Page 3 Next Generation Writing Study Guide for the ACCUPLACER® test


Usage refers to the standard and accepted way that a word or phrase is applied. English has a lot of rules for how and when to use its words so you want to make sure those rules are followed. It’s really just “grammar.”

Possessive Determiners

Possessive determiners modify nouns and note possession, ownership, or connection of something to that noun. For example, “my phone,” “his wallet,” “their house.” However, these are often confused and misused because of their similar sounds to contractions and adverbs. Remember, apostrophes indicate contraction (it is = it’s), not possession.

It’s going to be a hot day.”


“The company received an award for its positive contributions to the community.”

And don’t confuse other tricky words:

“Her book is over there.”
“She will accept their apology.”
They’re going to the store.”

Noun Agreement When you refer to someone or something (a noun) two or more times in a sentence, the form of the noun’s number and gender must remain the same. Here is an example of a mistake in this area:

“All four ducklings grew into a big duck in no time!”

This implies that four ducklings morphed into one giant duck! Instead, you would need to write:

“All four ducklings grew into big ducks in no time!”


Each of the four ducklings grew into a big duck in no time!”

Pronoun Clarity

When you replace a noun with a pronoun, it must be clear who or what that pronoun is replacing. If there are unclear or ambiguous antecedents (the word the pronoun is replacing), then the reader may get confused about who or what is really being referenced. For example:

“Tom called his dad to see if he could go to the movies.”

Now, you may wonder if this was a son inviting his dad to the movies or if it was a son asking permission (for himself) to go to the movies. A good way to fix this, without repeating a noun, would be to restructure the sentence to read:

“Tom called his dad for permission to go to the movies.”


“Tom called his dad to see if he wanted to go to the movies.”

Subject-Verb Agreement

Good writers ensure that their subjects and verbs agree in number and tense. If a subject is singular, the verb must be singular; if the subject is plural, the verb must also be plural. Here are some examples of poor subject-verb agreement and how to fix them (and remember, as contradictory as it seems, to make a verb singular, you add an -s):

“He sit on the park bench at lunch.” “He sits on the park bench at lunch.”

“The pencils was stacked in the drawer.” “The pencils were stacked in the drawer.”

“We was going to go, but then mom said no.” “We were going to go, but then mom said no.”

Frequently Confused Words

Hundreds of words are probably confused with each other because they sound the same, have similar spelling, or have similar meaning. When used incorrectly in writing, a word can confuse the reader and even obscure the meaning of the message. There are numerous lists of these commonly confused words online and they include words such as: accept/except, there/their/they’re, lay/lie, advise/advice, and so on. Be sure to check them out and know the differences.

Logical Comparison

Logical comparison mistakes occur when a writer compares unlike terms. The purpose of comparison is to show similarities so the reader can make a connection between an example they know and something they might not be as familiar with. Comparison mistakes would be things like using fewer as opposed to less or amount as opposed to number which sets the reader up to misunderstand the comparison actually being made. Also, be sure not to leave out important details in the sentence that would affect the comparison. For example:

“Reading the book is better than the movie.”

This comparison is actually unclear for the reader—what is it about the movie that we are comparing to reading the book? A more logical comparison would be:

“Reading the book is better than watching the movie.”

Conventional Expression

Writers write with a variety of purposes. If you are writing a text to a friend, it’s going to look and sound different than an email you send to your teacher. As a result, it is important to be mindful of your purpose and diction when writing. Avoid slang and casual jargon that your grandmother might not understand (or might make her blush!). Make sure that you use the standard conventions of English in terms of spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and diction.