Grammar Assistance

Outside Resources

  • Purdue Online Writing Lab: This online writing center at Purdue University has an amazing library of 100 handouts on common writing problems.
  • Web Grammar: Offers explanations of grammar, articles of use to ESL writers (non-native speakers), and links to many other writing-related resources.
  • Grammar Slammer: Grammar help from English Plus, an organizational spin-off from an SAT tutoring program. Offers grammar shareware.
  • Grammar Bytes: Clear explanations of grammar as well as handouts, exercises and tips.

Semicolons

  • A semicolon is used to join two phrases that could stand alone as sentences instead of using a conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for, yet, so).
    • Ex: The Writing Center is open six days a week; students may make an appointment or walk in any time.
  • A semicolon is used to join two phrases that could stand alone as sentences joined by a conjunctive adverb (however, therefore, in addition, meanwhile, etc.).
    • Ex: Joe didn't want to go to class because he hadn't finished the paper that was due; however, he didn't want to miss the review for the test either.
  • A semicolon is used to separate phrases that are long or contain commas
    • Ex: The Writing Center will gladly work with students who want help with improving their writing skills; with students who need assistance with citing, documenting, or researching internet sources; and with students who desire feedback on resumes, cover letters, or graduate school applications
  • A semicolon is used between items in a series if the items contain commas.
  • Ex: The winners of the writing contest were Marty Rubens, original fiction; Janet Spurlow, poetry; and Mike Jacobs, who received the award for the most creative piece overall.

Colons

  • The colon is used after an independent clause to introduce a list of items.
    • Ex: The following energy sources are renewable: wind, hydropower, biomass, solar, and nuclear.
  • The colon may be used to emphasize a word, phrase, clause, or sentence which explains or impacts the main clause.
    • Ex: Yesterday, a revolutionary new plan was unveiled to "solve" one of Xavier's most frustrating problems: parking.
  • Use a colon to introduce a quotation (only if the words before the colon are an independent clause).
    • Ex: The writer offered wise advice: "Get into the habit of reading your work aloud."

Fragments

A complete sentence has a subject and a verb and expresses a complete thought. A sentence fragment lacks a subject and/or a verb, or is a subordinate clause, but is part of the sentence.

The Phrase Fragment

A group of words that lacks a subject and a verb is known as a phrase. You will use several kinds of phrases as a writer, but a phrase must be attached to the sentence in which it belongs. Alone, they are considered to be sentence fragments.

  • Fragment: I am graduating in May. With a degree and a sense of accomplishment.
  • Sentence: I am graduating in May with a degree and a sense of accomplishment.
  • Fragment: My pet goat Stumpy only has three legs. But a surprisingly fast gait.
  • Sentence: My pet goat Stumpy only has three legs, but he has a surprisingly fast gait.

The Subordinate Clause Fragment

A subordinate clause is a group of words that contains both a subject and a predicate, but because it is introduced by a subordinating conjunction (e.g., although, until, while, that, as if, since, because), it must be attached to a sentence. If you can identify a subordinate conjunction, you will have no problem detecting and correcting these fragments.

  • Fragment: I had to stay up all night writing my English paper. Because I took a nap all afternoon.
  • Sentence: I had to stay up all night writing my English paper because I took a nap all afternoon.
  • Fragment: Bryan makes me laugh. Since he knows many good jokes.
  • Sentence: Bryan makes me laugh, since he knows many good jokes.

Top Ten Grammar Errors

Missing Apostrophes: An apostrophe is needed to form the possessive form of most words.
Example: The dog?s toy was found under the deck.
Be sure to check a handbook for variations of this rule. Another common apostrophe error is the inclusion of an apostrophe when the noun is plural
Incorrect Example: Most Monday?s I want to skip work.
Correct Example: Most Mondays I want to skip work.

9. Dangling Modifiers: A modifying clause must clearly and sensibly modify a word in a sentence. When there is no word that the phrase or clause can sensibly modify, the modifier is said to dangle.
Incorrect Example: Carrying groceries, the bird flew to its nest. (Can a bird carry groceries?)
Correct Example: While carrying groceries, I saw a bird fly into its nest.

8. Pronoun Antecedent: A pronoun should agree in number with the word to which it refers.
Incorrect Example: Anyone entering must show their ticket.
Correct Example: Anyone entering must show his or her ticket.

7. Vague Pronoun: A pronoun becomes vague when it does not explicitly refer back to a noun.
Incorrect Example: J.D. Salinger, Kurt Vonnegut, and John Steinbeck are three of my favorite authors. He wrote my all-time favorite book, East of Eden.
Correct Example: J.D. Salinger, Kurt Vonnegut, and John Steinbeck are three of my favorite authors. Steinbeck wrote my all-time favorite book, East of Eden.

6. Subject/Verb Agreement: Subjects and verbs should agree in number; that is, they must both be either singular or plural.
Incorrect Example: Meg, as well as her friends, like the Cubs.
Correct Example: Meg, as well as her friends, likes the Cubs.

5. Mixed Tenses: Whatever verb tense you use (past, present, or future), it should remain consistent in your writing.
Incorrect Example: She went to the store and goes to the bank.
Correct Example: She went to the store and the bank.
When writing about history, use past tense.
Example: There was much protest over the Vietnam War.
Also, when writing about literature, refer to texts in the present tense.
Example: Faulkner writes about the burden of history in The Sound and the Fury.

4. Its/It?s: The ?it?s? (with the apostrophe) is short for it is. The ?its? is possessive; it indicates that the ?it? has ownership over something.
Incorrect Example: Its closing time at the local dive.
Correct Example: It?s closing time at the local dive.

3. Comma Splice: A comma splice is created when a comma is used to join two independent clauses. Independent clauses must be joined by a coordinator (and, but, yet, so, etc.), by a full stop (a period, question mark, exclamation point, etc.), or by a semi-colon.
Incorrect Example: My dog likes to bark at birds, she howls when they come around.
Correct Example: My dog likes to bark at birds; she howls when they come around.

2. Fragments: A sentence consists of a group of words that contains a subject and a verb and expresses a complete thought. A fragment, therefore, lacks one or more of these conditions.
Incorrect Example: I saw Jake. Leaving the Writing Center.
Correct Example: I saw Jake leaving the Writing Center.

1. Run-on Sentences: A run-on sentence occurs when two or more independent clauses are improperly joined. A comma splice (see #3) is one example of a run-on sentence.
Incorrect Example: I went to the gym, but all the machines were occupied I decided to eat cake.
Correct Example: I went to the gym, but all the machines were occupied. I decided to eat cake.