Common Grammar Mistakes Study Guide (page 2)
Common Grammar Mistakes
My attitude toward punctuation is that it ought to be as conventional as possible… You ought to be able to show that you can do it a good deal better than anyone else with the regular tools before you have a license to bring in your own improvements. - ERNEST HEMINGWAY (1899–1961) AMERICAN NOVELIST
You can never be too careful about grammar. This lesson provides a review of the errors you are most likely to make and advice on how to avoid them.
Before You Tackle the subsequent lessons in Section 5, concentrate very carefully for 15 minutes on this lesson's review of the five most common grammatical errors. With these reminders fresh in your mind, learning new strategies for the drafting process will be easier and lots more fun.
If this quick review doesn't feel sufficient, go back to Lesson 6 for more detailed explanations of these common errors.
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. (For a review of exceptions to this rule, return to Lesson 6.)
Incorrect Noun-Verb Agreement: The dog and the cat, sworn enemies, is the funniest dinnertime show at our house.
Correct Noun-Verb Agreement: The dog and the cat, sworn enemies, are the funniest dinnertime show at our house.
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 the present|
|3.||occurred in the past|
|4.||have or had occurred at some time in the past|
All options are covered by these four parts.
- Here's a chart to remind you how the verb forms work:
Note that there are many irregular verbs, whose parts you must memorize. Most of the memorizing gets done without thinking about it. In the course of reading and listening to others speak, most people absorb the irregular verbs quite naturally and don't have to stop to think about which form of the verb to use. For example, do you have to interrupt yourself to think when you're talking about a lesson you had in the past? Probably not. You would simply say, without hesitating, "The teacher taught us the lesson." Saying "The teacher teached us the lesson" would not come naturally to you.
Here are some common irregular verbs that you should be careful to use correctly both in your speech and in your writing.
Confusing Verb Pairs
There are some verbs that sound similar but actually mean different things. These verbs probably cause the most confusion in both written and spoken English. Here are two of the most troublesome:
Lie and Lay
Lie takes no object. It describes the act of resting in one position.
Lay takes an object. It describes the act of putting something somewhere.
Lie down and dream of the day when you will be able to lay your grammar book aside and write easily without it.
Sit and Set
Sit does not take an object. It describes the act of being seated somewhere.
Set takes an object. It describes the act of placing something somewhere.
Set aside your prejudices against classical music, and sit down to listen to this Mozart CD; you may like it.
Common Error 3: Incorrect Pronoun–Antecedent Agreeement
The three most common errors in the use of pronouns are the following:
- You fail to have the pronoun agree in number with its antecedent (the noun it is replacing or referring to).
- One cat sat staring at her prey. (correct agreement of singular subject and singular pronoun)
- Two cats sat staring at their prey. (correct agreement of plural subject and plural pronoun)
- You fail to have the pronoun agree in person with its antecedent.
- Each cat had its eyes glued on its prey. (correct agreement)
- Each cat had their eyes glued on their prey. (incorrect agreement)
- You fail to have the pronoun agree in grammatical function with its antecedent.
- We writers have to be very careful about our pronoun usage. (correct subjective usage)
- Her and me sometimes forget to check our pronouns. (incorrect agreement; objective pronouns being used here as subjects)
Common Error 4: Comma Splices
Comma splices are simply misplaced commas that usually result from a writer's uncertainty, ignorance about commas rules, or just plain negligence. When you write two independent clauses in one sentence, you need more than a comma to separate them. No error is more common than the comma splice; learning to avoid them and/or correct them is the single most significant improvement you can make in your writing.
When in doubt about a comma, leave it out. You have a better chance of conveying meaning without a comma than you do with sticking one in arbitrarily and thereby splicing the sentence.
Common Error 5: Ten Common Spelling Mistakes and Word Confusions
Because these words are so commonly misused or misspelled, the list provided in Lesson 6 is repeated here in full. You will be judged harshly by your teachers and your readers if you fail to use these words 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.|
|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|
|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. While it may be acceptable in conversation to sprinkle your comments with pauses and the word like, the word should not be used in formal writing as an indication of a pause or an interruption of thought. It is definitely not a word to introduce phrases, or to use when you can't think of what you're going to say next.
Exercises for this concept can be found at Common Grammar Mistakes Practice Exercises
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