Blog

In this area, you’ll find blog posts about aspects of grammar that trip people up, or often come up as issues in work that we do. There are also some how-to guides on dealing with the proofreading process.

Feel free to comment on any blog or ask general questions about issues you’ve always wondered about.

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Spelt v spelled

People are often confused about the correct spelling of the past tense of the verb ‘to spell’.

As with so many of these issues, the problem seems to be one of a clash between the UK, the US, and the rest of the English-writing world, and a question of style. Continue reading

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Hall of shame: Brighton’s top gay

This lovely photo linked to by @jcodfishpie on Twitter, who commented that ‘Brighton’s top gay should be ashamed of himself’ is another great example of how important is is to check the big picture. Continue reading

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Ending punctuation – full stops, question marks and exclamation marks

There are three different ways to end a sentence. There is a correct use for each, despite the fact that they are frequently confused.

Full stops

The full stop is used at the end of a sentence that is not a question or an exclamation.

Question marks

The question mark is used at the end of a question. This may seem obvious, but it can be misused. Make sure that the sentence is a question, and always do use a question mark when asking a question – even if it’s a heading or a title.

Continue reading

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Full stops in quotation marks – where do they go?

If you’re using quotation marks – either for reported speech or for quoting phrases or titles – it’s important to know where to put the punctuation.

Where you put a full stop when using quotation marks depends on what you are quoting.

Quoting full sentences

If you are writing a sentence which is a full sentence, and wholly a quote, the ending punctuation goes inside the quotation marks.

Example

“I have nothing to declare except my genius.”  This is a famous quote from Oscar Wilde

Continue reading

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Editing or proofreading?

I offer both proofreading services and editing. They’re related services and people aren’t always sure of the difference.

Basically, proofreading tells you what is wrong with a document or manuscript, whereas editing will tell you how to make things even better.

Proofreading

Basic proofreading covers things like:

  • Spelling errors
  • Grammatical errors
  • Formatting errors
  • Very basic continuity and factual errors

If English is not your first language, it will pick up on syntax errors and iron out the language. Continue reading

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Hall of shame: Ikea finally bend space

I saw this sign on a recent trip to Ikea.

The sign claims that “These facilities are also located in the Entrance area and our Restaurant upstairs”. That’s not what they mean of course, they mean that similar facilities are located in those places.

This is an example of what you often end up with if you try and be too complicated with what you’re saying, and start diverting from using Plain English. Whoever wrote this sign is obviously trying to avoid the word ‘Toilets’. Why?

“You can also find toilets in our entrance area and near the restaurant upstairs” would make much more sense. It actually uses more words than the original, but somehow seems shorter.

These facilities are also located in the Entrance area and our Restaurant upstairs

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Hyphens v en-dashes

Hyphen, en-dashes, and em-dashes are very similar, commonly-confused pieces of punctuation.

Hyphens

A hyphen is used to join two words. There should be no spaces on either side of a hyphen.

Example

Lizzie Cass-Maran
A well-read book
A dark-blue sea

En-dashes

An en-dash is used to indicate a break, where a comma or semi colon may possibly be used instead. It’s generally a bit less formal. These are called parenthetical en-dashes. There should be a space on either side of a parenthetical en-dash.

Example

Wait – stop!

A standard keyboard only contains a hyphen key. When you type a space on either side of a hyphen, most programmes will automatically format this into an en dash.

En-dashes can also be used to show a range of numbers, or to otherwise replace the word ‘to’. In this case, there shouldn’t be a space on either side of the en-dash.

If you use an en-dash in this way, it shouldn’t be combined with ‘from’.

Example

Correct: The Glasgow–Edinburgh train or The train from Glasgow to Edinburgh
Incorrect: The train from Glasgow–Edinburgh
Correct: Responders aged 18–24 or Responders aged from 18 to 24
Incorrect: Responders aged from 18–24

Em-dashes

An em dash can be used to show a change in thought. In practice, em dashes have generally fallen out of use. They can be seen more often in Victorian literature.

Example

I think that — is that the phone ringing?

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Using quotation marks – single or double?

People sometimes get confused about whether to use single or double quotation marks (also known as ‘inverted commas’).

The answer, as with so many things when it comes to proofreading, is that it’s up to you, as long as you are consistent.

You will probably want to use different types of quotation marks for reported speech, and for other uses.

Continue reading

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Correct use of apostrophes

Apostrophes

An apostrophe is used for two purposes:

To show one or more missing letters:

Don’t (do not) They’re (they are) Claire’s (Claire is)

To show ownership:
Claire’s bucket, the children’s toys, Jesus’s disciples.

Jesus’s?

Ok, so this one depends on your style guide again. Some people prefer to leave out the second s and simply write : Jesus’ disciples.

A good rule of thumb is to examine what you would say out loud. You might say: Jesuses disciples, or Chrises pen.

However, you would never say: Studenteses Union

So when something ends in ‘s’ because it is plural, and you also want to show that something belongs to these, the apostrophe goes after the s.

The Students’ Union
The Union belonging to more than one students.

The Student’s Union
The Union belonging to one student.

Its it’s

This is the one exception to the above rule. When something belongs to ‘it’, there is no apostrophe: The animal ate its young.

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