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Some Incorrect Constructions to Avoid

Here are some phrases or sentence constructions I come across often in my editing. Although they’re common, it’s good to pay attention to these expressions and make sure they make sense. We should strive to make sense in our writing, right?

  • “I don’t know whether I should go to the movies.” Whether or what?
  • “He took a different way home.” Different from what?
  • “It’s a quality paper.” What kind of quality? Bad or good?

When using a word that calls for comparing one thing to another, you need to make clear what those two things are. Here’s another common expression: “I could care less.” What in the world does that mean? Nothing, really. The correct expression is “I couldn’t care less.” Which means you care very little about something. That’s an expression that makes a point. But it’s also a cliche, and you want to avoid cliches unless it fits in with a character’s personality and POV. But maybe you couldn’t care less.

Are You Singular?

Sometimes using singular verbs sounds wrong, but we’re back to the rules again. When you use a singular noun, your verb needs to be singular. Take a look at the correct sentences and see whether you would have written them correctly.

  • “My favorite type of movie is thrillers,” but “Thrillers are my favorite type of movie.”
  • “Neither is correct.” (And, just as in rule number 1, the presence of a modifier is irrelevant: “Neither of them is correct.”)
  • “The pot of eggs is boiling on the stove.”
  • “Either the dog or the cats are responsible for the mess.” (“Either the cats or the dog is responsible for the mess” is also technically correct but is awkward.)
  • “His staff is assembled,” but “Staff are asked to go to the conference room immediately.” (In the first sentence, the emphasis is on the body of employees; in the second sentence, the focus is on compliance by each individual in the body of employees.)
  • “The United Nations is headquartered in New York.”
  • “The economics of the situation are complicated,” but “Economics is a complicated topic.”
  • “I am one of those eccentrics who do not tweet.” (The verb goes with the noun: eccentrics. Think “those who do not tweet”)
  • “I am the only one of my friends who does not tweet.” (think “one who does not tweet”)
  • “The number of people here boggles the mind.” (number is singular)

Clearly, there is no singular rule about singularity. Alas.

Some Grammatical Errors That Aren’t

Don’t you love all the rules we have for grammar? One thing you learn early on in elementary school is that for every rule, there is an exception–or two or three. All you have to do is say aloud these words that seem like they should be pronounced the same: cough, though, through, enough, trough, tough, and though. That just about sums up the silliness and inconsistencies of the English language.

With that said, here are a few “rules” that are no longer rules. Yes, you have permission to break them. Times have changed. If enough people ignore the rules, after a while they won’t be observed any more. Or something like that.

  • Never split an infinitive. Meaning you are supposed to keep the “to” with the infinitive form of the verb. The famous example of rule-breaking is the line from the opening of the old Star Trek show: “To boldly go where no man has gone before.” The rule would require it to be rewritten to “to go [keeping the “to” with the verb] boldly.” But does it matter? No. So feel free to blatantly ignore [I just did right here–do you see?] the rule.
  • Never end a sentence with a preposition. Go ahead. I mean, seriously–what rule book is this from? What’s it leading to? Isn’t this something we can just get through? See, there’s nothing wrong with ending a sentence with a preposition. I always like the funny way of making this point: “A preposition is something you should never end a sentence with.” ‘Nuff said.
  • Never begin a sentence with a conjunction. In case you don’t recall what those are, use FANBOYS: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. So feel free to use them to start a sentence. But don’t do it all the time. Or your writing will sound a bit choppy. Or not. So what?

Got any rules you like to break in your writing? I’ll bet you’re not the only one.