I am busy busy busy working on lots of lovely lovely lovely projects. I’m critting; I’m beta reading; and I’m doing some paid work as an editor. In all of these projects (and in published books generally), I see people making the same grammar mistakes over and over again. So here is a brief tutorial on the top five grammar mistakes I see when editing:
1. The comma splice: a comma splice is where you connect two independent clauses with a mere comma. “I ate a hot dog, it was delicious” is a comma splice.
How you correct it: You can either add a conjunction. So: I ate a hot dog, and it was delicious. Or you can add a semicolon: I ate a hot dog; it was delicious.
2. Coordinating conjunction errors: When conjunctions (represented by the acronym FANBOYS–for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) link together two independent clauses, then you always put a comma before the conjunction.
So instead of: I can make a cup of tea or I can eat ice cream. You should write: I can make a cup of tea, or I can eat ice cream.
3. Using contractions for things that aren’t contractions: The contractions she’s, he’s, etc. translate to ‘she is,’ ‘he is,’ etc. They do not translate to ‘she has,’ ‘he has.’
So this is wrong: She’s got a date tonight. And this is right: She has got a date tonight.*
4. Sentence parts that are out of order: This happens when the parts of your sentences do not appear in the order that they occur. For instance, ‘I dropped my hand from the stove when I felt it was hot.” The action of this sentence can be felt more naturally if it comes in chronological order. So this becomes: When I felt that the stove was hot, I dropped my hand.
5. Using too many words: Most people (me included) are guilty of this. It’s when what we are saying can be said much more concisely. Here are some examples.
Instead of: I watched as he folded his napkin. Write this: He folded his napkin.
Instead of: He lifts the chair off the ground and takes it to the table. Write this: He takes the chair to the table.
Can you think of any other common grammar mistakes?
*Note: The former may be correct if your goal is to represent someone’s speech as it sounds rather than how it is spelled, just like ‘going to’ becomes ‘gonna.’ So a character may say ‘she’s’ for ‘she has’ but a narrator probably won’t.