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Grammar & Usage
Common Errors in Grammar

This web page contains internal links to a few of the more common errors and sub-standard usages that you should look for and correct during the editing process. Proper and improper examples are provided together with references to appropriate sections of The Blair Handbook (henceforth referred to simply as "Blair").


Common Errors to Avoid


Avoid the lack of subject-verb agreement.

Do not mix singular nouns with plural verbs and visa-versa.
See Blair, sect 36

Improper:

Proper:

The engineers, Smith, Wood, and Reising, has prepared several devices to attach to the main flange. The engineers, Smith, Wood, and Reising, have prepared several devices to attach to the main flange.
The toddler have a short attention span. The toddler has a short attention span.
James were preparing a presentation on gasket design. James was preparing a presentation on gasket design.

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Avoid the use of double negatives

See Blair, sect. 37d.

Improper:

Proper:

No class exercises cannot replace training in the laboratory. (This literally means that some exercises can replace training.) Class exercises cannot replace training in the laboratory.
In budgeting, one should not spend no more than one's income. (This literally means that one should spend more than one's income.) In budgeting, one should not spend more than one's income.
Don't never perform the textile burn test in an unventilated area. (This is actually a triple negative and is very confusing. It could, in fact, get somebody hurt or killed.) Always perform the textile burn test in a ventilated area.

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Avoid the use of sentence fragments

See Blair, sects. 33 & 34.

Improper:

Proper:

Too much sugar causes a cake to sag in the center. To brown excessively. To have a sticky, thick crust. To be coarse grained. Too much sugar causes a cake to sag in the center, to brown excessively, to have a sticky, thick crust, and to be coarse grained.
When instruments are allowed to warm past 28 degrees Centigrade risky gathering of invalid data increases. Because contaminants collect on the instruments. The risk of invalid data being collected increases when instruments are allowed to warm past 28 degrees Centigrade. This increase results from contaminants that collect on the instruments.
The new regulator will cut processing time. In half. Essential part of on-line production. Especially because it is easy to install. Operating economically and being maintained simply. The new regulator will cut processing time in half. It will become an essential part of on-line production because it is easy to install. In addition, it is economical to operate and simple to maintain.
The design was rendered. In black and white, with lines forming the boundary. And circles added to the perimeter for interest. The design was rendered in black and white, with lines forming the boundary and with circles added to the perimeter for interest.

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Avoid the use of run-on sentences

See Blair, sect. 33.

Improper:

Proper:

The computer printouts are ready to be taken to the laboratory and please deliver them promptly. The computer printouts are ready to be taken to the laboratory. Please deliver them promptly.
Our new regulator will cut processing time in half and it will become an essential part of on-line production because it is easy to install and, additionally, it is simple to maintain. The new regulator will cut processing time in half. It will become an essential part of on-line production, especially because it is easy to install. In addition, it is economical to operate and simple to maintain.
The design was rendered in black and white and had lines forming the boundary and there were circles added to the perimeter to give it interest. The design was rendered in black and white, with lines forming the boundary and with circles added to the perimeter for interest.

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Avoid confusing verb forms and tenses

See Blair, sects. 35a-f

Improper:

Proper:

The thirsty traveler had drank more than a quart of water in two minutes. The thirsty traveler drank more than a quart of water in two minutes.
Andrew, working on a computationally extensive problem, seen that modifications were needed in the C++ source code. Andrew, working on a computationally extensive problem, saw that modifications were needed in the C++ source code.
Practicing an interview situation with a friend done helped to lessen the fear. Practicing an interview situation with a friend does help to lessen the fear.
His expenses has offset any profits made from the sale of the new electric mixer. His expenses have offset any profits made from the sale of the new electric mixer.

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Avoid confusing pronoun case forms

See Blair, sect. 41

Improper:

Proper:

Jacobs and me were engaged in sorting the bolts. Jacobs and I were engaged in sorting the bolts.
Susan and myself drafted basic bodice slopers today. Susan and I drafted basic bodice slopers today.
Her and John directed the computer design specifications. She and John directed the computer design specifications.
There has been disagreement between Madison and I about the stress control factors. There has been disagreement between Madison and me about the stress control factors.

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Avoid misplaced modifiers

See Blair, sect. 38.

Improper:

Proper:

Used properly, you will have a fine finished product from your lathe. (One might ask how "properly" is to be used.) If you use a lathe properly, you will produce fine finished work.
Stirring your bowl of muffin batter too much, you will have a peaked, shiny, smooth top and will contain tunnels.
(Will you contain tunnels?)
If you stir a muffin batter too much, it will have a peaked, shiny, smooth top and will contain tunnels.
Marching in formation, the General reviewed the troops. (Was the General marching in formation?) The General reviewed the troops as they marched in formation.
The surprised student was the guest of honor at a dinner with a chocolate birthday cake thrown by her close friends.
("Hey, Brenda...duck!!!")
The surprised student was the guest of honor at a dinner hosted by her close friends. For dessert, a chocolate birthday cake was served.

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Avoid redundancy

Use repetition sparingly (i.e., only when necessary for emphasis).
See Blair, sect. 30d.

Improper:

Proper:

The book was a free gift.
(Have you ever seen a gift that wasn't free? If it's not free, it's not a gift!)
The book was free.
        or
The book was a gift.
Poor initial preparations and a faulty miscalculation caused the final result of the experiment to be erroneous and wrong. Poor preparation and one miscalculation caused the results of the experiment to be in error.

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Avoid the use of slang, jargon, and clichés like the plague

Blair, sect. 31g, h, and j

Improper:

Proper:

Cinch the mill vise down real good or the piece might fly out and whop you up side the head or hit somethin'. Secure the workpiece in the mill vise to prevent the part from flying out and striking someone or something.
After debugging, Brenda dumped code and burned an EPROM. She then popped it in a ZIF and threw the power to see if anything crashed or burned. After ensuring the program was error free, Brenda downloaded the code from the host system to an erasable, programmable read-only memory (EPROM) chip. She then inserted the chip into a zero insertion force (ZIF) socket and applied power to begin testing the system.

 

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Last updated on Tuesday, August 16, 2005 by Bill Hemphill