If you’re putting your name on a book, or just writing emails or reports as part of your job, you want to make sure your writing is clear and persuasive and doesn’t contain any embarrassing errors. At GFP, we have our own “favorite” grammar mistakes we encounter with surprising frequency, from random capitalization to obsessive (and incorrect) use of the semicolon. We tapped a few of our copyeditors, grammar experts all, and asked them to share grammar mistakes to be on the lookout for.
- Beware the homonym. “One of the most egregious grammar errors is one that’s notoriously hard to spot: using the wrong word. Usually these are homonyms—using discrete instead of discreet, for example, or reign instead of rein. But sometimes it’s just a missing letter in a word—writing nice instead of niece, for example. These aren’t spelling errors, so spell-check won’t catch them, but many readers will!” —Erin
- Be positive about appositives. “Over the years I’ve lightened up about many rules that I thought were incontestable. But there is one that bugs me as much as it always did: the comma before a restrictive appositive. For instance: ‘We’re thrilled to welcome astronaut, Buzz Aldrin.’ If what comes after the comma isn’t the only one of its kind (Buzz Aldrin isn’t the only astronaut out there), then don’t put a comma before it.” —Meredith
- Mind your modifiers. “One type of error that seems to slip by even the most careful reviewer is the misplaced modifier. Example: ‘Built on a steep hillside, I was surprised that the house was still standing after the earthquake.’ This sentence needs to be rewritten so that it doesn’t read as if I were built on a steep hillside. There are a variety of ways to do this. One possibility: ‘Since it was built on a steep hillside, I was surprised that the house was still standing after the earthquake.’ Or reverse the order: ‘I was surprised that the house was still standing after the earthquake, since it was built on a steep hillside.’” —Rebecca J.
- Tune in to timing. “I’m currently a vigilante about incorrect use of the present participle in expressing order of action. For example: “Opening the fridge, Roxie grabbed her water bottle.” First Roxie has to open the fridge, then she can grab her water bottle, but she can’t do both simultaneously.” —Kamila
- Don’t be a stick in the mud. “A grammar mistake to avoid is to get so hung up on a ‘rule’ learned way back in school that it creates very awkward writing. The example that always comes to my mind is the good ol’ preposition at the end of a sentence. A grammatically correct sentence can often be awkward: ‘We’re studying this compound to determine of what it’s made.’ Whereas one that breaks the rule reads more smoothly: ‘We’re studying this compound to determine what it’s made of.’” —Irene