Between the Lines

“I never made a mistake in grammar but one in my life and as soon as I done it I seen it.” —Carl Sandburg

Kathy Steffen

You see them on online, in blogs and in social media. You see them in print. Common writing/grammar errors will destroy your credibility as a writer and negate any message you are trying to deliver. Here’s some good news: You don’t have to have a degree in English to avoid the most common and glaring mistakes. English is full of rules that aren’t user friendly, but here are some easy ways to keep your writing at a top-notch level without losing your mind.
There/Their/They’re. This has to be the most common, or at least, it’s one I see all the time. And this one is easy to get right! There is a location. “We are going over there.” Their is possessive. “Their use of grammar is terrible.” They’re is short for “they are.” They’re so good at writing. (As an aside — as I typed this Word changed every spelling to “there” so watch out for that pesky AI. It’s not as intelligent as it seems!)
Spelling Errors. Here me and take my advise, don’t by spell-check’s claims. It doesn’t always insure witch spelling is write, and the affect can be quite a gaff. (It only caught one here.)
Sentence Fragments. You can use fragments in fiction. Sparingly. Non-fiction? Even less. Really. They wear a reader out. Not kidding. I like using them. But too many? Annoying!
It’s vs. Its. This one is part of grammar rules not being user-friendly. Although you are using “its” as a possessive (which usually needs an apostrophe) “its” is the exception. It’s means “it is.” It’s true! Grammar has its weird rules, right?
Pronoun Identification. Use these to identify someone without repeating his or her name. He, she, they, it, we, etc. But, be sure the pronoun you use is clearly identified. Angie walks her dog Petunia, and it makes her so happy. Who is happy? Angie? Petunia? Both of them? Putting a name in twice is too repetitive, so get creative. When Angie asks her dog Petunia if she wants to go for a walk, she wags her tail so hard it almost knocks her off her paws. In addition to identifying who is happy, the second sentence shows emotion (tail wag) instead of tells (happy) allowing the reader to conclude the happiness. Your sentence is now clear, more compelling (the reader has something to see) and the reader gets pulled in to the writing.
Misplaced Modifier. I often see this in advertisements and headlines. A modifier must be closest to what it is modifying, otherwise confusion and often hilarity ensues. Crawling across the floor and leaving a slimy trail, Tommy watched the snail. Or… I passed several dead deer driving to Madison.
Addendum: Some rules are slightly different between American and British English, but hey, we’re in southwestern Wisconsin. I can tell by all the snow I had to shovel today.

Kathy Steffen is an award-winning novelist and author of the “Spirit of the River Series:” “First, There is a River,” “Jasper Mountain,” and “Theater of Illusion.” She writes from her home in Spring Green she shares with her husband and cats. Find out more at www.kathysteffen.com.