One of our editors is a retired English teacher, and quite possibly the most thorough editor I’ve ever come across in terms of grammar. This editor has a list of common grammar mistakes missed consistently during editing (whether by writers OR by previous editors).
Some of these grammar rules may be a preference of a given publisher to not apply in favor of a less formal voice. However, whether writing fiction or non-fiction, it helps to be aware of the rules. I thought I’d share her list today and get them on your radar. (Do consult with your editor about these.)
Lie / Lay
With this one it helps to remember that “to lay” is referring to objects, and “to lie” is referring to a person’s body doing the action.
*table from chompchomp.com
Like / As
Using like vs. as when preceding a comparison, here’s the trick…
If the comparison phrase has no verb, you use “like.”
She trembled like a leaf.
The heat in his gaze disappeared like a cool mist.
If the comparison phrase has a subject and verb, you MUST use “as” or “as though”.
She trembled as a leaf fluttering to the ground might tremble.
The heat in his gaze disappeared, as though he’d mentally taken a step back.
They (for one person)
When writing about a nameless person for whom you have not yet identified the gender, it can get tricky from a grammatical standpoint. Most writers will then refer to that person as “they.”
Ex. The thief was stealthy. They’d managed to get by all our security. They must move like a ninja.
The problem with this is “they” is plural, referring to more than one person. To be technically correct, you should write the above example in the following way:
Ex. The thief was stealthy. He or she had managed to get by all our security. He or she must move like a ninja.
This, obviously, can become quite clunky especially in fiction writing. We recommend reworking the sentence to try to avoid it when possible. Ask your publisher for his or her preference as well.
Ex. The thief was stealthy with skills like a ninja, because not a single one of our security measures had been tripped.
Hopefully these were helpful. What common grammar mistakes do you find either you miss or often get missed in editing?