In an age of texting and emoticons, it is easy to make writing mistakes. When communication can be as brief as “?,” grammar may seem like something that only old and uptight people find necessary. (Like me.)
At some point this may become true, but we’re not there yet. Grammar still counts. Poor grammatical usage strikes many as the written equivalent of bad manners.
Worse, it could convince a reader that you don’t take writing seriously. Whether your work is an Independently published book or a business report, you don’t want to be dismissed for mistakes that you can avoid. Writing errors affect your credibility.
The following are some common grammatical pitfalls. I am going to use the simplest examples. More exist in each category. When in doubt, look it up.
Failure of Subject and Verb to Agree
I see these writing errors on a frequent basis.
“Positive reviews and reader interest has stimulated me to write more.”
This sentence has two subjects: “Positive reviews” and “reader interest.”
The sentence should read:
“Positive reviews and reader interest have stimulated me to write more.”
It gets more complicated when other words get in between the subject and verb.
“Careful reading, editing, and proofreading by the editor I hired has helped me improve my writing.”
It would be easy to think that the editor has helped, and she has, but the sentence refers specifically to the actions of the editor, so it should read
“Careful reading, editing, and proofreading by the editor I hired have helped me improve my writing.”
“We went to the store. And then to the bank.”
“We went to the store and then to the bank.”
Are you yelling, “Foul! I read a book the other day by a famous novelist. He used incomplete sentences all over the place”?
You’re right. When you’re a famous novelist or any kind of famous author, you can do this, too—sparingly. Until then, don’t commit this writing error.
The one exception might be to give extra emphasis to something.
“He loaded the new program into the computer. Disaster.”
Confusing Pronoun References
“When Marie finally understood what Jane was saying, she was so relieved.”
Who was relieved, Marie or Jane?
You don’t want to write, “When Marie finally understood what Jane was saying, Marie (or Jane) was so relieved.”
You need to rewrite the sentence.
“Marie was so relieved when she finally understood what Jane was saying.”
Sentences That Go On Forever
“When I think about grammar, I get so confused because there are so many rules, and I often feel that I don’t understand them, and sometimes I want to crawl into bed and forget about the whole thing, and what I usually do is watch TV.”
All the commas are in the right places in the above sentence, and it has no other grammatical errors, but the reader may experience fatigue reading something in which each phrase has equal weight. What is the writer trying to say?
Some people talk to hear themselves speak. Some people write to get hypnotized by the many words on a page.
Break the trance, and while you’re at it, break a long sentence into shorter ones. Eliminate repetitious statements.
“The many rules of grammar confuse me so much that sometimes I can hardly bear to study them. Instead of learning the rules, I watch TV.”
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Pat Iyer is an editor, author, book coach and ghostwriter who helps individuals create books that encourages their expertise to shine and advances their businesses. She has written or edited 48 of her own books.