Writing and Editing Tips – Part 6: Common Grammatical Errors

grammar pic

Following on from last week’s post (here), I thought I’d share some more common grammatical errors. Keep these in mind when writing and you’ll find that correct usage becomes second nature.

Have not of!!!

Why the exclamation marks? Because this is one of the things I absolutely hate! And I mean hate. I don’t know why it winds me up as much as it does, but it does. The problem is that when we say ‘could’ve’, ‘should’ve’ or ‘would’ve’ we pronounce that ‘ve’ in the same way we say ‘of’. So then people think it is ‘of’ and when they’re not using the contraction they say and write ‘could of’, ‘should of’ and ‘would of’ instead of ‘could have’, ‘should have’ and ‘would have’. It’s wrong!!!

I should of gone to the toilet before I left. WRONG!

I should have gone to the toilet before I left. RIGHT!

Misplaced modifiers

A misplaced modifier is a word, phrase or clause that is separated from, or does not relate clearly to, the word it modifies, or describes. This can mean that the sentence changes its meaning, or doesn’t make sense at all.

For example:

Having taking your advice, my cat will be eating a different type of cat food.

Now, although we know that it isn’t likely that the cat is the one who has taken the advice, the sentence is structured in such a way as to make the meaning confusing and silly. This is much better:

Having taken your advice, I will now be feeding my cat a different type of cat food.

How about:

I served lemonade to the guests in paper cups.

So, the guests are in paper cups then? Although we know that is silly, in this sentence, that’s exactly where they are. Just change it around a little:

I served lemonade in paper cups to the guests.

Possessive nouns

One use of the apostrophe is to show possession. Simple? Well, not always.

If the noun is singular, then the apostrophe goes before the ‘s’:

Brian’s trainers were red.

If the noun is singular and ends in an ‘s’, you have two choices. Either the apostrophe goes after the ‘s’:

James’ car ran out of petrol.

Or you can add an apostrophe and another ‘s’:

James’s car ran out of petrol.

The important thing here is consistency. Always do it the same way.

If the noun is a plural, it probably already ends in ‘s’, so you can just add an apostrophe on the end. So, one dog:

The dog’s bone was buried in the gardens.

Two dogs:

The dogs’ bones were buried in the garden.

Just to make it more difficult, some nouns have irregular plural forms. For example – the plural of woman is women. So, one woman:

The woman’s clothes were the height of fashion.

A group of women:

The women’s clothes were the height of fashion.


What elements of grammar do you find most tricky to master? What common errors drive you mad? I’d love to know.

I am a UK-based writer, editor and independent novelist. I love reading and I love to write. These are the two great passions of my life. Find out more about my editing services here. I am currently offering discounts to new clients – do get in touch to discuss how I can help you to make your book the best it can be.
Find out about my historical novels ‘Blackwater’ and ‘The Black Hours’ here.



  1. I’m reading Dan Brown’s “Inferno” just now, and it’s full of “?!” – honestly, there is one or more on nearly every page. I’m surprised that got through the editing process, as it’s really off-putting. I think he needs to be using your services, Alison. Surely there are better ways of emphasising the drama?!


  2. Great post, Alison. I personally find commas really difficult. I either use too many of them or miss them out when they should be there. No one seems really certain when to use them – I know, I’ve asked enough people. Beginning to get a phobia of them, actually. 😦


    1. Thanks Sharon. Commas can be tricky – funnily enough I’m going to be doing a post devoted to them soon. I was going to include them here but as I was writing I realised they need a whole post of their own!


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