Freelance Writing: 4 Most Common — and Confounding — Grammatical Errors

Posted on March 3, 2015 by Ryan H

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Never in history has a greater demand for writers existed. The internet and social media generated niches within the writing industry unheard of just 10 years ago. Even average writers can make livings as freelance writers. The demand for writers means people without writing backgrounds are finding work in the industry.

There are 4 grammatical errors that no writer — even those with no background in the trade — should commit.

Plural Pronouns Referring to Individuals

Yes, the grammar rule requiring the use of he to refer to unspecified individuals is sexist. And yes, using she — instead — appears oddly contentious. But, using they to indicate a single, unspecified individual leads readers to believe the writer is unrefined.

Yes, it is true: English grammar permits writers to use the singular pronoun you when referring to groups. But for some indefensible reason, using the plural pronoun they to refer to an individual is not permitted. Obviously, the rules of grammar are not always consistent.

While using they to refer to individuals is grammatically consistent, politically correct, and has been the practice of some of the world´s most talented writers for centuries — Shakespeare for example, — do not to risk your writing career taking up the fight. Focus on earning your money and let some other person beat “their” head against the wall.

Hanging Quotes and Misplaced Punctuation Within/Outside of Quotation Marks

There is a common tendency to put quotes around single words even though no one in particular is being quoted. There are only two instances in which doing so is appropriate: to indicate that the use of a word is meant to be ironic or sarcastic and to indicate jargon or a colloquialism.

In any other instance, it is incorrect grammar.

Comma Splices, Fused Sentences, and Fragments

Some of the most difficult punctuation principles to grasp in English Grammar are the separation of two independent clauses, the separation of independent and subordinating (dependent) clauses, and the separation of independent clauses from phrases.

The reality is however, the rules of punctuating compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences are all very similar.

Prepositional phrases always require a preposition and a comma. Subordinate clauses always require a comma and a subordinating conjunction. Two independent clauses are always separated by a coordinating conjunction and a comma.

In other words, if a sentence has two independent clauses, or a dependent clause, or a prepositional phrase, the sentence requires a comma and a conjunction or a preposition, always and forever.

Lay Versus Lie

Most writers are fully aware that there is a conundrum between the verbs lay and lie. The problem most people have with understanding it is the fact that they believe the difficulty is between the verb that means become prone and the verb that means being dishonest.

The word lie that pertains to dishonesty has nothing to do with this conundrum.

The confusion is between the two words — lie and lay — that refer to a prone position. Rather than trying to remember cute aphorisms like you lay something down, and people lie down by themselves, it is better to simply take the time to understand the grammatical difference.

Lay is a transitive verb. Lie is an intransitive verb. That means lay requires a direct object and lie will not be followed by an adjective or noun. Lay the book down, is an example of the transitive verb: lay followed by an adjective and a noun. Lie can be followed by adverbs and prepositions, but never adjectives, nouns, nor pronouns.

Of course, you need to be able to conjugate both to past tense and past participle, but once you understand the principle of transitive versus intransitive, you have the lay/lie conundrum whipped.

Ryan H is a freelance writer living in Central America with his wife. He spends his free time whitewater kayaking, rafting, mountain biking, and mountaineering. To his wife´s dismay, Ryan recently entered — and won — a bean-eating contest by finishing off eleven bowls!


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