|Avoiding some common
problems in grammar and mechanics can make your writing clearer and help
your reader concentrate on your ideas. Here are some important areas to
consider as you proofread a paper.
Fragments and fused sentencesFragments are incomplete sentences, and fused sentences are actually two sentences crammed together. To fix these problems, use this step-by-step process:
If the sentence contains two or more independent clauses, separate them with a conjunction (and, or, but . . .) or a semicolon or a period.
Subject-verb agreementWe say that a subject "agrees" with a verb when both are singular or both are plural. Examples: The library is closed. The boys are outside. Her book, which inspired several movies, is popular. The books on the table are mine. The employees and the manager are in a meeting. Note: When the two nouns in the subject are connected by an "or," the verb agrees with the final noun: Examples: Judging from the looks of this house, I'd say the dog or the kids are home. Judging from the looks of this house, I'd say the kids or the dog is home.
Dangling and misplaced modifiersModifiers, which are words or phrases that describe other words or phrases, generally should appear next to the words or phrases that they describe. When the word or phrase that the modifier describes does not appear in the sentence, we say the modifier is "dangling." When the modifier does not appear next to the word or phrase that it modifies, it may be "misplaced." To correct such problems, use the following procedure:
NounsIf there is more than one of something, we say it is "plural." To make a noun plural, you usually can simply add an "s." Examples: books, dogs, players, unions. English also has some irregular plurals--nouns that are made plural without adding an "s." Examples: men, women, children, people, teeth, feet, deer. Proper nouns--which refer to specific persons, places, things, or ideas--should be capitalized. Clue: Most proper nouns cannot be made plural. Examples: Michael Jordan, the Cape Fear River, the Bible, Raleigh, English, Spanish. Common nouns--which refer to non-specific person, places, things, or ideas--should not be capitalized unless they appear at the beginning of a sentence otherwise require capitalization because of their context. Examples: basketball, ocean, book, city, language, history, psychology. Make sure that you use the correct form of each noun. If you are unsure of the correct form, check a dictionary.
Pronoun-antecedent agreementWe say that a pronoun "agrees" with an antecedent--the noun to which it refers--when both are singular or both are plural. Examples: The attorney won her case. The attorneys won their cases. The company is improving its service. The companies are improving their service.
Adjectives and adverbsAdjectives are words that describe nouns. They usually answer the question "Which?" or "What kind?" or "How many?" Most adjectives do not end in "-ly." Examples: nice, quick, bad, remarkable, true, good. Adverbs are words that describe verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They usually answer the question "When?" or "Where?" or "Why?" or "How?" Many adverbs end in "-ly." Examples: nicely, quickly, badly, remarkably, truly, well. Make sure that you use the adjective form of a word when the word describes a noun and the adverb form when it describes a verb, adjective, or other adverb. If you are unsure of the correct form, check a dictionary.
CommasIn general, use commas to set off the following words or phrases:
ApostrophesUse apostrophes in the following words:
TitlesIn general, underline or italicize the titles of long works and ongoing works, such as books, plays, films, compact discs, magazines, journals, and television shows. Examples: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Macbeth,Home Alone, Tattoo You, Smithsonian, The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, Seinfeld. In general, place quotation marks around the titles of short works, such as poems, songs, short stories, and magazine articles. Examples: "The Raven," "Jumpin' Jack Flash," "Barn Burning," "Gun Control in the United States."
Punctuation and quotation marksPeriods and commas always go inside the quotation marks. Example: Although I like "God's Grandeur," my favorite poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins is "The Windhover."
After you have read these sentences carefully and determined the rules at work, read the following paragraph and put commas where they are needed.
Our plan for improving the company's sales included new approaches to magazine radio and television advertising. First we began running several new national magazine advertisements. The first advertisement ran in the May 8 1996 issue of Newsweek and features author Toni Morrison who appears holding one of our candy bars. At the bottom of the page a paragraph explains that Morrison eats one of our candy bars every day. We produced our first radio commercial in September 1996. In this commercial which ran first in Jackson Mississippi and later in Orlando Florida cellist Yo-Yo Ma explains that he always eats one of our candy bars before a performance. Although Ma is not as famous as other celebrities we might have chosen we decided he would appeal to a well-educated sophisticated audience. Of course television was the main venue we exploited. We wanted to reach a large audience; however we could not afford to spend a lot of money. We decided to run commercials during the syndicated shows Seinfeld and Star Trek: The Next Generation. The commercials began appearing in December 1996 and continued running for the next three months.
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