SMH Tools "Common Issues"
- Agr. PA: "Pronoun-antecedent agreement." The antecedent of the pronoun is the word the pronoun refers to. They must agree in number, gender, and person. The antecedent generally appears before the pronoun itself is introduced. For example, correct: "Everybody took out his or her essay;" incorrect: "Everybody took out their essay."
- Agr. SV: "Subject-verb agreement." The verb must be cohesive with the subject. For instance, "the boy are cute" versus "the boy is cute" or "the boys are cute."
- Apostrophe: Apostrophe misuse can be either not using one when needed, such as "its going to rain today," or using one where it should be left out as in "the dog wagged it's tail" or "the boy's are playing."
- Capitals: The first word of every sentence including ones within quotes, all proper nouns like Jane and John, a title that precedes someone's name such as President Obama, days of the week, and compass directions when referring to a specific location such as the South should all be capitalized. Do not capitalize the seasons or the first word after a semicolon.
- Comma Coordination: Commas separate individual pieces of a series. Choosing to use a comma before the final part of the series being preceded by the word "and" is up to the author. Comma coordination mistakes occur when there is not a consistent choice made regarding the use of that final comma.
- Commma Introductory: Some introductory phrases require a comma afterward and some do not. Examples: "One night in May, I decided to begin keeping a journal." and "Coming up with a good appositive phrase to begin a sentence [no comma required] can be challenging."
- Comma Non-restrictive: Sometimes using commas can add to the clarity of a phrase, but sometimes the addition of a comma ruins the intended meaning. In general, there are 2 rules for controlling the use of a comma: restrictive vs. non-restrictive clauses, and "that" vs. "which." For instance: "The ship with over a thousand happy passengers is headed home" has a very different stylistic meaning than "The ship, with over a thousand happy passengers, is headed home." In the first sentence, one can imagine a competition between cruiselines, whereas the other is simply the end of a pleasant vacation week. Choosing to use a comma with "that" or "which" has a simple rule of thumb: use a comma when a non-restrictive clause is in the sentence. For example: "Congress began discussing bills that were over 60 days old" versus "Congress began discussing bills, which were over 60 days old." In the first case, the bills require an age of at least 60 days to be discussed, and in the second case, Congress is choosing the discuss bills, regardless of their age, and the age is simply being given to the reader as a non-restrictive modifier.
- Comma Series: Commas are used to seperate three or more words, phrases, or clauses in series (see what I did there?). Whether to use the final comma or not is generally left up to the author, but if you are the author, it is your job to stay consistent. In the situation that you have a series of items which contain their own commas, use semicolons to seperate instead of confusing the reader with even more commas.
- Comma Splice: A comma splice is when a comma is used to join two independent clauses but leaving out the necessary conjunction. For instance: this sentence would be better suited to a semicolon or period seperating the clauses, I have a bellybutton.
- Comma Unnecessary: Self-explanatory. Using commas when they are not needed confuses the reader and makes your sentences and phraseology appear more jumbled up on paper than it sounds in your mind. For instance: inclusing a comma, where unnecesary, while nice, in stage scripting, when trying to, punctuate, a pause, does get, a little old, at, times.
- Dangling Modifier: Sometimes, when writing a sentence, placement in your mind is not what it actually ends up looking like on paper. This can be sometimes be categoriazed as a dangling modifier: a modifier that isn't quite where it should be. For intance: I saw the man coming through the window. Most likely, I meant that I was looking through the window and saw a man coming. However, strict grammar would tell us that in fact I was witnessing a man bursting through a window, or perhaps effervescing through it like a ghost. While much more could be written on the subject, suffice it to say that if something could possibly
- Fragment: This is an attempt at a sentence that does not meet all the requirements of a senstence. A sentence must contain both a subject and a predicate. "Before we left for SPring Break." Is easily seen as a fragement, because all that was introduced to the sentence was the subject. What happened before we left for Spring Break? Exactly, now we'll never know.
- Fused Sentence: Also affectionately called a "run-on," a fused sentence occurs when someone has two otherwise seperate and independent clauses joined together by naught but a space. In general, when two ideas are complete in and of themselves, they deserve to be seperated by at least punctuation. For instance: One day we will discover the secrets of nuclear fusion that way we can attain nearly infinite sources of power. The two main clauses are "we will discover the secrets" and "we can attain nearly infinite sources of power." These two clauses deserve at least a conjunction between them, but here I have only seperated them with a colloquial phrase akin to a preposition. A semicolon, seperating the clauses into two sentences, or either a coordinating or subordinating conjunction would be sufficient to fix this easily-missed grammar mistake.
- Hyphen: Hypens join words or can be used twice in a row to seperate ideas. Hyphens are a super-awesome grammatical utility--one that we should not overlook. However, misuse can make the author seem juvinile. Using only one hyphen in my second instance from the example sentence is striclty prohibited. If you are using a text editing software like Miscrosoft Word or the like, typing a dash is simply double hyphen which will usually be auto-corrected to a dash. Here's the dash: —.
- Missing Article or Word: Simple enough, many cases require articles to make sense, and forgetting to type a word can cripple an otherwise intelligent sentence. Articles of the English language are "A," An," and "The."
- Proofreading Error: These occur when it's obvious the document was not proofread. A sentence like, "She forot to take out the thrash" is much more likely an error of laziness than legitimate grammatical ignorance. Always proofread, as you will likely save yourself and your readers the hassle later of deciphering what your original intent was.
- Pronoun Reference: Pronouns present potentially confusing scenarios in writing. "Shelly saw Sharon while she was shopping." Who saw who? It's very easy to know what you write in your mind, but making it transfer to the page in a legible and clear way can be a troublesome experience. That was an example of a pronoun/antecedent ambiguity. Another example would be "The jury reached a verdict, but it took many hours." What took hours, the jury, or the implied process by which verdicts are agreed upon? While not quite as confusable as the first example, nonetheless this case presents more ambiguity. Try to avoid having your pronouns refer to implied ideas. Examples abound, but in general, pronouns must have their antecedents explicitly defined to avoid confusion.
- Quote Integration: Quotes are something we as an English class see often. I've been using quotations thus far on this page, and there are several examples thusly above this paragraph. Rules for quotes involve placement, inclusion of punctuation, and capitalization. When quoting something, a comma should preceed or follow the statement within the quotes, depending on its placement in the sentence containing it. Punctuation that ends phrases shoudl follow a word, and never another punctuation mark like quotations. For example: The question, "Where should we eat dinner tonight?" fell upon deaf ears. This sentence exemplifies several rules for quotations. Always introduce the quote you use in a sentence. Try to avoid having a quote stand alone as a sentence so that contextual clues can be used by the reader to more fully understand your meaning. When citing a text, use the rule: quotation, parentheses, punctuation to guide you through placement: "QUOTE" (CITE).
- Quotation Marks: As mentioned above, quotation marks come with discreet rules governing them. Putting a quotation mark before the punctuation ending the quoted phrase, using quotation marks within quotation marks (as opposed to apostrophes), or not using quotation marks when they should be used are just some examples of possible usage errors.
- Spelling: Most self-explanatory. Proofreading and/or spellchecking your document in a word processor or with a friend prior to submission can help prevent spelling errors.
- Tense Shift: Within a sentence and preferably within a paragraph or stream of thoughts, the tenses of the verbs should stay consistent. "I skipped class and play video games" is less correct than "I skipped class and played video games" or "I skipped class to play video games." In the correct versions, either a tense correction or an infinitive is used to more correctly convey the same thought.
- Wrong Word: Also self-explanatory. Using unfamiliar words or misusing a word can fit under "wrong word." Also, using 4 words when 2 will suffice is considered gaudy and of poor taste. Be both precise and accurate in your wording.