TWENTY MOST COMMON ERRORS 1 - Missing comma after an introductory element Check to see which sentences open with an introductory word, phrase, or clause. Readers often pause for clarity between the introductory element and the rest of the sentence, a pause most often signaled by a comma. Note: When the introductory element is short and there is no risk of confusion, you don’t necessarily need a comma after it, but to use one would not be incorrect. Example: • After Melvin fell and skinned his knee he wept exactly three tears. Correction: • After Melvin fell and skinned his knee, he wept exactly three tears. 2 - Missing comma in a compound sentence Check your sentences to see if any are made up of two or more parts that could each stand alone as a sentence. When these parts are joined by and, but, so, yet, nor, or, or for, insert a comma to indicate a pause between the two thoughts. Example: • Anna put on her baseball hat and her mother buttoned her coat. Correction: • Anna put on her baseball hat, and her mother buttoned her coat. 3 - Missing comma(s) with a nonrestrictive element A nonrestrictive element is one that is not essential to the basic meaning of the sentence. You could remove it from the sentence, and the sentence would still make sense. Check to be certain you’ve used commas to set off any part of a sentence that tells more about a word in the sentence but that your reader does not need in order to understand the word or sentence. Example: • George our town’s favorite barista is too sick to make espresso. Correction: • George, our town’s favorite barista, is too sick to make espresso. 4 - Missing comma(s) in a series Check to see if you’ve written any sentences containing items in a series. When three or more items appear in a series, they should be separated from one another with commas. Note: Most academic style guides (MLA, APA, etc.) require that a comma be placed between the coordinating conjunction and the second-to-last item in the list. However, AP style does not require the serial (or Oxford) comma before the conjunction.
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Example: • Madison bought cereal soymilk and oranges. Correction: • Madison bought cereal, soymilk, and oranges. (MLA, APA, etc.) • Madison bought cereal, soymilk, and oranges. (AP) 5 - Comma Splice Check all the commas used in your draft for comma splices, which occur when a comma separates clauses that could each stand alone as a sentence. To correct a comma splice, you can insert a semicolon or period, add a word like and or although after the comma, or restructure the sentence. Example: • Madison started her motorcycle, she rode to Corpus Christi. Correction using and: • Madison started her motorcycle, and she rode to Corpus Christi. 6 - Unnecessary comma(s) with a restrictive element Check any words or phrases in your draft set off with commas to make sure that the element set off is not a restrictive element, one essential to the basic meaning of the sentence. Such essential words or phrases are not set off from the rest of the sentence with a comma or commas. Example: • Students, who fail the GSP, will have to take it again. Correction: • Students who fail the GSP will have to take it again. 7 - Missing or misplaced possessive apostrophe Check all of your nouns ending in -s to see if any of them are possessives. To make a noun possessive, you must add either an apostrophe and an -s (Ed’s book) to singular words or an apostrophe alone (the boys’ gym) to words that are plural and already end in -s. Possessive personal pronouns, however, do not take apostrophes: hers, his, its, ours, yours. 8 - Its/It’s confusion Use its to mean belonging to it; use it’s only when you mean it is or it has. Example (belonging to it) • Its hair is coarse. Example (meaning it is): • It’s a small animal.
9 - Sentence fragment A sentence fragment is part of a sentence that is written as if it were a whole sentence, with a capital letter at the beginning and a period, question mark, or an exclamation point at the end. A fragment may lack a subject, a complete verb, or both. A fragment may depend for its meaning on the sentence before it. Check for sentence fragments by reading your draft out loud, backwards, sentence by sentence. This is helpful because when read out of normal order, sentence fragments stand out clearly. Example with missing subject: • Jumped onto the trampoline. Correction: • Edmund jumped onto the trampoline. 10 - Fused sentence Fused sentences are created when clauses that could each stand alone as a whole sentence are joined with no punctuation or words. Check each sentence in your draft to make certain it is not a fused sentence. Fused sentences must either be divided into separate sentences or joined by adding words or punctuation. Example: • Lydia ran six miles she drank a gallon of water. Correction using a comma and a coordinating conjunction: • Lydia ran six miles, and she drank a gallon of water. 11 - Wrong word Wrong word errors can involve mixing up words that sound somewhat alike, using a word with the wrong shade of meaning, or using a word with a completely wrong meaning. This often happens as a result of spell check or auto correct features in wordprocessing software. Many wrong word errors are due to the improper use of homonyms—words that are pronounced alike but spelled differently, such as their or there. If wrong words are a problem for you, ask for help in scanning your draft for them. 12 - Wrong or missing verb ending Check all of your verbs to make sure you have given them proper endings. It’s easy to forget the verb endings -s (or -es) and -ed (or -d) because they are not always pronounced clearly when spoken. In addition, some varieties of English use these endings in ways that are different from uses in standard academic English. 13 - Wrong tense or verb form Errors of wrong tense or wrong verb form include using a verb that does not indicate clearly when an action or condition is, was, or will be completed—for example, using walked instead of had walked, or will go instead of will have gone. Some varieties of English use the verbs be and have in ways that differ significantly from their use in standard academic or professional English. Errors may occur when a writer confuses
the forms of irregular verbs (like begin, began, begun or break, broke, broken) or treats these verbs as if they followed the regular pattern—for example, using beginned instead of began, or have broke instead of have broken. 14 - Unnecessary shift in tense Check to make sure all the verb tenses in each of your sentences work together appropriately. Verb tenses tell readers when actions take place. “Willie went to school” indicates a past action whereas “he will go” indicates a future action. When you shift from one tense to another with no clear reason, you can confuse readers. 15 - Lack of subject-verb agreement Check your draft for subject-verb agreement problems by circling each sentence’s subject and drawing a line with an arrow to that subject’s verb. You should be able to do this for each sentence. A verb must agree with its subject in number and in person. In many cases, the verb must take a different form depending on whether the subject is singular or plural. Lack of subject-verb agreement is often a matter of leaving the -s ending off the verb or of using a form of English that does not have this ending. Example with plural subject: • The pencils are in a box inside my desk under the papers. Example with singular subject: • The box of pencils in my desk under the papers is full. 16 - Vague pronoun reference Pronouns (words such as he, she, it, they, this, that, which, and who) stand in for nouns so that those nouns do not have to be repeated. Your pronouns should refer back clearly to a specific noun or nouns (called antecedents) elsewhere in the sentence or in a previous sentence, so that readers can be sure whom or what the pronoun refers to. Two common kinds of vague pronoun reference: 1. There is more than one antecedent that the pronoun might refer to. Example: • The professor told the student that she needed to be more responsible. (Was the professor communicating her own lack of responsibility or the student’s?) 2. The pronoun refers to a word that is implied but not explicitly stated. Example: • The miners tunneled downward, fortifying it with posts as they worked. (Tunneled implies the noun “tunnel,” but “tunnel” does not actually appear in the sentence.)
17 - Unnecessary shift in pronoun Check each pronoun in your draft for unnecessary pronoun shifts, which occur when a writer who has been using one kind of pronoun to refer to someone or something shifts to another pronoun for no apparent reason. The most common shift in pronoun is from one to you or I. Example: One wears his or her shoes to the store because store owners won’t let you in barefoot. 18 - Lack of agreement between pronoun and antecedent Pronouns must agree with their antecedents in number. Singular Pronouns Plural Pronouns I/me/my we/us/our you/your you/you he/him/his; she/her; it/its they/them/their Example: Any Texas State student could access their own e-mail account. Correction: Any Texas State student could access his/her own e-mail account. Pronouns must also agree in case. Subject Pronouns Object Pronouns I/we me/us you you he/she/it/they/who him/her/it/them/whom Example: Everyone is taller than him, even his little sister Correction: Everyone is taller than he, even his little sister. Often you can check the use of case by finishing comparisons: Everyone is taller than he/him is, even his little sister. Selecting between who and whom is also a matter of case. For a simple way to remember when to use “who” and “whom,” substitute “he” for “who” and “him” for “whom.” This also works with “she”/“her” and “they”/“them” Example:Give the money to whomever. (Give the money to HIM.) However, remember to look first to the right of “who,” “whom,” “whoever” and “whomever.” Thus if a sentence reads, “Give the money to whoever/whomever needs it,” ask yourself if he needs it or if him needs it. He needs it, so you would select “whoever” needs it. Example:Give the money to whoever needs it. Note: If you have a verb to the right, the correct choice is usually a subject pronoun, who or whoever.
19 - Wrong or missing preposition Circle all your prepositions (at, on, of, off, around, etc.) and make certain they are used correctly; specific prepositions express specific relationships. Many words in English are regularly used with a particular preposition to express a particular meaning. Incorrect preposition: • She was writing an essay over Shakespeare. Correction: • She was writing an essay on Shakespeare. 20 - Misplaced or dangling modifier Check every modifier (whether a word, phrase, or clause) to make sure that it is as close as possible to the word it describes. Be on the lookout for misplaced modifiers that may confuse your readers by seeming to modify some other word, phrase, or clause. Example of a misplaced modifier: • The man drove the car without any clothes. Correction: • Without any clothes, the man drove the car. (The man is naked, not the car.) Check your draft for dangling modifiers—phrases hanging precariously from the beginning or end of a sentence, attached to no other word in the sentence. The word that the phrase modifies may exist in your mind but not on paper. Proofread carefully to ensure that each modifier refers to some other word in the sentence. Example of a dangling modifier: • Walking through the castle, the walls were dripping with slime. Correction: • Walking through the castle, Amanda noticed that the walls were dripping with slime. (Amanda walked through the castle, not the walls.)