If it’s been a while since you wrote a paper, don’t stress it! We have a few reminders to help you avoid common grammatical errors on your next essay.
For starters, don’t forget to utilize free online resources. For example, Grammarly is the world’s leading proofreading program and can help catch mistakes you may otherwise overlook. Also, keep in mind it’s always helpful to print out a draft and revise by hand, rather than rely solely on your word processor’s spell check feature and your tired eyes.
Here are a few grammar mistakes common to student work:
Who vs. That
This rule often trips people up, but once you get the hang of it, it’s easy to remember. When you’re describing a person, use who. For example, “Maria is a soccer player who also likes bacon.” On the other hand, use that when you are describing an object. For example, “Those are the balloons that Lars received for his birthday.”
Purdue OWL has a great explanation of how to make subjects and verbs agree (it’s also a wonderful resource for grammar and citations overall). In general, a singular subject requires a singular verb and the same goes for plurals needing to match up. First, identify if the subject is one entity or plural, then make sure the verb aligns with it.
i.e. vs. e.g.
Students tend to use these terms interchangeably, but they have two distinctly different meanings. Roughly translated, “i.e.,” means “that is.” Therefore, “i.e.” can be used to clarify a point, whereas “e.g.,” short for “example given,” is used to provide a concrete representation of an idea.
its vs. it’s
The simple way to differentiate these two words is to remember “it’s” is always a contraction of “it is.” The other form, “its,” is a possessive, e.g., “the bear came out of its cave.” Read over your sentence aloud to help you determine which one is the proper usage. One helpful device is to separate the contraction and say “it is” to see if the meaning of the sentence changes or sounds incorrect.
Colons, semi-colons, hyphens, exclamation points, em dashes and en dashes certainly can add some visual spice to your writing, but make sure you’re using each punctuation mark appropriately. Remember, it’s often safer to simply use a period than to try and expand your sentences with complex and incorrect punctuation.
For example, a comma’s primary usage is to separate independent clauses with a coordinating conjunction (and, but, for, etc.). Semicolons, on the other hand, separate independent clauses that are related but do not have a coordinating conjunction.
Likewise, colons and semicolons should not be used interchangeably. Colons are used to introduce an item or list of items. However, a colon, rather than semicolon, can also be used between independent clauses when the latter clause illustrates or expands upon the first.