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					                      The Writing Center SIUE—Peck 1419, (618) 650-2045,
                                 The Twenty Most Common Student Errors
1. Sentence fragment
   A sentence fragment is not a complete sentence; it is only part of one and thus cannot express a complete thought.
   Fragments occur when one or both of the two essential parts of a sentence, a subject and/or verb, are missing; they
   also occur when a dependent or subordinate clause is treated as an independent clause.
                                                        Her extravagance
    Marie Antoinette spent money lavishly. Which helped bring on the French Revolution.
                                  was                   ^
    The old aluminum boat sitting on its trailer.
2. Fused or run-on sentence
   Fused sentences occur when two or more independent clauses (complete thoughts) have no punctuation separating
   them. To correct the error, divide them into separate sentences either with a comma and an appropriate
   coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, nor, so, yet), a semicolon, or a period. Also, you can turn one sentence
   into a dependent clause to show its specific relationship (i.e., because for cause) with the independent clause.
                            swift. He
    The current was swift he could not swim to shore.
                            ^     simple, but they
    Klee's paintings seem simple they are very sophisticated.
       Because (causal relationship)       ^                                      punctuation, you
    You have joined two independent clauses together without any punctuation you have a run-on sentence.
   or ^                                                              ^ punctuation; you
    You have joined two independent clauses together without any punctuation you have a run-on sentence.
3. Missing comma in a compound sentence
   A compound sentence is made up of two or more independent clauses, and these clauses must be connected by a
   comma followed by a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, nor, so, yet) that clarifies the relationship between
   the independent clauses.
                                        star, and
    We wish dreamily upon a star and then we look down to see that we have stepped in the mud.
                                        ^ simple, but
    The words "I do" may sound simple but they mean a complex commitment for life.
4. Comma splice
   A comma splice occurs when two independent clauses are connected by only a comma or by a comma(s) plus a
   conjunctive adverb or transitional phrase (therefore, however, for example). To correct the error, use a comma
   plus coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, nor, so, yet), a semicolon, a semicolon plus conjunctive adverb
   followed by a comma, or a period to create two sentences. Choose conjunctions that show how ideas are related.
                                        her, for she (relationship of reason)
    I was strongly attracted to her, she had special qualities.
                                           ^    entree; however, we (relationship of contrast)
    That restaurant charges a lot for an entrée, we think the food is excellent.
                                                ^           Wyoming; even (provides and emphasizes example)
    Westward migration passed by Wyoming, even the discovery of gold in nearby Montana failed to attract
     settlers.                             ^

5. Missing comma after an introductory element
   Introductory words, phrases, or clauses are set off from the rest of the sentence by a comma. When there is no
   chance of misreading, the comma can be omitted after very short phrases.
    Frankly we were baffled by the committee's decision to cut salaries. In 2004 we will see employee cuts too.
               ^    corner, she
    Turning the corner she ran right into her ex-boyfriend and his new love.
                           ^                                  exam, he
    Although John studied hard for his chemistry exam he failed it.
6. Missing comma(s) with a nonrestrictive element
   A nonrestrictive element is a word, phrase, or clause that gives additional or optional information. This
   information is not essential to the meaning of the sentence and can be omitted. When such elements are
   embedded in a sentence, they are set off by a pair of commas; when they come at the beginning or end or the
   sentence, they are set off by a single comma.
          Mariana, who                                 club, was
     Mariana who was the president of the club was the first to speak.
                 ^                                        ^                  movie, which
     Everyone in the class went to see the latest Harry Potter movie which has made record amounts of money.
7. Unnecessary comma(s) with a restrictive element
   A restrictive element is a word, phrase, or clause that is essential to the meaning of the sentence; if it is deleted,
   the meaning of the sentence will change. A comma(s) should not set off important or restricted information.
                                       students who                                          bathroom by
     The school punished the students, who took part in trashing the bathroom, by making them clean up the mess.
                                               ^               restaurant that                   ^
     I told him last night when we were at the restaurant, that I would be going on vacation for several weeks.
              play Who‟s                                 Woolf? created     ^
     The play, Who‟s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ?, created a furor.
                  ^                                            ^
8. Missing Comma in a Series
   A series consists of three or more parallel words, phrases, or clauses that appear consecutively in a sentence.
   Traditionally, all items in a series are separated by commas; however, some newspapers, magazines, and other
   professional media leave out the final comma before the and or or. Whichever style you chose, be consistent.
                             squid, shrimp, crabs, and
     Sharks eat mostly squid shrimp crabs and other fish.
                                  ^      ^         ^                  smell it, squeeze it
     As a gardener, you must learn to talk to the earth, smell it squeeze it in your hands.
9. Missing or misplaced possessive apostrophe
   Use an -„s or an -s’ or an -s‟s to show a noun is possessive. If the noun does not end in an -s or is an indefinite
   pronoun (anybody, everybody, something), add an -„s; if the noun is singular and has an -s ending, add -„s or just
   the apostrophe if it is too difficult to pronounce. If the noun is plural and ends in -s, use only the apostrophe.
   Show joint possession with the last noun only.
                                                          children‟s             John
    Over ambitious parents can be harmful to their childrens well being. John’s and Mary’s children are very
       high strung.                                             ^                   ^
     Ron Guidry was once one of the Yankee’s most electrifying pitchers.
10. Wrong or missing verb ending
    Although they are sometimes dropped in speech, the verb endings -s or -es and -ed or -d, are important markers of
    standard English and must be used in writing. Problems occur with the required -s ending for third-person
    singular verbs in the present tense (he runs, she jumps, it smells versus they run, I jump, we/you smell).
               (he) uses
     T. S. Eliot use feline imagery throughout the poem.
                         ^                               does (she)
     I do many things around the house and so do Mary; together we both do whatever needs to be done.
               seemed                 asked                ^
     Robert seem upset when he ask to borrow my notes from class yesterday.
                     ^                   ^
11. Wrong verb form
    Typically, problems occur when forming tenses, such as the perfect tense (I had talked), with the past and past-
    participle forms of irregular verbs, as in swim, swam, swum or go, went, gone or come, came, come. Errors also
    occur in the auxiliary form in the progressive tense (I am running).
     He be asking me to help him study for his algebra exam.
            ^              saw
     Yesterday we seen our grandparents and took them out for dinner.
                    come     ^                                      have
     I had just came home when I remembered I should of stopped by my friend’s house to pick her up.
                     ^                                               ^
12. Unnecessary shift in tense
    As verb tense establishes the time of the actions being described, it is very confusing for the reader when the
    writer shifts tenses in a passage, such as from past to present tense in a description about something that happened
    in the past. However, literary convention requires the present tense when describing fictional events.
                                                                                   jumped        pulled
     When my stomach cramped, I thought I was drowning when this guy jumps in and pulls me out of the pool.
                                                          is               seems    ^             ^
     In Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the Prioress was not all she seemed to be.
                                                          ^                ^
13. Lack of agreement between subject and verb

    In Standard English verbs must agree with their subjects in number (singular or plural) and in person (first,
    second, third). Knowing the rules of agreement, being able to identify each subject, and recognizing the number
    of each subject are critical in managing agreement correctly. Many errors occur in the present tense: some result
    from dialects that drop -s endings off third-person singular verbs (he run instead of he runs); others happen when
    the verb agrees with another noun coming between it and the subject. Yet others occur with the irregular verb be
    or the verbs have and do, sentences beginning with There or Here which result in the subject following the verb,
    and the indefinite pronouns (everyone, nobody, everybody, etc.) most of which are singular.
       My brother and his friend Larry commutes every day from St. Louis to SIUE.
                      does                       ^
       My brother do have to get up very early every morning to get to his 8:00 class.
                       ^                                  was
       Each of the children in the kindergarten class were going to the circus.
14. Vague pronoun reference
    A pronoun should refer clearly to a specific antecedent. Pronouns like he, she, it, they, this, that, or which stand
    in for a noun or noun phrase already named or about to be named. When the pronoun's reference is vague, readers
    are unable to tell for sure whom or what the pronoun is referring to and get confused. These errors often occur
    when there is a lack of specificity and the pronoun could refer to more than one noun; they also occur when the
    writer tries to make a pronoun refer to an entire clause or sentence.
                                                               the shelf
       When Mary set the fragile pot on the glass shelf, it broke. (What broke? The shelf or the pot?)
                                 to study for the test.         ^
       John reminded James that he had to study for his test. (Did John or James have to study?)
                                 ^                                                 The destruction of this camp
       The troopers burned an Indian camp because of an earlier attack on their fort. This caused the war.
15. Lack of agreement between pronoun and antecedent
    Pronouns (I, it, you, him, her, this, someone, who, which, etc.) stand in for a specific noun or noun phrase, the
    antecedent, and must agree in number, gender, and case. Errors commonly occur with indefinite pronouns (each,
    anyone, everything) that do not refer to particular persons or things. Some indefinite pronouns (all, any, enough,
    more, most, none, some) can be singular or plural depending on the context; however, most of the indefinite
    pronouns are singular while a few (some, both, many, others, ones, several) are always plural.
     Each of the puppies thrived in their new home.
         Some of the leaves was red and yellow. Some of the leaf we looked at was brown and wrinkled.
         Neither Jane nor Susan came to the party with their husband.
    16. Unnecessary shift in pronoun
        Pronoun shifts occur when a writer shifts from one pronoun to another and intends for both of them to refer to the
        same antecedent. Doing this confuses the point of view. The pronoun you causes the most trouble and should be
        avoided in formal writing unless the second person point of view is appropriate or the focus is on the reader.
                                  one is / students are
         In that history class, you are graded on class participation.
                                            ^                             he or she is / one is
         When one first sees a painting by Georgia O'Keefe, you are impressed by a sense of power and stillness.
    17. Misplaced or dangling modifiers
        A misplaced modifier happens when a word, phrase, or clause is too far away from the word it modifies; instead,
        it attaches to another and wrong word, phrase, or clause. A dangling modifier is an introductory phrase that does
        logically connect to the subject of the sentence that it is meant to modify. The subject that it means to modify is
        missing and must be supplied.
                   with the flat tire (the station does not have a flat tire)
         I saw the car at the station with the flat tire.
                            ^                   John saw (the house cannot come home late)
         Coming home late last night, the house was all lit up with strings of Christmas lights.
    18. Wrong word
        Many word choice errors are homonyms, words that sound alike but are spelled differently. Word errors also
        occur with words that sound somewhat alike but have very different meanings. Spellchecker will not catch these
        errors, so use a dictionary if you are unsure of the correct use and/or meaning of a word.
         John often prevaricates and doesn't start studying until the night before a test.
             There                          ^                          they are / they're              “their.”
         Their is no way out of it; students have to learn when there incorrectly using the pronoun “they're.”
                   ^                                                                  ^                  ^
    19. Its/it's confusion
        The word its, spelled without an apostrophe, is the possessive form of it, meaning “of it” or “belonging to it.” The
        word it's, spelled with an apostrophe, is a shortened form of it is or it has, which occurs in spoken English but not
        written English. Check to see if you have the correct form by substituting “it is” for the form you have used and
        saying “it is” out loud. If it works, then you need the form with the apostrophe; if it doesn't work, then you need
        the possessive form without the apostrophe.
                                      its                      It's
         The car is lying on it's side in the ditch. Its a white 1986 Buick.
              It has                  ^                        ^
         Its been a long time since we saw each other.
    20. Wrong or missing preposition
        Many phrases are idiomatic in English and using the wrong preposition will change the meaning. Also, because
        prepositions are so short, writers sometimes inadvertently leave them off thinking they have written them.
         Nixon compared the United States with a "pitiful, helpless giant."
                                for                       ^                                       to
         My dog went to the mailman and bit him viciously. His dog went for the mailman and licked his hand.
                             ^                                                                    ^

Revised March 17, 2005