Page 2 - ELAR: Writing Study Guide for the TSIA2
Sentence Revision, Editing, and Completion Skills
The editing sentences questions will focus more on the fine points of sentence structure and add some editing details with respect to usage and corrections regarding standard English.
There are certain things expected when writing in “Standard English” and one of the biggest concerns is proper grammar. This category covers many conventions, but the most common errors fall in the area called agreement.
Agreement in writing just means that the correct verb or pronoun form is used in a sentence. For example, if a noun is plural, the verb is plural; if the antecedent is female and singular, the pronoun is female and singular; if the subject uses first person, the verb must also be in first person. Basically, it means that all of the parts in the sentence are working together in a way that is grammatically correct.
Agreement in Number and Person
Subject and verbs must agree in number and in person. Agreement in number means that if a subject is singular, the verb must be singular; if the subject is plural, the verb must be plural.
“Molly swims every morning.”
“Molly and Jane swim every morning.”
Agreement in person means that a subject that uses first person must also have a verb in first person. The same is true for second and third person forms.
“I am hungry.”
“You are hungry.”
“He is hungry.”
Included in this agreement list is also pronoun-antecedent agreement. Pronouns must agree with their antecedents in number and person.
“Sally walked her dog around the block.”
“Jack and Jill worked on their project after school.
Agreement in Verb Tense
Verb tense indicates the time in which an action took place (past, present, future). It can be confusing if the time shifts mid-sentence so be careful that there is agreement in verb tense. For example:
“The sky darkened, the thunder clapped, and the rain begins to fall.”
In this sentence, we have two verbs in the past tense and then one in the present, which doesn’t agree.
“The sky darkened, the thunder clapped, and the rain began to fall.”
Now all of the verbs are in the past tense and they all agree.
Common Agreement Errors
The most common agreement errors are made by people who have misunderstood or misidentified some part(s) of a sentence. Remember that singular nouns joined by an and make a plural subject, but those linked by or remain singular.
“Her book and her pencil were taken to school.”
“Either her book or her pencil was taken to school.”
When each or every precedes two or more singular nouns joined by an and, the nouns remain singular.
“Each book, pencil, paper, and note was taken to school.”
This has been discussed in the essay section, above, under both Usage and Language Use.
Punctuation is also important when revising and editing sentences. Be sure to see the notes about this above, in the section on reviewing passages and look up any other punctuation issues that tend to confuse you.
Spelling and Capitalization
For a reader to easily derive meaning, words must be spelled correctly and that includes correct capitalization. If a reader is constantly having to figure out what words are actually supposed to be, the rhythm of reading is disturbed and it’s easy to lose interest and/or not receive the intended message.
Review your basic spelling rules. There is nothing more telling of a writer who did not take time to proofread his/her work than misspelled words that are obvious and should have been easily caught and corrected. It is easy to confuse some words, so a writer should double-check all written work by inserting a synonym to see if it makes sense in the given context. If it does not, it may be the wrong word. It’s also not a good idea to try to impress with high-level diction if the author isn’t 100% sure of the correct use of a word and that it is an appropriate choice for where and how it is being used.
Be sure to apply all accepted rules of capitalization. That would include the first letter of the first word in a new sentence, the first word in a quote, the first word in a document, all proper nouns, and the pronoun I. On the other hand, if a word does not fall into one of these categories, don’t capitalize it. Then, there’s the complication that there are many words that are capitalized sometimes and sometimes not. For example, these are both correctly capitalized:
“I told you that my mom is coming to get me later.”
“I told you that Mom is coming to get me later.”
In the second sentence, the word Mom is being used as a name, so it is capitalized. In the first sentence, it is not.
Also remember that capitalizing the first letter of a word is not an accepted way to emphasize that word or make it more seem more important.
Purpose and Organization of Sentences
When reviewing a sentence, you should consider its purpose. This is hard to do when given an isolated sentence that is not surrounded by other sentences in a paragraph or passage, but a sentence can still impart some important information. Part of the effectiveness of its message involves the following sentence-writing skills. You will find errors of this sort in the sentences you’ll be asked to evaluate on the test.
Sentence structure refers to the way words in a sentence are arranged so they are grammatically correct and convey a clear meaning. Sentences can be short and simple or long and complex, but they always fit into one of four types of sentences.
Types of Sentences
There are four types of sentences in English. All are made up of at least one type of clause. A clause is a group of words containing a subject (noun) and a predicate (verb). If it has a subject and a verb, and expresses a complete thought, it is an independent clause, meaning that it can stand independently as its own sentence. Here is an example:
“The extended family quickly ate a large meal.”
The subject is family and the verb is ate. So, you know who is doing what. This clause also expresses a complete thought and you get the feeling it is “finished.” Therefore, it is an independent clause. It could stand by itself as a sentence.
If a clause has a subject and verb but does not express a complete thought, it is a dependent clause and must be linked to an independent clause to form a complete sentence.
“because everyone was hungry and tired”
This sentence has a subject and predicate, but is not complete. When reading it, you have the sense that something is missing. Therefore, it is “dependent” on that “something else” to be complete.
If you combine these two clauses, a longer sentence could be formed, using one independent and one dependent clause:
“The extended family quickly ate a large meal because everyone was hungry and tired.”
Here are the four types of sentences and what kind of clause(s) make up each:
- Simple Sentence: one independent clause
- Compound Sentence: two or more independent clauses joined by a comma and a coordinating conjunction or joined by a semicolon
- Complex Sentence: one independent clause plus one (or more) dependent clauses
- Compound-Complex Sentence: two or more independent clauses plus at least one dependent clause
Remember that, regardless of type, a sentence must always have a subject and a verb, and it must express a complete thought.
Sentence Type Errors
Despite what some people think, a period at the end does not mean that a sentence is a sentence. The lack of a subject, a verb, and a complete thought creates a sentence fragment. Sentence fragments are common errors in writing and can easily be corrected by adding the missing component to make it complete.
Run-on sentences take things to the other extreme and are also a common issue in writing. Run-on sentences are generally created when two or more independent clauses are linked together without the proper joining words or punctuation. Run-on sentences tend to be the ones that make you feel breathless when you try to read them aloud. They frequently contain the word and in more than one place, so try to avoid that.
Other times, run-on sentences are created because writers try to link two independent clauses together with just a comma, which is not strong enough to hold two independent sentences together on its own. This is called a comma splice. To avoid this, don’t put a comma where a period or semicolon should be.
Errors Within Sentences
A sentence may be a complete sentence but still have issues that make it unclear or confusing. Here are some common errors that can occur within a complete sentence.
Parallelism—Parallelism refers to a repetition of the same grammatical pattern throughout a sentence. This helps to show that multiple ideas have the same level of importance in a sentence. Parallelism means using articles, prepositions, infinitives, and introductory clauses consistently within any given sentence. One easy way to create parallelism is by consistently using the gerund (ing) form or infinitive phrases.
Here is a sentence with parallelism issues:
“Sam likes hiking, biking, and to swim.”
Correct it either of these ways:
“Sam likes hiking, biking, and swimming.”
“Sam likes to hike, to bike, and to swim.”
Just be sure not to switch any word forms or switch between active and passive voice within your sentences. Everything needs to be formatted in the same way, using the same pattern, so that there is a consistency and parallelism in your sentences.
Subordination—Not all information presented in a sentence is equally important and therefore should not be presented using parallel structure (see above). Instead, writers want to indicate subordination and give less attention to one idea while emphasizing another. To emphasize the importance of one piece of information in a sentence, it can be presented as an independent clause. To indicate information that is subordinate (of lesser importance), writers can make it a dependent clause and link it to the independent clause using subordinate conjunctions (e.g., because, after, though, than, until, when, etc.)
“Because he woke up late this morning, Tom was late to work.”
In this sentence, it is not as important that Tom woke up late. What is important is that he was late to work. Even though it comes first in this sentence, the first part of the sentence is a dependent clause and shows subordination of that information.
Coordination—Coordination gives equal importance and emphasis to two items in a sentence. Using coordinating conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so), two pieces of information in a sentence are given equal attention. A comma and a coordinating conjunction bring together two independent clauses to make a compound sentence.
“Allison ordered the steak, and Philip ordered the fish.”
Both pieces of information in the sentence have equal importance and they are joined together by a comma and a coordinating conjunction (since they are two independent clauses).
“Rayne wanted more macaroni but no more salad.”
In this sentence, we have equality among the ideas just by adding a conjunction, since there are not two independent clauses.
Sentence logic means making sure that all of your sentences make sense and are complete. It also requires you to make sure that no sentence is ambiguous and that no faulty comparisons are made.
Modifying Clauses and Phrases
One way that sentence logic can be affected is by not placing words in the correct order or by leaving parts out altogether. One of the most common errors affecting sentence logic is misplaced modifiers. Modifiers are words, phrases, or clauses that add information or description to a sentence. When they are put in the right place, they help give detail to the reader. When they are put in the wrong place, they make everything confusing. Here’s an example:
“Ned sent me some old baseball cards, for which I returned thanks, from the 1950s.”
What? What is going on in this sentence? Have they time-traveled back to the 1950s? In dissecting the sentences, we can see that the 1950s is describing what year the baseball cards are from, but because the modifier was interrupted by our speaker’s gratitude, it makes for a muddled sentence. Instead:
“Ned sent me some old baseball cards from the 1950s, for which I returned thanks.”
Take a look at these sentences and see if you are confused:
“He wore a baseball cap on his head, which was obviously too small.”
This might just be insulting. What was too small—the hat or his head? To fix it:
“He wore a baseball cap that was obviously too small for his head.”
“Oozing out of the bottle, Erin watched the maple syrup.”
Well, this might be a sticky situation if Erin is the one in the bottle (as it seems she might be from the way the sentence is structured). Let’s try putting the modifier closer to the word it is describing:
“Erin watched the maple syrup oozing out of the bottle.”
Consider another example:
“Rex smelled his mom’s spaghetti sauce coming down the stairs.”
Well, that’s going to leave a stain on the carpet. In this sentence, it is unclear who or what is coming down the stairs. Yes, logically we know it’s probably Rex, but the way this sentence is structured leaves open the possibility of walking spaghetti sauce. To ensure there’s no confusion, move the modifier:
“Coming down the stairs, Rex smelled his mom’s spaghetti sauce.”
To fix a misplaced modifier, just relocate it next to the word it is modifying or describing so that it’s easier to understand what is going on in the sentence.
The purpose of logical transitions is to move the reader from one idea to another or from one sentence to another in a way that makes sense and is not confusing. You know the importance of having logical transitions between your paragraphs, but the same kind of logical transitioning is also important within a paragraph, from one sentence to the next. Good transitions help to create good organization and build strong clarity. They help to illustrate coherent relationships between ideas within a text.
Transition words come in many forms and can indicate various things:
- agreement, addition, or similarity (e.g., moreover, furthermore, comparatively)
- opposition, limitation, or contradiction (e.g., although, despite, however)
- cause, condition, or purpose (e.g., due to, because of, with this in mind)
- examples, support, or emphasis (e.g., in other words, in fact, for instance)
- effect or consequence (e.g., as a result, hence, therefore)
- time or sequence (e.g., since, then, formerly)
- conclusion, summary, or restatement (e.g., after all, overall, ultimately)
Using these transitions will help your reader understand the connections you are trying to make.
One way to improve writing is to combine the content of two sentences. This is especially true if the content of the two sentences is related. Just be sure to consider whether the resulting sentence remains clear and is not so long that it loses meaning. Also, check for any errors that might result.