I’m sure most people reading this will already be familiar with the need to get your grammar right in your writing. It is, however, often all too easy to miss mistakes that can go on to have a significant impact on how a reader views your book.
It isn’t hard to see how it might happen: when you’re writing the first draft of your novel, you’re not worrying too much about whether every single comma is in the right place. Your main goal is getting to the end. And then, later, in the editing process, small errors can easily be overlooked as you tackle the larger issues of plot and character.
Of course, grammar and spelling mishaps should be picked up in the proofreading stage, but it’s a fact of life that they still slip through the net from time to time. Still, it’s worth doing everything we can to avoid getting things wrong, so with this in mind let’s take a look at some common grammar errors that can detract from your writing.
I think this one appears on just about every single list of ‘the worst ever grammar mistakes’ in existence, and it does so because it’s a mistake many writers make. A brief guide:
- They’re means they are.
- Their is to do with other people, as in ‘their hair needs washing’ or ‘their parents are on holiday.’
- There is for things like ‘the table is over there’ and ‘there is nothing like a cup of tea.’
Writing ‘should of’ instead of ‘should have’ is a basic mistake and needs to be banished immediately.
Literally in the wrong place
Ah, the conundrum over the word ‘literally’. It’s too often used when what the writer really means is ‘figuratively’.
Apostrophes where they aren’t needed (apple’s and pear’s on shop signs, for instance) or missing where they are needed (Simons instead of Simon’s or the students books instead of the students’ books) are a common mistake, and getting them wrong can easily change the meaning of what you’re trying to say.
Affect is generally used a verb. Effect is generally used as a noun. ‘X affects people differently’ is different to saying ‘the effect of X differs from person to person’.
The rogue comma
Commas where they aren’t needed. Commas used at what appear to be arbitrary points in a sentence. Commas where there should be a semicolon (quite a common one, this). They’re one of the most widely used punctuation marks; as writers, we should know how they work.
As a general rule of thumb for this one – fewer is generally to do with numbers, while less is to do with other stuff. For example, ‘we have fewer examples of success since we changed the business’ and ‘the business has been less successful since we made the changes.’
It’s not unusual for writers to use these two as largely interchangeable, but there is a difference. The word ‘since’ is generally to do with things relating to time, such as: ‘Since my 30th birthday, I’ve finally felt like more of a grown up.’ The word ‘because’ is more to do with reasoning, such as: ‘I feel like more of a grown up because I’m 30 now.’
This can apply to other words too, such as dis- and unengaged. In the case of disinterested, it means that someone doesn’t really have a stake in something. For instance: ‘the gambler was disinterested about the race as he hadn’t placed a bet on it.’ Meanwhile, uninterested is more to do with a lack of interest overall: ‘the man was uninterested in the race; he didn’t like gambling or horseracing.’
What other grammar errors wind you up?