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Grammar Mistakes Writers Make-and How to Fix Them.

by A. E. Ember


Nine hours - that’s how long I sat at my desk, hunched over my laptop screen. After more than a full work-day’s length of time spent proofreading, I became all too familiar with the process.

I couldn’t believe just how many grammar mistakes there were in my manuscript. Forgotten words, misspellings, wrong punctuation - I had it all.


I must admit, I often break the golden rule of “write now, edit later” when working on a WIP. I find myself making the same grammar mistakes repeatedly, and then I spend centuries googling how to fix them (you know, writers and their research rabbit holes).


In this article, I’m going to dive into some of those mistakes so that you can spot them, fix them, and get back into writing.


Dialogue mistakes

The most basic principle is that when you are writing dialogue, the dialogue tag is part of the sentence. For example, “‘Hey there,’ Lara said.” is correct over, “Hey there.’ Lara said.”

One thing that tends to be overlooked is the fact that because the dialogue tag is part of the whole sentence, it does not need to be capitalized (unless it is a proper name, of course). The correct way to do this would be, “‘Hello!’ he said.” over “‘Hello!’ He said.”


“It’s” and “its”

It’s hard to find its proper usage. (See what I did there?). I have spent too much writing time wondering whether “it’s” or “its” is correct in a sentence. Sometimes my spellcheck will try to play tricks on me, too.


The golden rule? “It’s” is a contraction for “it is” or “it has”, while “its” is the possessive form. Just ignore what you’ve learned about apostrophe-“s” possessive forms in this case - English is weird sometimes.


“Laying” and “lying”

“He was laying down on the bed.” Is that correct?


No! One easy way to know whether to use “lay” or “lie” is the presence of an object in the sentence. If your character is putting something down, you would say that they’re “laying it down.” If your character is resting, you would say that they’re “lying down.”


However, one thing to note is that “lay” is the past tense of “lie” (I know, I know, it’s a bit confusing). Therefore, “He lay down yesterday” would be correct, as would “He will lie down tonight.”


Subject-verb agreement

“They was” and “she were” don’t sound correct, but why? In those cases, the subject and verb do not agree. “Was” is a singular verb, while “were” is a plural verb. While it may be easy to tell that “they” is plural and “she” is singular, what about sentences with compound subjects?

In the sentence, “He and his friends walk to the market,” the plural verb “walk” is correct. However, when using “or”, use the verb that agrees with the closest subject. “The dogs or the cat drinks the milk” and “The cat or the dogs drink the milk” are both correct.


Parallel structure

“She loved living, learning, and to eat cake.” Something about that sentence doesn’t seem right. That is because it doesn’t follow a parallel structure.


In a sentence with parallel structure, the two or more items listed will be in grammatically similar forms. The correct versions of the sentence above would be “She loved living, learning, and eating cake,” and “She loved to live, learn, and eat cake.”


One last tip…

Most, if not all, word processing programs have a grammar- and spell-check feature. This is the easiest way to catch obvious grammar mistakes. I also recommend programs like Grammarly to get suggestions on word choice and sentence flow. It’s important to read through after using a grammar-check program to ensure that no mistakes are left behind!


The time you spend proofreading may be tedious, but it is so worth it. In the end, your readers will appreciate your professional-looking manuscript and will be able to better focus on your work. Now, let’s go fix some grammar!


Follow A. E. Ember

@a.e.ember