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Steve Hall

Excellent, insightful, enlightening. When I looked at this yesterday, I tried to find problems, and I think I encountered two, maybe three where I might have inadvertently meddled (8, 9, and possibly 2).

But as you so aptly point out, context is key.

George Grenley

In regard to number 2, one thinks the author means spattered, not splattered. One can splatter paint, eggs, even body parts, but not a dress. No?

In regard to number 7, it seems that since the parallels between examples are ongoing, that one would prefer "obtains". Your thoughts?

ben w

This makes me feel so damn smug.


Oh good. Because yesterday I almost posted that there is nothing wrong with any of them. The sentences flowed well and the meaning was clear. I admit I had never encountered "lager" as a verb before so I looked it up.

Tim Cole

I'm interested in comments to George Grenley's use of "spatter" in place of "splatter." I agree with him.


We use Webster's Collegiate 11th, which doesn't list lager as a verb. So I got that wrong. I also admit that I probably would've messed with #4, without context.

Carol Saller

Come on, George and Tim--does neither of you own a dictionary? In Webster's 11th Collegiate the meaning of "splatter" is . . . "spatter." I can see I'm going to have to write a post on looking things up . . .



Thank you for backing up my comments. (In my own defense, I point out that I didn't suggest changing "lager," merely said that I hadn't encountered that usage before. It wasn't in any of the dictionaries I consulted.)
I think the key here was noticing that the instructions asked us to find errors. Some respondents disregarded that in favor of changing the text to accord with their preferences.


"If you don’t know the context of a sentence, don’t edit—query."

I wish my eleventh-grade English teacher had had this much sense. To teach us "grammar," she'd write a sentence like "He went to the store" on the board, and then we'd "correct" it by replacing that antecedentless pronoun with a name like "Bob." That kind of exercise always struck me as rather misguided.

Stacy DeKeyser

Number 4 warms my little heart.


"Some respondents disregarded that in favor of changing the text to accord with their preferences."

I cannot tell you how many times we've had this argument in my department.


YAY! Yesterday I started to wonder if I was too lax an editor because I would not have adjusted anything. And as a writer, I thought, "If I'd written any of these sentences and an editor changed them, I'd be pissed."

Andrea Graham

I thought they were all okay. Unusual, perhaps, but fine grammatically. Glad to have my instincts confirmed.


I'm so relieved! Yesterday I thought I was "losing it" as an editor because I thought all the examples could stand as they were.

Alan Eggleston

I was really bothered by not being able to find a problem. Glad I left them alone. However, #8, which threw the party? You can't edit for that, but that was the sentence that caused me the most consternation.


George Grenley, you might want to check out this blog post by John E. McIntyre: http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/2010/10/no_need_for_tension_about_tenses.html

It succinctly sums up the sequence of tenses, which is why "obtain" is in the past tense in example 7. Furthermore, in the absence of context, we have no way of knowing whether the parallel persists to the present day.


When I started out as an editor twenty years ago, I probably would have revised many of these sentences. However, when I read them over yesterday, I couldn't find a thing that needed changing. I guess I have in fact learned something after all these years!


A great deal of the editing I do involves pulling text into a standardized corporate voice, and even though I can't deny that I enjoy being the arbiter of all things, I really enjoy the rare opportunity to do something with a little more room for nuance.


Hi! Shouldn't 5 have three dots? Three for the trailing and one for the full stop?

And in 7, when you say '...you oughtn’t judge its vocabulary...', should there not be a 'to' before 'judge'? As in 'ought not to judge'? Though I admit that 'shouldn't judge' sounds right. Please tell me where I am wrong.



I must admit my embarrassment at going on a virtual error hunt! I am glad I checked in for the answers.

George Grenley


At least either us owns a dictionary. ;-) Spatter and splatter are near-synonyms, but there are slight differences in meaning, or perhaps context. A suicide jumper splatters himself on the pavement, but his blood spatters the bystanders. No? Reverse the words and it doesn't read right.


Carol Saller

George, dear, I'm afraid you're imagining things. --Carol

Nicky Leach

Very nice little exercise to demonstrate copyediting as an art rather than a rule-based activity. The only edit I would be tempted to make is to use an em-dash in the last sentence, picking up on the echo of "lines" in "lines of thought."


What Carlotta said (except I've only been copy-editing for 15 years, not 20). Though like Nicky, I might experiment with an em-dash in #9, for emphasis, and see how it came out.

I did not know about lagering beer, but now I do -- thank you! :)


And here I thought I was either too dumb or out of work too long to find the errors. Thanks for the shot in the arm!

Mandy Macdonald

When i put my head in my hands and think, 'O, for heaven's sake, why am i bothering?', the Subversive Copyeditor reminds me powerfully of why.


Splatter and spatter may be allowed as synonyms in Webster's, but I agree with George Grenley that the most common usage is to have splatter as intransitive and spatter transitive.
Rohini's comment about the ellipsis in #5 is interesting. If a new sentence follows, shouldn't there be four dots to indicate the end of the previous sentence?
As to Rohini's question about #7: in "...oughtn't judge", "to" would be wrong--without the contraction,we have "ought not judge", which is sufficient.


What a relief. I couldn't see any errors and I thought I was missing something. Turns out I'm smarter than I thought. I acquired my first client just days ago.

As a new editor, I will definitely heed your wise words: "Restraint is a virtue in copyediting. And the less experienced you are, the better it is to hold back."


"If you don’t know the context of a sentence, don’t edit—query."

Thank you.


I took a copyediting class just under a decade ago, and have a certain amount of experience (mostly pro-bono so far), but not a lot of faith in my abilities. I've worked with a bizarre assortment of fiction, technical writeups, publicity materials, and translated movie subtitles, and figured I wasn't really learning anything in the process because the things I was working on were so different from one another.

It appears that I was wrong.

Thank you, this really bolstered my confidence.

Carla Stockton

I have to say that I appreciate this post enormously. So many times, overzealous editors want to make errors where none occur, and then the edited copy becomes a mishmosh. I was, at first, confused by the entry; I thought each of the examples was just fine as was. So, once again, thank you for your insight!!


I read these and I was thinking "But... there's nothing wrong with these! Maybe I'm not so good at my job after all, if I missed something wrong in all ten." SO glad that isn't the case.


I suppose that someone who follows your blog, who knows you, would have known that "find the errors here" wasn't a statement that there were errors to find.

So having seen a link that said "Copyediting Quiz" I thought I'd try, and could only figure that a number of commas weren't strictly necessary and that many of the sentences, while perfectly acceptable for fiction, weren't quite as nice if the "style" was formal.

So my little puppy-dog nose has been slapped for daring to write down a list of improvements.

I will say, though, that #7 is horrible and that if it matches the "tone" of the entire document (please god it's not a *book*) the purpose is undoubtedly to sift the unworthy and exclude the unwashed rather than to communicate.

Cheryl Murphy (midian42)

I know this is an old post, but I only came across it today. I have to say, I'm so glad that there were no errors. I tried very hard to find them, but when I couldn't, I thought I was losing my touch. I had simply given up and clicked on for the answers. It never occurred to me that there would be none. Glad I'm not going crazy! And I feel a bit vindicated too, so thanks for that! But I may also feel a bit tricked, so boo on you for that! :D


Woot! Woot! I love this post.


Please forgive me for commenting on such an old post; I only discovered your blog this afternoon, and as a budding book editor/proofreader, I immediately began exploring your posts and am finding them highly enlightening!

Anyway. . . .

Number five was the only sentence that I mentally corrected, to be honest; though, that could, perhaps, be mostly due to a variance in the different style guides.

With that said, I was always taught that before beginning a new independent clause after ending either an independent or dependent clause with an ellipse, that a period still needs to be included as ending punctuation, resulting in four dots required, not just three. So, therefore, according to my education, I would have corrected number five, like so:

And if I had seen it . . . . But there’s no point in wondering.

However, if the clause after the ellipse was not supposed to be a new independent clause, and was instead a dependent clause, then I was taught that it should be written as so:

And if I had seen it . . . but there’s no point in wondering.

Of course, without reading the rest of the passage containing this sentence, it is virtually impossible to determine the true context of what was intended.

Carol Saller

Hi, LittleBird - better late than never! I'm glad you found the post.

Your method looks fine to me, but I’m following Chicago style, which focuses on the part of the sentence before, rather than after, the ellipsis. Here’s the example at CMOS 13.55 that shows a deliberately incomplete sentence followed by three dots, even though what follows is an independent clause (and even though the “independent clause” begins with a conjunction):

“Everyone knows that the Declaration of Independence begins with the sentence ‘When, in the course of human events . . .’ But how many people can recite more than the first few lines of the document?”

So my question was based on that. However, you got the main point, which is not to assume that something needs correcting! An editor should hesitate and ask “Is this really wrong?”

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