Fifty Shades of Grey is notorious for several reasons, including evidently tortured prose. I haven’t read it (really, I haven’t), so I can only judge by what others tell me. But one area in which this book evidently did not fail was its proofreading.
The good folks at Grammarly ran 50 Shades through their grammar-checking software and came up with a list of “top nine grammar mistakes” for People magazine. The list is full of style choices and non-errors. It fails to make a case for the value of proofreading, and, by association, it reflects poorly on the craft of copyediting.
Those who edit books are not nitpickers who care more about the stylistic use of commas than they do about broader issues of continuity, flow, voice, accuracy and clarity.
Sure, we do care about the stylistic use of commas, but there is so much more to copyediting, and indeed proofreading, than the People article suggests. Like much of what happens in the book (which I haven’t read), this list just feels wrong.
The errors are listed by frequency and an example sentence and suggested edit is given for each. The most common error cited is punctuation errors in complex sentences, giving as an example the comma splice in “My heartbeat picks up again, this feels so… so good.” Fine. A period or a semicolon might be an improvement. But perhaps a comma better suggests the pace of the narrator’s internal thoughts.
No. 3 is wordiness, and the example given is our narrator saying, “He really, really wants this,” with the suggestion to excise one of those reallys. Really? Again, this is in internal dialogue, and the double really is really, really how people think and speak.
No. 5 is an extraneous hyphen in “un-coordinated.” This is one of the few clear examples of something a proofreader should have flagged, and perhaps the proofreader would benefit from some mild and kindly meted punishment. But this is hardly an error that would cause the reader to put down the book.
No. 6 is an oddly worded suggestion to avoid sentence fragments which points out incorrectly that “sentence fragments are technically errors in writing.” There is nothing wrong with a sentence fragment intentionally used for emphasis, and the example given is a good illustration of when a sentence fragment is fine.
The listicle saves the best for last: passive voice. Of course, the example given is not passive voice and the suggested edit is not an improvement.
Original: “He is totally beguiling, and I’m bewitched.”
Suggested edit: “He is totally beguiling, and he has bewitched me.”
If the author wrote, “He is totally beguiling, and I have been bewitched by him,” that would be passive voice. But bewitched as it is used does not need an object; it can be considered an intransitive verb or an adjective, and therefore not in the passive voice. The suggested edit puts the emphasis on the action rather than on the state of being.
The lesson here, if any, is that grammar-checking software can help flag potential issues, but it does not make clear judgments on what is best. For proper restraint, we need proofreaders and copyeditors.