Top 10 Punctuation Mistakes

Writers can avoid most errors of punctuation by mastering the following conventions. 1. Introductory words, phrases, and clauses are followed by a comma. Incorrect: Moreover students are expected to read at least one English classic every six weeks. Correct : Moreover, students are expected to read at least one English classic every six weeks. Moreover … Read more

Punctuation Mistakes #3: Possessive of S-Nouns Singular in Meaning

The rule that plural nouns ending in s form the possessive by adding only an apostrophe is well understood. For example: the babies’ beds the writers’ laptops the witnesses’ testimony The rule that nouns singular in meaning but ending in s also form the possessive by adding an apostrophe is perhaps not so well understood. … Read more

Pronoun Mistakes #2: Reflexive and Intensive Forms

A pronoun that ends in -self or -selves is either reflexive or intensive. Reflexive pronouns function as objects, either the direct object of a verb or the object of a preposition: The cat covered itself with the blanket. (direct object of covered) Cat is the referent. The greedy child kept all the cookies for himself. … Read more

Verb Mistakes #2: Irregular Verbs Bind, Grind, Find

Most English strong verbs have become regularized over the years. Some are in transition, and a few seem to be with us for the foreseeable future. Note: The past and past participle forms of a “regular” verb end in -ed: walk, walked, (have) walked marry, married, (have) married Some English verbs exist with both regular … Read more

Pronoun Mistakes #1: TV Characters

When it comes to nonstandard grammar in the mouths of television characters, I expect the professionals–like FBI agents, medical examiners, and college professors–to model standard English. When they don’t, I always wonder if the scriptwriter or the actor is at fault. Here are some examples from my recent viewing: Incorrect: You and me are going … Read more

Verb Mistakes #1: Didn’t With Conditional

One type of conditional sentence refers to a situation in the past that might have happened, but didn’t. The speaker is speculating about what might have happened if things had been different. In this type of sentence, the verb in the “if clause” will be in the past perfect tense, and the main clause will … Read more

Preposition Mistakes #2: On, With, From, Around

The following prepositional errors all occur in a published mystery novel written by a native speaker of American English. 1. in / on Incorrect: His principles may land him in the gallows. Correct : His principles may land him on the gallows. A gallows is a frame for hanging. Examples of idiomatic usage: A friend … Read more

Preposition Mistakes #1: Accused and Excited

The use of prepositions is tricky, even for native speakers. Certain prepositions are used with certain words, while others are not. Here are four examples of nonstandard usage. 1. Accused Incorrect: They were arrested and accused for murder. Correct : They were arrested and accused of murder. The preposition of follows the verb accused. One … Read more

Punctuation Mistakes #2: Quotation Marks and End Stops

Readers frequently ask whether to place commas, periods, question marks, and exclamation points inside or outside closing quotation marks. Note: This post illustrates American usage. Periods and Commas The period and comma are always placed within closing quotations: Patrick Henry said, “Give me liberty or give me death.” “If you are going through hell,” said … Read more

Punctuation Mistakes #1: Unnecessary Commas

A common error with commas is to sprinkle them where they don’t belong. Here are five examples of this type of comma error. 1. Incorrect: The laptop on the table, is mine. Correct: The laptop on the table is mine. Do not separate a subject from its verb. The subject is “The laptop on the … Read more