Category Archives: Uncategorized

Today’s proofreading fails

I despair at the poor standard of English which seems to be acceptable to most daily newspapers these days.

Here are a few from this week –

As the BBC’s head of strategy, we the public pay him the not inconsiderable sum of £295,000 a year, and I’d have thought  …

So ‘we the public’ are the BBC’s head of strategy? No, of course not. This is just poor English, and should be:

As the BBC’s head of strategy, he is paid by us, the public,  the not inconsiderable sum of £295,000 a year, and I’d have thought …

or something along those lines. The key point is that the second clause, following the use of ‘as …’  must continue to give information about the subject, in this case, the BBC’s head of strategy.


Here’s another one.

Home at last! Stray dog Arthur rescued from Ecuador by athletes freed from quarantine to start new life in Sweden.

So was it the athletes who were in quarantine? Are they going to start a new life in Sweden? No, of course not, but the lack of punctuation here makes the sentence more difficult to understand. This sentence contains a relative clause, and as such, should use commas to show this. Below you can see how two simple commas render this much easier to understand at first glance, and thus aid the speed and flow of reading.

Home at last! Stray dog Arthur, rescued from Ecuador by athletes, freed from quarantine to start new life in Sweden.

The relative clause is the middle section, between the brackets, and adds more information about the subject of the sentence, ‘stray dog Arthur’. A sentence having a relative clause is easily recognised – if you can remove that clause, that is, the portion between the commas, the sentence still makes sense. In this case, that would be:

Home at last! Stray dog Arthur freed from quarantine to start new life in Sweden.

Punctuation seems to be considered ‘old fashioned’ now in many newspapers and books, and some authors tell me that publishers actually remove it, saying that it improves ‘readability’. This astonishes me, as I believe quite the opposite, as demonstrated above. The commas do not hinder the reader, but rather help by making the meaning unambiguous.




Today’s proofreading misses …

As usual, these are taken from national newspapers (and names have been changed). Yes, people are paid to produce this type of sentence!

Joe had first sexual experience with a 50-year-old aged 18.’
So was the 50 year old really aged 18? This sentence would be much better as:
Joe had his first sexual experience at the age of 18,  with a 50 year old.

I bought a device to block unwanted phone calls from BT.
So was it BT making the unwanted phone calls? Or did you buy the device from BT? (I know BT don’t have the best reputation these days, but I don’t think we need to buy devices to stop them calling us.) This sentence would be better as:
‘I bought a device from BT to block unwanted phone calls.’

Tiddles, a seven year old tomcat, was found severely in a bin by a neighbour of owner Jane Doe after he vanished from her home  …’
I can’t even guess which word was meant in place of severely! Perhaps the writer was relying on the spellchecker, but this should have been spotted by the editor.

As you can see, the changes are small, but important. Why should a reader have to work out what the writer means in simple sentences such as these?



Another proofreading miss from a national newspaper

Every day I see the most appalling errors in national newspapers. It’s really not good enough! Journalists are supposed to be ‘professionals’, and presumably were interviewed prior to their employment. Unfortunately, a newspaper might be all the reading some people manage to do in their busy lives, and the dreadful standard of English they see may come to be considered as ‘normal’.

Today’s example is from a story about the recently released US hostage Bowe Bergdahl:

Daughter’s heartbreak at learning Taliban leader responsible for her dad’s death when she was 9 was freed in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl’

If you read it a couple of times you can understand what is meant, but how much clearer it would have been with the correct punctuation:

‘Daughter’s heartbreak at learning Taliban leader, responsible for her dad’s death when she was 9, was freed in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl’

Just two commas make that sentence so much better, wouldn’t you agree? It could be gramatically better too, but let’s not go into that here.

I read a lot of books, and have noticed in recent years that punctuation seems to be considered ‘old-fashioned’ by some authors or editors. I reviewed a book on Amazon, where I said that I had enjoyed the book, but noticed that there was a curious lack of punctuation. As with the above newspaper example, this means that at times, the reader has to go back and re-read sentences to figure out the meaning.

The author replied to my review, saying that he agreed with me, but that his publisher had removed a lot of his original punctuation, saying that it ‘interfered with the flow’. Words fail me … (for once!)


Special offer – until June 1st

Limited time offer until June 1st  – I am offering a manuscript assessment (to a maximum of 50,000 words), including a 2,000 word sample edit, for just £50($80).
Elizabeth Grieve


Send your document, in Word format, and within 7 days I will return the sample 2,000 word edit together with a thorough assessment of the whole manuscript and a quotation for the necessary work.

This is for a maximum of 50,000 words. If your manuscript is considerably bigger than this, contact me for a price.

Please note that I  do not accept anything which is taken directly from Google Translate, as this would require complete rewriting, and I do not fact-check.


Commonly confused words 1 – avoid and prevent

Here are some recent examples from national newspapers: (names and locations changed where necessary):

Joe Bloggs, 21, of London, who even blends Mars bars to avoid them making him sick,  has put on seven stone in a year.

Sue Jenkins said that she had started playing football to avoid her having to go to the  gym.       

In both instances, the word avoid is wrongly used, and prevent would have been more suitable (with a little rewriting!).  These two words are commonly misused. What’s the difference?

avoid – to stay away from something, to try not to go near someone or something:
Joe is avoiding his boss this week, because he hasn’t finished that report yet.
I want to avoid being involved in their argument.
Sally goes shopping early on Saturdays to avoid the crowds.
Tourists should avoid walking in Central Park at night.

We can’t avoid someone from doing something:
I want to avoid my children seeing their Christmas presents too early.

prevent – to stop something from happening or existing, to make it impossible:
In winter we try to prevent colds and flu by eating healthily.                                                                  We should prevent sunburn by using a good sunscreen.                                                                       
It is thought that aspirin may prevent heart attacks.

We can prevent someone from doing something:
Jane prevents her children from eating too many sweets.                                                                     
 I couldn’t prevent him from showing up at the party.                                                                          
The barking dogs prevented the burglar from breaking into the house.

So, I hope that this little explanation will help you to avoid errors, and prevent you from using the wrong word!