Easily-Overlooked Grammar Errors

Often people who self-publish their novels as e-books do not have their books copyedited professionally. They may edit them themselves or ask a friend to do it, but copyediting is time-consuming, and often less-noticeable errors are missed. Here are several common grammar errors to watch for.

1. Misplaced modifier

Example: I was horrified when I walked into the bar and saw all those eligible men wearing my baggy jeans.

Who was wearing the jeans? The sentence says the men were. The sentence needs to be rearranged so that the person wearing the jeans is the narrator.

Rewritten: The bar was full of eligible men, and there I was, wearing my old baggy jeans. I was horrified.

You can easily catch this error when you read the passage for meaning.

2. Incorrect use of adverb

Example: I felt badly about what I said to her.

The correct word is bad, not badly. Bad is an adjective used with “sense” verbs, like feel, smell, and look. Bad actually refers to I in the sentence above. Use badly when it modifies a verb, such as “He did badly on the test.”

Rewritten: I felt bad about what I said to her.

Rewritten: I was sorry for what I said.

Once you are aware of these errors, you can easily find them during a word usage edit.

3. Incorrect tense in a compound verb

Example: They have tried and fell short.

Have tried and fell is a compound verb. The two parts of the compound verb must be the same tense.

Rewritten: They have tried and (have) fallen short.

The second have is understood. Have tried and have fallen are the same tense.

Look for this error during your edit of sentence structure.

4. Dangling modifier

Example: Holding the little boy’s hand, they walked down the street.

“They” did not hold the little boy’s hand. Some person did. Maybe it was his mother.

Rewritten: Holding her little boy’s hand, Mary walked down the street.

Rewritten: Holding hands, Mary and her little boy walked down the street.

This error is extremely common, and like error #1 can be found very easily by reading for meaning.

5. Confusing intransitive verb lie and transitive verb lay

Example: I think I’ll lay down for a while.

Example: I was laying on the bed reading when she came in.

Lay is a transitive verb (has an object). The principle parts of lay, meaning to place, are lay, laid and laid.

Lie is an intransitive verb (does not have an object). The principle parts of lie, meaning to recline, are lie, lay, and lain.

The verbs in the examples above have no object and mean recline.

Rewritten: I think I’ll lie down for a while.

Rewritten: I was lying on the bed reading when she came in.

Check out a grammar or style book to study the principle parts of other problem verbs. Use Find to search for them and correct any errors.

6.  Using objective case for the subject of a sentence.

Example: (Me and her) (Him and I) (Her and I) went to the store.

This is actually more of a spoken error than a written one, but it very prevalent these days. Me, her, and him are all in the objective case and should not be used as the subjects of a sentence. If you don’t like the sound of the nominative forms (I, she, he), use a name or another word.

Rewritten: (She and I) (He and I) (She and I) went to the store.

Rewritten: (Jane and I) (Tom and I) (My mother and I) went to the store.

This is an error of inattention. Catch it when you are reading for meaning.

7. Incorrect word usage – less instead of fewer

Example: Less students attended the class on Friday.

Less refers to amount. Fewer refers to number. Since students can be counted, fewer should be used, rather than less.

Rewritten: Fewer students attended the class on Friday.

Look in a grammar or style book for a list of such usage errors. Once you know the correct form to use, use Find to search for the incorrect word and correct it.

8. Use of they’re and their, you’re and your, its and it’s, whose and who’s

Example: Their ready to begin the program now.

Example: Your not going to believe this.

Example: Its time to take the kids to school.

Example: Whose going to go first?

Their, your, its, and whose are possessive forms. They’re, you’re, it’s and who’s  are contractions for they are, you are, it is, and who is.

Rewritten: They’re ready to begin the program now.

Rewritten: You’re not going to believe this.

Rewritten: It’s time to take the kids to school.

Rewritten: Who’s going to go first?

Use the Find command to search for these errors and correct them.

9. Using an apostrophe and s to show a plural of a regular word.

Example: I gathered my pen’s and pencil’s and put them on the desk.

Example: I had to hurry to catch up with the other’s.

An apostrophe and an s is not used to show a plural except in special cases, like letters, numbers, and words used as words.

Rewritten:  I gathered my pens and pencils and put them on the desk.

Rewritten: I had to hurry to catch up with the others.

Note: Another error is placing an apostrophe before a final s in possessive pronouns such as hers, theirs and ours. Do not use an apostrophe in these words.

Find these errors when you are reviewing the punctuation in your book.

10. Confusing lose and loose

Example: I am always loosing my keys.

The word lose is a verb that means to misplace. The word loose is an adjective meaning “not tight” or unfettered. The confusion comes about from the pronunciation and spelling of lose, in which the O is pronounced like the double O in moose; therefore, the writer may decide that lose should be spelled loose, and this leads to the error.

Rewritten: I am always losing my keys.

Use the Find command to search for this error and correct it.

To remember the spelling of loose in the future, imagine a moose running loose in the woods. It is a loose moose. When you use the word loose, you will know it has a double O, like moose. Lose has only one O.