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Eliminating Grammatical Errors: Writing Review Study Guide

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Updated on Aug 25, 2011

Practice exercises for this concept can be found at Eliminating Grammatical Errors: Writing Review Practice Exercises.

I know. Grammar, yuck. But eliminating grammatical errors from your writing is one of the single most effective things you can do to improve it. We've talked about how important sentences are to our final essay, and poor grammar is a good way to make a bad sentence.

When A Good Sentence Goes Bad

Here are some common grammatical errors. Keep them on your radar screen.

Subject/Verb Agreement

This is exactly how it sounds. The subject and the verb of the sentence don't agree. In a correct sentence, if the subject (or noun) is singular, then the verb should be a singular form of that verb. In the following example of an incorrect sentence, Jim is a singular subject, and wash is a plural form, so the sentence doesn't make sense.

    Jim wash the car.

Many people wash a car, but one person washes a car. Here are two correct ways to write the sentence.

      Jim washes the car.
      Jim and his friends wash the car.

Verb Tense Shift

Make sure that the verb tense is consistent throughout each sentence.

    Sally went to the store and buys carrots.

If Sally went to the store in the past tense, then she also bought carrots in the past tense. She didn't buy them now if she went to the store in the past. The trick is to make sure that everything that occurred in the past is expressed with a verb in the past tense and vice versa. The sentence should be written like this.

    Sally went to the store and bought carrots.

Here's another example of a verb tense shift error, along with the appropriate corrections.

We go to the pool and swam. [incorrect]
We go to the pool and swim. [correct]
We went to the pool and swam. [correct]

The Past Participle

A past participle form of a verb is when the action verb is combined with a helping verb, like has or have. The past participle forms of regular verbs are the same as the past tense form of that same verb. For instance, the past tense of smile is smiled. It is a regular verb, so the past participle of smile is has smiled. The same is true with the verb cook. The past tense is cooked and the past participle is has cooked. Here is an example of how you can make a mistake using the past participle of a regular verb.

The caterpillar has turn into a butterfly. [incorrect]
The caterpillar has turned into a butterfly. [correct]

The past participle form of irregular verbs is a little bit different. Irregular verbs change forms in the past tense. Although there are many, here are a few so you get the idea of which words we're talking about.

      sleep/ slept
      eat/ ate
      teach/ taught
      catch/ caught
      run/ ran
      sit/ sat

These verbs are tricky in the past participle form because they aren't as straightforward as the regular verbs. Here are the same verbs in past participle form.

      slept/ has slept
      ate/ has eaten
      taught/ has taught
      caught/ has caught
      ran/ has run
      sat/ has sat

As you can see, some of the irregular verbs stay the same in past participle with only the addition of the helping verb. Others (like ate and ran) take on a version of the present tense. Here is an example of a mistake you could make with the past participle of an irregular verb.

It has been so cold that all the puddles have froze. [incorrect]
It has been so cold that all the puddles have frozen. [correct]

The verb freeze is an irregular verb whose past tense form is froze. But when used in the past participle form, an n is added to make the word frozen. Be careful with these words. They're tricky.

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