I am reluctant to get too much into copyediting because I am a stickler for grammatical and other errors, and I hate to get too caught up in that and lose sight of the more important things in a story like plot, dialogue, characters, etc. But here we go. A lot of common mistakes I see when editing manuscripts:
1. That vs. which—which needs a comma; that doesn’t. Which is used with parenthetical clauses, a clause that (not which!) can be removed and still have the sentence make sense. For example, “I loved the chocolate soufflé that was straight out of the oven” vs. “I love chocolate soufflé, which was straight out of the oven.” In the first example, there was more than one chocolate soufflé, so you need the clause beginning with “that.” In the second, you could eliminate everything after the comma and the sentence would remain unchanged.
2. Parallelism—when things are listed in a series, they must be parallel. For example, you can’t say, “I love to eat, to sleep and swimming.” You have to say, “I love to eat, to sleep and to swim.” Seems obvious, but in more complex sentences, people get it wrong.
3. I vs. me—I have to admit, this is my least favorite because even me screw it up, I mean I screw it up. For example, “Let’s just keep this between you and me” is correct, not “between you and I.” The rule is that when you’d use a subject, like he or she or they, you’d use “I”. When you’d use an object, like “him” or “her” or “them,” you’d use “me”. Same goes for who and whom. Who is a subject, whom is an object. But I still get confused sometimes with I and me. This is where it gets trickier: Do you say, “She is taller than me” or “She is taller than I”? Well, if the “I” is short for “I am” then it’s the latter: “She is taller than I am.” But it’s okay to say, “She is taller than me,” too. Confused? Me too. And when answering the phone, do you say, “This is she”? Yes, as awkward as is sounds. It’s correct.
4. Coordinating conjunctions, better known as FANBOYS, are: for, and, nor, but, or, yet and so. They connect two complete sentences using a comma. For example, “I want a new car, but I can’t afford one.” The only other way to connect two complete sentences is by a period and a capital: “I want a new car. I can’t afford one” or by a semicolon: “I want a new car; I can’t afford one.” In this case, only the coordinating conjunction makes sense, but grammatically, they’re all correct. The key to using the semicolon is to make sure the two sentences are closely related, like in a contrast: “Jerry likes apples; I prefer oranges.”
Do you have a favorite grammar book? Or a copyediting pet peeve?