Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Grammar Moment: the Top Eight Pet Grammar Mistakes

In the words of the philosopher, “Know thyself.”

Normally, I wouldn’t run a Grammar Moment about editing until near the end of the school term, since it’s more important to get all of the other stuff out of the way first, such as making logical sense or providing sufficient supporting evidence for one’s thesis. But I am sometimes reminded that not all of the world runs on an academic schedule, and so there are people out there who are editing even in January. By popular request, therefore, I am offering some editing tips.

Many people tell me they are ashamed of their grammar because they claim they make “every error in the book.” In the vast majority of cases, however, that’s not true. Yes, the writer may have a large number of grammar errors, but usually they will be primarily only one or two major types. I call those errors the writer’s “pet mistakes.”

If you can figure out what your pet mistakes are, you can learn strategies for spotting them and correcting them. Work on those strategies. The following is adapted from a handout that I give to my students toward the end of the term, when they are editing their best works to put into their portfolios. Many of the editing strategies involve finding subjects and verbs; click on this link to find a previous Grammar Moment that deals with this basic skill. FANBOYS is an acronym used to remember the coordinate conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. KFW is a reference to the grammar textbook I use, Keys For Writers, 4th edition, by Ann Raimes, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005. You can use the homonyms section of your favorite grammar text for untangling confusable words.

1. Sentence Fragments
□ Underline subjects once and verbs twice (take your time; don’t make random guesses).
□ Does each sentence have a subject and a complete verb?
□ If there is a dependent word, such as “although” or “which,” is the sentence connected to another complete sentence?

2. Run-on Sentences (including comma splices)
□ Underline subjects once and verbs twice (take your time; don’t make random guesses).
□ If you have a subject and a complete verb, and then another subject and another complete verb, is there a proper connection: separate sentences, comma + FANBOYS, semicolon, or dependent word?

3. Apostrophes
□ Apostrophes ARE used for contractions and possessives.
□ Apostrophes are NOT used for plurals, the -s forms of verbs, or possessive pronouns.

4. Commas
□ Used with FANBOYS when connecting complete sentences.
□ Used to separate items in a series.
□ Used to separate descriptive words if you can change the order of them and they still make sense.
□ Used to separate out extra information that can be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence.
□ Used to set off introductory words or phrases.
□ NOT used to separate subject from verb.
□ NOT used to separate essential information that changes the meaning of the sentence if it’s removed.

5. Subject-verb agreement
□ Underline subjects once and verbs twice (take your time; don’t make random guesses).
□ Does each verb match the subject – singular verb for singular subject, and plural verb for plural subject?

6. Confusable words
□ Mark each confusable word with a star. Pay special attention to their/there/they’re, its/it’s, your/you’re, and the like.
□ See pp. 461-469 of KFW if you’re not sure you have the right word.

7. Pronouns
□ Circle each pronoun and draw an arrow from the pronoun to the word it refers to.
□ Is it clear what the pronoun refers to?
□ Does the pronoun agree with the word it refers to – singular or plural?
□ If the pronoun is the subject of the sentence or renames the subject, is it in subject case (I, he, etc.)? Otherwise, is it object case (me, him, etc.)?
□ In formal writing, such as the essay, does the writer avoid using “you”?

8. Misplaced Modifiers
□ Are modifiers close to the word they modify so it is clear what they refer to?
□ If there is a descriptive word or phrase at the beginning of the sentence, does it describe the subject of the sentence?
□ If there is a restrictive adverb such as “only” or “not,” does it come right before the word it modifies?


Anonymous f r a n k i e said...

Thank you, Carol Anne, for the comment and the advice. I'll pay attention to my run-on sentences...

Tue Jan 09, 05:40:00 AM MST  
Blogger Carol Anne said...

Frankie, you're welcome.

Update: Due to a mixup between the publisher and the campus bookstore, my classes will now be using the 5th edition of Keys for Writers, so the page number reference will change. Still, most good grammar textbooks will have a listing of confusable words that you can use.

Tue Jan 09, 11:07:00 PM MST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought if MS Word didn't pick up the mistake then it must not be that important...

Wed Jan 10, 04:36:00 PM MST  
Blogger Carol Anne said...

FYI: Visitor #13,000 was somebody from Tokyo looking up "SHOCKWAE 5 YACHT"; Tillerman came in at 13,001.

Tue Jan 16, 10:48:00 AM MST  

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