Copy editing terms: Nuts and bolts terminology



An antecedent is a word, phrase, or clause to which a pronoun refers, usually (but not always) one that precedes the pronoun.

Gary lives in the suburbs and commutes to his job in the city. Gary's job is unpleasant because it requires that he deal with rude and surly people.

A possessive is not an appropriate antecedent:

Gary's job is a 45-minute commute from his home. EDIT: Gary has a 45-minute commute to his job. EDIT: Gary's job is a 45-minute commute from home.


An appositive is noun or phrase set off by commas.  It follows the noun which it is referring to.

My husband, Michael, comes from Medicine Hat. Maria, a hardworking art director for a national magazine, gets four weeks of vacation.


A clause is a phrase which contains a noun (subject) and a finite verb.

It may be a complete sentence (Hannah went home. Paul laughs.); or

Part of a longer sentence (Joe sings and Lisa plays guitar. [2 clauses]), when it may be:

Independent (Before dinner, I have to go to the store.); or

Dependent (We all wondered why Lee was late.)

(Compare with phrase.)


A dangler is also called a dangling participle; a phrase, usually at the beginning of a sentence, that is grammatically attached to the subject of the sentence but in fact refers to something that is not the subject.

Walking very quickly, his bag banged against his hip. (It was not his bag that was walking.) EDIT: As he walked very quickly, his bag banged against his hip. EDIT: Walking very quickly, he couldn't prevent his bag from banging against his hip.

Direct object

A direct object is a noun on which a transitive verb acts (it receives the action of the verb). See also indirect object.

I tossed the grenade into the bushes.


A hyperbole is an exaggeration and is usually intentional.

I would have needed a microscope to read her handwriting.

Indirect object

An indirect object is generally preceded by a preposition.  Here the direct object is the riot act, the indirect object him.

I read him the riot act. (I read the riot act to him.)

Intransitive verb

An intransitive verb does not need to act on an object (compare with transitive verb).

The wind blows. The horse galloped down the dusty road.


Jargon includes technical terms or obscure language (such as computer jargon) used within a group.  It is not easily understood by people outside that group.  It should be changed except in publications for the group which uses the jargon.


A metaphor is a figurative use of a word phrase to create a mental picture.  It does not use as or like (compare with simile).

His fingers flew across the keyboard. Her eyes were green jewels that sparkled in the moonlight.

Mixed metaphor

A mixed metaphor is a combination of two metaphors that do not match up or that have contradictory images.

The insult cut her like a knife; it froze her in mid-sentence.


A modifier is a word or phrase that makes another one more specific (compare with adjective).

I gave her four big red apples. The softly humming man rocked the baby, who was sleeping peacefully.

Non sequitur

A non sequitur is an inference or conclusion that seems to be disconnected from the previous information.

This winter will be one of the warmest in this century. No snow is expected to fall south of New York. Fur coat manufacturers are looking forward to a great sales year.


An oxymoron is a combination of words that contradict each other.  A popular example is “military intelligence” or “jumbo shrimp.”

The man's cruel generosity made Peter weep. The lively corpse tumbled out of the closet.


A phrase is a string of words that expresses a thought but does not contain all the elements of a clause, such as a verb (compare with clause).

his roaring voice singing in the rain brushed back from her forehead over the rainbow

Predicate nominative

A predicate nominative case noun or phrase follows the verb "to be" and is equivalent to the subject.

Dan is an idiot. The rabbits were our dinner.


Redundancy is the unnecessary repetition of a word/phrase or information.  Sometimes it is deliberate but even then it may sound clunky.   It is also referred to as tautology.

Close proximity

The vast majority


A simile is a comparison of two dissimilar things, usually introduced by as or like (compare with metaphor).

Her eyes glittered like two precious stones. His cheek was as rough as sandpaper.


Solecism is a combination of words that deviates from normal grammar or idiom.

I could of been a contender. (Correct: I could have been a contender.)


Tautology is an unnecessary repetition of information, usually in one sentence (much like redundancy).

The expert plumber was very skilful at his job.

Transitive verb

A transitive verb acts on an object. (Compare with intransitive verb; note that some verbs can be either transitive or intransitive.)

The wind blows the leaves across the lawn. That girl threw the ball to the dog.

Victor Borge:  Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.