EDITING 101: 40 – Editing Myths…

Editing Myths

I’m sure you’ve heard of these “rules” that need to be applied to your manuscript. Today we’re going to debunk them as myths!

  1. Never start a sentence with a conjunction (and, but, or), however, or because.

  2. Never end a sentence with a preposition.

  3. Passive voice is always wrong.

  4. You use “a” before words that start with consonants and “an” before words that start with vowels.

  5. Don’t use who when the rules call for whom.

  6. Don’t split an infinitive verb with an adverb.

  7. The only way to write a possessive is to add ’s to the word.

  8. Data and media are plural nouns and always take a plural verb.

  1. Because the English language is fluid and adjustable, there is no reason not to start a sentence with these words. And while you wouldn’t want to do it repeatedly, occasionally is fine.

  1. If reworking the sentence is going to mangle it, or make it so twistingly wordy that it’s ridiculous, then go ahead and end it with a preposition. Word will tell you it’s wrong; ignore it.

  1. Excessive use of the passive voice can be boring and less than exciting, but it’s not wrong and can be used judiciously.

  1. This one gets people all the time, because some words start with a vowel but use “a” before them and some constant words take “an.” It all depends on how the word is pronounced. If the sound is that of a vowel, use “an.” If the sound is that of a constant, use “a.” For example, a hotel, but an honorable man.

  1. In narrative or formal writing, use “whom.” But in dialogue, use “who” unless your character is very stuffy or exact. People don’t typically use “whom” in their speech.

  1. To boldly go where no one has gone before.” ’Nuff said. Don’t mess with Gene Roddenberry (or Captain Picard).

  1. The newest trend is to add ’s to everything to make a possessive regardless of the ending of the word, but the old style of simply adding an apostrophe to words that end in s is fine. So Kansas’ team or Kansas’s team—both are correct. Just be sure you’ve used one style consistently in your MS. Don’t mix the styles!

  1. The English language is always evolving and data and media are two examples of words that have crossed over into being singular at times. In formal writing, yes, technically they are plural nouns and should take a plural verb. But in more casual usage, including fiction writing and speech, they are now used as singular nouns.

Next week we’ll discuss ‘Using the Back of your Book Effectively’

To see the index and catch up with missed episodes of this series – CLICK HERE


This series is not meant to be (nor will it be) simple static information.

I’ll be here for each post to answer questions, offer suggestions as necessary, and interact with you.

If there’s something you specifically want (or need!) to see addressed in terms of self-editing, please let me know in the comments under this, or any of the articles of the series.





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58 thoughts on “EDITING 101: 40 – Editing Myths…

  1. Reblogged this on Edit Emma and commented:
    Hi Susan, I really enjoyed this and agree with your points 🙂 I have reblogged this – but as I come from a scientific editing viewpoint – note what Susan has said about following the “rules” more strictly in formal writing.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, the passive voice can be used sparingly. Or even not sparingly, but deliberately. In one book I edited, a slimy political person makes a big, false, grandiose speech. We decided to put it in passive voice so it would more closely resemble governmental deflecting-the-blame speech. 😀

      Liked by 2 people

    • Also, Christy, be sure that what you’re writing really is passive voice. Some people misunderstand and declare that any sentence with a form of the verb “to be” in it is passive. That is not true. 🙂 Other editors have reported receiving books with every single instance of a to be verb stripped out… 😦

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Reblogged this on Wind Eggs and commented:
    Susan Uttendorfsky and the crew at Adirondack Editing explore a few popular rules about editing.

    I prefer “guidelines” because language is a tool. It works if you apply is with mastery and breaks if you don’t use it well. I agree with their assessment of the guidelines. However, never forget guidelines develop for reasons which may or may not continue to apply. Nonetheless, many readers believe those same rules apply. Break their rules too often and they judge your writing rather than read.

    If you can follow the guidelines, and it makes sense to do so, I would (and I do). If, however, ignoring them creates a delightful effect, or improves the rhythm and flow of your sentence, then don’t hesitate to ignore them.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Thanks Chris. And (see a conjunction- I have been reading) Susan, as always your posts are both informative and entertaining. I was recently reading a (UK) book about the Earl of Rochester. The author (Oxford educated- according to the dust jacket) did mix s’ and ‘s I was trying to look for a rule. The only thing I could see was that he used the s’ with foreign names in this case either Latin or ancient Greek -Sophocles’- whereas he used the other with English names -King Charles’s. Pronunciation-wise it sort of made sense to me. What do you think?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Paul! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Yes, Chicago Manual of Style does have some quirks along with ‘s. For instance, if an entity that is considered one singular unit ends in S, you don’t add ‘s—just the apostrophe. Like Applebees’ or United States’. Other than that, this is the basic rule:

      7.15 The possessive of most singular nouns is formed by adding an apostrophe and an s. The possessive of plural nouns is formed by adding an apostrophe only:

      the horse’s mouth
      a bass’s stripes
      puppies’ paws

      But then you get into a whole ‘nother can of worms with plural nouns—are they possessive or attributed? Is it a group FOR editors (an editors’ group) or a group OF editors (an editors group)?

      (Susan bangs her head on the desk)

      Liked by 3 people

      • You are absolutely right language and especially grammar is endlessly fascinating. For me one of the many joys of language is its subtlety. The tension between looseness and precision allows you to play with infinite shades of meaning, and the knowledge one slight misstep will ruin what you are trying to say. When I started this form of over ambition was probably my greatest flaw. Yes I’m getting better- but not entirely there yet!

        Liked by 2 people


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