Gramlee Blog

Avoid egregious writing errors with copy editing services

Write long enough and you will eventually pass all of life’s basic grammar tests. While you may not be able to quote the rules and semantics of the English language, you undoubtedly don’t commit egregious and dopey errors in your sentences and paragraphs.

But even educated adults who write a lot commit less glaring – and quite common – writing errors. Writing guru Albert Joseph, in his guide “Put it in Writing,” lists the following most common writing errors:

Error #1 – the dangling participle

The psychologist who wrote, “Being a child with a deprived background, who grew up in the tough city streets, I was aware that the child had several significant obstacles to overcome” committed the most common writing error – that of the dangling participle.

To correct the sentence, just strike out “I was aware that.”  That way the participle phrase beginning with “Being a child” has a noun to modify.

Error #2 – subject-verb agreement

Everyone knows that singular subjects take singular verbs. Likewise, plural subjects…well, you know the rest. The problem, especially in longer sentences, is where the subject and the verb part company.  When interrupted by nonrestrictive clauses and phrases set off by commas the verb that comes to mind tends to gravitate to the closest noun – if you are not careful, that is.

Here’s an example: You would not write, “The solution are easy,” but you might be tempted to write, “The solution to these problems, and similar ones that occur in these situations are easy.”  You would, of course, be wrong. The subject is problem and the verb has to remain the singular is.

Error #3 – Noun-pronoun disagreement

Part 1: Loose antecedent or dangling pronouns

Here’s an example where a pronoun later in a paragraph can cause ambiguity:

“The Governor decided to veto the bill, and the legislators consider his decision outrageous. Most state residents, according to one popular survey, agree with this point of view.”

Which point of view is the pronoun this referring to – the decision made by the Governor or the considerations of the legislators? The antecedent of the pronoun was undoubtedly clear to the writer, but might require additional clarification for the reader.

Part 2:  Singular nouns and plural pronouns – or vice versa

In these times of so-called “gender-neutral” writing and the tendency to avoid sexist stereotypes, some writers have resorted to mismatching their nouns and pronouns and write this way on purpose:

“When you see a person who needs to be cheered up, give them your smile.”

That approach avoids the use of the male pronoun him and might satisfy those who care about sexual equality. As far as those who care about correct grammar, they probably won’t smile. The good-grammar compromise is simply to match up your noun and pronoun and make them both plural:

“When you see people who need to be cheered up, give them your smile.”

Error #4 – The false series                     

When you write about a series of things, your writing should follow a consistent pattern. A normal series follows this pattern: one, two, and three. A false series would go thus: one, two, and C.

Two examples of this writing error:

False series: The new process saves time, money, and improves employee morale.

Normal series: The new process saves time and money, and it improves employee morale.

False series:

Follow these steps to update the system

  1. Replace all disks
  2. Change all terminals
  3. Your operators must be retrained

Fix that egregious lack of parallelism by changing the wording of C to “Retrain your operators.”

Error #5 – the missing second comma

When inserting nonrestrictive phrases or clauses in a sentence, they must be surrounded a pair of commas. In the writer’s haste to compose, it is the second comma that is frequently missed.

Two examples:

My brother, who looks quite a bit like me is often mistaken for my twin.
(The second comma should go after “like me.”)

The reason my brother and I are often mistaken for twins, my mother once explained is that we look so much alike.
(The second comma should go after “once explained.”)