Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Editors tend to come by good grammar naturally. And certain grammar mistakes constitute the proverbial nails scraping on a blackboard for them. When you’re trying to put the best face possible on your submission, don’t sabotage yourself by committing one (or more!) of these common errors that label you an amateur.
Test yourself with the examples below.
Despite our court system regularly telling us that business entities are “people,” the correct choice is “that,” not “who.” “Who” is used for people; “that” is used for entities. “Which” would have been correct if the clause had been set off with commas: “…organization, which sought to serve underprivileged children,…”
2 (Me, I) and my baby enjoy playing Hide and Seek.
Trick question! When referring to yourself, always mention the other person(s) before you. In this sentence, because the personal pronoun is the subject of the sentence, the correct pronoun would be “I.” So the sentence should read, “My baby and I enjoy playing Hide and Seek.” If you caught the incorrect structure of the sentence as well as chose “I,” give yourself one bonus point.
3. None of the boys (was, were) good at swimming.
“Was” is correct because “none” is singular. Here’s a simple way to remember this rule: “None” could be read as “not one.”
4. I told my dog to (lie, lay) down.
This isn’t as hard as we tend to make it. “Lie” doesn’t have an object; “lay” does. So, in this sentence, “lie” is correct, but if you’ve taught your dog to “lay down,” don’t expect him/her to obey you when you use correct grammar!
5. The nurse, (who, whom) I knew well, stared at the chart in a disconcerting way.
A good way to think through the who/whom dilemma is to reconstruct the phrase to figure out if the pronoun is the subject or the object. In the above sentence’s case, it would read: “I knew whom well.” You would never say, “I knew who well.” Well, maybe you would, but you would be wrong!
6. I’m (farther, further) along in my reading than I thought I was.
The correct answer is “further.” “Farther” refers to a measurable distance, such as, “I walked five miles farther today than yesterday.” “Further” refers to an abstract distance.
7. The publishing house has (less, fewer) employees this year than last year.
“Fewer” refers to a quantifiable item so that is the correct choice. “Less” is used when talking about a hypothetical quantity, such as, “The books I’ve read this year are less enjoyable than the ones I read last year.”
8. (May, Can) I speak candidly?
“Can” means you are able to. “May” means you are asking permission. Most of us can speak candidly, but it’s polite to ask if we may do so.
9. I’m (eager, anxious) to see how your remodeled house looks.
“Anxious” is a synonym for “afraid.” So, unless your friend has dreadful taste, you are “eager” to see the remodel.
10. The way he kicks the ball is (most unique, unique).
“Unique” means “one of a kind.” It is a superlative and therefore can’t be made “more superlative” by adding an adverb to it. Hence, Hallmark’s tagline, “When you care enough to give the very best,” is grammatically incorrect. You can’t give more than the best–that’s the penultimate you have to offer.
11. I’ve set my (sights, cites, sites) on getting published, and nothing will stop me.
“Sight” refers to the ability to see; “cite” means to quote a source or for a police officer to “cite” someone (give them a ticket); “site” refers to land. e.g., “I found the perfect site to build a house on.” So in this case, “sights” would be correct.
How did you do? Give yourself one point for each correct answer, and don’t forget the bonus point if you noted in #2 that the personal pronoun always is last rather than first.
If your score was:
10-12: You’re a grammarphile, and editors love your clean manuscripts.
7-9: You’re lookin’ good. A little spit and polish, and you’ll be on your way to making an editor very happy.
4-6: Your grammar could use some elbow grease to clean it up.
1-3: Sidle up to a grammar queen and ask for a few pointers.
And, now, the grand finale, a catchy tune that shows off a few word crimes:
How did you do? What grammar issues tend to trip you up?
Just how good are you at grammar? Click to tweet.
Take this test to see if you know 11 common grammar mistakes. Click to tweet.