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Improve Your Writing: Banish 4 Common Grammar Mistakes

No one’s perfect — not me and not you. No matter how experienced a writer you are, chances are that there are ways for you to improve your craft. One thing that many people struggle with when writing is grammar.

Here are four common grammar mistakes that you should be cognizant of when you’re writing:

1. Mismatched Pronouns and Antecedents

You likely know that if you’re writing about Joe, you should use “he” or “his” as a subsequent pronoun. But what if you’re writing about a student whose gender you don’t know? Most people would probably write something like, “One student grabbed their bag.” A similar problem comes up when you write something along the lines of “Each/Every student grabbed their bag.” Both these constructions are wrong because the subject is singular and the pronoun is plural.

So how do you fix it? Simply make sure your singular subjects get singular pronouns:

  • One student grabbed his bag.
  • Each student grabbed his or her bag.

It’s as easy as that. Just keep in mind that “each” and “every” (including “everyone” and “everybody”) are singular antecedents.

2. Passive Sentence Structure

I’m a big proponent of simple sentence structures. It only makes it harder for readers when you ramble on with complex sentences, compound subjects and verbs, and lots of dependent clauses. On that note, active sentence structures are easier to read than passive ones.

It only makes it harder for readers when you ramble on with complex sentences.

For instance, which makes more sense:

  • The teacher placed the books on the table.
  • The books were placed on the table by the teacher.

Probably the first, right? That’s because it’s an active construction — the subject (the teacher) is doing the verb (placing) to the object (the books).

This issue isn’t always easy to spot in your own writing. Just be aware that, in general, your subject should be doing something to your object.

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3. Dangling and Misplaced Modifiers

English really is a confusing language. Basically, when there’s a prepositional or participial phrase, it needs to be placed next to the noun it’s modifying, not in a separate sentence or next to another noun in the sentence.

For example:

  • Running down the street, the car hit a girl.

Clearly this is a bit wonky. Was the car running down the street? Or was the girl? It’s unclear. There are lots of other ways that you can misplace modifiers:

  • The car drove quickly down the street. Approaching a stop sign, a girl darted into the road.
  • The driver stopped the car in the crosswalk, which had rusty brakes.

To fix these issues, just make sure that any dependent phrases are as close as possible to the nouns they modify. Otherwise, the sentence may be confusing or easily misconstrued.

Side note, that was kind of a dark example. Next time, I’ll write about kittens.

4. Commas… All the Commas

This could probably be a post in and of itself, but I’ll give you a quick rundown of common comma errors. I want to preface this with an admission that commas are tricky — if you struggle with them, you’re not alone!

Commas are tricky — if you struggle with them, you’re not alone!

Here are a few common situations where people misuse commas:

  • When setting off nonessential dependent clauses.
  • When connecting independent clauses.
  • In dates and addresses.
  • In quotations.
  • When a sentence is directly addressing someone.
  • When writing the way you speak!

My best suggestion is that when you’re reading, pay attention to comma usage to get a better idea of how they should work. Alternatively, you can read a grammar textbook, but I’m not sure if that’s anyone’s idea of fun.

Go forth to grammatical correctness, my students!

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