January 24, 2019

A Grammar Resolution

By Chris Pepple, Writer-At-Large, Southern Writers Magazine

I’m a proofreader and have been for many years. While working in Georgia as a new proofreader right out of school, I was asked to be part of a team proofing the laws passed by the Georgia legislature. I quickly realized that not all people appreciated being told there was an error in their work. My team had to tell an older state lawmaker that his law trying to protect fish actually did the opposite because of an error in where the comma was placed. He quickly told us he had been in politics for more than thirty years and knew what he was doing. He refused to listen to our advice on punctuation. When the law passed, fishermen off the coast of Georgia could catch as many fish of any size as they wanted because of the placement of the comma. The law was quickly repealed and corrected. 

Here’s what I know for sure: it’s almost impossible to catch all of your own errors. I can’t proofread my own work well. There’s probably plenty of mistakes here. I have others read through my work to catch things I miss. I also know this to be true: just because you see it in print doesn’t make it right. You have to review grammar rules frequently to make sure your writing reflects good grammar. Don’t rely on seeing something in print and taking that as a rule. Make a resolution to get to know the grammar rules well in 2019.

Here are a few tips taken from common errors I find when proofing:

  1. The comma splice error is incredibly common and often difficult for writers to spot because it “sounds” fine. EX: Tim wanted to go to the mall, he wanted to see a movie. This is not correct. Independent clauses cannot be separated by using a comma. The corrections:

Tim wanted to go to the mall, and he wanted to see a movie
Tim wanted to go to the mall; he wanted to see a movie.

Independent clauses must be joined by a semicolon or a comma with a conjunction.

  1. Last names don’t have apostrophes unless they are possessive: The Smiths are coming to the party. The Smiths are wishing everyone happy holidays. The Smith’s car was decorated for Christmas.

  1. Decades don’t have apostrophes unless they are possessive: The 1990s brought a lot of changes in the technology industry. The 1960s empowered many people to find their voices and speak against social injustices.

Happy New Year! Hope it’s a good one!

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