Tag s | Grammar

Littered with Errors: Can Typos Kill You?

We’ve all done it – typed “here” for “hear” or “you’re” for “your” – especially when we’re dashing off a quick email or meeting a deadline. I don’t know of an agent or editor who’ll reject a submission based on one or even a few typos, particularly if the material is so compelling the reader can’t resist losing the afternoon in your book.

However, not all errors are typos. This becomes apparent as a manuscript progresses. Some of us, never dreaming we’d be professional writers one day, slept through the “it’s vs. its” lesson in English class – or Language Arts if you’re under 30. And speaking of generational differences, grammar was one of my favorite subjects all through school. However, my daughters’ teachers insist that much of what I was taught is now considered to be wrong. Mrs. Hamilton and Mrs. Powers (who also taught my mother) would beg to differ!

Some grammar rules don’t change, though, and these are the errors I see the most frequently:

It’s versus its:

It’s means it is. It’s is not the possessive of it. Its is.

It’s strange that the turtle carries its house on its body. (How do you like the bonus its?)

Plural Possessive:

When you have two parents who own a house and you are visiting them, the apostrophe is after the “s” in parents.

We went to my parents’ house.

If you are just visiting Dad, you can say:

We went to my parent’s house.

Affect versus Effect:

“Affect” is usually a verb and “effect” is usually a noun.

An error-filled manuscript will affect the editor’s impression of you.

The effect of a perfect manuscript is immeasurable.

A writer no longer needs to be a grammar maven to succeed in presenting a pristine manuscript to agents and editors. For instance, when I was writing books for publication, I read the manuscripts aloud before submitting. And now, I always run the review program on work leaving my office. While no computer program is perfect, running every manuscript through yours should greatly reduce the number of errors.

Better yet, make friends with grammar. Then writing nearly flawless manuscripts will be second nature to you. My cousin once asked me, “Do you proofread your emails before you send them? They never have any errors.”

Still, perfect grammar won’t save a manuscript the editor doesn’t want. I once earned a rejection letter stating that my work was “technically flawless.”

The above statements guarantee that I will send out a batch of letters with a glaring grammar error in the very near future.

“Enough about you,” you say. “What about me? How do I make friends with grammar?” I suggest you purchase and buy a copy of the 4th edition of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style (originally published in 1918).

Since they recommended Strunk and White many moons ago, Mrs. Hamilton and Mrs. Powers would approve.

Your turn:

What is your biggest grammar bugaboo?

What errors do you see most often?


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Tools to Tackle Grammar Gaffes

Oh my. We all have our peccadillos when it comes to English, don’t we? If I addressed them all, we’d be here til next year. So I’ll just give you the cheats…uh, tips I use most often. —Don’t be afraid of me. Poor ol’ me has been sorely maligned, as …

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When Trying to Sound Intelligent Backfires

So, I’m at a writers’ conference—a professional setting, yes? With folks who are clearly well educated, especially about the use of words, yes?–and this is what I hear: “Just give Jim and I a call, and we’ll talk it over.” Cringe. Then came a recent commercial on TV, where a …

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Misused Words and Phrases


The English language is full of persnickety quirks, the most despicable of which are buzz words. Words and phrases we’ve decided work better than plain speech. Why say what you mean when you can just toss out a phrase that says what you want, but in such a vague and convoluted manner than people spend so much energy figuring it out that they can’t challenge you? Genius! Or how about those words we overuse, or misuse? Oy, da pain!

So here, for your reading pleasure, are some of the words and phrases that drive this logophile right up the wall. Literally!

Can you unpack that for me?

Nope. I can’t. Literally. What’s more, I don’t want to. I don’t like packing or unpacking. And what does packing have to do with anything? Whatever happened to the plain and simple, “Would you explain that, please?”


Folks, we all know what this means. Fired. Laid off. Out of a job. You can’t take away the devastation by giving it some innocuous name and hoping nobody challenges you on it.

Baby bump

Seriously? It’s not a bump. It’s a baby. Way better than a bump.

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What’s On Your Desk? (Part Two)

Last week I told you about my writing books, those valued, printed friends who’ve gone through this writing/editing/agenting journey with me. This week, I want to introduce you to some buddies that are too often ignored. Or avoided. Or cursed.

Yes, my friends, I’m talking about grammar books.

I, too, am less than delighted with grammar. However, I’m delighted by the following books that are a wonderful—and fun!—resource for those of us who work with words. So, without further ado…

Of course, The Elements of Style by Strunk and White is front and center. I have the little book with a white and red cover, but in ’05 I received a wonderful gift from writer/editor Erin Healy: The Elements of Style, Illustrated. It’s a beautiful clothbound version of EoS, with lovely, four-color illustrations that bring the examples to life. I love it!

Then there are the style and grammar books by

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It’s National Punctuation Day

Today is National Punctuation Day! In celebration, take out a comma.

Or at least visit the official site: www.nationalpunctuationday.com.

Recently I walked into a church classroom to find a list of the 10 Commandments on the board. The first line read “No other God’s.”

If you want to read a fun book on grammar and punctuation I can recommend Mignon Fogarty’s Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.

So while you take a moment to appreciate the need for precise punctuation enjoy this delightful five minute repartee between Dean Martin and Victor Borge singing with Phonetic Punctuation.

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Spell Checking

Shortly after I became a book editor, I was working on a nonfiction manuscript that focused on Mormonism. When I finished editing, I ran the spell check. Imagine my reaction when the dear spell check wanted to replace every Mormon with moron and Mormonism with Moronism!

Since those long ago days, spell check has invaded countless emails, files, and text messages. As much as we appreciate it catching our errors, we curse it for “fixing” words that didn’t need fixing. So when I came across recently, I knew I wanted to share it with you.

So here, for your reading pleasure:


Eye halve a spelling chequer

It cam with my pea sea

It plainly marques four my revue

Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

Eye strike a key and type a word

And weight four it two say

Weather eye am wrong oar write

It shows me strait a weigh.

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To Comma or Not to Comma?

by Steve Laube

I came across this entry in the Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynn Truss. The book is a classic on punctuation (although based on British English usage it is still a great book). Read the story below and then answer the questions in the comment section.

On his deathbed in April 1991, Graham Green corrected and signed a typed document which restricts access to his papers at Georgetown University. Or does it? The document, before correction, stated: “I, Graham Greene, grant permission to Norman Sherry, my authorised biographer, excluding any other to quote from my copyright material published or unpublished.” Being a chap who had corrected proofs all his life, Greene automatically aded a comma after “excluding any other” and died the next day without explaining what he meant by it. A great ambiguity was thereby created. Are all other researchers excluded from quoting the material? Or only other biographers?

Which do you think he meant?

What other ambiguities with commas have you seen or written with your own hand?

Why should it matter? It is just punctuation.

Is punctuation important in book contracts?

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News You Can Use – May 29, 2012

Self-Publishing: Under 10% Earn a Living – An article out of Australia makes a bold claim. I would claim, however, that only 10% of traditionally published writers earn a living too. Of course that depends on your definition of “a living.”

100 Best First Lines from Novels – In honor of the last two weeks where we talked about “first lines” I found this article from the American Book Review that chooses the top 100.

Stephen King’s 20 Tips for Becoming a Frighteningly Good Writer – Jon Morrow extracts the best parts from King’s book on writing and then applies it to the blogger.

Six Ways Copyeditors Make Your Book Better – Linda Jay Geldens makes an excellent point. Never skip this step before putting your work out in the public.

The No-Tears Guide to Podcasting – There are many who say podcasting is an excellent way to extend your platform and engage your readers.

Two Excellent Articles about Commas: Their use and misuse – written by Ben Yagoda
Fanfare for the Comma Man
The Most Comma Mistakes

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