All sentences must have a subject and predicate (can be a short as just a verb)—make sure there isn’t two verbs unless one is within a subordinate clause or a semi-colon or coordinating conjunction has been used or you will have a run-on sentence (or a comma splice if you separated them with a comma.
Run-on or comma splice sentences are sentences that should be divided into two separated sentences, joined by a coordinating conjunction (preceded by a comma), joined by a subordinating conjunction, or, if appropriate, separated by a semi-colon (e.g. Mary went to the store, John went home).
Comma splice (e.g. Mary went to the store John went home).
Run-on –> Sometimes these sentences are caused by simple carelessness—proofread carefully!
- Mary went to the store. John went home. Mary went to the store, but John went home.
- When Mary went to the store, John went home. Mary went to the store after John went home.
- Mary went to the store; John went home. (careful with semi-colons—the second sentence must either describe or elaborate on the first, or, as in this case contrast with the first—the semi-colon here is used to emphasize the contrast)
Be careful with conjunctive adverbs (however, therefore, furthermore, then, also, etc.). Conjunctive adverbs must always be separated from the rest of the sentence by commas (or a comma if the conjunctive adverb begins the sentence). Mary, however, went to the store.
- However, Mary, went to the store.
- Mary went to the store; however, John went home.
NOTE: Conjunctive adverbs CANNOT join two sentences (two independent clauses)
Coordinating conjunctions are almost always preceded by a comma when they join two independent clauses (the only exception is when the two independent clauses are very short—e.g. I washed dishes and John watched television).
Beware of awkward sentence construction caused by dangling modifiers (e.g. Looking at the window, the light came on).
Note that some sentences could be grammatically correct and even true, but still be wrong:
For example: Lacking a title page and References page, as well as having no introduction or conclusion, Jeff failed the essay. (Jeff may lack these things, but presumably the writer meant that the essay lacked them—Lacking. . . , the essay did not receive a passing grade from Jeff.
Subject/verb agreement (must agree in person & number—e.g I am ill; she was reading; they are in class).
Noun/pronoun agreement (must agree in number and antecedent must be clear):
- When a student does not go to class, they usually fail. When students do not go to class they usually fail.
- She told her more than him. (?)
- Mary told Ellen more than Janet. (?)
Be careful with placement of adverbs—usually, they modify the word following them although they often follow the verb that they modify (e.g. The boy ran quickly)—some adverbs are often misplaced (hopefully, only, mainly, etc). For example –>
- The boy ran to the store.
- Only the boy ran to the store.
- The only boy ran to the store.
- The boy only ran to the store.
The boy ran only to the store. (2 possible meanings here because “to the store” is a prepositional phrase—“only” can modify “to” so he didn’t run from the store, or the entire phrase, so he didn’t run to any other place)
The boy ran to the only store (e.g. He only went to the party for the food).
- Do not use contractions
- Do not use slang/colloquial expressions
- Do not use “you” (your) unless you are writing directly to someone, or are writing instructions, etc.
- Be careful using “we” (us, our) unless you are allowed to write in first person and are referring to a specific group (e.g. In my class, we . . . .). Do not assume your reader belongs in the group of “we.”
- Generally, you are expected to use third person (Canadians are presented by American media as . . . . They . . . .)
- Avoid abbreviations unless they are considered standard (“e.g.” “i.e.” “St.”)
- When using acronyms, first write out the full name, followed by the acronym in parenthesis. Then you can use the acronym by itself. If the acronym is so well recognized that the full name is not needed (e.g. AIDS), you may not need to provide the full name although usually, you still should do so.
- Be careful with verb tense—make sure the tense is appropriate and that you are consistent
VOCABULARY –> Be careful with commonly confused words
WORDS THAT ARE OFTEN CONFUSED
accept verb) to receive, to admit, to acquiesce, to abide (e.g. He accepted the gift).
except: (noun) but/save/excluding. Everyone except John went to the dance. (verb) to exclude (e.g. We excepted John from the list).
affect verb) to influence, to inspire, to attack, to feign (e.g. How will this news affect your attitude?)
effect: (noun) outcome/ impact/ essence (e.g. What was the effect of the report?) (verb) to bring about/ achieve/ cause/ execute (e.g. Protest movements often effect change).
agree to: give consent (e.g. I agree to the conditions of the contract).
agree with: to concur with (e.g. I agree with Jane’s opinion).
allusion: an indirect reference (e.g. He made an allusion to Chaucer in his note).
illusion: a misleading image OR a false impression (e.g. The heat waves produced the illusion of a pool of water).
all right: recognized/established spelling
altogether: Wholly/completely (e.g. I am altogether pleased with this book).
all together: in a group (e.g. We were all together at the party).
ante-: before/pre- (e.g. Antedate the report and file it chronologically).
anti-: against (e.g. Anti-American protests took place during the festival).
can: to be able (e.g. I can play the piano).
may: to have permission (e.g. You may submit your essay a week later).
censor: to examine in order to delete (e.g. The editor censored the passage).
censure: to reprimand or condemn (e.g. His actions were censured by his family).
continual: frequently repeated (e.g. He was distracted by continual telephone calls).
continuous: without interruption (e.g. The continuous humming of the air conditioner irritated her).
disinterested: impartial (e.g. Good judges are always disinterested).
uninterested: without interest (e.g. She was uninterested in her cooking class).
farther: denotes distance (formal) (e.g. John ran farther than Mike).
further: denotes degree or quantity (informal) (e.g. One further insult was the reference to his weight).
imply: to hint (e.g. He implied that I was ungrateful).
infer: to draw a conclusion (e.g. I inferred from his remark that he did not like me).
immigrate: to move into a country (e.g. Sam immigrated to Canada from Mexico).
emigrate: to move from a country (e.g. Sam emigrated from Mexico to Canada).
ingenious: clever (e.g. Inventors are usually ingenious people).
ingenuous: naive (e.g. He was too ingenuous to suspect that he was being tricked).
its: possessive (e.g. The cat was small and its coat was grey).
it‘s: contraction of it is (e.g. It’s cold today).
Note: Except for pronouns, all possessives are formed by adding an apostrophe and an “s” (John’s). The current practice is not to add the “s” when the word ends in “s” regardless of whether the word is singular or plural: the bus’ tires, the girls’ locker room). Pronouns have their own forms: mine, ours, yours, his, hers, its, theirs, whose
lead: (verb) to direct or guide ==> Note: the past tense of lead is led
loose: (verb) to free OR (adj.) not tight (e.g. He loosed the dog from its leash. His belt is loose).
lose: to be deprived of (e.g. Did you lose your money?)
practical: useful (not theoretical) (e.g. Jane’s practical mind made her a good consultant).
practicable: capable of being put into practise (e.g. Her financial schemes were practicable).
practice: noun (e.g. The doctor opened her practice in January).
practise: verb (e.g. You should practise on the piano every day).
principal: (adj) main, highest in rank or importance (e.g. The principal rule is to always be yourself).
(noun) head of a school, leading actor, sum of money (e.g. The principal was ill today).
principle: (noun) essential nature, fundamental truth (e.g. He believes in the principle of first come, first served).
some time: denotes a period of time. Soon we will spend some time together. sometime: denotes occasion/some other time (e.g. I’ll arrive sometime tomorrow).
teach: to impart knowledge. Experience teaches us to be careful. learn: to gain knowledge (e.g. We learn from experience).
than: comparative (e.g. She sang more often than she danced).
then: denotes order (e.g. He went to the store and then he went to the bank).
there: adverb OR an expletive. She works there (e.g. There, there, stop worrying).
their: possessive (e.g. The books are in their rooms).
they’re: contraction for they are (e.g. They’re coming Monday).
who: used as subject (e.g. Who is going to lead the expedition?)
whom: used as object (e.g. To whom is this letter addressed?)