by Denelle A. Swaim
Most writers know how to avoid the most common grammar mistakes – use your word processor’s spelling and grammar checker and review your text carefully. But how can you avoid less common grammar mistakes you might not even know you’re making?
Many an editing project comes across my desk that includes a number of grammar mistakes. While Microsoft Word and other word processing programs often catch the most common mistakes - a misused comma or a split infinitive – the system simply can not do what a trained eye can; understand the author’s intention and then appropriately convey this message in his/her text.
A well-trained writer or editor can often catch these mistakes quickly and easily, but, as the author, you are the only one who truly knows what you are trying to say.
Speaking of this - as the author of your written materials, it’s important that you clearly define your message, but then check your work to ensure each sentence conveys this message appropriately. If you’re reading this article, you already know the best kept secret to avoiding grammar blunders; find the right editor to correct them for you!
But remember, as the author, you are really your best first defense against the common and even not-so-common grammar mistakes that plague your text.
First, if you haven’t already done so, re-read your text. Read it aloud if you must. Does it make sense? Find areas where your grammar doesn’t “sound right” and attack these areas first. Don’t accept all grammar revisions from your word processor; the best writers know that these programs are extremely limited and often confuse your meaning when used indiscriminately.
When you find text that isn’t clear, or at least, doesn’t “sound” right, start evaluating it with a critical eye, are you making any common grammar blunders? Often a simple rewording will correct these mistakes.
Beyond that, knowledge is power. Here are a few of my personal favorite un-common grammar mistakes that you may already be making (and how to avoid them!):
1. Alright is not All Right – this is the number one “un-common grammar mistake” to avoid because it came as a total shock to me.
It’s never all right to use the word “alright!” It turns out that the word “alright” is a misspelling! Though its usage is becoming more popular in both British and English grammar, for now, using the word “alright” won’t make your work all right.
2. Run-on Sentences – Run-on sentences are easy to spot when re-reading your text, especially if you are reading it aloud. If you must take a breath while reading the sentence aloud, stop a minute and check to ensure that you haven’t written a run-on.
When you spot one, try cutting the sentence into two separate sentences and see if the intended meaning is still conveyed? One easy way to spot a run-on is use of the word “however” in the middle of a sentence. Chances are, that sentence can easily be divided into two, more clear sentences.
3. Misuse of Apostrophes – By far, this is the most common “un-common grammar mistake” I see in my editing works and it is so easily avoided. Remember, you only use an apostrophe for contractions (isn’t for is not) or to show possession (Fin&Marketing’s article).
Here are some examples I almost always see:
WRONG: He was president during the 1960′s.
RIGHT: He was president during the 1960s.
WRONG: I recently read a great article of Fin&Marketing’s.
RIGHT: I recently read a great article by Fin&Marketing. OR: I recently read Fin&Marketing’s great article.
Not sure whether the word requires an apostrophe? Leave it out. Chances are, an apostrophe doesn’t belong in your sentence.
4. Misuse of i.e. and e.g. – With antiquated Latin origin, it’s easy to see why there is so much confusion surrounding these simple little abbreviations.
i.e. comes from the Latin phrase “id est,” which means “that is.” Therefore, its abbreviation, “i.e.,” literally means “in other words.”
By contrast, e.g. comes from the Latin phrase, “exempli gratia,” which means “for example.” Therefore, e.g. is used before providing specific examples that support your assertion.
If your sentence requires one of these abbreviations- but you’re not sure which one- substitute the following for “i.e.” or “e.g.” in your text:
- “in other words” (Do the words that follow provide a definition or synonym for the prior text? If so, use “i.e.”)
- “for example” (Do the words that follow clarify your previous text by way of example? If so, use “e.g.”)
5. Passive Voice – Using passive voice will not kill your work and it isn’t always inappropriate, but using active voice just helps to clarify your intended meaning. This is especially important for marketing materials, press releases and other text that requires concise communication and action.
What is passive voice? Passive voice is best explained by example:
PASSIVE: The shoes were purchased by the lady in red.
ACTIVE: The lady in red purchased the shoes.
Choosing active voice makes your text more reader-friendly and more often than not, clarifies your intended meaning because it requires a direct statement and is less difficult to follow than passive voice.
Some parting thoughts…
You already know how important your written work is, carefully selecting an editor who is qualified to edit and capable of understanding the context of your writing is crucially important to your project’s success. But giving your editor a better written piece, text that clearly conveys your intended meaning and is free of grammatical errors, frees up his/her time to address the larger issues that he/she sees. Is there missing logic? Did you misplace a modifier?
Remember, offering your editor your best work allows him/her to provide you with his/her best edits. And that makes your work even better.
Want to be sure you're not making any uncommon grammar mistakes either? I can help. Email me for a FREE quote and I'll help make sure your masterpiece is ready for print.