Bad grammar in novels

Maybe it’s the books I’m reading . . . but it seems to me that a lot of fiction is not edited very well these days.

I’m finding many grammar errors in novels, and I wonder if it is because some of the smaller  publishers don’t have copy editors and are relying on the writers to get it right from the outset.

Fortunately, most of the books I’ve been reading in the last few months are well constructed, but they all have annoying grammatical issues.

Perhaps I am more sensitive to these issues, being a copy editor by trade. But I can see there is probably money to be made for good copy editors being layed off from newspapers or as a sideline: editing novels.

What say you? Are you finding many grammatical errors in the books you are reading?

— Jillian

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9 thoughts on “Bad grammar in novels

  1. Grammar died. Just look at the way kids communicate today.

    People are getting dumber regarding grammar. It’s simply not taught in primary education any longer. Neither is handwriting. (My father’s script was so precise, you would think today that a computer generated it. Take any character from the first line of a letter he wrote and you could overlay it on the same character in the last line- and you could not see a difference. But I digress).

    Of course it would take him ten minutes to write one page.

    I suspect that you are observing the financial pressures of publishers. Since most readers wouldn’t know a split infinitive from a dangling participle. Me included. Why employ copy editors?

    I am far from an expert in Grammar and I wish I had paid more attention in High-School English class. Sometimes when reading a technical article, I see some grammar so bad that I notice and I have to pause to analyze just what is the writer trying to say?


  2. In novels, not sure I’ve given much thought to it one way or the other, so doubt it’s been an issue for me.

    Handwriting is worse now than “back in the day” (I recall seeing some letters home from soldiers in the American Civil War and was amazed at how clear the writing was), but on the other hand, I think there are more useful uses for time spent in school than drilling handwriting.

    Grammar is poor now, but probably always was. They gave up teaching it when I was in HS, and that was a while ago, so can’t entirely blame it on texting and computers.

    That having been said, I’d also like to point out that I don’t believe it is wrong to split an infinitve or dangle a particle. And for that matter, I’m fine starting a sentence with a conjunction (although admittedly on shaky ground there) and think a preposition is a fine thing to end a sentence on.


  3. Some of the grammar is terrible; but I find it is mostly because of what I choose to read and when and how it is produced. I should know better than to dignify such products with a purchase. There are short books (mostly novellas) which are largely self-published as e-books available through Amazon, and I buy them because they are cheap entertainment and few trees are killed in their production. The subjects may be interesting but the English and grammar is terrible. Does this matter for entertainment? It does for me; read one such book and I won’t go back to work by the same writer; the annoyance outweighs the entertainment. There are however serious books which have obviously benefited from editing (the editors are credited!) which make good reading. I echo the thoughts of those who complain about grammar not being taught in schools, or even required to be correct in a graduation thesis.
    I recall back in the 1970s being presented with the community plan report for a rural town, proudly prepared by a junior community planner just out of university and in ‘their’ first job. Bear in mind that the electric typewriter had just come into use – no word processor or computer. I was to read and give the departmental stamp of approval. I sent it back … sentences were a whole paragraph long, grammar was completely absent, and the resulting document was incomprehensible. The writer was furious, of course; the argument put to me was ‘it is about communication, not writing a book’. This document was neither! I don’t recall the outcome. BTW it was my boss who hired this employee, not me.
    In another instance in the same era, (an English) friend who was a professor of French at a Canadian university had to fail a Bachelor’s degree candidate for illiteracy, in both French and English! How did a student get to university and then get to final year and Bachelor’s degree level – while illiterate?!


    1. English and grammar is terrible. Should read, ” English and grammar are terrible.” Some times errors jump out to me. I am not perfect, but few posts I make have errors. I apologize for being (per my late husband and last boss) the Grammar Goddess.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. A grammar fanatic and a goddess. No wonder you and LaJ are friends. If I weren’t happily married, I’d be drawn to you like a moth to a grammatically correct flame.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. The first 21 pages of Innocent Man, John Grisham had 5 misspellings. At least when I write to either Faye or Jonathan Kellerman, I Receive a well written note. Sentence structure of many would be great novelists fail to learn how to write and hope t heir editors will find the mistakes.


  5. Not only in novels, but everywhere, and I see it frequently in news articles I read inside the apps on my phone. I find myself wondering who writes this stuff and who approves it? If someone finds it difficult to simply put words together coherently, I question his/her intelligence, so anything he/she writes is suspect. It can really cause problems in the legal arena. The most common goofs I see involve “your” vs. “you’re,” and “there” vs. “their.” Additionally, if someone finds it difficult to put a sentence together without using the word, “like,” it tells me a lot about the person.


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