More Grammar Tips for Indie Authors: Common Pitfalls



As my contribution to the Rave Reviews Book Club’s mentoring program, I am posting short grammar lessons from time to time. In today’s post, I focus on its and it’s and who and whom, little words that can cause difficulties for the unwary writer.


Its and it’s.

Do you know the difference between “its” and “it’s”? Can you decide which to use when you are writing? Let’s check. Consider the sentence below:

When confronted with the rock in (its or it’s?) path, the snail suddenly stopped.

Which was your choice? “Its” or “it’s”?If you chose “its,” you correctly chose the possessive pronoun “its.” Other examples include: The dog licked its paw. The cub found its mother.

If you chose “it’s,” you fell into the common pitfall of mistaking a contraction for a possessive pronoun. “It’s” is the contracted form of “it is” (pronoun plus verb of being). This contraction is correctly used in the following: It’s not ready now, or it is not ready now. Other contractions include “he’s” as in: He’s not here, or he is not here.


Who and Whom.

Spoken English is more relaxed than written English, so a writer has a great deal of latitude when it comes to the appearance of “who” and “whom” in dialogue. In narrative, though, the rules of written English prevail. Consider the following:

The sheriff trailed the man. The sheriff had seen the man earlier loitering near the school yard. To avoid repetition and create a more sophisticated sentence, join the two as follows:

The sheriff trailed the man (who or whom) he had seen earlier loitering near the school yard.

“Who” or “whom”? If you chose “whom,” you chose correctly. Why? The resulting sentence consists of an independent clause (“The sheriff trailed the man”) and a dependent clause (“whom he had seen earlier loitering near the school yard”). In the dependent clause, “whom” is the object, i.e., the man seen earlier. What confuses many people is that the dependent clause is in what is called “transposed” order, that is, the object (“whom” for “man”) precedes the verb (“had seen”). The objective pronoun “whom” is correct. Now consider this sentence:

The sheriff arrested the man (who or whom) had been loitering near the school yard.

“Who” or “whom”? In this sentence, “who” is the correct choice. “Who” is the subject in the dependent clause (“who had been loitering near the school yard”).


Now let’s up the ante. Consider the following:

She is the one (who or whom) I believe is responsible for this mess.

Scratching your head? “Who” is the correct choice. Why? The interjectory expression “I believe” does not affect the case of the relative pronoun “who,” which is the subject in the relative (dependent) clause “who is responsible for this mess.” Whether the expression “I believe” is set off by commas or not, the case of “who” is unchanged.

Here are some helpful resources (with links) to consult when in doubt about grammar, punctuation, spelling, style consistency, and so on:

Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition: Complete Course Grade 12

Words into Type

The Chicago Manual of Style

New Hart’s Rules (for the British perspective)

Even the best writers among us submit their manuscripts for editorial review before publication. To put your professional foot forward as an author, have an experienced proofreader or copyeditor review your manuscript before publication.



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About jsherwin2013

Jennie has a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in counseling. She is the author of Intentional Healing: One Woman’s Path to Higher Consciousness and Freedom from Environmental and Other Chronic Illnesses and is a contributing writer to Conscious Life News. She has been a teacher of English on the junior high school and senior high school levels, as well as a writer and editor in the field of public health. She has mentored writers and editors. She is certified in Reiki I and II and has studied energy therapies at A Healing Place in Richardson, Texas, working under the direction of Deborah Singleton and her healing team. Jennie also acknowledges the guidance of Christine Gregg, Australian spirit reader and healer, and Maya Page, intuitive healer, Reiki Master, and VortexHealing® practitioner, now retired. Jennie lives in Baltimore, Maryland, with her husband, Roger, a retired physician and epidemiologist. They provide editorial services to university researchers in the fields of medicine and public health. Her son, Colin, lives and works in New York City with his wife, Colleen.

13 responses to “More Grammar Tips for Indie Authors: Common Pitfalls”

  1. Kathryn Chastain Treat says :

    Thank you for sharing this Jennie. I have always had problems with who and whom.

  2. Kathryn Chastain Treat says :

    Reblogged this on Be My Guest and commented:
    Great information that every writer could use. Thank you for sharing Jennie.

  3. The Story Reading Ape says :

    Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog….. An Author Promotions Enterprise! and commented:
    It’s and its, Who and Whom advise 😀

  4. diannegray says :

    Great examples here, Jennie. I struggle with it’s and its and even if I think I’m right I get an odd auto-correct in Word. It can be very frustrating…

    • jsherwin2013 says :

      Auto-correct in Word is not always right. The software needs to be reviewed by an editor with a super grasp of grammar. Many of the so-called grammatical fixes are actually wrong. Always good to consult a good source like Warriner’s.

  5. theparasiteguy says :

    Reblogged this on The parasite guy and commented:
    Does who/whom confuse you as much as it does me? Then look no further.

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