Avoid these top 10 Grammatical Errors
As authors, we all strive for perfection in our storytelling, yet sometimes, minor grammatical errors can overshadow our work. That’s why understanding the rules and making sure your book is properly edited is so crucial. You don’t want readers getting distracted by small mistakes, or even worse, having the more overly enthusiastic of the bunch listing the errors out in their review!
To help you recognize and rectify these mistakes before going to print, Ginger has put together a list of the 10 most pervasive grammatical errors. From subject-verb agreement to the nuances of punctuation and the pitfalls of passive voice, he provides examples and advice on identifying and fixing a variety of issues. After all, mastering grammar is not just about avoiding criticism; it’s about refining your art and ensuring that your narrative shines in its fullest glory.
Did anybody catch the fifth Indiana Jones movie this summer? While Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny failed to ignite the box office, it did remind us all of one eternal truth – that it’s always okay to punch Nazis.
And buried in the script of that movie was a reference to something a lot of writers are familiar with – the so-called “Grammar Nazi.” It’s a disparaging and actually pretty inappropriate term for readers and reviewers who get caught up with the minutiae of grammar – often giving authors poor reviews for the unforgivable crime of using apostrophes incorrectly, or some other seemingly inconsequential grammatical transgression.
But while calling sticklers for correct grammar “Nazis” is very wrong (maybe grammar police would be better), they can still be a frustrating opponent to run into in your self-publishing journey. As authors, we try the best we can to get things right – and the serious authors among us employ editors to correct what we can’t.
Yet, somehow, we still frequently fall short and it’s humiliating to have a stranger “call us out” for minor mistakes we’ve made in our epic journey to get our books completed and published. It’s like the plot, characters, and pacing are inconsequential compared to minor grammatical details.
So, to that end, I compiled a quick yet comprehensive guide to the ten most common grammatical errors writers make – and provided some practical tips on how to recognize and rectify them.
#1 Subject-Verb Agreement:
One of the most pervasive grammatical errors in fiction is the mismatch between subjects and verbs. This occurs when the number of the subject (singular or plural) doesn’t align with the corresponding verb. To avoid this, always double-check your sentences for subject-verb agreement, especially when dealing with compound subjects or complex sentence structures.
- Incorrect: The teacher, along with the students, is planning a field trip.
- Correct: The teacher, along with the students, are planning a field trip.
#2 Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers:
Modifiers, words, or phrases that provide additional information, must be placed close to the word they intend to modify. Misplacing modifiers or leaving them dangling can lead to confusion or unintended meanings. When editing, pay careful attention to the placement of adjectives and adverbs to ensure clarity.
- Incorrect: The postman delivered the package quickly, running.
- Correct: Running quickly, the postman delivered the package.
#3 Punctuation Pitfalls:
Proper punctuation is the backbone of good writing. Common punctuation errors include misuse of commas, semicolons, and colons. It’s essential to understand the rules governing these punctuation marks to maintain coherence in your prose – otherwise you might accidently imply that somebody is a cannibal, rather than a homemaker!
- Incorrect: She loved cooking her family and her friends.
- Correct: She loved cooking, her family, and her friends.
#4 Using Passive Voice:
While passive voice has its place, excessive use can make your writing appear passive and dull. Opt for an active voice whenever possible, as it lends energy and directness to your narrative.
- Passive: The cake was eaten by Mary.
- Active: Mary ate the cake.
#5 Confusing Homophones:
It’s okay to be homophonibic. Homophones are words that sound alike but have different meanings and spellings. They are frequent culprits of confusion in writing. Take the time to differentiate between commonly confused homophones to maintain precision in your storytelling.
- Incorrect: He could hear the sound of their new principal through the principle’s office door.
- Correct: He could hear the sound of their new principal through the principal’s office door.
#6 Run-On Sentences and Fragments:
Maintaining a balance between sentence length and structure is crucial. Avoid run-on sentences that connect independent clauses without proper punctuation and fragments that lack a subject or a verb.
- Run-On: The sun was setting, she decided to take a walk it was a beautiful evening.
- Fragment: Enjoying the view. While sipping her coffee.
#7 Inconsistent Tense:
This is one of my biggest pet-peeves when editing people’s books – especially if they use flashbacks frequently. Fluctuating between past, present, and future tenses within a narrative can confuse readers and disrupt the continuity of your story. Be vigilant in maintaining a consistent tense throughout your writing.
- Incorrect: She walks into the room and grabbed the book from the shelf.
- Correct: She walked into the room and grabbed the book from the shelf.
#8 Overusing Adverbs:
Stephen King once claimed: “The road to hell is paved with adverbs” and many authors agree with him. While adverbs can enhance your writing, excessive use can dilute the impact of your prose. Instead of relying on adverbs, strive to choose strong verbs that convey the intended meaning without the need for modification.
- Weak: She spoke softly.
- Strong: She whispered.
#9 Double Negatives:
There’s nothing not worse than a double negative. Double negatives, the use of two negative words in the same clause, can create confusion and negate the intended meaning. Ensure clarity by eliminating unnecessary negatives.
- Incorrect: I can’t find no solution to the problem.
- Correct: I can’t find any solution to the problem.
#10 Lack of Consistency in Style:
Out of all the grammatical errors I’ve listed, this is perhaps the one that snaps me out of the flow of reading most frequently. Maintaining consistency in your writing style is crucial for a polished and professional manuscript. Inconsistent formatting, punctuation, or spelling choices can distract readers and diminish the overall quality of your work.
For example, if you have a story in first-person perspective, or lots of dialogue, you’d expect it to consistently sound casual and “real” – one technique to do that would be to use contractions like “can’t” and “won’t” rather than “cannot” and “would not” which sound more formal. However, if you don’t remain consistent with that approach, it can sound unnatural and snap readers out of the narrative flow.
- Inconsistent: He said, “I cannot go out tonight.”
- Consistent: He said, “I can’t go out tonight.”
Don’t give the grammar police any ammunition. By addressing these ten common grammatical errors, you can elevate the quality of your fiction writing and provide readers with a seamless and enjoyable experience – and cut the legs out from under reviewers eager to ding you for small mistakes.
Remember to approach the editing process with a keen eye, and consider seeking feedback from peers or professional editors to catch any overlooked issues. With a commitment to honing your grammatical skills, you’ll not only refine your writing but also ensure that your narrative captivates readers from the first page to the last.