English Composition

Prof. McMahand

Ten Common Errors in Student Writing

Take pains to read your essay for the following common errors.  Become conscious of the mistakes you make and strive to eliminate them during the editing process.  Here are a few examples of erroneous sentences and their corrections. 

1.       Passive Voice: The true subject of a passive voice sentence is M. I. A. (not the Sri Lankan singer).  Often

the reader has to figure out whom or what is really doing the action or controlling the verb.  The reader should not have to decode the writer’s sentence. 

Example:  When the black body is obscured, the narrow perspective of the novel’s operative white gaze is stressed.

Correction:  When Welty obscures the black body, the effect stresses the narrow perspective of the novel’s operative white gaze.

 

2.       Mixed Construction:  At some point a mixed sentence changes structure, not following the grammatical

pattern with which it begins.  MC can also refer to incoherent or garbled phrasing, words that have no logical and/or syntactical flow or that just don’t make sense to the reader.

Example: In the film, it shows several scenes of group conformity and connectedness.

Correction: The film shows several scenes of group conformity and connectedness.

Example: The lost keys that I last thought they were in the kitchen, they were really under the door mat.

Correction: The lost keys were not in the kitchen, as I originally thought, but under the door mat.

 

3.       Verb Tense Shift:  When critics write about literary texts, they do so in the present tense.  So should you.

Example: Even as Welty’s black characters refused, as McWhirter claimed, to tell their stories, their bodies prove less reticent.

Correction: Even as Welty’s black characters refuse, as McWhirter claims, to tell their stories, their bodies prove less reticent.

 

4.       Use of Second Person: Avoid second person; writers should not be so presumptuous as to address readers

directly.

Example: The story contains such subtle moments of irony that you don’t immediately recognize them.

Correction: The story contains such subtle moments of irony that a reader may not immediately recognize them.

 

5.       Subject/Verb Agreement:  The subject and verb must always agree in number.  If the subject is singular, the

verb must also be singular.  Plural subjects get plural verbs.

Example: The Hoffa family and their housekeeper was a witness to the crime.

Correction: The Hoffa family and their housekeeper were all witnesses to the crime.

 

6.       Comma Splice: A writer should not join two independent clauses (whole sentences) with only a comma.

Example: Welty cloaks the scene in night, Little Uncle, driving the buggy that carries Laura, becomes “invisible” (315).

Correction: Welty cloaks the scene in night, into which Little Uncle, driving the buggy that carries Laura, becomes “invisible” (315).

7.       Pronoun/Antecedent: All pronouns must agree in number with their antecedents.  Plural antecedents match

plural pronouns and so on.

Example: A person would think that their life would change after seeing Paddy Wobbles kissing and fondling a 200 pound octopus.

Correction:  A person would think that his life would change after seeing Paddy Wobbles kissing and fondling a 200 pound octopus.

Correction:  A person would think that her life would change after seeing Paddy Wobbles kissing and fondling a 200 pound octopus.

 

8.       Apostrophes:  Apostrophes show possession and, in the case of pronouns, contraction.

Examples:  Paddy Wobbles face swelled up like a fetid whale bladder after last night’s party; Marco Polo has video, and its posted on YouTube.  

Correction: Paddy Wobbles’s face swelled up like a fetid whale bladder after last night’s party; Marco Polo has video, and it’s posted on YouTube.

9.  Quotes and Punctuation:  Place all punctuation, including commas, periods, dashes, etc., inside quotation

marks, except in cases of citation, wherein the period or comma lands outside the parenthesis. 

Example:  A tad shorter than his siblings and not as “smart”, Paddy Wobbles started hanging himself from his basement rafters, hoping to add an inch or two to his height.

Correction: A tad shorter than his siblings and not as “smart,” Paddy Wobbles started hanging himself from his basement rafters, hoping to add an inch or two to his height.

 

10.    Introducing Quotes: Introduce your quotes for two reasons—a) to identify the speaker and b) to transition

smoothly from your thoughts to those of the writer/speaker. 

Example:  Commenting on the historic killings of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Cheney, “To deplore a thing as hideous as the murder of the three civil rights workers demands the quiet in which to absorb it” (127).

Correction: Commenting on the historic killings of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Cheney, Welty writes, “To deplore a thing as hideous as the murder of the three civil rights workers demands the quiet in which to absorb it” (127).

 

Other Ways to Incorporate Quotes a) with a colon: These fleshly images, including the sight of spilled blood, clinch Dabney’s memory of the brothers, distinguishing them from the other workers: “Dabney had never forgotten which two boys those were and could tell them from the rest” (45).

 

b) multiple interspersing of quote and text: During the fracas, the two boys become a blur of “thrashing legs and arms”(44), first subdued then “hollering,” one’s face “crumpled” and the other bearing a wounded back and a “black pole” of a chest (45).  

 

c) long interspersing of quote and text: On horseback she and her younger sister India cross Troy’s path, and Dabney “saw a blinding light, or else was it a dark cloud—that intensity under her flickering lids?  She rode with her eyes shut” (38).