Simple Study Guides

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Omit unnecessary words.

Examples

  • Incorrect: I would like to assert that the author should be considered to be a buffoon.

  • Correct: The author is a buffoon.

  • Incorrect: It would be safe to say that Gregor Samsa is not the only character in Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis to undergo drastic changes.

  • Correct: Gregor Samsa is not the only character in Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis to undergo drastic change.

  • Incorrect: Before going to the supermarket, we made a list of the groceries we needed in order to make the food that we intended to eat for dinner.

  • Correct: Before going to the supermarket, we made a list of groceries that we needed to prepare dinner.

    References

    More information about this rule is available from the following sources.

    Online Resources:
  • The Elements of Style: rule 13

Printed Resources: (see Books on Writing section)

  • Strunk and White: 2-17

This list is a compilation of the most common errors that I've come across while grading papers in a required writing course for incoming college freshmen. I use this page as a key to comment on their papers; grammatical errors are indicated in the margin by the corresponding rule number. The students can then use this site or a printed version of the rules to learn about the rule and correct their errors. This helps students to realize that many of their mistakes violate a small but significant set of standards. Simultaneously, the use of this list eliminates some of the redundancy involved in the instructor's commenting upon student papers.

Thanks go out to my students of English 1001 at The University of Colorado for their efforts and examples, and to all of the users of these pages who have offered feedback.

Active Voice -- A sentence style in which the subject performs the action. Usually preferable to passive voice unless the passive is specifically called for.

Active Voice example: The lightning struck the tree.
Passive Voice example: The tree was struck by lightning.

See for more information:

 

 

Adjective -- A word or group of words that describe or modify a noun.

example: The slow, meandering creek sang a gentle song.

 

Agreement -- A singular noun or pronoun must take a singular verb, and a plural noun or pronoun must take a plural verb.

See for more information:

 

 

Apostrophe -- A punctuation mark ( ' ) used to show possession. Also used in contractions, which should be avoided in formal prose.

possession example: "That was Jack's favorite coffee mug."
contraction example: "You shouldn't have dropped it."

See for more information:

 

 

Appositive -- A noun or pronoun set beside another noun or pronoun to modify it. Usually accompanied by modifiers.

example: An experienced backpacker, she left no trace of where she had camped.

 

Clause -- A group of words containing both a subject and a predicate.

Independent Clause example: The hobo passed through town unnoticed.
Dependent Clause example: As the hobo passed through town...

 

Conjunction -- A word that joins words or phrases (i.e. and, but, or).

example: I'll pass on the pork and beans, but I'd love some pizza or ziti.

See for more information:

 

 

Dependent (Subordinate) Clause -- A clause that can not stand alone as a sentence and must be combined with an independent clause.

Independent Clause example: The hobo passed through town unnoticed.
Dependent Clause example: As the hobo passed through town...

See for more information:

 

 

Independent Clause -- A clause that can stand alone as a sentence.

Independent Clause example: The hobo passed through town unnoticed.
Dependent Clause example: As the hobo passed through town...

See for more information:

 

 

Introductory Phrase -- A group of words that cannot stand alone found at the beginning of a sentence.

example: Hoping to improve his writing, he never went to sleep before jotting down a page of random thoughts.

See for more information:

 

 

Nonrestrictive Phrase -- A subordinate clause that is not essential to the meaning of the sentence but adds a relevant detail.

Nonrestrictive Phrase example: I gave a few coins to the street musician, who gave me a smile back.
Restrictive Phrase example: I gave a few coins to the street musician who played the sweetest song.

 

Noun -- A word that represents a person, place, thing, or idea.

example: A noun is a word that represents a person, place, thing, or idea.

 

Parallel Construction -- A sentence construction where equal parts are expressed using similar grammatical forms. Each part of speech in each idea has a counterpart in the next idea.

See for more information:

 

 

Participle -- A verb form used as an adjective.

See for more information:

 

 

Participial Phrase -- A phrase containing a participle and any modifiers.

See for more information:

 

 

Passive Voice -- a sentence style in which the action is performed on the subject. Usually inferior to the active voice unless specifically called for.

Active Voice example: The lightning struck the tree.
Passive Voice example: The tree was struck by lightning.

See for more information:

 

 

Predicate -- The part of a sentence that tells what the subject does or has done to it.

example: I always forget the difference between a verb and a predicate.

 

Pronoun -- A word used as a substitute for a noun (known as the antecedent).

example: The pronoun is a lonely word; it must always be paired with an antecedent.

See for more information:

  • Guide to Grammar and Style Pronoun

 

 

Restrictive Phrase -- A subordinate clause that is essential in specifying something about the thing it modifies.

Nonrestrictive Phrase example: I gave a few coins to the street musician, who gave me a smile back.
Restrictive Phrase example: I gave a few coins to the street musician who played the sweetest song.

 

Semicolon -- a punctuation mark (;) used to separate independent clauses or items in a series.

See for more information:

 

 

Sentence Modifier -- A word or phrase that is not the subject or predicate but adds to the meaning of the sentence.

 

Subject -- The thing in the sentence that is being discussed. Usually a noun or a noun phrase.

example: The butterfly had a short but beautiful existence.

 

Verb -- A word that expresses action or being.

example: A verb is a word that expresses action or being.

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