Published on February 6, 2008
Avoiding Common Errors in Grammar & Punctuation: Bessie E. Varner 16 August 2002 Avoiding Common Errors in Grammar & Punctuation Overview 1 : 2 Overview 1 Definitions Common Grammatical Errors Sentence Fragments Person Gender Voice Number Tenses Myself, Yourself Who, Which, That Misplaced Modifiers Overview 2: 3 Overview 2 Problem Punctuation Marks Commas Quotation Marks Apostrophes Ellipsis Exercise: Using Proper Punctuation Questions Definitions: 4 Definitions Antecedent: The noun to which a pronoun refers or for which a pronoun substitutes Phrase: Lacks a subject or a predicate Fearing an accident At the lake’s edge Clause: Contains a subject and a predicate When the ice cracked Restrictive: Clause is essential, limiting; use no commas Nonrestrictive: Clause is not essential; use commas, dashes, or parentheses to enclose Subject: What the writer is talking about Predicate: Describes the subject in some way Sentence Fragments: 5 Sentence Fragments Complete sentences have a subject and predicate. The ambassador attended the conference. Sentence fragments are a punctuated group of words lacking either a subject or a predicate Hoping this meets with your approval. (No subject or predicate) Received your letter this morning. (No subject) Note: Place a subject & predicate in every sentence. Person: 6 Person First Person: The subject is speaking I will discuss types of ballistic missiles in my paper. Second Person: The subject is spoken to You will discuss types of ballistic missiles in your paper. Third Person: The subject is [person(s) or thing(s)] spoken about This paper discusses the types of ballistic missiles. Note: Use third person to write about your subject. Gender: 7 Gender Feminine--she, her, girl, woman, etc. My friend and adviser offered her help. Masculine--he, his, boy, man, etc. If a person works hard, he can accomplish a lot. Common--adult, people, cousin, neighbor, etc. If people work hard, they can accomplish a lot. Neuter--it, typewriter, book, wagon, radio, etc. Note: Neuter gender nouns take the pronoun it. If anybody wants an education, he can get it. How to Avoid Errors & Sexism in Gender: 8 How to Avoid Errors & Sexism in Gender Use a plural antecedent and a plural pronoun. Many brought their lunches with them. Athletes deserve their privacy. Use masculine gender, avoid any use, or make gender agree with fact: One likes to do what he can do well. Anyone wanting a pen can get it here. None of the students had the needed credits. Everyone attending the FEW meeting presented her membership card. Voice: 9 Voice Active--subject is the doer of the action Each ambassador signed the truce. Passive--subject is the receiver of the action The truce was signed by each ambassador. Note: Use active voice. Let your subject perform the action. Why to Avoid Passive Voice: 10 Why to Avoid Passive Voice Obscures the subject Increases the length of a sentence Shifts the emphasis from your subject Note: Avoid using passive voice unless you are deliberately emphasizing the predicate or obscuring the subject. NumberApplies to nouns, verbs, and pronouns: 11 NumberApplies to nouns, verbs, and pronouns Singular-- refers to one person or thing Plural--refers to more than one person or thing Singular Plural Boy Boys Mother-in-law Mothers-in-law Shelf Shelves Man Men Makes Make Is Are I We Him/Her--He/She Them/They Pronoun-Antecedent AgreementPronouns must agree in gender, person, & number.: 12 Pronoun-Antecedent AgreementPronouns must agree in gender, person, & number. If one is nervous, she/he should try to relax. When Father called the officer, he was very angry. Every worker must furnish his own equipment. Has anyone forgotten her FWP membership card? Has everyone handed in his paper? The teacher expects every girl to make her own dresses. That sort of gossip should be ignored. I prefer these kinds of writing paper. How to Ensure Agreement : 13 How to Ensure Agreement Do the “math” as you write sentences. Singular subject = singular verb. (I play piano.) Plural subject = plural verb. (They sing soprano.) Collective noun (jury, troops) = singular/plural verb The jury made its decision; the foreman read their verdict. The troops marched for 4.6 miles before their first break. Indefinite pronoun (anyone, everyone, few, both) = singular/plural verb Does anyone want popcorn? Very few of us are going to the movies. Indefinite pronouns must agree in person. If anybody wants an education, he can get it. 3d person 3d person Note: When a group acts as a unit, the pronoun is singular. When a group acts separately, the pronoun is plural. Tenses: 14 Tenses Present: walk Past: walked Future: will walk Present Perfect /Progressive: Have walked/has been walking Past Perfect/Progressive Had walked/had been walking Future Perfect/ Progressive Will have walked/will have been... Progressive: I am walking, was walking, will be walking Myself, Yourself, Himself, etc.: 15 Myself, Yourself, Himself, etc. Never used as the subject of a sentence. My wife and myself (I) appreciate your help. Never used as a substitute for a personal pronoun. He sent the book to John and myself (me). Always refers back to the subject. I made the dress myself. Sometimes used to add emphasis to a noun or pronoun. John himself built the canoe. Note: Myself and yourself are often used in conversation in place of personal pronouns--avoid such use in formal speech and writing. Who, Which, That: 16 Who, Which, That Use who when the antecedent is a person. This the girl who won the award. Use that to refer to either persons or things. This is the dog that (or which) was lost. (restrictive) Use which to refer to anything except persons. The leftover lettuce, which is in the refrigerator, would make a good salad. (nonrestrictive) Note: Restrictive & nonrestrictive clauses may use which. Only restrictive clauses begin with that. Some writers reserve which only for nonrestrictive clauses. Misplaced Modifiers: 17 Misplaced Modifiers Readers link a modifier to the word closest to it. Writers carefully place modifiers to avoid confusion. Confusing: He served steak to the men on paper plates. Revised: He served the men steak on paper plates. Confusing: He came to enjoy flying over time. Revised: Over time he came to enjoy flying. Confusing: Snipers who fire on soldiers often escape capture. Revised: Snipers who fire on soldiers escape capture often. Revised: Snipers who often fire on soldiers escape capture. Problem Punctuation Marks: 18 Problem Punctuation Marks Commas Quotation Marks Ellipsis Points Apostrophes Commas: 19 Commas Use to separate elements of a sentence or items in a series; use before and, but, or other conjunction. The building is finished, but it has no tenants. Unfortunately, the only tenant pulled out. The empty building symbolizes a weak local economy, which affects everyone. The primary cause, the decline of local industry, is not news. The city needs healthier businesses, new schools, and improved housing. A tall, sleek, skyscraper is not needed. Quotation Marks: 20 Quotation Marks Use to enclose direct quotations, titles of magazine articles, songs, poems, chapters of books and to set off words within a sentence. “Fortunately,” she said, “I can bake more toast.” Elton John wrote “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” Cosmopolitan magazine ran an article titled “Sunday Morning Brunch Ideas.” In Chapter 8, titled “How to Be Interesting,” the author explains the art of conversation. With all the “compassion” it could muster, the agency turned away two-thirds of those seeking help. --Joan Simonson Place commas and periods inside quotation marks. Sample Block Quotation Format(Block quotes require no quotation marks.): 21 Sample Block Quotation Format(Block quotes require no quotation marks.) In his study of the lives of unemployed black men, Elliot Liebow observes that “unskilled” construction work requires more experience and skill than is generally assumed. A healthy, sturdy, active man of good intelligence requires from two to four weeks to break in on a construction job. . .It frequently happens that his foreman or the craftsman he services is not willing to wait that long for him to get into condition or to learn at a glance the difference in size between a rough 2X8 and a finished 2X10. (62) Ellipsis Dots: 22 Ellipsis Dots Three spaced periods used to indicate omissions within quotations--at middle, end, or beginning of a sentence; or parts of two sentences; or one or more sentences after a full sentence. ORIGINAL QUOTATION “It was the Cuba of the future. It was going the way of Iran. It was another Nicaragua, another Cambodia, another Vietnam. But all these places, awesome in their histories, are so different from each other that one couldn’t help thinking: this kind of talk was a shorthand for a confusion. All that was being said was that something was happening in the Philippines. Or more plausibly, a lot of different things were happening in the Philippines. And a lot of people were feeling obliged to speak out about it.” --James Fenton, “The Philippine Election” OMISSIONS FROM FENTON QUOTATION: 23 OMISSIONS FROM FENTON QUOTATION “But all of these places. . .are so different from each other that one couldn’t help thinking : this kind of talk was a shorthand for a confusion.” “It was another Nicaragua. . . .” “. . .[O]ne couldn’t help thinking: this kind of talk was a shorthand for a confusion.” “All that was being said was that. . .a lot of different things were happening in the Philippines.” It was the Cuba of the future. It was going the way of Iran. It was another Nicaragua, another Cambodia, another Vietnam. . . .All that was being said was that something was happening in the Philippines. Apostrophe: 24 Apostrophe Use to form contractions (it’s, doesn’t); to form possessive case; optional use to form plurals of abbreviations, dates, letters, numbers, and words (CD-ROMs); to show omission of a word, letter, or number. Don’t, hadn’t, wouldn’t, let’s, it’s Boy’s, boss’ or boss’s, children’s, boys’ Smith’s, Smiths’ Williams’ or Williams’s, James’ or James’s The day’s task, five cents’ worth, three weeks’ vacation Alice and Jack’s apartment, Alice’s & Jack’s apts Everyone’s duty, one’s coat, someone’s hat ‘'Tis, o’clock, the year ‘01 Recommended References: 25 Recommended References Tongue and Quill Air University Style Guide The Little, Brown Handbook, Fowler & Aaron Instant English Handbook, Semmelmeyer & Bolander Recommended Handbooks Final Thoughts: Final Thoughts “Remember, always, that learning a rule is not important in itself. The really important thing is the ability to use what you have learned to express yourself effectively without being especially conscious of any rules at all.” --Practical English: A Complete Self-Correcting Guide Slide 27: 27 QUESTIONS?