Grammar, spelling, and punctuation

Unless you set out to deliberately thwart the rules in your story, grammar, spelling, and punctuation matter. Without applying their rules, writers don’t have a chance at winning a short story competition or finding a publisher. It’s a simple as that. And no, your laptop’s spell-check won’t help – not with the most common mistakes – nor will its review function for grammar and spelling. And these days, nor will many copy editors/proofreaders. Every day I read a newspaper these days, no matter whether it’s the small local paper of the town where I live or one of the major newspapers, I come across multiple mistakes. The reason is twofold, I believe: 1) newspapers don’t/can’t afford to pay for proofreaders anymore and 2) a large number of people, including proofreaders and newspaper editors, haven’t learned – and therefore can’t apply – the rules properly.

Reading two recently published Australian novels, one of them a major literary award winner, I came across three such mistakes. See whether you can identify them. I’ll amend the relevant passages so as to not identify the books:

  1. A mosquito settles on Brett’s hand. He hand flies into the air as he attempts to shake it off.
  2. It smelled of roast lamb in the student’s canteen.
  3. With six dollars, Sam could have bought a packet of marshmallows and still had two dollars left.

Perhaps it’s because I’m a migrant who was forced to learn the rules that such mistakes stop me in my tracks. When they happen in newspapers, I am angry because anybody who reads them will assume that newspapers have no such errors, and over time mistakes and wrong usage will spread like a wildfire.

One instance of wrong usage that has done so already is ‘amount of people’. Everybody, including ABC television journalists, seems to use this expression these days instead of the correct ‘number of people’.

So if you’re not sure about the rules and/or proper usage, read books which explain the rules, learn about proper spelling, punctuation and grammar. One of those is The Little Green Grammar Book by Mark Tredinnick, which also covers punctuation.

And the mistakes in the three examples above?

  1. It should be ‘His hand flies …’
  2. Canteens do not exist for one student. It should be ‘students’
  3. The first verb is ‘could have bought’, so it should be ‘and still would have two dollars left.’





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