As a published author and freelance writer/editor, some of the common grammar issues I stumble across when editing manuscripts for authors are:
Which vs. That. Learn how using which and that can both make sense but still change the meaning of the same sentence. How I remember which one to use, for people: which; for things: that. IE: The way to go that works for everyone… thing is “the way.” Which would you prefer… people: you.
Lay vs. Lie (vs. Laid). I lay down books before I lie down to rest. Laid in place of lie (I laid down to rest) could be used too, although that particular use has been debated. When time has past, use lain. ie. He has lain there for some time. For me, it’s how the sentence sounds out loud and the tense intended: Past, present or future, or, Lain, Lie, or laid.
Do you underline book titles? The answer is, of course, yes–unless your Publisher’s style claims otherwise. This is where researching submission requirements come into play.
When do I spell out numbers? The most common rule is to spell out numbers nine or lower (less? fewer?) and use numerals for 10 and up. There are exceptions to this rule though, but I stick to this rule and it works for me.
Ensure vs. Insure. Some think these words are interchangeable, but insure is usually related to financial terms, while ensure is usually means “to make certain.”
Into vs. In To. There is difference in running into a person and running in to a person. Think, into as going inside… so can you go inside a person?
The Rule “A” Before Consonants and “An” Before Vowels. The confusing part is that there are exceptions to this rule. For example, when using a word with a silent ‘h,’ the rule is “an.” IE. hour.
Is It People or Persons? Most people use people, but persons is totally appropriate for a smaller group of people (or persons). In this case, I believe it’s okay to use either.
Affect vs. Effect. Affect is generally used as a verb, and effect is usually a noun. For example, The effect of the volcano’s eruption affected population living at its base with devastating results.
How Many Spaces After a Period? When I started using a manual typewriter, the rule was two. But computers have changed the norm to one. I found in many submissions this is becoming something Literary Agents and Publishers want.
Snuck vs. Sneaked. The quick answer is that sneaked is the proper way to sneak in somewhere in the past tense. But, you know, snuck is sneaking its way into common usage. Personally, I reword the sentence to avoid using “sneaked” or “snuck.”
Hone vs. Home. Hone is used “to sharpen or make more acute,” while home is used in more of a place or end result. So hone those skills of homing in on the bullseye. One is a noun, and one is verb.
They’re, Their and There:
The amount of times I’ve seen these mixed up. Let’s sort them out:
They’re: They are. They are going to write a book. They’re going to write a book.
Their: belonging to them, ie: their ball, their horse, their car, their publisher.
There: referring to, ie: going to a place, indicating something, referring to a place. IE. Let’s go there. There it is. There are many versions of the word.
To, Too, Two:
Even I have mixed up these.
To: Going to, ie. He is going to the store.
Too: being included, when something is more, ie. He wants to go too. He is too big to fit through the door. It’s too much for the car tires and they explode.
I hope these help. More to come