These are the most basic editorial issues concerning grammar, syntax, and lexicality, that I address when copy-editing or proofreading writers' work. Take in mind that these are standards valued by wide sections of teachers, professors, editors, journalists, and persons who define and construct the usage of American English. These standards are not natural. They are socially-constructed, dominant usages. There are many ways of speaking and writing American English that are not standard. When I am given a text that intentionally includes non-standard usage, I am very open and inclusive of the usage unless it appears to mock, demean, or disparage the speech and writing styles of a particular community of people.
COMMA SPLICES AND RUN-ON SENTENCES
A comma splice appears when two independent clauses only have a comma between them with a missing coordinating conjunction. A comma splice also occurs when a comma and a transitional expression join two independent clauses. Likewise, run-on sentences jam together two or more sentences, failing to separate them with appropriate punctuation.
Original: I do not recall what kind of printer it was all I remember is that it could sort, staple, and print a packet at the same time.
Revised: I do not recall what kind of printer it was. All I remember is that it could sort, staple, and print a packet at the same time.
Original: Salmon swim upstream, they leap over huge dams to reach their destination.
Revised: Salmon swim upstream, and then they leap over huge dams to reach their destination.
Original: Some parents support bilingual education, however, many oppose it vociferously.
Revised: Some parents support bilingual education; however, many oppose it vociferously.
Fragments are incomplete sentences that are punctuated to look like sentences. Fragments lack key elements, such as a subject or verb or a subordinate clause or phrase. To address this issue, incorporate the fragment into an adjoining sentence with a conjunction.
Original: She saw him coming. And looked away.
Revised: She saw him coming and looked away.
Original: When aiming for the highest returns, and also thinking about the possible losses.
Revised: When aiming for the highest returns, investors also should think about the possible losses.
Subject and verb must agree in person, tense, and number. Generally, you can put an “s” on a noun to make it plural, or you can put an “s” on a verb to make it singular. An “s” on both is not standard English.
Original: My friends comes over every Sunday.
Revised: My friend comes over every Sunday.
Revised: My friends come over every Sunday.
Faulty pronoun-antecedent agreement occurs when the pronoun does not agree with its antecedent in a compound sentence because of problems with the alignment of singular-to-singular or plural-to-plural. Note that often issues of pronoun-antecedent agreement overlap with issues of subject-verb agreement.
Original: While he was lying, they were also stealing.
Revision: While he was lying, he was also stealing.
Original: If someone did say that, then they were lying.
Revision: Anyone who did say that was lying.
Revision: All those who did say that were lying.
Revision: If someone did say that, then it was lying.
Revision: If someone did say that, then he or she was lying.
Revision: If someone did say that, then s/he was lying.
COORDINATED AND SUBORDINATED CONJUNCTIONS
Conjunctions indicate the relationship between words or groups of words. The two classes of conjunctions are coordinated and subordinated.
Coordinated conjunctions indicate units of equal status (yet, and, but, or, for, so, nor).
Do you want cake or ice cream?
I graduated a semester early, but I had to go to work immediately.
Subordinated conjunctions indicate that one unit is more important than the other (after, although, as, because, before, if, since, that, unless, until, when, where, while).
After the value of the NASDAQ dropped by over two thirds, some of the new Dot-com millionaires found out the party was over.
Avoid using two negatives in one sentence, or you will end up saying the opposite of what you mean.
Original: Barely no one noticed that the pop star lip-synched during the whole performance.
Revised: Barely anyone noticed that the pop star lip-synched during the whole performance.
PROBLEMS WITH MODIFIERS
Be wary of modifiers that sometimes seem to modify two things, or the “wrong” thing.
Kinds of Modifiers
(1) Limiting Modifiers:
Limiting Modifiers include words such as almost, hardly, even, just, merely, not, only, and simply. Limiting modifiers should always go before the word or words they modify in a work.
Just twenty new people just volunteered just for the sea turtle rescue program just for the spring.
(Notice in this example that "just" is used in four places, and in each place it carries a different connotation.)
(2) Disruptive and Misplaced Modifiers:
Disruptive modifiers interfere with the reader's ability to identify the subject, verb, and object.
Faulty: The forest fire, no longer held in check by the exhauster firefighters, jumped the firebreak.
The problem: the modifying phrase separates the subject from the verb.
Revised: No longer held in check by the exhausted firefighters, the forest fire jumped the firebreak.
Solution, placing the modifying phrase at the beginning of the sentence puts the modifier before the subject so that the readers know what is being modified.
(3) Dangling modifiers:
Dangling modifiers don't have a word to modify. What is being modified should directly follow the phrase.
Faulty: After the bowling a perfect game, Surfside Lanes hung Marco's photo on the wall.
Problem: Neither the subject of the sentence, Surfside Lanes, nor the direct object, Marco's photo, is capable of bowling a perfect game.
Solution: Revise by adding the noun or pronoun.
Revised: After Marco bowled a perfect game, Surfside Lanes hung his photo on the wall.
The antecedent is the noun to which a pronoun refers. The pronoun and antecedent must be in agreement. When pronouns and the nouns they replace are separated by several words, sometimes the agreement in number is lost.
Faulty: The band members collected his and her uniforms.
Revised: The band members collected their uniforms.
Prepositions are words used before nouns and pronouns to form phrases that convey relationships such as of time and space (in the poem, throughout the day, behind her, without a doubt, for you).
Prepositional phrases are often idiomatic. Two examples of idiomatic prepositional phrases are “on occasion” and “in love.”
Prepositions can pile information onto nouns.
Example: The design of the apparatus with the tubing and the electrical wiring was useful for diagnosis of the transmission of electrical impulses in the nerve tested.
Solution: Break the sentence into clearer, smaller sentences like this: The design of the apparatus is useful for diagnosis of the transmission of electrical impulses. The apparatus has tubing and electrical wiring. The electrical impulses in the nerve require testing.
WRITING `CANNOT' AS TWO WORDS
Original: I can not decide.
Revision I cannot decide.
USING `IF' WHEN YOU SHOULD USE `WHETHER’
Original: I do not know if this is true.
Revision: I do not know whether this is true.
Revision: If this is true, then the moon is made of cheese.
CONFUSING `THERE' WITH `THEIR’
‘There’ is a demonstrative that points to an object.
‘Their’ is possessive indicating ownership.
Be careful and reread your sentences and make sure that you have the best usage.
Original: There problem was a lack of courage.
Revision: Their problem was a lack of courage.
Original: Their are a lot of problems here.
Revision: There are a lot of problems here.
Original: We should try and change the law.
Revision: We should try to change the law.
PREPOSITIONS MISTAKEN FOR CONJUNCTIONS OR VERBS
Original: Mind and brain are one in the same thing.
Revision: Mind and brain are one and the same thing.
Original: Socrates should of fought.
Revision: Socrates should have fought.
MISUNDERSTANDING APOSTROPHES AFTER S
In the example below, the French philosopher’s name is Descartes.
Original: Descarte's problem was...
Original: Descartes problem was...
Revision: Descartes' problem was...
Revision: Descartes's problem was...
ABOUT APOSTROPHES IN GENERAL
Apostrophes indicate ownership or possession (Fred's books, the government's plan).
They can also signal omitted letters (who's, can't).
The Poetry Foundation also defines the figurative use of apostrophe in creative writing as "an address to a dead or absent person, or personification as if he or she were present. In his Holy Sonnet 'Death, be not proud,' John Donne denies death's power by directly admonishing it."
Original: The following will be on the test; Locke, Hume, Parfit.
Original: Although there is no right answer; there are many wrong answers.
Revision: There is no right answer; there are many wrong answers.
CONFUSING `THEN' AND `THAN'
Original: If this is true, than I'm a fool.
Original: I am more of a fool then you are.
Revision: If this is true, then I'm a fool.
Revision: I am more of a fool than you are.
Original: Its easy to make this mistake.
Revision: It's easy to make this mistake.
Original: It's pages are crumbling.
Revision: Its pages are crumbling.
Original: Download the HTA, along with it's readme file.
Revision: Download the HTA, along with its readme file.
Original: The laptop is overheating and its making that funny noise again.
Revision: The laptop is overheating and it's making that funny noise again.
LOOSE FOR LOSE
No: I always loose the product key.
Yes: I always lose the product key.
I.E. FOR E.G.
The Latin abbreviations "i.e." (meaning, in other words from the Latin id est) and "e.g." (meaning, for example from the Latin exempli gratia) come up very frequently in writing.
“I.e." specifies or makes more clear.
"E.g." is used in expressions similar to "including," when you list everything that is being discussed.
Note: A comma follows both i.e. and e.g.
Wrong: Use an anti-spyware program (i.e., Ad-Aware).
Right: Use an anti-spyware program (e.g., Ad-Aware).
EFFECT FOR AFFECT
“Affect” is almost always a verb, whereas “effect” is more commonly used as a noun than it is as a verb.
“Affect” as a verb means to have an influence on; to impress or to move; to produce a change in something or someone.
Example: His study was intended to show how alcohol affects reaction time.
“Effect” as a noun refers to a result; or something brought about by something else; or the way one thing acts upon another.
Example: They discussed the effect of the law on children.
Example: The effect of the law has been to increase the use of alcohol.
“Effect” as a verb means to produce a result; to cause something to occur; to bring about an outcome.
Example: Smith said the cutbacks were designed to effect basic economies for the company.
But, sometimes using "effect" as a verb is not clear to readers.
A better alternative: Smith said the cutbacks were designed to implement [make happen] basic economies for the company.
An even better alternative: Smith said the cutbacks were designed to bring about [produce a result] basic economies for the company.
“Affect” as a noun means an emotional state, a personality, or a personal trait.
Example: That is merely Roger's affect, or his style.
YOU'RE FOR YOUR
‘You’re’ is a contraction that means ‘you are.’ ‘Your’ is possessive indicating ownership. Be careful and reread your sentences and make sure that you have the correct usage.
Wrong: Remember to defrag you're machine on a regular basis.
Right: Remember to defrag your machine on a regular basis.
Wrong: Your right about the changes.
Right: You're right about the changes.
DIFFERENT THAN FOR DIFFERENT FROM
When to Use Different From:
Use 'different from' for simple comparisons, as in comparing two persons or things.
Example: My car is different from (not than) her car.
Example: The book I bought is different from the one sold in the bookstore.
It is important to remember that when using different from, the two things being compared (e.g. my car and her car in the first example) should have the same grammatical structure. This is called parallel construction. Here are a couple of examples:
Example: People in the field of literature write differently from people in the field of business.
Example: People in the field of literature write differently from those in the field of business.
When Different Than Is Acceptable:
Because of increased use, 'different than' is sometimes considered acceptable in American English. When in doubt, just use different from, as it is preferred by most literate people.
Example: It seems so different than Paris.
In this example, if different from were used, Paris, the city, would be the object of comparison. Using different than creates a subtle distinction in meaning. Since different than is used, the clause following different than is interpreted as elliptical and suggests “the way things were in Paris” or "than Paris was" or “what happened in Paris.” If you have doubt when to use different than, you might just use different from following the parallel construction rule.
THEN FOR THAN
Than is used only in comparisons, so if you're comparing something use than. If not, then you have to use then. Than is also a conjunction used in comparisons:
Example 1: Tom is smarter than Bill.
Example 2: This is more important than you might think.
Example 3: Is she taller than you? Yes, she is taller than I.
Technically, you should use the subject pronoun after than (e.g., I), as opposed to the object pronoun (me). However, American English speakers commonly use the object pronoun.
Then has numerous meanings related to time.
Example 1. At that point in time I wasn't ready then. Will you be home at noon? I'll call you then.
Example 2: Do your homework and then go to bed.
Example 3: He told me he was leaving, and then that I owed him money
Example 4: It cost $5,000, and then there's tax too.
Example 5 [used within an if/then statement]: If you want to go, then you'll have to finish your homework.
COULD OF OR WOULD OF, FOR COULD HAVE, WOULD HAVE
Let us be clear: In Standard English language grammar, ‘could of’ DOES NOT exist. Neither do ‘should of,’ ‘will of,’ or ‘would of’ as verbs. Speakers who are more familiar with oral as opposed to written language often make this error.
Write could have, should have, will have, or would have.
Wrong: I could of installed that app by mistake.
Right: I could have installed that app by mistake.
Wrong: I would of sent you a meeting notice, but you were out of town.
Right: I would have sent you a meeting notice, but you were out of town.
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PARALLEL STRUCTURE OR PARALLEL CONSTRUCTION
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In his March 4, 2014 article for the Huffington Post called "The Grammar Mistake You Just Might Be Making," Rob Reinalda, veteran journalist, writer, and editor, says the following about dangling modifiers and provides clear examples of this common error:
"Here's [an example of a sentence with a dangling modifier]:
Having worked in newspapers for 30 years, desktop publishing was an easy fit for Throckmorton.
We know that it was good old Throckmorton—and not desktop publishing—who worked in newspapers for three decades, but that's not how the sentence reads. A better construction would be this:
Having worked in newspapers for 30 years, Throckmorton found desktop publishing an easy fit.
(Good for Throckmorton. At 6-foot-9 and 140 pounds, he has trouble buying off the rack, and an easy fit is hard to come by.)
The point is that errant positioning of modifiers can lead to ambiguity or, far worse, an outright distortion of your meaning.
Take this example:
All your employees can't be superstars.
That tells the reader, essentially, that your workforce is middling at best.
What's actually meant is this:
Not all your employees can be superstars.
What moved? The word not: in the first sentence, it was part of the contraction can't, but its clout was felt. The new sentence conveys the (presumably) intended message better: that some on your staff might consistently perform extraordinarily well while others will deliver satisfactory work, and little more. A few, sadly, are a waste of protoplasm."
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