Even the most proficient writers need a grammar refresher every once in a while! As the staff proofreader at Proverbs 31 Ministries, Shelby Swing often spots the same grammar mistakes being made repetitively.
In today’s Tuesday Tip, she walks you through four common grammar mistakes that you probably learned about in junior high but might have long forgotten: comma splices, missing commas after introductory prepositional phrases, and the difference between two sets of homophones, ensure/insure and peek/peak/pique.
A comma splice is formed by a comma between two complete sentences. These are easy to make by mistake when we have two independent clauses within one sentence, like below:
COMPEL Training is a writer training site, it is a great resource if you want to write a book.
The above sentence has a comma splice. To fix it, we could either a) make two separate sentences from the one sentence, b) make a compound sentence by adding a coordinating conjunction such as or/and/but, or c) replace the comma with a semicolon.*
COMPEL Training is a writer training site. It is a great resource if you want to write a book.
COMPEL Training is a writer training site, and it is a great resource if you want to write a book.
COMPEL Training is a writer training site; it is a great resource if you want to write a book.
*When fixing your comma splices, be careful not to overuse the semicolon! When in doubt, split the sentence into two or make a compound sentence by adding a coordinating conjunction.
Missing Commas after Introductory Prepositional Phrases
An introductory prepositional phrase is, as the name implies, a prepositional phrase at the beginning of a sentence. The problem arises when no comma is added after the introductory prepositional phrase.
Incorrect: After signing up for COMPEL Training Donna told her fellow writer friends.
Correct: After signing up for COMPEL Training, Donna told her fellow writer friends.
To find and fix your comma-less introductory prepositional phrases, try reading sentences aloud that you suspect might be a culprit of this mistake. In speech, it’s natural to pause after an introductory phrase.
Fun fact: When the introductory prepositional phrase is less than four words, the comma is usually optional. If the phrase is longer than four words, though, a comma is necessary.
Homophones: Ensure vs. Insure
Homophones are words that have the same pronunciation but different meanings and/or spellings. Some commonly misused homophones are ensure and insure. To ensure (v.) according to Merriam-Webster is “to make sure, certain, or safe; guarantee,” while to insure (v.) usually means “to provide or obtain insurance on or for.” The two are not interchangeable, although insure if often used in place of ensure.
Incorrect: I want to insure that you’ll have a good time.
Correct: I want to ensure that you’ll have a good time.
Homophones: Peek vs. Peak vs. Pique
Another set of homophones that are frequently interchanged is peek, peak and pique. According to Merriam-Webster, peek (v.) means “to take a brief look.” Peak (n.) means “a sharp or pointed end.” Pique (v.) means “to excite or arouse especially by a provocation, challenge, or rebuff.” Very often, peak is wrongly used in place of pique.
Incorrect: The store is offering a sale to peak the interest of customers.
Correct: The store is offering a sale to pique the interest of customers.
Correct: We climbed to the peak of the mountain.
Correct: I will peek out the window to watch the parade.
Write two sentences — one correct and one incorrect — incorporating one of the four grammar mistakes above!
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