If you’re too old to be frightened by scary costumes, and you’ve watched so many horror movies that nothing can give you the chills anymore, you might think you’re preparing for a thrill-free Halloween. But we beg to differ. Creepier than the most realistic Halloween costumes, darker than the most terrifying horror movies, there are grammar mistakes—ghoulish and gnarly and gloomy and many other adjectives starting with the letter g. So be careful not to make one of these seven on All Hallows’ Eve. Who knows what might happen if you do?
1 The Ghastly Apostrophe This serious grammar gaffe lurks in Halloween’s other name—All Hallows’ Eve. It contains an apostrophe you shouldn’t dare to forget or misplace. Place it after the s in “hallows” because it’s a plural. You would write “hallow’s” if there were only one hallow to which the eve belongs.
2 The Serial Comma Nothing good can come out of anything serial on Halloween. The serial comma is optional in most cases, but leaving it out can sometimes change the meaning of your sentence. If you say you’re celebrating Halloween with two ghosts, grandma and grandpa, you’ll be saying that your grandparents came back to haunt you. By adding the serial comma and saying that you’re celebrating Halloween with two ghosts, grandma, and grandpa, you’ll be saying that you and your grandparents are having a Halloween party with a couple of ghosts. And that sounds like a much better situation, doesn’t it?
3 Creeped Out Yet? If something creeps you out, you can later say that it creeped you out. But if something creeps up on you on Halloween, can you say that it creeped up on you? You can’t, because the past participle of the verb creep is crept. The only time this irregular verb becomes regular is in the phrasal verb creep out.
4 Dismembered Sentences There’s an old rule that says every sentence has to have a subject and a verb. If you’ve got those two things, you can do whatever you want with the rest of the sentence. But if you dismember your sentence by chopping off a subordinate clause and turning it into a new sentence, you might be making a mistake. Not that it’s always bad to dismember a sentence and use some of its fragments. It’s not. It can be very effective, as long as you don’t overdo it.
5 The Vague Pronoun Reference Too many “thats” and “thoses” at the beginning of sentences can create a thick layer of fog over a text. If Halloween movies have taught us anything, it’s that bad things happen when it’s foggy. Writing becomes difficult to understand when readers have to backtrack and figure out what all those pronouns are referring to. Your text will be less clear, and clarity is the difference between walking toward the strange noise to see what’s making it and running for your life as soon as you hear it.
6 Comma Splices OK, using commas to splice sentences doesn’t make you a mad scientist who splices the DNA of a scorpion with the DNA of a hamster, but you are creating something that doesn’t look quite right. And unlike the mad scientist, you have plenty of other tools at your disposal to create something new that actually makes sense—from dashes to semicolons to conjunctions.
7 The Disappearing Comma You could have sworn you put commas around that non-restrictive element, but now they’re not there and your sentence sounds weird. Looks like you’ve been visited by the disappearing comma, a rare phenomenon that happens when we’re sure we use our commas properly but in reality we don’t. Commas should always follow an introductory element and should always set off a non-restrictive element. It’s also a good idea to throw a comma after the next-to-last item in a list (that’s the serial comma right there). As soon as you learn these rules, the disappearing comma will stop bothering you.