How to Kill a Copy Editor: Top 10 Grammar Mistakes

Copy editors dive into your writing, making sure it is styled correctly, has proper English, and contains verified facts. They often are the first to see your writing and have the job of cleaning it up. Many common errors are pet peeves of copy editors. Avoiding these trouble spots will help your writing and make your copy editor happy.

  • Incorrect subject-verb agreement: Subject-verb agreement is crucial. People have trouble with agreement especially when writing long sentences with dependent clauses or with prepositional phrases that separate the subject and verb. Don’t let this throw off your writing. Isolate the subject and verb that goes with it to make sure they agree.
  • Long, confusing sentences: I know copy editors who count the number of words in sentences. Why? Because the longer a sentence, the more complex and potentially confusing it can be. Avoid several prepositional phrases and clauses that can make a sentence too wordy. You can express thoughts in shorter sentences without having short, choppy sentences. Balance is key.
  • Comma drama: Comma drama refers to any incorrect use of commas, usually too many or not enough. Particular bothersome habits some writers have include placing a comma between two run-on sentences or not placing a comma in a series of items before and.
  • Pronouns without clear antecedents: Too many times writers use pronouns such as it without making evident what the pronoun is referring to. Make certain the pronoun follows the last noun used so that the antecedent is clear.
  • Split infinitives: People commonly speak with split infinitives and they often appear in writing, but copy editors are still trained to remove these or rewrite them so that sentences are less awkward. As a rule, look for every use of the word to and check if you have split an infinitive.
  • Double spacing between sentences: Double spacing after periods is a holdover from the days of typewriters. There is no need to do this. Free yourself from doing so. Copy editors commonly search documents for two spaces and replace with one space, but you don’t want them to have to do this for you.
  • No verification: When you reference information that is not your own, you must provide source material for verification. Most copy editors do this work as well as styling and grammar. Copy editors will thank you for saving them time and effort verifying facts.
  • Quotation marks to emphasize words: There is no need to add quotation marks around words you want to emphasize or that you think are colloquial. Choose words that carry weight and communicate your intended message.
  • Using the wrong word: There’s a reason why grammar students exhaustively study often confused words in English such as lie and lay. People commonly misuse these words in everyday speech. Use words correctly not based on what sounds right to your ear.
  • No organization: You must organize your work appropriately. Use subheads or other devices that clearly show your outline and organization for your writing.

Worried about your ability to find some of these mistakes? Send your writing to, and we will edit so that you can have peace of mind.

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