Category Archives: Why bother

This is why grammar is important

I just received a sheaf of election material through the letterbox. As regular readers of my blog will know, I don’t tend to share examples of bad grammar and spelling that are just ‘amusing’, as I work with many non-native speakers of English and people who need assistance with their English text production (such as people with dyslexia or those who use voice-recognition software, which can’t always tell the difference between homophones), and I don’t want to make anyone feel bad for not producing ‘perfect’ textbook English sentences.

But I did want to share this example because it demonstrates that the correct or incorrect use of grammar can make a huge difference. Here we go:

when incorrect grammar gives a meaning you didn't mean

Grammatically, the underlined section expresses this: “she was working for her own redundancy and that of every other UK MEP. As now, she will fight for your redundancy and Britain’s interests in Brussels”. OK, there would be a comma before “and Britain’s”, but people don’t always insert sufficient commas …

I’m pretty sure that they meant to express this: “… she will fight for your interests in Brussels and Britain’s interests in Brussels”. If you’re not sure of which form of a noun pronoun to use, making the sentence repetitive in this way will often help, or just removing the other word – “she will fight for your interests in Brussels” (this is how to remember when to use “x and I” and when to use “x and me”, by the way).

All that went wrong was a simple “s”. What this leaflet should have said was: “she was working for her own redundancy and that of every other UK MEP. As now, she will fight for your and Britain’s interests in Brussels”. Oh, and let’s not get into the “As now”, before you say anything …

If you need help with pairs of words or word use, you might like to take a look at my Troublesome Pairs and Be Careful! posts. You might also find this post on the value of proofreading interesting. Enjoy!


Posted by on May 12, 2014 in Be careful, Errors, Why bother, Writing


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And these are only the mistakes I noticed …

Over on my book review blog, I talk about a book which was so riddled with errors (including missing commas, typos, missing semi colons, a lack of fact-checking and plain odd sentences) that it completely put me off the text and I felt compelled to mark them all up and then write them all down …


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Why bother? The value of proofreading

A while ago, I asked people what they’d like to see me writing about. One that came up there, and has come up since, and before, and whenever I mention I’m a proofreader/copyeditor, is … “why bother?” Why can’t people just express themselves however they want, with whatever spelling, grammar and punctuation they fancy?

I have to state my own view here; that’s all I can do. And furnish some examples, many drawn from a discussion I had with peers in the copyediting business, on a forum to which I belong. I fall in between the prescriptive and descriptive camps when it comes to spellings, grammar, etc. and their (inevitable) changes. I glory in new words and word-formations (I’ve been slightly obsessed with the -gate suffix for more years than I care to recall) and I find it fascinating to see how language changes with time. I don’t think it should be fixed, nailed down and not allowed to change. But I still care deeply about clarity and precision of expression. And, in my opinion, if you don’t know the rules and how to apply them, if you don’t *care* about the rules and how to apply them, then the clarity of what you’re expressing can easily be lost, and your meaning may not come across as you intend it to.

Please note, I am not criticising those who don’t know the rules, or have difficulty applying them. How could I, when my own clients include people whose English is not their first (or second, or third) language, dyslexic people, people who’ve not been taught at school or college how the rules work. I like a laugh at a dodgy shop sign as much as the next person, but I wouldn’t point out those things publicly in this blog, or ever want to make people feel I’m mocking them. But if you are not sure what to put or how to write it, there are reference materials all over the place, and people like me and my colleagues, who can help out.

So, some examples (thanks again to the Copyediting-List folks for providing some of them)

— A purple people-eater is purple and eats people, but a purple-people eater eats only the purple ones.

— Here’s a fascinating link showing the importance of word order:

— Here’s an example of how important language is in the legal field. And it’s not just in the legal field – while many students are not marked down for grammar and punctuation these days, a friend who lectures in speech and language therapy does, as a mistake in someone’s notes can cause many problems down the line.

— On a similar note, haven’t we all got colleagues or other people we communicate with who may not have great written language skills? Doesn’t it devalue their opinions a little in your mind, when everyone’s laughing at the latest email or sign?

— This is a long one, but it shows the importance of punctuation!

Dear Jim:
I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart. I can be forever happy – will you let me be yours?

Dear Jim:
I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we’re apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?

— Capitalisation matters too, in this great example from Andy Mabbett:

One area of capitalisation that divides even experts in the field is around species names. There are many types of black-headed gulls, and lots of little gulls, but only one species called Black-headed Gull (and it has a brown head!) and one species of Little Gull. Consider:

“Is that black-headed gull a black-headed gull?”

“No, that’s a little gull. The little gull on the railing is a black-headed gull.”


“Is that black-headed gull a Black-headed Gull?”

“No, that’s a Little Gull. The little gull on the railing is a Black-headed Gull.”

— A classic: Let’s eat Grandma!/Let’s eat, grandma!

— Lynne Truss did well out of this one: Eats, shoots, and leaves/Eats shoots and leaves.

— This one comes in various forms and with various names… I would like to thank my parents, the Pope and Mother Teresa.

Publishers and other purveyors of words have style guides, academic departments ask their students to reference books read in a certain way, and proofreaders and copyeditors (and copy writers) use reference materials such as the ones I’ve discussed before, to make sure that what they produce is clear and consistent. We do this, I think, on behalf of the reader, so they’re not distracted by mistakes, howlers and inconsistencies. My aim in my work is to help the writer express themselves clearly and accurately, so their readers can read their texts simply and easily, using their brainpower and concentration to absorb the concepts of the text at hand, or just enjoy a work of fiction without having to puzzle over the word the author meant to use.

So – why bother? Do you think I should? Do you think we should? And have I answered the question?


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On E-Book Readers

Since I put a review of a book I read on my new Kindle up on my book reviews blog, a few people have asked me what I think of e-book readers; whether they herald The End Of The Book, how I’m finding mine, etc. I did mull over whether to write about it on here or the reviews blog, but a couple of the points I want to make are pertinent to my craft and the way I work, so I thought it fitted here.

I’ve settled down to using the Kindle in a particular way, for a particular kind of book. Firstly, I’ve downloaded a number of books from free e-book sites such as manybooks, which offers Project Gutenberg and other texts in a format suitable for the Kindle. They are all free, all legally so, and, as I have a particular fondness for 19th century travel narratives, these are, on the main, what I’ve downloaded. These are books I hardly ever find in bookshops. If I do, they are often very expensive. So this is a new book to have, not a replacement for one I’d buy in print. And I’m fairly sure that I’ll still buy copies in print, if I find them. Secondly, in this category still, though, are e-only books, and those published recently but with Creative Commons licenses to allow them to be downloaded in this way. Just a couple of these at the moment, but I know that LibraryThing Early Reviewers give away e-only books, because I read one before I had the Kindle. Thirdly, I’m picking up free or cheap copies of classics. Classics I already own – but this is for that situation when I’m on holiday, and run out of books. It’s happened twice in the last couple of years, necessitating the purchase of very expensive British magazines or the borrowing of terrible books from the hotel library. So having complete sets of Hardy and Austen on there is very reassuring!

So that’s how I’m using it. No replacement of paper books, no loss of sales. Quite a few people I know are using their e-book readers to access books they just wouldn’t find in print – do I just know people who like obscure texts, or is that common?

A couple of other thoughts …

– It’s very comfortable to use, light and easy to hold (now I have it in a book-shaped leather case!)
– I could just use the Kindle app on the PC, but at the end of a hard day’s proof-reading, I just don’t want to gaze at a PC monitor!
– I think it makes the proper and full proof-reading and copy-editing of books and texts even more important. I’m going to return to the topic, “why bother proof-reading” in another post. But for now – the amount of text you see on the screen is smaller than that on a standard book page. So you don’t see as much context. Context is often how we make sense of what we’re reading, and how we establish what the author meant if there is any doubt. If there’s an error in spelling, grammar or punctuation, I think it’s easier for it to derail the reader, the smaller the amount of text they can use as context.

So – the Kindle. A good thing, in my case. It isn’t stopping me buying print books. It’s convenient, easy and gives me a few things to think about along the way!


Posted by on February 1, 2011 in Reading, Why bother