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Writing Center


Major Errors

Introduction

The purpose of this section is not to provide a thorough, detailed discussion of every grammatical error in the English language. It is, rather, a place to turn for some practical explanation for how several errors are avoided. These errors were chosen because most educated people can recognize these errors (even if they don't know the errors' names), and thus, these errors are embarrassing to writers. Avoiding them will greatly improve the clarity of your writing. If you have a special concern, click on the link below to move to that discussion.

If you have not already reviewed the sections on Parts of the Sentence and Phrases and Clauses, you should review those first before reading the explanations below.

 


Fragments

Fragments occur when a person punctuates a phrase or dependent clause as if it were a complete sentence. Phrases and dependent clauses cannot stand alone as sentences; they must be attached to an independent clause. Once you have learned to recognize them and how to connect them properly, you should stop having problems with this error. Here are some examples: Example One:

Soon, I began my new job at the factory. First in the production line and later in the office.

The underlined words are a fragment (phrase) which should be attached to the preceding sentence by a simple comma:

Soon, I began my new job at the factory, first in the production line and later in the office.

Example Two:

Returning from their trip to the second galaxy. The crew members found an uninhabitable planet instead of the home they expected.

The underlined words are a fragment (phrase) which should be attached to the following sentence by a simple comma:

Returning from their trip to the second galaxy, the crew members found an uninhabitable planet instead of the home they expected.

Example Three:

Thousands of students protested against the new grading system. After their efforts at conflict resolution were ignored by the committee.

The underlined words are a fragment (dependent clause) which should be attached to the preceding sentence:

Thousands of students protested against the new grading system after their efforts at conflict resolution were ignored by the committee.

Example Four:

Because he was a world-class wrestler in his youth. Charles was an excellent candidate for the new wrestling coach.

The underlined words are a fragment (dependent clause) which should be attached to the following sentence with a simple comma:

Because he was a world-class wrestler in his youth, Charles was an excellent candidate for the new wrestling coach.


Run-Ons

Run-on sentences (ro) occur when a writer fails to correctly join two independent clauses. Sometimes a teacher will mark a run-on as a comma spice (cs) because the student has used a comma without the coordinating conjunction. Sometimes a teacher will mark a run-on as a fused sentence (fs) because the student has used no mark of punctuation at all between the two sentences. All of these markings refer to the same kind of error.

To correct the error, the writer must either separate the two independent clauses into two sentences by using a period, or the writer must join the two clauses properly. There are several ways to join independent clauses; each method has its own special usage:

Method Usage

Comma (,) pluscoordinating conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for, yet, so)

Use when the two sentences are loosely related (most common method).

Semicolon (;)

Use when the two sentences are closely related and fairly equal in importance.

Colon (:)

Use when the second of the two sentences explains the first sentence.

Here are some examples to illustrate the above methods: Example One (comma + coordinating conjunction) First Carol went to work, and then she went to the store during her lunch hour.Example Two (semicolon): The competition was tough; he would not win easily.Example Three (colon): The new lawyer needed a secretary: he needed someone with intelligence and experience.


Subject/Verb Agreement

This error occurs for a number of different reasons. Sometimes a writer has the subject and the verb so far apart that he/she has forgotten what the subject is, and so the writer uses the wrong form of the verb, sometimes the writer may not know for certain whether the subject is plural or singular, and sometimes the writer may have mistaken the subject altogether. To correct the error, the writer must first determine whether the subject of the sentence is singular or plural. Then the writer can check the correctness of the verb's form.

Here are some examples of subject/verb agreement errors and their corrections (corrections are in bold; subjects and verbs are underlined): Example 1 (singular subject). The participation of the boys were essential to the success of the experiment.

The participation of the boys was essential to the success of the experiment.

Notice that this error occurs because the writer has confused the word boys (the object of a preposition) for the real subject, participation. The separation of the subject from its verb is a main cause of this type of error.Example 2 (plural subject) The pants was in the laundry room for a week before getting washed.

The pants were in the laundry room for a week before getting washed.

Notice that this error occurs because pants is treated as singular when it is considered plural in our language. For help on proofreading for this error, click here.


Pronoun/Antecedent Agreement

Just as subjects and verbs have to agree (go together properly), so pronouns and their antecedents (the words they replace) have to agree. The concept is simple: pronouns substitute for nouns and other pronouns. A substitute, to be effective, has to be able to do everything the original does: a pitcher on a baseball team has to be replaced by another pitcher, not the first baseman. So the pronoun has to match the thing it replaces. Here are some examples of pronoun/antecedent errors and their corrections (corrections are in bold; pronouns and antecedents are underlined): Example 1 (plural pronoun substituting for a singular antecedent): Everyone was putting on their coats when it started to hail outside.

Everyone was putting on his/her coats when it started to hail outside.

Example 2 (singular pronoun substituting for a plural antecedent): All of the dogs had itsname tags on.

All of the dogs had their name tags on.

Example 3 (a gender-specific pronoun substituting for a indefinite antecedent): Each of the applicants had good experience listed on his resume for the new manager position.

Each of the applicants had good experience listed on his/her resume for the new manager position.

For help on proofreading for this error, click here.


Verb Tenses

This error occurs when the writer uses the wrong verb form, either because he/she is confused about the tense which is needed or because he/she does not know the correct form of an irregular verb. Still another reason is that the writer has forgotten to add theed to the regular verb. Consult a good handbook for a thorough discussion of verb tenses, and consult a collegiate dictionary for the correct forms for irregular verbs. Here are some examples of verb tense errors and their corrections (corrections are in bold; verb problems are underlined): Example 1 (tense order problem): Although my little girls knew they shouldn't tease the cat, they often dress up the animal in doll clothes.

Although my little girls knew they shouldn't tease the cat, they often dressed up the animal in doll clothes.

Example 2 (irregular verb): The tomatoes were growed in organically fertilized soil.

The tomatoes were grown in organically fertilized soil.

Example 3 (regular verb): Mr. Hightower use to be my favorite teacher until I took a class from Professor Green.

Mr. Hightower used to be my favorite teacher until I took a class from Professor Green.