Avoiding the Five Most Common Grammatical Errors Study Guide (page 3)
Avoiding the Five Most Common Grammatical Errors
Life is tons of discipline. Your first discipline is your vocabulary, then your grammar and your punctuation. -ROBERT FROST (1874–1963) AMERICAN POET
This lesson gives an overview of the most common grammatical errors, and provides you with tips and reminders for avoiding these errors. Take care to read this lesson carefully, and complete its exercises thoroughly as a review and a guide to writing better prose.
This lesson will help you learn how to avoid the most common grammatical errors. These errors are actually easy to avoid if you know the rules, and observe them.
Our review so far has provided you with an overview of the most important grammar rules, and by now you should feel more confident about your ability to write good grammatical prose. (The rules of grammar are not so strictly applied in the writing of novels, short stories, and poetry. This book assumes that you are seeking to improve your day-to-day prose writing before you go on to tackle more imaginative forms of writing.)
The single most useful practice you can develop as a writer is to slow down. Proofread and edit your writing very carefully, and you're certain to catch a lot of your own errors in advance of submitting your work to other readers.
Common Error 1: Incorrect Noun-Verb Agreement
The Correct Rule: In every sentence you write, the noun and the verb must agree in number. This means that a singular noun must be paired with a singular verb, and a plural noun requires a plural verb.
Sounds easy, doesn't it? And yet ignoring this rule is one of the most common errors that both student and adult writers make. These errors often creep into writing during the revision process; you change a sentence around slightly, and then forget to check for noun-verb agreement in the new version. It's worth checking through your writing one more time just to look for noun-verb agreement errors.
Exceptions to the Rule
Compound subjects usually take a plural verb, but occasionally a compound subject expresses a single idea, and can take a singular verb. Here are some examples:
- War and peace is a common subject for debate in political circles.
- Love and marriage is the theme of many romantic movies.
Compound subjects joined by or and nor usually agree with the noun closest to that word. The use of either/or and neither/nor dictates that each of the nouns is to be treated individually as the single subject of the sentence, and therefore, a singular verb is correct. Here are some examples:
- Either a dog or a cat makes a good pet. (singular verb for singular cat)
- Either a pet or plants make good hobbies. (plural verb for plural plants)
Common Error 2: Incorrect Verb Endings
Correct Verb Endings: Every verb has four basic parts that indicate the time in which the action of the verb is happening. These four parts form the building blocks with which writers and speakers can describe actions that
|1.||are occurring in the present|
|2.||are occurring in an ongoing time|
|3.||occurred at a specific time in the past|
|4.||have or had occurred sometime in the past|
All options are covered by these four parts.
Here's a chart to help you keep the four parts clearly in mind:
Note that there are two kinds of verbs: regular and irregular. For regular verbs, the parts are formed in similar ways, for example, by adding ing or ed to the participles, which are then accompanied by linking verbs. Irregular verbs do not follow standard patterns in forming their various parts. To use irregular verbs correctly, you must memorize their parts because there is no standard system for their spellings. You probably use many irregular verbs in your everyday conversations without thinking about them; you simply absorb them as you learn and use the language. However, when you write, you must pay special attention to make sure that you are using the correct form of every verb.
Here are some common irregular verbs that you should be careful to use correctly both in your speech and in your writing.
Common Error 3: Incorrect Prounoun-Antecedent Agreeement
Right now, before you do anything else, go back and reread the material in Lesson 3, which was all about correct pronoun use. Doing so will familiarize you with the types of pronouns that exist and refresh your memory about how to use them correctly.
The three most common errors in the use of pronouns are the following:
|1.||You fail to have the pronoun agree in number with its antecedent (the noun it is replacing or referring to).|
|One boy ate his lunch alone. (correct agreement of singular subject and singular pronoun)|
|Two boys ate their lunch alone. (correct agreement of plural subject and plural pronoun)|
|2.||You fail to have the pronoun agree in person with its antecedent.|
|Each boy had his lunch stuffed in his backpack. (correct agreement)|
|Each boy had their lunch stuffed in their backpack. (incorrect agreement)|
|3.||You fail to have the pronoun agree in grammatical function with its antecedent.|
|We students sometimes skip lunch in order to study. (correct subjective usage)|
|Him and me sometimes dash to Subway for lunch. (incorrect agreement: objective pronouns being used here as subjects)|
Making sure that your pronouns agree with your nouns will accomplish two important goals:
|1.||You will help your readers keep better track of who is doing what to whom.|
|2.||You will impress your readers as an educated, accomplished writer, instead of looking like someone who doesn't know the basics of good writing.|
Common Error 4: Comma Splices
As you learned in Lesson 4, no error is more common than the comma splice, and learning how to correct it is probably the single most important lesson you will learn in this review
Here is an excerpt from Lesson 4, in which you reviewed the comma splice:
Beware the Comma Splice
You may have seen the term comma splice written by your teacher in the margins of your papers. Comma splice is the term used to describe the incorrect use of a comma; it is called a splice because the most common error is to splice (or slice) a sentence, dividing two independent clauses with only a comma. Beware the comma splice. It is the most common comma error, and it results from a writer's uncertainty, ignorance about comma rules, or just plain negligence.
Common Error 5: Ten Common Spelling Mistakes and Word Confusions
There are a lot of words that sound or look similar but that have very different meanings. The only way to be sure you are using these words correctly is to memorize their proper meanings.
Here is a list of ten of the most commonly misused words, with sample sentences to show you how they are used correctly.
|1.||Accept: verb, to take something|
|Except: preposition, but, or other than|
|The teacher accepted most of Tim's excuse, except the part about how the dog ate his homework.|
|2.||Advice: noun, describes help you give someone|
|Advise: verb, describes the act of giving someone verbal help|
|The teacher advised the students to take her good advice and study hard for the examination.|
|3.||Affect: verb, to modify or make a difference|
|Effect: noun, a result|
|The effect of bad study habits is often seen in a student's school failures, which may affect future opportunities.|
|4.||Bad: adjective, used with linking verbs as well as to modify nouns|
|Badly: adverb, in an inferior way|
|The teacher feels bad when her students perform badly on their tests.|
|The bad result of skipping class is the failure to learn the day's lessons.|
|It is too bad that some students fail to like school.|
|5.||Can: verb, being able to do something|
|May: verb, having been given permission to do something|
|The students can study harder, but the chances that they will do so often seem slim.|
|If the students do well early in the week, the teacher may give them permission to goof off one hour on Friday.|
|6.||Farther: adverb, describes distance|
|Further: adjective, describes quantity|
|Runners who want to run farther than a mini-marathon need to invest time in further practice.|
|7.||Lend: verb, to provide temporary use of|
|Loan: noun, what you give someone temporary use of|
|Your best friend may lend you her copy of the textbook, but the loan is temporary until you find your own copy.|
|8.||Like: preposition, introduces the idea of similarity|
|As: adverb, suggests similarity, or in the same manner|
|A clap of thunder is like an alarm clock; it startles and surprises you.|
|Do as I say, not as I do. (correct usage)|
|Do like I say. (incorrect usage)|
Try to limit your use of the word like. It is probably the most overused word in many vocabularies. It is not a word to introduce phrases, or to use when you can't think of what you're going to say next.
|9.||Media: noun (plural of medium), one or more means of communication or expression|
|Medium: noun (singular), the use of a system of communication|
|The singer's medium is hip hop, and the media have turned him into a television star.|
|10.||Principal: as a noun, describes a manager or executive who manages a school or business department; as an adjective, describes a degree of importance|
|Principle: noun, describes a rule or policy|
|The principal of our school insists that we observe the principle of fair play in all our sports competitions.|
|One of the principal reasons to write well is to communicate your ideas effectively.|
Excercises for this concept can be found at Avoiding the Five Most Common Grammatical Errors Practice Exercises.
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