soldier and nurse, a female cop arresting a robber, etc.), buy the right costumes and accessories beforehand and find a good setting. You could also rent a hotel room to add to the forbidden-fruit vibe.

19. Travel abroad

This takes a bit of planning in advance and may be a bit costly, but if you can afford it, there are very few things that can match a trip to France, Italy, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, or a number of other excellent locations.

20. Go on a hot-air balloon ride

These are very fun and romantic—you get an incredible view, get to experience the thrill of flying, and you’ve got enough room for a romantic dinner and some champagne. Just be sure to wear warm clothes, it can get pretty cold high up in the air.

21. A relaxing day at the spa

Treat your body, mind and senses to a relaxing day at the spa. You and your partner will feel fresh, comfortable and relaxed—a perfect date for the more serious couples who don’t get to spend as much time with each other as they’d like.

22. A trip down memory lane

This one is great for long-term couples who will benefit from reminiscing about all of their fondest memories together from the start of the relationship through to the present, reliving some of the most significant moments they shared.

23. Fun times at a karaoke bar

A great choice for couples celebrating their first Valentine’s Day together—it’s fairly informal and inexpensive, yet incredibly fun and allows for deeper bonding. Once you have a few drinks in your system and come to terms with the fact that you are making a complete fool of yourself, you’ll have the time of your life!

24. Helicopter tour of the city followed by dinner

A modern equivalent to the hot-air balloon ride, the helicopter tour is among the more reasonably priced date ideas and is incredibly romantic and exciting. After about half an hour or an hour of sightseeing you can finish off the upper-class experience by dining in a nice restaurant.

25. Horseback riding

Horseback riding is incredibly fun, especially if you’ve never done it before. And what girl doesn’t dream of a prince coming to take her on an adventure on his noble steed? It evokes a sense of nobility and is a very good bonding experience.

26. Plan a fun date night with other couples

Take a break and rent a cabin in the woods, go to a mountain resort, a couple’s retreat, or just organize a huge date night at someone’s place and hang out with other couples. This is a great option for couples who have spent at least one Valentine’s Day together and allows you to customize your experience to suit your needs. Also, you can always retire early and get some alone time with your partner if you so desire.

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27. Cocktail night

This can be done privately, or with other couples if you are organizing a group Valentine’s Day celebration at someone’s house. All you need is a bunch of different drinks, a few accessories like fruit and spices, and internet access to check out some cool recipes online. Try out all sorts of fun cocktails and mix some brand new ones on your own. Make it a fancy dress night for added fun.

28. Make reservations at an exclusive restaurant

A fairly old school move, except this time you can pick out a restaurant that serves a particular type of cuisine you’ve never tried before. Go for a place that has unusual menus and likes to make a show out of presenting the food, rather than just going for your regular “suits and monocles” type venue.

29. Go to a concert

There are a whole bunch of things happening around Valentine’s Day, so go online and check out what’s happening near you. You’ll surely be able to find tickets for a cool concert or some type of festival with live music.

30. Fancy night on the town

Buy some elegant new clothes, rent a limo for the night and go to a nice restaurant, followed by a jazz club or gallery exhibition. Walk tall, make a few sarcastic quips, and have a few laughs with your partner while letting your inner snob take charge for a few hours.

31. Take a tour of the historical and cultural sites of your city

For the cultured crowd and history buffs among us, a day spent learning about some of the local history and delving deeper into national culture is both incredibly fun and a great way to share a unique experience with a loved one. You’d be surprised to find just how much you don’t know about the place you live in.

32. Live out a James Bond film at a casino

A beautiful lady in a simple yet sensual, form-fitting, black dress, and a strong and handsome, if somewhat stern-looking man in a fine suit walk up to a roulette table with drinks in hand and place bets at random as they smile at each other seductively. This is a scenario most of us wish to play out, but rarely get a chance. It can be a bit costly, but this is one of the most incredibly adventurous and romantic date ideas.

33. Go bungee jumping

People in long-term relationships often talk about things like keeping a relationship fun and exciting, doing new things together, trusting each other and using aphrodisiacs. Well, bungee jumping is a fun, exhilarating activity you can both enjoy; it requires trust and the adrenaline rush you get from it is better than any aphrodisiac out there. Just saying, give it a shot and you won’t regret it.

34. Take a tour of a winery or brewery

Taking a tour like this can be a great opportunity to learn new things about wine or beer (or perhaps whiskey) and how it is made, while at the same time getting a chance to taste some excellent drinks and get a few bottles for later in the evening.

35. Make a fun music video

Meet up earlier in the day, take decent camera, and start shooting a music video. Rehearse the lyrics (you can even make up your own silly song), dress up, and start filming. You’ll have tons of fun doing it and you can edit the video later and have a cool memento.

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36. Play some sports

Some one-on-one basketball, a soccer match against another couple, a bit of tennis, or even something as simple as a table tennis tournament (make it fun by stripping off items of clothing when you lose a game). You can combine this with date idea #13 and paint team uniforms on each other and play in the nude.

37. Visit a club with live music

A great option for just about any couple—pick a club that has live performers (whether it’s jazz, rock or even a poetry reading) and dress up for the occasion. Be sure to make reservations in advance to avoid the Valentine’s Day rush, and focus on making your date feel comfortable.

38. Take skydiving lessons

Another adrenaline-filled date, skydiving is sure to get your heart racing like crazy and leave you with a goofy grin for the rest of the day. You can offset all the excitement by ending the day with a quiet dinner at home.

39. Go for some paintball

Playing war games is an excellent way to get your body moving, focus on some of that hand-eye-coordination, and engage your brain in coming up with tactical solutions in the heat of the moment. It is also a great bonding experience, adrenaline-fueled fun, and role-playing all wrapped into one. And when you get back home, you can always act out the wounded soldier scenario (see #18).

40. Fill the whole day with random fun activities

Just say no to plans, reservations and clichés—take your partner by the hand, have your credit card ready and just go out and have some fun. Bowling, followed by a drink at a coffee shop and then a romantic movie? Sure, why not? Going for lunch at a nice restaurant and then organizing a double-date game night? Go right ahead. Going for a long walk in the park, visiting a museum, followed by romantic meal at home and then going out to a club? Hey, who am I to say no? You can use some of the ideas from this article and mash them up together to create a fun-filled Valentine’s Day you’ll both remember.

There you go, a whole bunch of useful date ideas for all you loving couples out there. You can pick out any one of these, make some adjustments or even combine different options to create the perfect Valentine’s Day date for your significant other. Plan ahead, have fun and celebrate your love proudly.

Featured photo credit: Relevante design via unsplash.com

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