Begin at the beginning: Basic mistakes
BEGIN AT THE BEGINNING: Basic mistakes
Make sure each word group that has been punctuated as a sentence contains a grammatically complete and independent thought that can stand alone as an acceptable sentence.
|Tests of the Shroud of Turin have produced some curious findings. For example, the pollen of forty-eight plants native to Europe and the Middle East.||Tests of the Shroud of Turin have produced some curious findings. For example, the cloth contains the pollen of forty-eight plants native to Europe and the Middle East.|
|Scientists report no human deaths due to excessive caffeine consumption. Although caffeine does cause convulsions and death in certain animals.||Scientists report no human deaths due to excessive caffeine consumption, although caffeine does cause convulsions and death in certain animals.|
Too many equally weighted phrases and clauses produce tiresome sentences. The ideal length of a sentence is around 20 words.
|The hearing was planned for Monday, December 2, but not all of the witnesses could be available, so it was rescheduled for the following Friday, and then all the witnesses could attend. (32 words)||The hearing, which had been planned for Monday, December 2, was rescheduled for the following Friday so that all witnesses would be able to attend. (25 words)|
Misplaced and dangling modifiers
Place modifiers near the words they describe; be sure the modified words actually appear in the sentence.
|When writing a proposal, an original task is set for research.||When writing a proposal, a scholar sets an original task for research.|
|Many tourists visit the National Cemetery, where veterans and military personnel are buried every day from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.||Every day from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., many tourists visit the National Cemetery, where veterans and military personnel are buried.|
Really good examples of what to avoid
- Coming out of the market, the bananas fell on the pavement.
- She handed out brownies to the children stored in plastic containers.
- I smelled the oysters coming down the stairs for dinner.
- I brushed my teeth after eating with toothpaste.
- Driving like a maniac, the deer was hit and killed.
- With his tail held high, my father led his prize poodle around the arena.
- I saw the dead dog driving down the highway.
- Emitting thick black smoke from the midsection, I realized something was wrong.
- The girl was consoled by the nurse who had just taken an overdose of sleeping pills.
10. I saw an accident walking down the street.
11. Mrs. Daniel sews evening gowns just for special customers with sequins stitched on them.
12. She carefully studied the Picasso hanging in the art gallery with her friend.
13. Freshly painted, Bob left the room to dry.
14. He held the umbrella over Jane’s head that he got from the airlines.
15. He wore a straw hat on his head, which was obviously too small.
Hoping at least one would win, the novice writer sent ten different puns in to the pun contest. Sadly, no pun in ten did.
Be sure to use grammatically equal sentence elements to express two or more matching ideas or items in a series.
|The candidate's goals include winning the election, a national health program, and the educational system.||The candidate's goals include winning the election, enacting a national health program, and improving the educational system.|
|Some critics are not so much opposed to capital punishment as postponing it for so long.||Some critics are not so much opposed to capital punishment as they are to postponing it for so long.|
This idea applies to lists too. Make sure the lists are all nouns or all verbs in the same format.
Þ Chickens; and
Þ Keeping pigs;
Þ Gathering chickens; and
Þ Herding ducks.
Unclear Pronoun Reference
All pronouns must clearly refer to definite referents [nouns].
Use it, they, this, that, these, those, and which carefully to prevent confusion.
|Einstein was a brilliant mathematician. This is how he was able to explain the universe.||Einstein, who was a brilliant mathematician, used his ability with numbers to explain the universe.|
|Because Mr Doolally is less interested in the environment than in economic development, he sometimes neglects it.||Because of his interest in economic development, Mr Doolally sometimes neglects the environment.|
Incorrect Pronoun Case
Determine whether the pronoun is being used as a subject, or an object, or a possessive in the sentence, and select the pronoun form to match.
|Castro's communist principles inevitably led to an ideological conflict between he and President Kennedy.||Castro's communist principles inevitably led to an ideological conflict between him and President Kennedy.|
|Because strict teachers recommend adherence to the rules, no one objects more than them to breaking the rules.||Because strict teachers recommend adherence to the rules, no one objects more than they [do/object] to breaking them. (Check by asking yourself whether you can put a verb after the pronoun.)|
Use commas to show non-restrictive or non-essential material, to prevent confusion, and to indicate relationships between ideas and sentence parts.
|When it comes to eating people differ in their tastes.||When it comes to eating, people differ in their tastes.|
|The Huns who were Mongolian invaded Gaul in 451.||The Huns, who were Mongolian, invaded Gaul in 451.|
["Who were Mongolian" adds information but does not change the core meaning of the sentence because Huns were a Mongolian people; this material is therefore non-restrictive or non-essential.]
|Field trips are required, in several courses, such as, botany and geology.||Field trips are required in several courses, such as botany and geology.|
|The term, "scientific illiteracy," has become almost a cliché, in educational circles.||The term "scientific illiteracy" has almost become a cliché in educational circles.|
Do not link two independent clauses with a comma (unless you also use a coordinating conjunction: and, or, but, for, nor, so, yet). Instead, use a period or semicolon, or rewrite the sentence.
|In 1952 Japan's gross national product was one third that of France, by the late 1970s it was larger than the GNPs of France and Britain combined.||In 1952 Japan's gross national product was one third that of France. By the late 1970s it was larger than the GNPs of France and Britain combined.|
|Diseased coronary arteries are often surgically bypassed, however half of all bypass grafts fail within ten years.||Diseased coronary arteries are often surgically bypassed; however, half of all bypass grafts fail within ten years.|
Apostrophes indicate possession for nouns ("Jim's hat," "several years' work") but not for personal pronouns (its, your, their, and whose).
Apostrophes also indicate omissions in contractions (it's = it is).
In general, they are not used to indicate plurals.
|In the current conflict its uncertain who's borders their contesting.||In the current conflict it is [it's] uncertain whose borders they are [they're] contesting.|
|The Aztecs ritual's of renewal increased in frequency over the course of time.||The Aztecs' rituals of renewal increased in frequency over the course of time.|
Apostrophes are used in plurals when confusion might arise: the CEO’s, the 1990’s – but this tendency is going out of fashion.
Words Easily Confused
"Effect" is most often a noun (the effect), and "affect" is almost always a verb.
Other pairs commonly confused: "lead"/"led" and "accept"/"except."
Check a glossary of usage to find the right choice.
|The recession had a negative affect on sales.||The recession had a negative effect on sales.|
|The recession affected sales negatively.|
|The laboratory instructor choose not to offer detailed advise.||The laboratory instructor chose not to offer detailed advice.|
Now we have a fair idea of what to look for when editing. If you are dealing with fiction, you may want to bend the rules to suit, say, a speaker of dialect or a particular author’s style. There are no rules than cannot be broken as long as readers can understand the language.
Q: Why do some writers use lots of commas, while others exclusively drink club soda?
A: Obviously the questioner is of the former school, and not a club soda drinker. The University of Schweppes has released results of a study recently that confirmed that club soda drinkers are so heavily effervesced by their habit that their visual field is clouded by bubbles. Thus, they cannot see properly to insert the punctuation. Of course, there is the outside possibility that certain liquids mixed in with the club soda may also influence the degree of punctuational conformity exhibited by these writers, as well.[i]