As an editor, I often come across a lot of frequent English grammar mistakes that irritate the hell out of me. I’m a bit fanatical about good grammar. That annoys some people, but I love the English language and that’s what makes me a good editor, I think — the fact I’m prepared to get really picky about things that others may pass over because they think it’s unimportant to them. I personally blame mobile phone texting for the deterioration in language.
I’ve been asked by some people to write a list of the common problems I see, but till now I haven’t done it. Mainly because I didn’t have the time, and also because….well, who would care what I thought? There’s plenty of grammar fanatics on the internet giving their opinions. But recently I’ve thought a lot more about doing it and directing certain people to the list (hint, hint).
So here goes, for what it’s worth….
- UK English is superior to US English. No arguments. I’ve a lot of American friends so I absolutely have nothing against American people. But US English is just….ewwww.
- Don’t mix contractions and non-contractions in an article. Pick one and stick to it. I personally prefer contractions as it sounds more like how people speak. Non-contractions sound like how a robot would speak.
- It’s “your dog”, not “you’re dog”. ‘You’re’ means ‘you are’. It’s not difficult.
- Don’t say “one can do this”. You’re not the Queen or Prince Charles. Say “you can do this” or “I can do this.”
- Don’t say ‘ton’ to indicate a lot of something. Ton indicates weight, not amount. Also, using the word ‘plethora’ should be a hanging offence.
- Don’t use big words when little words will do. So instead of ‘purchase’, say ‘buy’. No need to reinvent the wheel.
- Be as concise as possible. Avoid long-winded explanations and keep the dialogue flowing and snappy.
- Be aware that some words have changed their meaning over the years and may not mean the same anymore. At a basic level, a word like ‘gay’ used to mean ‘happy’. Now it means ‘homosexual’. One amusing one is in the Sherlock Holmes books where Watson would say ‘”But Holmes!” I ejaculated.’ Er….’ejaculated’ isn’t used in that context anymore….and yeah, I’ve seen it used recently, in place of “I said”.
- Don’t use exclamation marks. We can tell from the way you’re writing if an exclamation mark is needed.
- Don’t use all upper-case. You don’t have to shout. We’re not deaf.
- Don’t start a sentence with ‘and’ and ‘because’. Just because.
- Don’t use ‘thus’ or ‘hence’. You’re not writing the next Shakespeare play.
- ‘That’ and ‘so’ are the two most overused filler words in the English language. 99% of the time you can leave them out and your prose would be all the better for it.
- ‘Irregardless’ is not a word. No, seriously.
- Please don’t use the word ‘literally’. When someone tells me they’re ‘literally frying to death’, I can’t help but roll my eyes.
- Don’t abbreviate words. ‘Info’ should be ‘information’ for example. Also, don’t overuse acronyms.
- The ‘word’ “etc” stands for “I’m too lazy to think of anything else so I’ll just leave this meaningless three-letter word here.”
- Avoid filler sentences and phrases like “let’s dive right in!” or “let’s get started!”. I instantly get started nuking those.
- When writing fiction, avoid all the usual tropes — the weary cynical detective three days away from retirement, starting the story with heavy thunderous rain at night, and any English romance story which takes place in Cornwall starring a mysterious stranger called Troy.
Of course, we can’t end without this famous meme…..
I’ll keep coming back and updating this list as and when I think of others to add. In the meantime, why don’t you give me your grammar pet peeves in the comments?