As an editor I spend a lot of time fixing dangling modifiers and other painful grammatical errors that are easy to avoid. You can reduce your copyediting costs if you are aware of these common errors.
Adjectives and Adverbs
You can completely change the meaning of the sentence depending on where you place the adjective or adverb:
- Klutz chipped only the glasses on the top shelf.
- Klutz chipped the glasses only on the top shelf.
- Klutz only chipped the glasses on the top shelf.
- Only Klutz chipped the glasses on the top shelf.
These are common pests. Modifiers can cause havoc when they are too far away from the nouns they modify:
- Incorrect: Sheila caught sight of a kangaroo looking through her binoculars.
- Correct (assuming the kangaroo is not that clever): Looking through her binoculars, Sheila caught sight of a kangaroo.
- Incorrect: Even after brushing her teeth, Edward could still smell Bella's garlicky breath.
- Correct (assuming Edward didn't brush Bella's teeth): Even after Bella brushed her teeth, Edward could still smell her garlicky breath.
Use with inclusive numbers and dates:
- The average American consumes 150–180 pounds of sugar a year.
- World War I, 1914–18, caused more than thirty-seven million casualties.
Use with compounds:
- A twenty-three-year-old parrot in England can count to six.
- The world-famous Hope diamond has seventy-four facets.
This is a very common type of error:
- Incorrect: Not every bank sold off their toxic assets.
- Correct: Not every bank sold off its toxic assets, or not all banks sold off their toxic assets.
continued on Grammar Goodies 2