And you probably thought this was another spelling article, ha!
Unlike spelling, grammar mistakes aren’t always the easiest to find. Microsoft Word won’t always pick up on them, or will suggest the wrong thing. Computers can’t (yet) do what humans do: understand context. Part of being a copyeditor is not relying too much on spellcheck; it has its uses, but you need to know what’s wrong and why and also be able to fix it.
That being said, here are a few of the most common grammar errors I come across:
#1 – “The man that came to the house was wearing a blue shirt.”
Seems alright at first, doesn’t it? But “man” is a person, so it should be “the man who came to the house.” This comes up quite often, because using “that” even for people has slipped into common verbal usage, and there are indeed arguments for “that” and “who” both being acceptable. To stick closely to the rules or just to prevent confusion, it’s best to use “who” for humans and “that” for everything else.
#2 – “Yesterday, the agent lead them to the property.”
I talked about lead vs. led vs. lead in this article, but it bears repeating. This mistake is because the present tense of “lead” and its past tense, “led,” sound the same – “the agent led them.” It’s so common, it takes a good eye to pick it out!
#3 – “The park, that was founded by the Harpers, was destroyed by the meteor.”
This is another error concerning “that” (poor little misused word). In this case, it’s not strictly wrong but only if you remove the commas: “The park that was founded by the Harpers was destroyed.” This turns it from a nonrestrictive clause to a restrictive one. If, however, you wanted to keep the commas and their restrictive nature, then replace “that” with “which”: “The park, which was founded by the Harpers, was destroyed.”
#4 – We sell books, magazines, and DVD’s.”
I’m sure most everybody has seen this mistake on many advertisements. This is more of a punctuation error than anything, since the apostrophe is what’s causing the issue. Apostrophe + “s” means the word is possessive, much like “Mom’s diner” or “Dad’s shoe.” Yet, some people get this confused, especially for acronyms like CD and URL, and so add the apostrophe when making a word plural. “We sell books, magazines, and DVDs” is what’s generally accepted, though like anything grammar-related, there are arguments against it. In any case, it’s best to stay consistent and follow the rules of the style guide you’re using.
This is just the very tip of the grammar error iceberg, of course. What mistakes do you tend to find while editing? Share in the comments below!