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This section focuses on the common grammatical errors that many students (and adults!) make. You will also find detailed explanations and examples — as well as exercises — in your textbooks.
 
     
   
     
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THE SENTENCE

One of the most common errors of students is to put different ideas together in what they think is the same sentence, when really a separate sentence is required, as in:
We came late to school today, we had slept in.

This should, of course, read:
We came late to school today. We had slept in.

However, these two separate ideas can be formed into one complete sentence by inserting a conjunction (joining word):
We came late to school today because we had slept in.


VERB AND TENSE AGREEMENT

Another common error students make is to confuse their verbs and tenses as shown in the following paragraph. The student has begun in the past tense then changed to the present tense.

The dog
barked just as Sam, who has been digging for only five minutes, was levering the box from the loose earth. The dog has seen something. In sudden fright Sam thinks, “I am making too much noise.”

The rule is simple: the tenses should be consistent with the tense you begin with. Note the corrections:

The dog barked just as Sam, who had been digging for only five minutes, was levering the box from the loose earth. The dog had seen something. In sudden fright Sam thought, “I was making too much noise.”

In the following paragraph, the student has begun in the present tense then changed to the past:

The man whistles. Instantly the horse trots up to him. The man springs into the saddle. The horse reared, whirled round and neighed savagely. Its forefeet crashed to the ground. The parching dust spurted yellow about its hooves.

The correct version is:

The man
whistles. Instantly the horse trots up to him. The man springs man into the saddle. The horse rears, whirls round and neighs savagely. Its forefeet crash to the ground. The parching dust spurts yellow about its hooves.

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SUBJECT AND VERB AGREEMENT

Another common error of students is to confuse the subject and verb agreement. If the subject is singular the verb must be singular. If the subject is plural, the verb must be plural.

Incorrect
1. Some of the things he said is very true.
2. The dogs sees the rabbit and runs after it
3. We was shouting.
4. The boss are in her office so everyone are working very hard.
5. A box of chocolates are sitting on the table.
6. Neither Sid nor his friends is coming to my party.
7. Rod’s gang are very large.

Correct
1. Some of the things he said are very true.
2. The dogs see the rabbit and run after it
3. We were shouting.
4. The boss is in her office so everyone is working very hard.
5. A box of chocolates is sitting on the table.
6. Neither Sid nor his friends are coming to my party.
7. Rod’s gang is very large.

Some common mistakes:

Collective nouns (words which describe groups of persons, animals or things) usually take a singular verb.

Class 9F
Ted’s family spacer is brilliant
This football team
Tony’s gang

If you are talking about more than one class, family, team or gang, then the verb becomes plural.

Classes 9F and 10C
Ted’s and Jed’s families spacer are brilliant
The football teams
Tony’s gangs

Indefinite pronouns like anyone, everyone, someone, no one, each are singular and should take a singular verb.

   Everyone
is going on a picnic today. singular verb
   Several of us are going on a picnic today. plural verb

When you use neither...nor in a sentence it can be difficult to decide what to do with the verbs. If the subjects are singular use a singular verb. If one or more subjects are plural, the verb is plural.
   
   Neither the dog nor the cat likes the way Tom plays his violin. singular verb
   Neither Ben nor his brothers like having a bath. plural verb

When a sentence has more than one subject joined by and, the verb should be plural.

   Here comes Annie and her sister. X
   Here come Annie and her sister.   There are two subjects so the verb is plural.

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THE APOSTROPHE ’

The Apostrophe is used for two quite different purposes:

1. to indicate possession (ownership)

• that girl’s pen
• Australia’s flag
• Clinton’s presidency

Note the rules:

’s is added to singular nouns:

Chris’s book;    the bird’s call;    the student’s timetable;    the girl’s game;
the dog’s favourite food;    the flower’s fragrance;    the boy’s bicycle


is added to plural nouns:

the birds calls;    the students timetable;    the girls game;
the dogs favourite food;    the flowers fragrance;    the boys bicycles

’s is added to a plural noun that does not end in s:

the children’s game;    the women’s sporting commitments;    the men’s towels;    the people’s singing;

possessive its does not have an apostrophe: the cat licked its paws;    the dog enjoys its meaty chunks


2. to indicate shortening of words (contraction), or that letters or numbers have been left out

• Shortening of words: couldve (could have); shouldve (should have); wouldve (would have); youre (you are); its (it is);

• Letters left out (often used as slang): cause (because);

• Numbers left out: 98 (1998)

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INVERTED COMMAS “ ”

Inverted commas may be single ‘ ’ or double “ ” but you must be consistent. Use inverted commas for:

Direct speech: “It is possible,” she said, “but I will need some glue and a pair of scissors.”

Slang: Tom couldn’t believe that “slugger” Grieves and Herman “the gut” were caught so easily.

Quoting from a book (etc.): Romeo’s famous speech, “but soft, what light through yonder window breaks...” is an example of the romantic poetry that makes the play famous.

Titles of short stories, poems, songs, radio and television shows, chapter headings, titles of articles, essays and lectures:
   “The Tax Dodgers” (article); “The Landlady” (short story)
   “The Best” (song); “Neighbours” (TV show)

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UNDERLINING or ITALICS

Underlining (in handwriting) or italics (typing) are used for two different purposes:

1. to indicate the titles of a books, titles of anthologies (e.g. of poety, short stories) plays, films, magazines, newspapers, works of art, musical works:

The Great Gatsby is perhaps F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most renowned novel.
Oscar Wilde wrote the play, The Importance of Being Earnest.
Gone with the Wind starred Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable.
The Bulletin and Women’s Weekly are published monthly.
The Age and Herald-Sun are Melbourne’s leading newspapers.
Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus is at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.
Kath saw the opera Aida in Milan.
You can find a coy of Roald dahl's short story “The Landlady” in Short Story Favourites, edited by Walter McVitty.

2. to emphasise a word or phrase in a sentence:

The reality must be that she was safe at home.
“We have it all to ourselves,” she said smiling at him.

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ON-LINE GRAMMAR GAMES AND QUIZZES

The BBC apostrophe game. Simple and easy But then, we can all do with a bit of quick revision, no matter how simple!

Guide to grammar and writing. This is an extensive list of self-correcting exercises and quizzes.

Grammar games. Most of these 70 games work, a few are even useful. Includes self-correcting activities on common mistakes.

Common errors in English. A detailed list of common mistakes in English.

Writing tips for publishing on-line.

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Last up-dated 17 May, 2018
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© George Marotous. Melbourne High School English Faculty
 
     
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