As you write and as you revise, you must be able to rely on the basic knowledge of how standard written English works. There are many aspects of language that can affect the overall value of a passage. Be sure you are competent in using, and finding errors in, these components of an essay.
Grammar consists of grammatical and structural relationships, mechanics, and word choice. You will be tested in your ability: to recognize common errors in grammar and to recognize sentences that are error-free.
Adjectives are used to give descriptive details to a noun. They can be used to give a noun: size, shape, color, age, origin, etc. Some examples are: dilapidated, giant, Italian, gold, and young. Adjectives should be placed near the word they are describing, such as:
“The brown-haired woman has just arrived in her blue Mercedes.”
“The woman with brown hair has just arrived.”
You wouldn’t want to place the adjective far away from the noun, as in this sentence:
“The woman has just arrived with brown hair.”
The last sentence doesn’t sound good and implies that she brought brown hair with her.
This placement is incorrect, as well:
“The woman just arrived in her Mercedes with brown hair.”
It implies that the Mercedes has brown hair.
Adverbs are modifiers for verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. Many adverbs end in -ly, such as quickly, friendly, lovely, and lonely. However, this is not always the case, as in the case of other adverbs, including very, quite, and always.
Verb modifier: The newly hired artist paints beautifully.
Adjective modifier: My mother is very tall.
Adverb modifier: She completed the obstacle course extraordinarily gracefully.
Nouns and Pronouns
Nouns are places, persons, and things. Pronouns are words that are used in place of a noun (she, he , it, etc.). They can be singular or plural. You must make sure that pronouns agree with the case of the noun they are replacing. For example, you wouldn’t replace “Emily” with the pronoun he and you wouldn’t replace “My dog and I” with it. Gender-neutral (or “vague”) pronouns include it, they, and this. These pronouns don’t have a specific gender attached to them, but can leave the readers wondering to whom or what the pronoun refers.
Subjects and Verbs
It is important to pay attention to subject-verb agreement and the tense of the verb. If the subject is singular, then the verb must also be singular. The same goes for the plural form. Two or more subjects connected with and require a plural verb, but if they are connected with or, neither/nor, or either/or, then they need a singular verb. The verb tense should make sense in the sentence as well. You would want to avoid sentences such as, “Eight years ago, I will study in university.”
The four types of clauses are: independent, dependent, relative (adjective), and noun (a clause that functions as a noun). You will be expected to know if their placement in a sentence is correct as well as to know which type of clause it is. An example of each:
Independent: “My daughter loves puzzles.“
Dependent: “because my daughter loves puzzles,…”
Relative: “When my daughter plays with her puzzles,…“
Noun: “what she does to her puzzle”
A dangling modifier is an error that occurs when the writer has written a word or phrase to add description, but then forgets to add in the noun/pronoun that the word is supposed to be describing. For example, “With a squeal of delight, the toy was played with.” The writer forgot to add who squealed and played with the toy. Misplaced modifiers are when the writer has put the modifier in the wrong place. For example, “Emalina ran to the living room holding a puzzle.” The modifier is “holding a puzzle,” but because it is next to “living room,” it does not modify “Emalina.” Obviously, the writer meant to say, “Holding a puzzle, Emalina ran to the living room.”
Conjunctions link two parts of a sentence and are found in all sentence types other than simple. Coordinating conjunctions are used for connecting words, phrases, and independent clauses. These include: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. Subordinate conjunctions are used in complex sentences to link an independent clause to a dependent clause. Some examples include: although, because, and since. Correlative conjunctions are used in pairs to signify equality between two parts of the sentence. Some examples of these conjunction pairs include: neither/nor, either/or, and if/then.
Parallel structure refers to the use of equality in the grammatical units used in a list of words or actions. For example, “Today at school, Emalina played with puzzles, ate lunch, and painted a picture.” In that sentence, played, ate, and painted are all past tense verbs, giving all of thema parallel structure.
Common sentence errors include fragments, run-on sentences, and comma splices. Sentence fragments are missing one or more parts that are necessary to make a complete sentence.
“The very tall, ancient castle” is a fragment, even though it contains quite a few words. It only contains a subject and no predicate (verb phrase). We don’t know what the castle is doing.
Likewise, this is a fragment because it does not contain a subject:
“was walking aimlessly toward the eroding shoreline.”
We don’t know who or what walked.
Run-on sentences require correction using a comma with a conjunction, a semicolon or separation into two sentences. Here is an example of a run-on sentence and possible corrections:
“Harry was not the captain of the ship he wanted people to think he was in charge, so he yelled a lot.”
“Harry was not the captain of the ship. He wanted people to think he was in charge, so he yelled a lot.”
“Harry was not the captain of the ship; he wanted people to think he was in charge, so he yelled a lot.”
“Harry was not the captain of the ship, but he wanted people to think he was in charge, so he yelled a lot.”
If you used a comma to separate the above two clauses, you would create a comma splice—the use of a comma to separate two complete clauses, which is also a sentence error.
Idioms are phrases that do not mean what they literally say. For example, “That TV cost an arm and a leg.” Of course, we all know that the buyer of the TV did not cut off an arm and a leg to pay for it. The sentence just meant that the TV was quite expensive.
Commonly Confused Words
Commonly confused words include words that look or sound alike, but actually have entirely different meanings. Some commonly encountered examples are: effect/affect, accept/except, and all together/altogether. It would be worth your while to seek lists of such words online to review their correct use.
Redundancy occurs when two or more repetitious words or statements are used within a limited space in an essay. Some common examples of word redundancy include: free gift, added bonus, wrong mistake, and unexpected surprise. All gifts are free, all bonuses are add-ons, all mistakes are wrong, and all surprises are, by definition, unexpected.
Redundancy of statements occurs when an author makes a statement, then uses different words to make another statement that means the same thing as the first. For example:
“Every single child in the school ate a hot lunch that day. There was not a single child in the school who did not eat a hot lunch.”
You will be expected to find redundant words/phrases on the exam. If you were editing the sentences above, you would probably choose to delete the second sentence. The first sentence has the important detail “that day,” so it should remain.