« Byline Inequality? | Home | The 4 Cs of Effective Writing »

Common Spelling and Grammar Issues

Posted on Tuesday, March 29, 2011 at 2:07 PM

Are these culprits killing your writing?

Occasionally, a spelling, typographical, or grammatical error creeps into a published article. It happens despite our best editorial efforts. But when we are unaware of certain rules of grammatical engagement, our writing becomes habitually sloppy -- and we are unequipped to track down the offenders and fix them. Let's discuss a few common issues.

The "Plural Apostrophe"

All too often, writers use apostrophes to make certain words plural. With some rare exceptions (e.g., the Chicago and AP style guides recommend, to varying degrees, inserting an apostrophe to make single letters plural to avoid confusion -- like "straight A's"), this should not happen.

How often have you seen something like this in print: "The family had three TV's in the house" or "There were eight RN's working in the emergency room last night"? Apostrophes don't make names, acronyms, or other words plural, so the correct plural acronyms are "TVs" and "RNs."


-The last two CEOs were Wharton School graduates.


-The Kline's vacation with us every summer.

Id est vs. exempli gratia

Sometimes, even the most seasoned writers confuse these two expressions, which are abbreviated as "i.e." and "e.g." Their English definitions reveal their purposes in a sentence: "i.e." (id est) means "that is," and "e.g." (exempli gratia) means "for example."


-The smallest U.S. state (i.e., Rhode Island) is approximately 1/425th the size of the largest (i.e., Alaska).
-Many words break the "i before e, except after c" rule -- e.g., weird, feign, science, etc.


-The happiest place on earth, e.g., Disneyworld, is located in Florida.
-Many stores sell men's ties -- i.e., Macy's, Target, J.C. Penney, and others.

Make sure to follow both abbreviations with a comma.

Dangling Participles

In our November 2010 issue, we discussed the common misuse of participial phrases by both seasoned and amateur writers. This construction leaves the door wide open for dangling participles, so it is important to avoid infesting our writing with these syntactic pests.


-After studying for three hours, he felt confident that he would ace the test.
-Jaded by past betrayals, she was skeptical of most people.


-While waiting for the bus, the car swerved to miss her.
-Hoping to start a new life overseas, his flight to London left in two weeks.

As you can see in the incorrect examples, the participial verbs don't link up with the subjects of the main clauses. The car is not waiting for the bus, and his flight is not hoping to start a new life overseas.

Add your comment.

« Byline Inequality? | Top | The 4 Cs of Effective Writing »