Common Errors in Student Writing

The Eleven Most Common Errors in Student Writing

Given below are sentences illustrating the most common errors in student writing. The formal name for the problem is stated. In each case, samples of tutor descriptions of the error have been added; such descriptions can be more helpful for writers at times than formal names.

1. John felt badly when he received a low grade on the final examination.

Adjective/adverb confusion

-The statement means the mechanism that allows you to feel is broken.
-feel, smell, taste鈥攖he word following these verbs describes the subject ( a noun or pronoun), not the verb.
-鈥淏adly鈥 here refers to the verb 鈥渇elt,鈥 which implies that John鈥檚 ability to feel is impaired.

Corrected version: John felt bad when he received a low grade on the final examination.

2. There are no secrets between Mary and I.

Pronoun case

-Mary and me鈥攎e is the object of the preposition between; prepositions are followed by the object form of pronouns
-You should be able to take out the words 鈥淢ary and鈥 and still be able to read the sentence.
-Cut out the name; would you use I or me?

Corrected version: There are no secrets between Mary and me.

3. 3. One of the many students who come from the Scandinavian countries are enrolled in my composition class.

Subject-verb agreement

-One is singular; are  is plural.
-A singular subject (one) should be followed by a singular verb (is, not are)
-Prepositional phrases (of the many students) are not an important part of the sentence when looking at verb agreement; the main idea (S + V) is One is enrolled.

Corrected version: One of the many students who come from the Scandinavian countries is enrolled in my composition class.

4. 4. Trygve can鈥檛 hardly get out of bed for his 8:00 class.

Double negative

--two negatives in a row鈥攃an鈥檛 hardly
-鈥淗ardly鈥 is already negative鈥攅ither He can hardly or He can鈥檛.
-The sentence literally (or mathematically) means that Trygve can easily get out of bed; two negatives = a positive

Corrected version: Trygve can hardly get out of bed for his 8:00 class.

5. Entering the bakery, the smell of fresh pastries and coffee overwhelmed her.

Dangling construction

-It sounds like 鈥渢he smell of fresh pastries and coffee鈥 is 鈥渆ntering the bakery.鈥
-As a reader, I am unclear as to what was entering the bakery鈥攁 woman or a smell?
-The actor of the sentence must be at the beginning of the independent clause.

Corrected version: Entering the bakery, she was overwhelmed by the smell of fresh pastries and coffee.

6. In Strindberg鈥檚 Miss Julie an aristocratic woman pays a nighttime visit to the servants鈥 quarters and slept with the family valet.

Verb tense shift

-Pick a verb tense and stick with it; present tense is the standard for writing about literature.
-Avoid verb tense changes鈥擳he woman pays/ The woman sleeps.
-Verb tenses should stay consistent within a sentence.

Corrected version: In Strindberg鈥檚 Miss Julie an aristocratic woman pays a nighttime visit to the servants鈥 quarters and sleeps with the family valet.

7. The Senator voted for the health care bill to the delight of the opposition.  Although he had to admit that there were certain provisions with which he disagreed.

Sentence fragment

-Although indicates that the segment following should be joined to the main clause.
-Things that sound like afterthoughts or additions are rarely complete sentences.
-These two ideas can be combined to form one complex sentence; otherwise, the second clause is a fragment.

Corrected version: The Senator voted for the health care bill to the delight of the opposition although he had to admit there were certain provisions with which he disagreed.

8. Dairy farmers should of received a larger subsidy from the Federal government because of the increased cost of operation.

Wrong verb form

-This sentence should read 鈥渟hould have鈥 because 鈥渙f鈥 is a phonetic way of saying 鈥渉ave鈥 in spoken English.
-Should鈥檝e = should have
-鈥淥f鈥 is a preposition while 鈥渟hould have鈥 is a helping or auxiliary verb.

Corrected version: Dairy farmers should have received a larger subsidy from the Federal government because of the increased cost of operation.

9. Anne rode her bicycle to the meeting in the -40 temperatures, everyone else either drove or stayed home.

Comma splice

-A comma doesn鈥檛 correctly join two sentences (or two independent clauses).
-You have two complete sentences here; use a semi-colon or a period rather than a comma.
-There is no putting two sentences together with just a comma.

Corrected version: Anne rode her bicycle to the meting in the -40 temperatures; everyone else either drove or stayed home.

10. Warren and Alice spent at least $5000 on their Hawaiian vacation the trip could have been less expensive if they had stayed at hotels away from the beach.

Run-on sentence

-A new subject and a new verb after 鈥渧acation鈥 鈥 a new sentence
-There are two complete sentences here not separated by punctuation.
-This sentence contains two complete thoughts without the necessary punctuation.

Corrected version: Warren and Alice spent at least $5000 on their Hawaiian vacation; the trip could have been less expensive if they had stayed at hotels away from the beach.

11. Ellen quit her job not only because of the long commute but also because she did not respect her supervisor.

(Lack of) Parallel construction

-If you want to use not only 鈥 but also, the word group following each part (phrase or clause) must be parallel in construction.
-Because + Prepositional phrase is grammatically different from because + S + V.
-Match the form of items joined by coordinating conjunctions or phrases.

Corrected version: Ellen quit her job not only because she had a long commute but also because she did not respect her supervisor.

from Rich Carr, Director, UAF Writing Center & Computer Laboratory