Grammar Check: College Admissions Essay Help
Understanding the word usage issues that can plague high school writers is the first step towards improving your essay. When you know which words to use, and why, you'll be able to tell your story more forcefully, and with greater clarity and precision. There are rules that govern the use of those words, so making sure that you're following them is important. Here, we'll look at the most common errors made by high school writers, and explain how to avoid them.
Grammar Check: A Warning
If you're thinking about skipping this chapter and just running a grammar check on your computer instead, here are a few words of caution: the program isn't foolproof. Grammar programs make mistakes, both by missing errors and by flagging things that are actually correct. They also suggest corrections that are themselves errors. Think your grammar check is better than most? A number of studies comparing the effectiveness of various programs found them to per form about the same (fair to poor).
The first problem, missing errors, is addressed in this chapter. You'll find explanations for the most common types of grammatical mistakes missed by grammar check programs, including comma and apostrophe use, verb tense shifts, vague pronoun references, incorrect pronoun agreement, run-on sentences, and fragments.
When grammar check does highlight an error, it may be a mistake. But if your knowledge of grammar is limited, you won't know whether to accept the correction. To further complicate matters, you may be offered more than one possible correction, and will be asked to choose between them. Unless you're familiar enough with the specific problem, this may be no more than a guess on your part.
While there have been improvements in computer grammar checking, nothing is more effective than a careful review of your writing after using the program. Our list of proofreading tips on page 84 offers a number of great suggestions.
Subject /Verb Agreement
Agreement refers to number—if you have a singular subject, you need a singular verb. Plural subjects take plural verbs. To achieve subject/verb agreement, first determine whether your subject is singular or plural, and then pair it with the correct verb form.
The following examples use the verb to be, which is irregular (I am, you are, he/she/it is, they are, I was, you were, he/she/it was, they were):
- Instead of: Tim and Fran is a great couple.
- Write: Tim and Fran are a great couple. (Tim and Fran is a plural subject that takes a plural verb.)
- Instead of: One of my friends are going to your school.
- Write: One of my friends is going to school. (One is a singular subject takes a singular verb.)
When it Gets Tricky
Agreement can be difficult to determine when sentences are complex, or when the subject is compound (made up of more than one noun). Common examples include sentences in which the subject follows the verb, and those beginning with there is and there are, and here is and here are. When editing your work, remember to first figure out whether your subject is singular or plural, and then match it to the correct verb.
- Instead of: There is too many meetings scheduled on Tuesday morning.
- Write: There are too many meetings scheduled on Tuesday morning.
- Instead of: Here are the report you asked me to write.
- Write: Here is the report you asked me to write.
When compound subjects are connected by and (pencils and pens) they are plural. When they're connected by or (World War I or World War II) they are singular. Confusion can set in when the nouns forming the compound subject are both singular and plural, and are connected by or. Here are two examples:
- Lee or his friends are driving too fast.
- Was it his friends or Lee who was driving too fast?
Both sentences are correct, because when you have a compound subject made up of at least one singular subject and one plural subject connected by or, the verb must agree with the subject that is closest to it. In the first case, friends is plural, so the plural verb are is correct. In the second, Lee is singular, so the singular was is correct.
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