Thank you for sending this brilliant, life-changing manuscript! I laughed. I cried. I sent a copy to my mother.
But alas, on page 214, we found one misuse of plural possessive. Instead of parents’, the author wrote parent’s. So we decline to publish this novel.
Laughing and Crying Editor
Wrote No One Ever!
I open with this fictitious letter to emphasize that minor errors are not dealbreakers. Please don’t become paralyzed with fear that keeps you from submitting your work.
Also, be aware I am not setting out to embarrass anyone. These errors occur early and often. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t be writing this post. Besides, I’m sure if you studied the billions of words I’ve emailed over the years, somewhere this sentence probably exists: “Your do two bee their too, at to.” Do be do be do?
Today, I want to share grammar errors I encounter when reviewing submissions.
1. Plural possessive: I often see this error when authors refer to parents.
The character goes to her parents’ house when two parents live in a home. If one parent lives in the house, the character goes to her parent’s house.
If one parent opposes her love match, she sees him over her parent’s objection. If both object, she is seeing him despite her parents’ disapproval.
The apostrophe placed before the s is singular possessive. After the s denotes plural possessive.
2. Dangling modifier: A misplaced word or phrase can cause the sentence not to make sense.
For example, “Tired, the day dragged.” The day cannot be tired. Try: “Tired, I felt the day drag.” Or, “Because I felt tired, the day seemed endless.”
Another example: “Elated to see more pasta, the plate filled quickly.” Since the plate cannot see or fill itself, try, “Elated to see more pasta, Bubba filled his plate with a second helping.”
Other minor mishaps I see:
Loose/lose. “Loose” means not tight or not strict, whereas “lose” means that something is lost. Examples:
Our rules are loose here, just basic guidelines.
Palazzo pants are loose-fitting.
Don’t lose your retirement fund through poor investments!
Why does she always lose her homework assignment notes?
Few/less. “Few” can be counted or measured. “Less” cannot. Examples:
We have few trucks left for rental.
Onions have fewer calories per pound than beef.
I feel less stress now that the test is over.
The funeral director said that people without faith feel less hope upon the death of a loved one than religious people do.
Affect/effect. With few exceptions (See how I did that!), “affect” is a verb, and “effect” is a noun. Examples:
How will the outcome of the election affect me?
We won’t know the effect of the election’s outcome until at least 2025.
Capitalization of seasons. Seasons of the year are not capitalized.
Rather than, “We’ll go to the amusement park this Fall when it’s not so hot,” try, “We’ll go to the amusement park this fall when it’s not so hot.”
Again, none of these errors should stand in the way of a remarkable manuscript’s publication. However, if I have to read a sentence several times to be certain of your meaning, I’m now out of your story or lesson and into the grammar zone. This is not where you want a reader to be.
If grammar puts you to sleep, know this about yourself and be cautious. As a bare minimum, use your Windows or Mac editor on all documents. In addition, consider either having a friend proofread your work or using a program to catch grammar errors, such as Grammarly. Grammarly offers a free version, as well as a paid version with more robust features.
You don’t have to love grammar to be a great writer, just a cautious writer. Enjoy the journey!
Tired, the day dragged
me to my parent’s house
where all food left unbagged
was affected by a mouse
whom they’d allowed since last Fall
to run about quite lose;
they had bought him at the mall,
and though it’s theirs to choose,
I felt they’d fewer common senses
than one should expect;
and friend’s dinner references,
this surely would effect,
for less guests are in the mood
to see a mouse dance through their food.
Damon J. Gray
Andrew, that was actually painful to read!
Damon, that was precisely the intent.
Bahahaha! Love it, Andrew! Of course, our cats would LOVE to see mice dancing through food. They’d consider it an invite to jump on the table and play.
Great words! The parent’s/parents’ thing bugs me too, as well as saying “your” when the person means “you’re.”
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D.
Amen and amen.
Damon J. Gray
The one that makes me cringe is the use of “only.” I see it in print, and hear it in professional advertising.
Only I fed the dog.
I only fed the dog.
I fed only the dog.
I fed the only dog.
I fed the dog only.
Which is it?
Damon J. Gray
As I sit here, I thought of a current example – Liberty Mutual Insurance.
“At Liberty Mutual you only pay for what you need.”
Ah! I only pay for it. I don’t steal it, or get it for free. I don’t eat it, or despise it. No, I only pay for it.
Excellent! Could we have a grammar lesson on lie/lay and sit/set? Those are my nemeses – especially lie/lay with simple past and past perfect tenses. 😖
“Minor errors are not dealbreakers.” Well, it probably would be if one submitted a book proposal with the suggested title, “The Perfectionists’ Guide to Writing Well.”
One of my personal peeves is the use of “lead” instead of “led” for the past tense: “Before I became a writer, I lead XYZ Corporation as the COO.” Spell checkers almost never pick that one up, with the result that “lead” instead of “led” can be seen all the time in journalism (even the big ones).
Grammatical mistakes are certainly not on a par with the unforgivable sin, but they do cause me to lose a bit of respect for the writer. With someone who’s just come out with their first book, I chalk it up to inexperience and think, “Oh, bless your heart, you must not know that that’s not the correct grammar here. You need a better editor.”
But it’s much worse when the author is somewhat renowned, may have written numerous books, and might even have advanced degrees. In that case, a dangling modifier or split infinitive sticks out like bright yellow egg yolk on the author’s face. Call me harsh, but poor grammar makes me think slightly more poorly of the author’s message.
I mean, think about it: (to use Pamela’s example), suppose C.S. Lewis had written (and his publisher had published), “Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Loose your life and you will save it.” I don’t know about you, but my reaction would be, “If this guy is that sloppy with his grammar, what does it about his argument?”
(I know, I know, I’m sure Lewis sometime, somewhere wrote a sentence that he later regretted for its poor grammar. I certainly have.)
what does it say
See what I mean
Thank you for your useful resource and wise advice:
“You don’t have to love grammar to be a great writer, just a cautious writer. Enjoy the journey!”
Sharon K Connell
Grammarly is a life-saver. I use it after I’ve self-edited each chapter. Then I move on to AutoCrit and follow up with PWA to catch what’s left. My use of these three programs has made my editor very happy. LOL Parent’s vs. parents’ is my big stumbling block.
“You go,” shouted this former English teacher.
And how about “farther” and “further”?
One of the things that bugs me is using JUST when you don’t mean JUST one thing. Especially when people pray. God, we JUST ask you to JUST heal this person. We ask you to also do …. whatever …
But they JUST prayed for God to JUST do healing. Then they list out other things! I never used to hear prayers with JUST littered throughout until recently. Drives me nuts.
If you want God to do more then JUST one thing, then don’t say JUST.
Sigh. My husband says I’m too literal.
OLUSOLA SOPHIA ANYANWU
Thank.s Tamela! I found this very useful. God bless you.
Thanks, Pamela! Just between you and I, as years go by for you and I, me thinks it proper to use first person pronouns!
My biggest issue when I’m writing is making sure my tense is correct. I might write:
He looked at the book lying on the table.
He was looking at the book….
Being from Texas, that’s the way we talk so I have the tendency to write that way.
Jordyn Emma West
That opener made me laugh… and helped relieve some of my anxiety as I get ready to send out my first three chapters! I’m one of those ones who has been paralyzed with fear!