Friday, September 27, 2013

Three Common Grammar Errors

Since common core requires testing written work, I'll go over the three most common errors in grammar, mechanics or style that I have found in students' essays:

1.  One of the most common errors I note in students' composition papers is that students confuse a plural (which refers to more than one) with a possessive (which means ownership).
For example: consider the errors in this sentence: The course's that I have taken at Ashford have been challenging, yet rewarding. Note that the word courses indicates more than one class so you don't need the apostrophe. The sentence should be: The courses I have taken at Ashford have been challenging, yet rewarding.

Now if you wanted to write about a characteristic of a class (something the course takes ownership of), you could write a sentence like this: The course's textbooks are brilliantly written. Course's here can be rewritten as textbook of the course. If this sentence were written with the apostrophe after the s in the word courses the word would become courses', which means you are talking about possession dealing with more than one class. For example, to indicate the meaning of the word courses' you can write textbooks of the courses (more than one course).

Now the distinction between plurals using courses as an example and then using course's as another example makes more sense.

Again, a plural means more than one and doesn't need an apostrophe either before or after the s, and a possessive means ownership, which is indicated in two ways, a required apostrophe either before or after the s (course's textbooks means one course, and courses' textbook means more than one course).

2. The second error I frequently encounter when I read students' essays deals with capitalization. This one is straight-forward. You capitalize the names of people, places and/or things (proper nouns). For example: The students graduated from high school two years early because they were considered gifted by their teachers. Here the words high school are not capitalized because it is not the name of a specific high school. Now take a look at this sentence: The students graduated from Coral Gables High School two years early because they were considered gifted by their teachers. Note that the first letter in every word of  the name of the institution is capitalized.

Here are some other examples of nouns vs. proper nouns

state/Florida
city and state/Coral Gables, Florida
elementary school/Sunset Elementary School
name of building/Empire State Building
street/Butternut Street
president/ President Barack Obama
lake/Lake Okeechobee or The Big O (casually speaking)

3. The third error I want to write about deals with punctuation, specifically the comma, the bane of the beginning writer. Here you need to know about dependent and independent clauses. A dependent clause is a phrase. If it's written by itself as a sentence,  it's an error called a fragment. An example of a fragment would be: When the television went on the blink. An independent clause is a complete idea with subject and verb: When the television went on the blink, I brought it to the repair shop near my house.
Commas are often missed being placed before an introductory clause: Even though my mother is older, she remains beautiful.
Extra commas are often added to dependent clauses placed after the dependent clause: My mother is pretty, even though she is older. This is incorrect. It should be: My mother is pretty even though she is older.

Finally, there is the comma splice error. This is simply using a comma between two independent clauses that are not joined with a conjunction: The girls and boys in the Mrs. Gorden's class came into the classroom unprepared for the day's activities, a few of the math activities were expected to be challenging not only for the students to learn, but also for the teachers to teach.
The first comma should be changed to a period and the first letter of the next word needs a capital because these are two independent clauses (complete sentences) connected with a comma.
The sentence should be: The girls and boys in the Mrs. Gorden's came into the classroom unprepared for the day's activities. A few of the math activities were expected to be challenging not only for the students to learn, but also for the teachers to teach.

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