LABELS: COPY EDITING, GRAMMAR, PUNCTUATION
Punctuation errors are often pretty glaring. A missing period at the end of a sentence, an extra period in the middle of a sentence or a comma placed outside of quotation marks leaps right out at editors and avid readers.
But other punctuation errors aren’t as easy to spot. Here are six that you may not be catching:
Hyphen instead of an em dash
Hyphen instead of an en dash
Parentheses instead of brackets inside a quotation
Ellipses for effect inside a quotation
A question mark with “Guess what”
No comma to set off a direct address
If you think you could commit any of these minor but meaningful punctuation flubs, here's a full explanation of how to avoid them.
LABELS: COPY EDITING, GRAMMAR
Editing and proofreading might seem like a dull profession. Scanning page after page for errant commas, badly conjugated verbs and the occasional misused “whom” sounds dull indeed.
But in fact, the job is often terrifying. Errors you didn’t expect — including errors you didn’t know existed — can broadside you when you least expect it. And the mistakes you’re not looking out for are the easiest ones to miss. Here are some of the errors and general weirdness I encountered recently in my editing work.
LABELS: AGREEMENT, GRAMMAR, PRONOUN ANTECEDENT AGREEMENT
“After the fight, all the boys had a black eye.”
Editors see sentences like this all the time. They’re painful. They remind us that, no matter how much we know about grammar and sentence structure, our powers are limited.
The problem, of course, is that the boys don’t share one eye. So, it doesn’t make sense in the singular. But if you made it plural, eyes, it would sound as though each had both eyes blackened.
You probably already see a way out of this. Just recast the sentence: Every boy had a black eye. That’s a great solution, when possible.
Don’t answer that yet, because I have more examples of sentences with agreement problems that put writers and editors in a bind.
“From carrot sticks to apple slices, healthy snacks give your child a boost of energy and a positive outlook — two things they will benefit from greatly as they go through their day.”
In this sentence, “they” and “their” are the issue. Theoretically, a singular “child” shouldn’t be referred to with “they” and “their.”
We’ve talked before about these “plural” pronouns representing singular subjects. In short, it’s fine (more on that in a minute). But today I’m talking about a problem that goes well beyond debates about singular “they.” And, as I explain in this recent column, sometimes it's best to set logic aside.
LABELS: GRAMMAR, who vs whom
Raise your hand if you know how to use whom. Now keep it raised if you’re confident you can explain its use in the following sentence: “One would do well to ask whom that was and by what means the communication took place.”
Now keep it raised if — and only if — you figured out that this usage of “whom” is wrong.
My guess is no one’s deltoids are getting a workout right now. As I’ve said in this space before, “whom” is usually more trouble than it’s worth. Just when you think you have it down, you can get it wrong. And since the whole reason to use “whom” in the first place is to be proper, it doesn’t help when “whom” leads to errors. Here's my recent column on how you can get even this "whom" right.