Everything you need to know about copy editing.
Written by Chandra Clarke
Grammar involves using words correctly to construct both written and spoken sentences. The words chosen and how they are put together will communicate thoughts and information, so it's vital to use them right. When writing sentences, it's also important to use correct punctuation to ensure that the written words convey their intended meanings.
Improper punctuation can cause sentences to run together or not be complete. Proofreading involves reading written text to find and correct mistakes. Some mistakes can be obvious, while others can be harder to spot or can involve grammar rules that often cause problems.
Word Choice Errors
Many mistakes occur when the writer chooses the incorrect word. These words often have similar spellings and pronunciations; however, they have very different meanings. For example, the words your and you're sound the same and have similar spellings. However, the word your is a possessive form of the word you. The word you're is a contraction that combines the two words you and are.
The words than and then have similar pronunciations and spellings, too. However, than is used to compare things, and then is a reference to a point in time. Careful proofreading will help catch these spelling errors, but spell-checking software may not.
Sentence Construction Errors
Writers also make errors as they construct sentences. Writing sentences incorrectly can make it difficult for readers to understand the information and thoughts presented. A comma splice is a common error in sentence construction. Comma splices involve the incorrect placement of a comma to join independent clauses. Because both clauses can stand independently as sentences, it is not correct to join them with a comma. One way to fix a comma splice is to replace the comma with a period to make two separate sentences.
The sentence fragment is another common structure error. This problematic clause may seem at first glance to be a complete sentence, but it is missing an integral component, such as a subject or a verb. To fix a sentence fragment, the writer must add the missing element or incorporate the fragment into another sentence.
Some grammar rules cause significant confusion for writers. A common issue for many people is the use of pronouns as the subject or the object in a sentence. The subject of a sentence is the person or thing that performs an action, and the object of a sentence is the person or thing that receives the action. Subject pronouns include the words I, you, and we. Object pronouns include the words me, you, and us.
It can also be difficult to decide whether to use the word who or whom in a sentence. Remember that who is always a subject pronoun and whom serves as an object pronoun. The word to use depends on whether you will use it as the subject or object of the sentence.
Choosing between a comma and a semicolon can also cause confusion for writers. Use a semicolon to join two independent clauses when a conjunction is not used. Use a comma between independent clauses when you also use a conjunction such as and or but.
Grammar rules can be strict. However, some writing, such as email correspondence, is more informal. This type of writing adopts a more casual style, and some artistic license allows for the bending of grammar rules. For example, a common grammar rule involves not ending a sentence with a preposition, such as of or up. To avoid this, the writer must rearrange the sentence, which can result in awkward wording. Some writers will choose to break this rule to avoid writing clunky sentences.
Another common grammar rule involves not beginning a sentence with a conjunction, such as and or but. While this practice should often be avoided in formal writing (such as an essay or formal letter), starting a sentence with the word and can be an effective way to pull in the reader's attention in more casual situations.
When deciding whether to break standard grammar rules, consider the audience and purpose of the writing. An informal or colloquial writing style may actually require the bending or breaking of some grammar rules and conventions.
Enhance your proofreading skills by visiting these grammar resources:
- 12 Common Errors: A Student Self-Editing Guide (PDF)
- Top 20 Grammar Errors
- Common Grammar Mistakes
- Finding Common Errors
- Top 20 Errors in Undergraduate Writing
- Attending to Grammar
- The Most Common Grammar Mistakes Your Writing Tutor Makes
- Proofreading for Common Surface Errors: Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar
- 25 Most Common Grammar Mistakes to Check for in Your Writing
- Common Grammatical and Spelling Errors (PDF)
- Common Avoidable Errors
- The Most Common Grammar Mistakes and How to Fix Them
Chandra is the founder and president of Scribendi. She holds a BA in English and an MSc in Space Exploration Studies. Her lifelong devotion to the written word started when she joined The Chatham Daily News as a regional stringer. She then worked as a reporter/photographer for a large chain of weeklies before becoming the managing editor of an independent paper, a post she held for two years before striking out on her own. She pens a weekly humor column and has written dozens of short stories, newspaper articles, and magazine articles. She is an enthusiastic supporter of space exploration and scientific research, and is the author of Be the Change: Saving the World with Citizen Science.
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