Getting Out My Red Pen: A Grammar Rant

redpen Everyone has pet peeves. Mine are mostly grammatical. Confusing homonyms (your/you’re, they’re/their/there, etc.), overuse of ellipses, and comma splices are all things that make my eyes twitch when I’m reading something, whether it is a Facebook status, article, billboard, or book.
Luckily, published books are generally pretty well edited. A few mistakes may slip through, but they’re minor. As the daughter of a copy editor, I have both an appreciation for correct grammar and spelling, and also an understanding of occasional human error. A typo rarely bothers me. But mistakes en masse? Poorly edited writing can shape my opinion of the work and its author.

You might have heard about Jacqueline Howett, a self-published author who would have remained under the radar, had she not lashed out at a reviewer in a bizarre, profane, and ungrammatical fashion. Authorial professionalism is a topic for another blog; what I found most interesting about this particular review was not its reaction, but the reviewer’s justification for giving The Greek Seaman two stars. The plot and characters actually sound quite interesting. Big Al, the reviewer, called it, “compelling,” “a good story,” and suspenseful. What killed it were the typos and grammatical errors.

I, too, had a similar reading experience. While Get Lucky wasn’t a stellar book regardless of the quality of the text, the poor editing had a huge effect on my reading of the novel. Typos abounded, and not just minor ones; words were incorrect, to the point that they changed the meaning of the sentence (or, more often, deprived the sentence of any meaning whatsoever). There were remarks from the editor embedded within the story (“… when the blonde woman blond male per Webster man walked across the room…”). There were blatant factual errors. Granted, this was an advance review copy, so I can only hope that the version that was published was more closely copyedited.

Reading is about more than the plot and characters. It’s about the experience. And there is nothing that can ruin the experience of a story more for me than wincing at dangling participles and hanging prepositions — or scratching my head over the syntax and diction of an incomprehensible sentence.

As a result of this bad experience, an otherwise suspenseful novel that should have kept me engrossed in the story instead had the opposite effect. I had a hard time getting into the story because of the grammatical mistakes. I spent more time figuring out what the author was trying to say than I did enjoying the characters and the mystery, which is a real shame.

So, publicists out there: don’t shoot your author in the foot by giving a completely unpolished copy to the reviewers. And to the general public: PROOFREAD! People will judge you if you make stupid mistakes. At least I will.

– Jane Granville

Notify of

oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments