Pen to Paper: Common Grammar and Punctuation Errors

Posted: 4/21/2010
By: GOpromos

The proper use of grammar and punctuation lends credibility to a piece of writing. In fact, grammar and punctuation errors can confuse a reader or lead to a misunderstanding of a writer's intentions. By innocently misusing one word, a writer can change the meaning of an entire sentence. In short, it's important for a writer to be aware of common grammar and punctuation errors so that he or she can take pains to avoid them.   

Sentence Fragments

A sentence fragment is an incomplete sentence that leaves out pertinent information. In fact, a sentence fragment leaves a reader with more questions than answers. Furthermore, when a sentence fragment is read aloud, it sounds awkward. The remedy for this grammatical error is to add further explanation  

Incorrect example: The University offers many majors in business. Such as advertising, marketing, and economics

Correct example: The University offers many majors in business, such as advertising, marketing, and economics.

Lack of Agreement

A sentence can become confusing to a reader when there is a lack of agreement between the subject and the verb. In other words, when the subject of a sentence is singular, then the verb must be singular. Alternatively, when the subject of a sentence is plural, then the verb must be plural. When a writer changes tense in the middle of a sentence it causes a lack of agreement.

Incorrect example: He and his friend is going to the party.

Correct example: He and his friend are going to the party.

Faulty Parallelism

Faulty parallelism is a grammatical error that comes into play when there is a series of ideas in a sentence. The items in a series should be presented in a balanced form that adds to a reader's understanding. A writer may be able to identify faulty parallelism if he or she reads a sentence aloud. Not surprisingly, a sentence with faulty parallelism often sounds awkward to a listener.

Incorrect example: She liked writing stories and to read novels.

Correct example: She liked writing stories and reading novels.

Dangling Modifiers

A dangling modifier refers to a word or group of words that aren't in the sentence. In other words, there is confusion as to what word is being modified. A sentence with a dangling modifier can cause a reader to wonder what the writer is referring to. A dangling modifier can be corrected if a writer adds more information to clarify the sentence. 

Incorrect example: When only a toddler, sledding was fun.

Correct example: When I was only a toddler, sledding was fun. 

Misplaced Modifiers

A misplaced modifier is a grammatical error that can create a great deal of confusion for a reader. The arrangement of the words in the sentence causes a reader to wonder what the misplaced modifier is referring to. A misplaced modifier can cloud the meaning of a sentence. A sentence doesn't fulfill its purpose if a reader has to guess at its meaning.

Incorrect example: My cat was hit by a car trotting across the street. 

Correct example: My cat was trotting across the street when a car hit it.

Run-on Sentences

A run-on sentence crams together independent clauses without allowing a reader an opportunity to pause. Not surprisingly, a run-on sentence can usually be separated into two sentences. A gathering of run-on sentences can become tedious for the reader. Furthermore, run-on sentences make it difficult for a reader to absorb the meaning of a piece of writing.

Incorrect example: He went to the play he loved the theater.

Correct example: He went to the play. He loved the theater.

Wordiness

Many readers appreciate clear, succinct writing. In fact, when a writer uses too many unnecessary words a reader's attention may begin to wander. Ideally, a writer should avoid using too many descriptive words. A few words of description can go a long way.

Incorrect example: The cute white cat with the fluffy, soft, thick fur walked out of the tiny cage.

Correct example: The beautiful white cat walked out of its cage.

Dangling Participles

A dangling participle involves adjectives that end in 'ing' or perhaps 'ed'. A participle is supposed to refer to a noun. In the case of a dangling participle, it is not clear which noun the participle is referring to. When a dangling participle appears, the meaning of a sentence can be misunderstood or lost.

Incorrect example: Slithering across the street, the little girl studied the snake.

Correct example: The little girl watched the snake slithering across the street.

Misuse or Overuse of Commas

A comma serves a purpose in certain writing situations. For instance, commas should be used to separate three or more items that appear in a series as well as before the words yet, then, and but. In addition, commas should be used after introductory words such as consequently or nowadays. In general, a comma appears in a written piece when a reader is supposed to pause. A written piece with too many commas can become distracting to the reader.

Incorrect example: She wanted to, sand, paint, and sell the antique chair.

Correct example: She wanted to sand, paint, and sell the antique chair.

Overuse of Passive Voice

It's not a grammatical mistake for someone to write in the passive voice; however, overuse of the passive voice can detract from a piece of writing. In addition, overuse of the passive voice may cause a piece of writing to lose an element of excitement. A writer generally uses the active voice when the subject of the sentence is taking some action.  

Incorrect example: She was walking in the park when she was robbed. 

Correct example: While out walking in the park, she was robbed. 

Misuse of the Semicolon and Colon

A semicolon comes into play when independent clauses need to be separated. A semicolon can also be used in a sentence that contains several commas. For example, a semicolon could appear in a sentence that pairs capital cities and states. Alternatively, a colon usually precedes a series of things listed in a sentence.

Incorrect example of semicolon usage: We traveled to; Tallahassee, Florida, Indianapolis, Indiana, and Boulder, Colorado. 

Correct example semicolon usage: We traveled to Tallahassee, Florida; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Boulder, Colorado.

Incorrect example of colon usage: You will require: a book, a pencil, and paper.

Correct example of colon usage: The following people are special guests at the hotel: Mrs. Pendleton, Mr. Jackson, and Mr. Rutledge.

Use of Apostrophes

An apostrophe is used with possessive words and in contractions. The presence of an apostrophe can quickly change the meaning of a piece of writing. In fact, a reader may become confused if a writer mistakenly includes an apostrophe.

Incorrect example (possessive): That is Katys' book.

Correct example (possessive): That is Katy's book.  

Incorrect example (contraction): We are going to you're house.

Correct example (contraction): We know you're in the house.

Misuse of Certain Words

I is used as the subject and me the object.

Incorrect example (I): Jack and me are talking.

Correct example (I): Jack and I are talking.

Incorrect example (me): Jack and me were talking with her.

Correct example (me): She was talking with Jack and me.

The words there, their, and they're sound alike, but have different spellings and meanings. The word there is connected with place whereas the word their has a possessive quality. Alternatively, they're is a contraction for the words they are.

Incorrect example (there): I think there house is beautiful. 

Correct example (there): I want to visit there someday.

Incorrect example (their): I love to stop their for groceries.

Correct example (their): I like their car.

Incorrect example (they're): I know they're sister.

Correct example (they're): I hope they're going to the party.

Your and you're sound the same, but are used in different ways. Your is used as a possessive word and you're is used as a contraction of the words you are.

Incorrect example: Your the quiet sister.

Correct example: I like your quiet sister.

Incorrect example: I enjoyed you're piano recital.

Correct example: You're the best piano player in the class.

Who is the subject of the sentence and whom is the object.

Incorrect example: Whom wrote the letter?

Correct example: Who wrote the letter to whom?

The word like is used when there isn't a verb that appears after it. Alternatively, the word as is used when a verb does appear after it in a sentence.

Incorrect: He looked like he was asleep.

Correct: People say I am like my sister.  

Incorrect: She looks as if scared. 

Correct: He looked as if he were asleep.

A is paired with words that begin with a consonant and an is paired with words that begin with a vowel letter.

Incorrect: I would like a apple for lunch.

Correct: I would like a sandwich for lunch.

Incorrect: I would enjoy seeing an movie tonight.

Correct: I would enjoy eating an apple for dessert.

The words accept and except sound similar, but carry different meanings. The word accept means to take or agree to. Alternatively, the word except means to leave out.

Incorrect: I'll invite everyone accept Lucy.

Correct: I'll accept your apology.

Incorrect: I can't except your poor behavior.

Correct: Everyone except Julie can go to the zoo.

Once again, the words effect and affect sound similar, but can change the meaning of a statement. The word effect means a result whereas the word affect means to influence.

Incorrect: The game did not effect the outcome of the series. 

Correct: We are waiting for the medicine to take effect.

Incorrect: We are studying cause and affect.

Correct: The material in this book will affect your behavior.

For further information on grammar and punctuation errors, please visit:

  • Grammar Errors to Avoid: Find a list of grammar errors that includes information on possessive nouns, commas, sentence structure, and more. 
  • A Collection of Common Grammar Errors: Peruse a list that features common grammar and punctuation errors along with guidance on how to correct them.
  • The Use of Proper Grammar: Learn about the elements of grammar such as subject/verb agreement, as well as proper pronoun and verb use.
  • A Helpful Grammar Review: Discover a straightforward grammar review that includes examples of correct and incorrect usage of adverbs, commas, and many more.
  • Correcting Grammar Errors: Read about the correct usage of words such as 'then' and 'than' as well as 'there' and 'their'.
  • Dealing with Errors in Grammar: Peruse a list that includes information on noun and pronoun agreement and sentence fragments along with many other grammatical errors. 
  • A Grammar Checklist: Find a gathering of grammar errors accompanied by information on how to avoid them.
  • Grammar Errors: Features grammar errors such as dangling participles and run on sentences along with information on how to correct them.
  • Using Correct Grammar: Discover information about dangling modifiers, sentence fragments, commas, and more.
  • A Simple Grammar Review: Practical grammar information that includes information on the use of commas as well as when to use 'who' or 'whom' and much more. 

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