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This is a collection of tips on how to avoid making the most common grammar/spelling mistakes when editing here. We want things to be spelled correctly, though we don't really care whether you use American or Commonwealth spelling.

Your contribution is more important to us than some minor spelling blunder, but don't rely on people cleaning up after you too much. The Get Help With English thread can help if you're not confident in your writing, and editors who regularly leave a mess are sent there by the mods. If you really don't feel like a grammar lesson right now, just click the back button and pretend this never happened, at your own risk. If you're looking to save our resident Grammar Nazis some grief, however, you may want to read the following:

  • Capitalization: The first letter of every new sentence should be a capital letter. A new sentence starts after a period (.), a question mark (?), or an exclamation mark (!). You should also capitalize people's names (Alice, Bob), movie/book/series titles (Seinfeld, Nineteen Eighty-Four), places that are likely to show up in the Atlas (the Middle East, Paris), and the word I (although you really shouldn't be using that in the first place).
  • Punctuation:
  • After each punctuation mark, there should be a space.
  • We cannot hope to instruct you on when it is appropriate to use a comma (,). The official rules for this were obviously determined by a bunch of drunk guys playing homebrew Wheel of Fortune. One way to figure out when a comma is or isn't needed is to imagine yourself saying the sentence out loud, pause considerably with each comma, and add/remove commas accordingly whenever the pacing seems off.
    • Note that this is not a hard and fast rule, as commas aren't necessarily an indication of pacing. For example: "The cat who hates Jack is looking at me." and "The cat, who hates Jack, is looking at me." can be said exactly the same (possibly with some slight inflection differences), but they mean different things. The first sentence is specifying a cat, whereas in the second, "who hates Jack" is just an added detail and not mechanically part of the idea conveyed by the sentence. This is an example of essential clause vs. non-essential clause. There are other examples (particularly descriptive ones) where a comma and a pause don't necessarily go hand-in-hand.
    • Further, your speech patterns/rhythm might not be much different between "I go to the mall and like to shop." and "I go to the mall, and I like to shop." But notice that the second sentence requires a comma as the portion of the sentence following the conjunction is an independent clause (it has its own subject, whereas the first sentence does not).
  • Exclamation marks and ellipses (...) carry a lot of emotional punch, so use them sparingly. Spamming the exclamation mark is reserved for scenes of utmost urgency; spamming the ellipsis is reserved for fleeting streams of consciousness. Neither of these is likely to belong here. In a moment of extreme excitement, one exclamation mark is permissible. More than one is almost always unnecessary, unattractive, and unwise.
  • "Was" vs. "Were": "Was" is used as a singular past tense, while "were" is used for plural past tense. "Were" is also used in imaginary and hypothetical sentences (such as sentences that start with "if" or "I wish"), regardless of whether or not they're singular or plural. An exception is made when it is assumed that it might possibly be true and the speaker indicates a statement.
    • Singular example: "The dog I adopted was brown."; not "The dog I adopted were brown."
    • Plural example: "The dogs I adopted were brown."; not "The dogs I adopted was brown."
    • Hypothetical example: "If the dog I adopted were brown, I'd name him Brownie"; not "If the dog I adopted was brown, I'd name him Brownie."
    • Conditional statement example: "If the dog I adopted was brown, I'm naming him Brownie."; not "If the dog I adopted were brown, I'm naming him Brownie."
  • "Who" vs. "Whom": "Who" acts subjectively like "I," "he," or "she." "Whom" acts like an object, like "me" or "him."
    • Examples: "Who is coming with me?"; "The person is who?"; "To whom should I give the money?" "Whom should I pick?" You would not say, "Whom should I say is calling?" as you wouldn't say, "I say him is calling." "Whom should I say is calling?" is functionally equivalent to "Whom is calling?" which is clearly wrong.
  • "Whoever" vs. "Whomever": The choice depends on the function within a clause, not the sentence as a whole. Consider the following subject clauses (with the subject clauses in parentheses for clarity): "(Whoever stole the ball) should return it." and "(Whomever I choose) will get the last dance with me." In the first, "Whoever" is the subject of the subject clause, whereas in the second, "Whomever" is a direct object within a subject clause. "I will give the book to whomever pays me money." would be wrong. While "to whom" is appropriate, the decision is not based on that, but rather on who/whom is paying money ("who" (not "whom") pays money, so it should be "whoever."
  • What Goes After "Than"? It depends on what you're saying. If you are comparing the doer of an action, then most likely you want the subject (I, he, she, etc.). If it's a direct object, then you likely want the object (me, him, her, etc.).
    • Example: "Jill likes cookies more than me." means "Jill likes cookies more than she likes me." But "Jill likes cookies more than I." means "Jill likes cookies more than I like cookies."
    • Try to avoid ambiguity when possible. Example: "Jill likes cookies more than Jack." could mean two different things. Make it clear.
  • What Goes After "And"? Jill and I, or Jill and me? It depends on the function of the noun. If it's a subject, predicate nominative, or appositive, use the subjective (I, he, etc.). Otherwise, if it's an object or object of a preposition, use the objective (me, him, them, etc.). The fact that the word comes after "and" means nothing. An easy way to figure out which one to use would be to remove the noun before ("Jill and I" to just "I") and see if the sentence still works properly.
    • Example: "I'm glad that you came to see Jill and I." is wrong, as it would be like saying "I'm glad that you came to see I."
  • Parallel Structure: Make a logical flow, particularly when it comes to lists.
    • Example: "My dog can jump through hoops, ropes, fire, and do flips." is wrong as "flips" is not one of the things through which he can jump. It should be "My dog can jump through hoops, ropes, and fire, and do flips." The list is ended with "fire" due to the first "and".
    • Example: "I either have to go or Jack will die." should be "Either I have to go or Jack will die." In the original, "Jack will die" would be one of the options of things "I" could do.
  • Proper Use of Gerunds: A verb form ending in "-ing" that is used as a noun (the shelling of the town, the suffering of the people) should be possessed when appropriate.
    • Example: "We lost because of you kicking to the left." is wrong. It should be "We lost because of your kicking to the left."
    • Example: "His buying of the property will help our community." It is essentially equivalent to "His purchase of the property...."
  • Ending Sentences With Prepositions: We have a trope about this misconception. Long story short, it's perfectly acceptable to end sentences or clauses with prepositions. Even the Oxford English Dictionary says it's okay.
  • Avoiding Dangling Modifiers: Make sure a subject-less phrase used to describe what is going on matches the subject if necessary.
    • Example: "Running down the stairs, the kitchen started to catch on fire." should be something like "While I was running down the stairs, the kitchen started to catch on fire." or "Running down the stairs, I saw that the kitchen started to catch on fire."
    • Example: "As a doctor, what is my prognosis?" or ever, "As a doctor, what would you say is my prognosis?" are also both wrong, even though the latter may be considered acceptable as it contains "you," even though "what" is technically the subject.
    • A specific type of dangling modifier is a dangling participle. "Robbed of my wallet, the man decided to lend me some money." would mean the man, not I, was robbed.
  • Common wrong spellings that sound right:
    • Some tropers confuse "would have" for "would of," probably because of the similarity in pronunciation to the contraction "would've." You can say, "I would have said it better," but not "I would of said it better."
    • In the same vein, "alot" isn't a word. Just remember that "a lot" is the opposite of "a few," and the "a" isn't part of the word "lot." There is a word "allot," but it has nothing to do with "a lot."

Warning — incoming Wall of Text. Don't despair! You can do it!

  • This little thing here → ' (the apostrophe) causes a lot of trouble. Probably most of the trouble. Some tips on its use:
    • One burrito, many burritos — not burrito's. If the S was just added to make a plural, don't use an apostrophe.
    • Julia's eyes, Joe's burrito. When a Y belongs to X, you can say it is X's Y, with an apostrophe.
    • A lot of words are actually two words crammed into one, with letters lost on the way: do not → don't, they have → they've, we are → we're, it is → it's, and many others (Gotta Catch 'em All!). The apostrophe in this case means "some letters used to be here." If you can recognize a word as one of these, an apostrophe should go where the missing letters used to be.
      • When in doubt, remember that an apostrophe is used to show something has been left out. So, if you keep it, you don't have to think hard about it. For example, it's perfectly fine to write "we are" or "we were" instead of "we're," and it clears the ambiguity for you.
    • The rules for making nouns possessive are simpler than most people realize:
      • If the noun is singular, it's usually a matter of adding 's. Words that end with an s or z sound can follow this rule, but simply adding an apostrophe with no s is another way it can be done. To avoid debates and edit wars over how to handle words ending with an s or z sound, follow the same "first come, first serve" rule also used for American and Commonwealth Spellings if you encounter one of these words on a page.
      • If the noun is plural and ends in s (as most do), add an apostrophe: my sisters' birthdays, the unicorns' horns.
      • If the noun is plural and does not end in s, add 's: the children's books, the geese's wings.
    • EXCEPTION: pronouns (I, you, he, she, we, they, who, it). These behave completely differently. Most of them even have two different words for "X's Y" and "The Y is X's", just to be confusing.
      • Imy burrito, the burrito is mine. (NOT I's)
      • Youyour burrito, the burrito is yours. (you're would mean you are. Your's is not a word.)
      • Hehis burrito, the burrito is his. (he's means he is or he has.)
      • Sheher burrito, the burrito is hers. (she's means she is or she has.)
      • Weour burrito, the burrito is ours. (our's is not a word.)
      • Theytheir burrito, the burrito is theirs. (they're means they are. Their's is not a word. Additionally, there usually refers to a place.)
      • Whowhose burrito is it? Again I ask - the burrito is whose? (Who's means who is or who has.)
      • Itits burrito, the burrito is its. (This one is a very common pitfall, because its and it's sound exactly the same. Remember that it's is always short for it is or it has, and you'll be fine. Its' is not a word.)
    • There do exist circumstances where pronouns can legitimately end up next to apostrophes:note 
      • Contracted verbs — "Your hat's lilac. Mine's magenta. See the difference?" In this case, "mine's" is a contraction between "mine" and "is". While this is grammatically correct, this scenario is pretty much restricted to only dialogue.
      • The pronoun is part of a relative clause — "Since she liked it so much, Mary bought the cat that John gave her's siblings", or even "No child of ours's house will ever have mice." Note that while this is technically correct grammatically, it's rather clunky and should be used only when there's absolutely no alternative.

For more details on grammar, see Wanton Cruelty to the Common Comma, The Big List of Booboos and Blunders.

Alternative Title(s): Tips On Grammar, Grammar