How Grammar-Savvy Are You? Take This Quiz to Find Out

How Grammar-Savvy Are You? Take This Quiz to Find Out

You know you’ve got a knack for words, but being a strong writer doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a strong editor.

But who really cares if your writing has some mistakes here and there? Isn’t that what editors are for?

Wrong!

Poor grammar will stand in the way of your writing career whether you realize it or not. If you want to make a good first impression in your pitches and become a publication’s go-to writer, your writing needs to be nearly flawless.

It may have been a while since your last English class, so we created a short grammar quiz to put your editing skills to the test. Find out if you’re a grammar pro or if you could use some time brushing up on your editing skills.

The Write Life’s grammar quiz for writers

Each of these sentences features one common grammar or punctuation mistake.

Give it your best shot, then scroll down to see how you did!

  1. Local media is calling for the mayor’s immediate resignation following recent reports of his embezzlement scheme.
  1. It may be counterintuitive, but if your child is struggling with separation anxiety, quickly saying goodbye to them is the best short-term solution.
  1. Without having her address, it was hard to find her house.
  1. No one objects to the library’s closing more than me!
  1. “Have you seen my book? I left it lying on the table last night, but now it’s gone.”
  1. Your sister is still obsessed with Twilight—she showed up to the Halloween party wearing a blood red dress and pointy vampire teeth.
  1. My favorite Chinese restaurant doesn’t deliver, however, the one across town does.
  1. The editor-in-chief is retiring next May, meaning one of the senior editors are going to be up for the job.
  1. My doctor recommended I get the flu shot only in October.
  1. We’d like to publish your article, and pay you $1 per word.

Answer key

Feeling confident? Let’s see how you did!

Each correction appears in bold, followed by a brief explanation.

1. Local media are calling for the mayor’s immediate resignation following recent reports of his embezzlement scheme.

“Media” may sound singular, but it’s actually plural! (The singular form is “medium.”) This sentence represents a common error in subject-verb agreement.

2. It may be counterintuitive, but if your child is struggling with separation anxiety, quickly saying goodbye to her is the best short-term solution.

This sentence has a problem with pronoun-antecedent agreement. Because “child” is singular, it should take a singular pronoun like “he” or “she.”

AP has recently accepted the use of “their” as a singular pronoun in limited cases, such as when non-binary people prefer to be referred to with a gender-neutral pronoun, but in most instances, you’ll want to choose a singular pronoun or rephrase your sentence.

3. Without having her address, I had a hard time finding her house.

This sentence is a prime example of a dangling modifier. In the original sentence, the phrase “without having her address” is modifying the subject “it.” Except “it” isn’t referring to anything!

The corrected sentence clarifies who exactly was missing the address and struggling to find the house.

4. No one objects to the library’s closing more than I.

I’ll admit this is an ugly sentence that should be rephrased before being published anywhere. Ugly or not, “I” is the correct pronoun here because it’s the subject of the sentence, so it requires the subjective case (rather than the objective “me”).

Issues with case are some of the most common problems editors come across. The rules are confusing even for professional writers! If you’re having trouble, try flipping the sentence around: “I object to the library’s closing more than anyone.”

5. “Have you seen my book? I left it laying on the table last night, but now it’s gone.”

Is there any case of mistaken word identity more prevalent than lay/lie?

In short, “lie” means to recline, while “lay” means to put or place an object somewhere. To make matters even more confusing, “lie” becomes “lay” in past tense!

6. Your sister is still obsessed with Twilight—she showed up to the Halloween party wearing a blood-red dress and pointy vampire teeth.

Hyphens can be tricky little buggers. The general rule is to hyphenate compound modifiers before a noun but not after (“Her dress was blood red”). There are plenty of exceptions, though, so be sure to consult a dictionary and your preferred style guide if you’re in doubt!

7. My favorite Chinese restaurant doesn’t deliver. However, the one across town does.

This run-on sentence is trying to slide under your radar by using the word “however” to connect two independent clauses (clauses that could stand on their own as complete sentences). The only words with that power are called coordinating conjunctions: “for,” “and,” “nor,” “but,” “or,” “yet,” and “so.”

8. The editor-in-chief is retiring next May, meaning one of the senior editors is going to be up for the job.

Subject-verb agreement strikes again! Don’t let the plural “editors” fool you. “One” is the singular subject here.

9. My doctor recommended I get the flu shot in October only.

“Only” is the culprit behind many misplaced modifier errors. There are even more options for this sentence depending on what the writer meant:

  • Only my doctor recommended I get the flu shot in October. (No one else advised this, just your doctor.)
  • My only doctor recommended I get the flu shot in October. (You have one doctor, not many.)
  • My doctor recommended I get only the flu shot in October. (Your doctor recommended you get the flu shot but no other vaccinations during October.)

Context is everything! When using modifiers like “only” or “just,” you can avoid confusion by placing them as close as possible to the word they’re modifying.

10. We’d like to publish your article and pay you $1 per word.

Many writers get in the habit of using commas where they’re not needed with conjunctions like “and” and “but.”

No comma is necessary if a dependent clause follows the conjunction (in other words, it couldn’t stand on its own as a full sentence).

Now that you know which tricky grammar errors to watch out for, make your writing even better with these 25 editing tips to tighten your copy!

How did you do? Let us know your results (and any other common editing errors we didn’t cover) in the comments.

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33 comments

  • William Laws says:

    Your answer to #5 is wrong. It is correct to say: “I left it LYING on the table.” “Laying” is a transitive verb: “I left the chicken LAYING an egg on the the table.”

  • Ardelle Holden says:

    I’ve learned not to dangle it. However, it will take practice. Fun. Thanks.

  • JOHN T SHEA says:

    Useful if one wants to freelance for some publications, but not so much otherwise.

    All the original sentences convey their meanings clearly and concisely. The corrected versions are no improvement in that regard. Grammar, like all writing rules, exists to help clear communication, not for the sake of itself. And such rules are always slowly changing, which is how languages are born and evolve. Today’s rule was yesterday’s mistake.

  • Two further suggestions:

    In the introduction, the clause,
    “You know you’ve got a knack for words”
    is quite clumsy.

    There are uses for ‘got’, but it’s often better to use the verb ‘to have’, e.g.
    “You know you have a knack for words.”

    Because ‘may’ often implies ‘having permission’, it can create ambiguity. When we mean there is a possibility, it is usually better to say ‘might’, e.g.
    “It might be counterintuitive….”

    • There’s always a fine line to tread between maintaining your writing style and obeying grammar rules. As an editor and writer, I walk both sides of the line all day long! In this case, “got” was a style choice to keep with the conversational tone favored at The Write Life. Clarity and readability above all, right?

  • Madlyn Springston says:

    I assumed the intended error in #5 was laying versus lying, but agree with above comments. However, I would not use either word in this sentence. The book did not lie down on the table, but a person laid it there. Maybe say “I left the book right there on that table.”

  • Madlyn Springston says:

    I agee with blood-red in #6. However, I think she should arrive at the party rather than arrive to it.

  • Dorit Sasson says:

    Does anyone know where I could take a beginning copyediting course online? I’ve been looking but haven’t found anything yet.

  • Amanda J. says:

    #1 is fine if media is being used as a collective noun.

  • Laura Williams says:

    I don’t think many people know the “rule” with media and medium, perhaps because a lot of writers don’t use them often enough. Also, I think it would “pang” The Write Life to know that my editors and agent tell me that editor-in-chief is supposed to look like this: Editor-in-Chief. And please know that I really do hate to correct people on their grammar.

  • Wendy says:

    “Without having her address, it was hard to find her house.”

    Actually, this is an example of an inverted sentence. The normal syntax would be: “It was hard to find her house without having her address.”

    In this case, the comma is indicating that the phrase “without having her address” is not in its normal position in the sentence. It’s the same reason we use a comma between the day and the year when writing dates. (Yes, in English the “normal” syntax for writing dates is “year, month, day,” but we usually shift the year to the back because we’re usually more interested in the month/day than the year.)

  • Tina Marlene Goodman says:

    #9 could be: My doctor recommended THAT I get the flu shot ONLY in October.

  • I’m a copy editor so caught the tricky grammar errors. Interesting to read controversial comments. 🌷 Christine

  • Abigail Gardner says:

    This was a nice article! It helped me! I love learning new things about grammar. It can be hard to understand in certain cases. One thing I thought of to point out is that Question #7 has a conjunctive adverb. Errors like #7 can either be solved how you said, or you can use a semicolon.

  • Miriam says:

    Could #7 be a semicolon: “My favorite Chinese restaurant doesn’t deliver; however, the one across town does.”
    It’s separating two clauses in the middle of the sentence.

    • ConnieMWT says:

      Many publishers avoid semicolons like the plague. You can also construct the sentence thus: “My favorite Chinese restaurant doesn’t deliver, but the one across town does.”

  • Lori says:

    I appreciate this article. For all the grammar experts out there, I am having trouble fully understanding nonrestrictive clauses. Would number one not include a comma before “following?” Can someone explain to me why not? Thank you in advance.

    • ConnieMWT says:

      A comma is not needed because “following recent reports of his embezzlement scheme” is not an independent clause (it cannot stand alone as a complete sentence because it does not include a subject and a predicate). You can test the need for a comma by separating the clauses. If they can stand alone and are independent they can be separated by a comma.

  • Ferdaus says:

    Good article.
    I missed a number of them.
    However, in some cases, I’d have confusing words totally.
    Like that of “Lie”, “Lay”

  • Helen Pender says:

    No one objects to the library closing more than I do.

    add ‘do’ and delete apostrophe ‘s’ from the library and it sounds less like a pedantic grammarian on speed.

  • Kay says:

    Unless you were referring to a magical book that morphed into a hen and spent the night laying eggs, “lying” is the correct choice.

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