Anne here, responding to a reader question from Laura S. who said: My two book clubs provide the exposure to award winning books. I do have a concern, though. I find grammatical errors that I would think an editor would correct—and sometimes the author has studied or taught English.
For example, “I hate thinking of US leaving the poor girl to suffer”. That should be OUR leaving the poor girl. (That was not a direct quote.) There are many times when the possessive should be used. One owns the action. <snip>
I love reading all the Word Wenches’ books and I don’t believe I find grammatical errors in them, but I would like for you all to discuss it among you. Look through several books and see how many times you see “him doing something”. (Laura wins a book for this question.)
According to this grammar tutor, there is some confusion about how to treat the gerund in the possessive form. "A debate has been raging about this for some time and the jury is still out, but the lines tend to be drawn up between the ‘formal/standard’ position on one hand and the ‘informal’ position on the other." You can read the full article here.
An editor's job — and here we're talking about a copy editor— is to find and highlight mistakes of various kinds, but copy-editing is an art, rather than a science. Some copy editors don't particularly worry about perfecting grammar, others are grammar fiends and will highlight every tiny error or departure from 'the rule'. However, that may have the effect of changing the author 's voice, or the character's voice, and no good copy editor would want to do that. In fact, I'd suggest that an editor who chose grammar over voice would soon lose their job.
I freely admit that I frequently abandon correct grammar in my books — mostly it's deliberate, for a variety of reasons:
1) Most people (and therefore characters) use a mix of correct and incorrect grammar when speaking, and, when thinking, their grammar is even less likely to be correct. Most of the narrative parts of a modern novel are in fact characters thinking and describing on the page — in their own point-of-view— rather than the omniscient narrator style many older books were written in.
2) Believe it or not, grammar varies, depending where you come from. English English grammar is not always the same as American English grammar, and Australian English grammar and usage is more like English English grammar, but is sometimes a little bit American. (And what a shocker of a sentence that is! <g>)
For instance in American English it seems perfectly correct to say 'She had gotten the story from Joe.' I was reprimanded throughout my childhood for using gotten in such a way, as where I come from (and also in England) the correct grammar is, 'She had got the story from Joe.' So while I go to some lengths to avoid "gotten" in my stories as it sounds so wrong to me, I also try to avoid the use of 'had got', as I know all my US readers would shriek at such a 'mistake.' It's a balancing act.
Sometimes what readers perceive as a mistake might actually be different usage, for instance Americans will use the expression "visit with" meaning to chat or talk with each other. For me, 'visiting' means going to visit someone, dropping in on them, paying a call— it's a physical act, and not about talking. And if you 'visit with' someone, it means two or more of you are going to pay a call. Confusing, isn't it, the many variations of our language? And even though my publisher and editors are in the USA, my books are set in England, my characters are English, and I'm Australian, so there are always choices to be made.
For those interested in the difference between American and English grammar and usage go here and here and here. There is also a great collection of articles and links about the future and nature of grammar here.
3) In the 1960's and 70's in many parts of the English speaking world, teachers stopped teaching formal grammar. It was based on some educational theory (from the USA but adopted internationally) that assumed children learned grammar naturally, without any drilling in the rules. Generations of teachers and students were schooled under that system, and the effects are still felt today. My parents were teachers and using correct grammar was a big deal in our house, but I still learned many of the rules when I was teaching foreigners learning English.
4) And sometimes we just make mistakes. And nobody picks them up. And we keep starting sentences with 'And.' And nobody stops us. <g>
Here are a couple of mine: Literally -- which people so often use incorrectly and unnecessarily. eg "I literally flew to fetch my camera."
No, you didn't, you don't have wings, and you didn't catch a plane, you just hurried. Flew is a metaphor. Saying literally contradicts the metaphor — it says you actually did fly.
Less and fewer is another bugbear of mine. "She has less books than John does."
It should be fewer books. Less is for an uncountable noun, a quantity, fewer if you can count it. So less sugar, fewer teaspoons of sugar. Less money, fewer dollars, because while you can count money, the term 'money' is an unknown quantity, therefore it is technically uncountable. Test yourself on your knowledge of less or fewer here.
I could go on, but I won't. None of us is perfect (yes, is not are) and the important thing in my view is that we communicate the best, most effective way we can. Sometimes perfect grammar helps with that, sometimes it doesn't.
By the way, if you'd like to improve or test your grammar, there is a fun site here that gives examples and tests your knowledge.
Do you notice grammatical errors in books? Do they interfere with your reading pleasure or not? What are your pet grammar hates?