Avoiding Common Grammar Mistakes
By this point you're done composing your essay. You've written an introduction and conclusion, incorporated transitions, and you've made
use of textual evidence to support your argument. But you're not done with your first draft yet—you still need to comb through what you've
written to make sure that you don't have any grammar mistakes. Common grammar mistakes not only get in the way of your reader's
ability to understand your argument, but they can also undermine your credibility in the reader's eyes. We've compiled here a list of
common grammar mistakes that came up most often for professors in the English Department.
Common Pet Peeves for Teachers
- Comma splices—A comma splice is where a comma is used to join two independent clauses which should be separated by a period. An independent clause can stand on its own as a sentence. Do not simply use a comma everywhere a reader would pause.
- Subject/pronoun disagreement—There are two types of subject/pronoun disagreement, shifts in number and shifts in person.
- Shifts in number—This phrase means the shifting between singular and plural in the same sentence. Be consistent.
- Shifts in person—This error occurs when the person shifts within the sentence from first to second person, from second to third person, etc.
- Its/it's—"Its" is the possessive form of "it." "It's" is the contraction of "it is." They are not interchangeable.
- Mis-use and abuse of semicolons—Semicolons are used to separate two related independent clauses or to separate items in a list that contains commas. Do not abuse semicolons by using them often. They are best used sparingly.
- Dropped commas around clauses—Place commas around words, phrases, or clauses that interrupt a sentence. Do not use commas around restrictive clauses, which provide essential information about the subject of the sentence.
- Interrupting clause—This clause or phrase interrupts a sentence, such as "however." Place a comma on either side of the interrupting clause.
- Restrictive clause—This clause or phrase provides essential information about the subject of the sentence. Without this clause or phrase, the meaning of the sentence changes.
- Non-restrictive clause—This clause or phrase modifies the subject of the sentence but does not change the meaning of the sentence if left out.
- "Naked this"—Always include a referent with "this," such as "this sentence" or "this rule." With no referent, "this" can confuse the reader.
- "Existential it"—Much like the "naked this," the "existential it" gives no reference for what "it" is.
- Overuse of "very"—"Very" is an unspecific determinate. How many/much is "very"? If you ask 10 people how cold, "very cold" is, you would get 10 different answers.
- Confusing singular possessive and plural nouns—Singular possessive nouns always take an apostrophe, with few exceptions, and plural nouns never take an apostrophe. Omitting an apostrophe or adding one where it does not belong makes the sentence unclear.
- Recurring use of a character's name when a pronoun would suffice—When writing about a character, use the pronoun when the referent is clear in order to avoid choppy, repetitious sentence structures. An example is, "Bill is the protagonist of the work. Bill is a teenage boy. Bill's travels form the majority of the narrative. While Bill is on his journey, Bill meets many interesting characters." In this paragraph, after the first reference to "Bill," the pronoun "he" can replace each use of the name.
- Repetitious sentence structure/length—Variety in sentence structure and length gives a rhythm to prose. Repetitious sentence structures and/or length makes the prose choppy.
- Colorless verbs and bland adjectives—Passive voice, use of the to be verb, is a lost opportunity to use a more interesting and accurate verb when you can. Adjectives can also be used very specifically to add to the sentence. Try to avoid generic or bland adjectives and be specific. Use adjectives that add to the meaning of the sentence.
- Lonely quotes—Quotes cannot stand on their own as a sentence. Integrate them into a sentence.
- Lazy transitions/lack of transitions—Transitions link paragraphs and even sentences together. Many different types of transitions and transitional phrases exist in order to provide the most accurate link.
- Lack of proofreading—Spell and grammar check do not catch everything, and they are not a replacement for good old fashioned proofreading. These tools do not distinguish between the correct and incorrect use of correctly spelled words, such as "where" and "were." Always proofread yourself.
- The all encompassing 1st sentence that states the obvious—Never start a paper or paragraph too far away from the subject and states the obvious, "Literature has existed for many years, and it can be both instructive and entertaining." Be specific and assume your reader is familiar with basic concepts. This error is most common in introductions.
- Plot summary—Literary analysis papers contain very little plot summary. A writer should assume that his or her audience is already familiar with the story. Provide limited amounts of plot summary only when appropriate to supporting and proving your argument.
For further assistance in identifying grammar errors, you can also consult Professor David Beach's grammar guide.