In 1988, two researchers developed a taxonomy of the twenty most common grammar errors made in the English language. They hand-coded 300 college level essays, and spelling was such an abysmal disappointment, they decided to drop spelling as a category altogether. Fast forward to 2005, language arts teacher Jeff Anderson publishes his Mechanically Inclined—a High School English teacher’s guide to teaching grammar. Anderson added an additional five errors to the list that he saw on a regular basis in the classroom.
Here’s the list:
1. No comma after introductory element
2. Vague pronoun reference
3. No comma in compound sentence
4. Wrong word
5. No comma in non-restrictive element
6. Wrong/missing inflected endings
7. Wrong or missing prepositions
8. Comma splice
9. Possessive apostrophe error
10. Tense shift
11. Unnecessary shift in person
12. Sentence fragment
13. Wrong tense or verb form
14. Subject-verb agreement
15. Lack of comma in series
16. Pronoun agreement error
17. Unnecessary comma with restrictive element
18. Run-on or fused sentence
19. Dangling or misplaced modifier
20. Its versus It’s error
And Anderson’s additional five:
2. Quotation marks
3. Question marks
4. Double negatives
5. Spelling (homophones, doubling rule)
Do you, as an author, believe you are immune to these errors? There was this Facebook conversationstarted by these wonderful people who you should like, and the page’s administrator challenged me to write on this topic. At first, I balked at the idea—writing about grammar, how boring is that, right? I mean, we’re talking fiction here, not some academic-styled paper where these errors were found. And I certainly have my own unique opinions on grammar and its proper and improper uses within fiction. For example, I began my short story End of Winter:
The demon sits on my mind like so many people Staring out the window we watch the last of summer Dusk is upon us like heavy sleep Black Sumatra coffee sitting in front of us in flimsy paper cups, and we dip chocolate tipped almond cantuccini into the joe Taking small bites as cars pass by just outside the plate glass window which steams from our combined breath
On the last day of winter she dies Ravished by cancer and chemo, doctors prodding her with needles and pills and empty hope
You probably noticed the distinct lack of punctuation (though there is that one wee comma hidden away in The End of Winter‘s opening gamut). I certainly did not write the entire series in that style though. It would have been exhausting for the reader to make his or her way through an already confusing enough story without the needed guidance of good punctuation and grammar. Also, I could not have crafted that first paragraph without extensive knowledge of punctuation and grammar and how those elements of writing affect the psychology of the reader.
So let’s begin: twenty-five blog posts over the next twenty-five days. Let’s revisit the basics. Besides, do you really know the difference between a non-restrictive and a restrictive element in a sentence? And what the heck is the doubling rule anyway?
Let’s find out. See you tomorrow!