Blogger: Mary Keeley
A recent review of the most common writing rules revealed that I’ve forgotten a few. Perhaps you have too, in which case there’s no time like the present for a review. Being human, we all overlook a sloppy oversight occasionally, but a repeated mistake may hurt your chances with agents or editors, especially when your mistake is a particular annoyance for them.
Merriam-Webster defines cheat sheet as “a written or graphic aid (as a sheet of notes) that can be referred to for help in understanding or remembering something complex.” I think we all would agree that grammar rules can be complex. This writing mechanics and grammar checklist covers a sampling of common mistakes, but I hope it will serve as a handy cheat sheet that raises your awareness.
- Fewer vs. less. Fewer refers to number; less refers to volume or degree. Examples: That jar contains fewer jellybeans. That jar is less full.
- Who vs. whom. Who is the nominative form, referring to the subject of a verb; whom is the objective form, in reference to the object of a verb. Example #1: Who wrote this piece? This piece was written by whom?
- That vs. who/whom. Use that in reference to an object. Use who/whom when referring to a person. Example: John found a coat that was left in the library, but he couldn’t find the person whom it belonged to.
- That vs. which. A restrictive clause calls for that. Which is used in nonrestrictive clauses and requires a comma in front of it because it’s additional information that doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence. Examples: Sue bought the dress that fit her best. Sue bought the dress that fit her best, which happened to be on sale.
- Anxious vs. eager. Anxious is a form of the word anxiety and should be used only in that context. Example: I am anxious about the appointment with my doctor, but I’m eager to go to the concert.
- Could care less vs. couldn’t care less. Could care less means that it’s possible for you to care less about something than you do. Couldn’t care less means it isn’t possible for you to care less about it.
Sentence structure issues:
- Wrong order of thoughts results in a sentence that’s cumbersome to read and hard to understand.
- A wrong word or phrase screams “amateur.”
- Too much packed into one sentence becomes a chore for readers when they have to re-read it in order to grasp everything being said.
- Repetition of a word or phrase within adjacent sentences or paragraphs is annoying.
- Lack of variation in the length of sentences is monotonous.
- Sentences beginning with There are or There is are viewed as lazy writing by editors and agents.
When in doubt about anything grammarly, consult The Chicago Manual of Style: 16th Edition, which is the generally accepted standard. This latest edition of the CMS should have a permanent place next to your computer. Publishers have their own style guides that may differ in some specifics, but editors know you won’t be privy to that information if you haven’t published with them before and won’t hold minor deviations against you as long as you’re consistent in your usage. Editors are sure to react positively, however, when you adhere to the most current CMS style. Here is a sampling of changes that were made in the 16th Edition:
2.133 — Checklist for proofing electronic publications. Also includes how to communicate those proofing changes on an electronic file.
6.119 — Commas following other punctuation marks are now allowed.
7.16, 17, or 18 — Possessives. To maintain consistency, it was decided that possessives of all names, including names like Jesus and Moses, will end in ‘s (Jesus’s, Moses’s)
7.76 — Website is now one word (website), and worldwide web is capitalized (Worldwide Web).
8.159 — Ordinals and compound numbers. When the first word needs to be capitalized, as in the beginning of a sentence, both words are capitalized (First Century, One-Fourth).
8.55 — When referring to a specific mountain, river, street, and so on, both/all words are capitalized (Illinois River, Blue Ridge Mountains).
8.153 — Brand names don’t need to follow standard capitalization style (ebay, iPod).
8.157 — Principles of headline style capitalization. Lower-case prepositions regardless of length or importance (A River Runs through It).
11.2 — Extended introduction to unicoding (for international characters across electronic platforms).
14.7 — Access dates. Access dates are now allowed if no publication date is available.
15.2 — Uniform treatment in author date references and notes and bibliography. CMS now recommends a uniform treatment for the main elements of citation. Use authors’ full names rather than initials. Headline style capitalization for titles or works are now identical in the author-date system.
Chapter 5: the grammar chapter:
5.9 (and 5.220) — Mass nouns followed by a prepositional phrase. The definite or indefinite article preceding a mass noun and prepositional phrase indicates if the mass noun or the number of the noun in the prepositional phrase controls the verb form. If a definite article (the) precedes, the mass noun controls, and usually a singular verb is used (The quantity of coins saved this year has increased.) If an indefinite article (a or an) precedes, then the number of the noun in the prepositional phrase controls (a small percentage of coins are added each month.)
5.220 — There is a great list of word combinations to watch out for. Example: close proximity. This is noted as redundant.
Which word usage or grammar rules did you not know? Do you detect sentence structure issues you need to address? Can you think of common mistakes to add to this list?
Keep this checklist of common writing and grammar mistakes as a quick cheat sheet. Click to Tweet.