Wednesday, January 25, 2012

THIS IS A TEST: Polish Your Writing

Solid grammar and sentence construction skills are extremely important. They make your manuscript look more professional, and can make a difference in whether or not an agent or editor acquires your work. If you are weak in this area, either utilize a freelance editing service or find a critique partner who excels at it.

Can you find the errors in the following sentences? There is 1 error per sentence; the answers are below. Don't peek! Give yourself one point for each correct answer.

1. He looked all over, but couldn't find his violin or it's case.
2. As far as Diane could tell, their wasn't anything wrong with this sentence.
3. I squint, and notice that a ribbon and a sweater dangles from her hands.
4. I thought the person who left their sweater in the hall picked it up yesterday.
5. Jogging at a leisurely pace, the lake appeared in Mara's sights long before she expected it.
6. The squeals and laughter of my sister spills across the room like auditory sunshine.
7. She should of gone to the dentist last week.
8. Nick ran toward the old woman, who's basket of flowers was about to fall.
9. He was the same person that yelled at me last week on the bus.
10. Everyone started talking all at once, their hands waving in the air.
11. Joan could have went to the party last night, but she didn't.
12. He got a much needed haircut yesterday.
13. The ladies coats hung in the hall closet.
14. After her trip to town, Gramma needed to lay down.
15. Your really not going to go to school dressed like that, are you?

These are all common mistakes, some more insidious than others!
1. Its, not it's. An apostrophe tells you something is missing--the i in "it is."
2. Their vs there. Their is a pronoun that describes the noun "case"; there is a location.
3. Dangle. A ribbon and a sweater are 2 things, so the verb must match. If you're not sure, substitute the word "they" for your items: They dangle (NOT they dangles).
4. Person is singular: The person who left his (or her) sweater, not their sweater.
5. Dangling modifier. Immediately following the comma of the intro phrase "Jogging at a leisurely pace," you need the person doing the action. To reword: Jogging at a leisurely pace, Mara saw the lake appear in her sights long before she expected it.
6. Spill. Squeals and laughter are 2 things, so the verb must match. Tricky, because "of my sister" makes spills sound correct. Ignore prepositional phrases when you're trying to figure out your verb tenses.
7. Should have is the correct usage. NOTE: it's okay to use poor grammar in dialogue.
8. Whose. Who's means who is. The apostrophe indicates the i is missing.
9. A person is a "who," not a "that." The person who yelled.
10. Everyone is singular. Use his or her rather than their. And since that sounds odd here, you'd probably have to rephrase or avoid using that sentence altogether.
11. Could have gone. Not could have went.
12. Much-needed is hyphenated; both words are an adjective unit to describe haircut.
13. Ladies'. The coats belong to the ladies; this is possessive, so you need an apostrophe.
14. Lie down. Don't you just want to stab this verb? I know I do.
15. You're. The apostrophe means something is missing: the a in you are.

How did you do--did you find all the mistakes? Care to share your score?
Can you think of any other common grammar or sentence construction mistakes?
Did you learn anything new?


  1. Got 'em all! Of course, whether I can see them in my own writing and not just when I'm told they're there is another story, but what can you do?

    <3 Gina Blechman

  2. Such a great exercise in proofreading.

  3. A well-known agent wrote in her blog:

    “…Stephen King no longer rights in a genre.”
    “…she hasn’t yet scene the full picture…”

    Kinda makes a person smile, doesn't it :)

  4. I missed number 6 because I was focused on giggles and laughter of my sister. Shouldn't it be either giggles or laughter? Great exercise! You really made me fine-tune today!

    1. Good point, Jessica! So I changed it to squeals and laughter, to make them more different. Thanks for helping me refine that sentence!

  5. I got most of them. Great exercise! We must keep sharp.

  6. On number one I probably would have used their instead of its. I guess glasses are kinda plural/singular. Example with a similar word:

    "Where are my pants? They are on the floor."


    "Where is my pants? It is on the floor."

    Am I crazy? Please tell me if I am. This is often the case.

    1. You're not crazy, but if you are, I am too...which is always a possibility. I changed its to their too!

    2. Gah! Thanks, Sarah, I didn't even catch that. I've changed the first one from glasses to violin, therefore. I can do that, right? LOL You're correct--"glasses" IS plural. Pants too, so it'd be pants ARE on the floor.

    3. English grammar is such a strange beast.

  7. The one I missed was the one used in America and not so much in Oz. Sigh, I need to brush up on my American grammar.

  8. Hahaha I did pretty well. I'm usually a whiz at picking up grammar issues in writing - unless it's my own. ;-)

  9. All except the "everyone" one. Always get hooked up on that one. I love the term "dangling modifier", don't you?

  10. I got them all! Now I feel all proud of myself. :) Great exercise, Carol! :)

  11. haha, she should of gone is how i do indeed speak:)

  12. I got 13 of them (yay!). I missed number 10, the everyone/their thing, (I'll have to remember that one) and number 12 as I haven't heard of the much-needed hyphen before. Nice test :) This was fun.

  13. I didn't find them all, but some of them were so glaring they danced at me. This was an interesting test. Thanks for the english lit lesson :)


  14. These are really good. You should do this on a regular basis.

  15. I missed 3. But I'm not sure if we'd hyphenate the word here in Aus?
    The whose who's always trips me as I'm writing... I find myself double checking the rule whenever I write one of them,
    Thanks for the little test.

  16. Fun! I blew it on #10. Good advice you gave - if the wording seems questionable, then use different wording, and even more importantly - get a qualified reader (not me, lol!).

  17. Great exercise Carol! I missed no. 10 - got the rest though :)



  18. I got them all except number three. When I hit the comma (which I believe should not have been there) I didn't look any further in the sentence knowing there was only one error. I don't believe you would put a comma in that spot because this is not a compound sentence but rather a case of compound predicates.

    : ) Great test!

  19. I got them all. Must be all those years as a copyeditor. : )

  20. Fun stuff! I got 13 out of 15. Those dangling modifiers get me every time :(

  21. Commas are the bane of writers.

  22. I missed the dangling modifier one and I suspect that's something I need to work on. There are likely many lakes running amuck in my prose.

    I also missed the their vs. his or hers, but I don't count that as a miss. Technically wrong or not, their is common vernacular, which, to my mind, makes it acceptable to use.

    Good quiz! I'm not a total idiot, yay!


  23. Got 'em all, but 1 and 3 shouldn't have commas. The comma in 8 depends on the meaning (one woman = comma, more than one woman = no comma).

    Yes, I R Grammar Nerd. :D

  24. I missed two. This was a fun exercise. :)

  25. This was fun! And yes, I do want to stab the verb lay...

    And now I'm remembering how much I like you as a writing friend :) You're so awesome!

  26. Interesting quiz. Sometimes it's those common errors that just slip right by us. I clicked over from Susan's, enjoyed browsing here ...

  27. I think I only missed a couple - pat on the back for me! :)

  28. I did pretty well! That was fun. :)

  29. This takes me back to my proofreading days, except that this was more fun. : )

  30. I'm a grammar nut! So got all but one. (Darn hyphens, lol)

    And waving from Susan's blog! Nice to 'meet' you. :)


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