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.
-The statement means the mechanism that allows you to feel is broken.
-feel, smell, taste—the word following these verbs describes the subject ( a noun or pronoun), not the verb.
-“Badly” here refers to the verb “felt,” which implies that John’s 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.
-Mary and me—me 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 “Mary and” 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. One of the many students who come from the Scandinavian countries are enrolled in my composition class.
-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. Trygve can’t hardly get out of bed for his 8:00 class.
--two negatives in a row—can’t hardly
-“Hardly” is already negative—either He can hardly or He can’t.
-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.
-It sounds like “the smell of fresh pastries and coffee” is “entering the bakery.”
-As a reader, I am unclear as to what was entering the bakery—a 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’s Miss Julie an aristocratic woman pays a nighttime visit to the servants’ 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—The woman pays/ The woman sleeps.
-Verb tenses should stay consistent within a sentence.
Corrected version: In Strindberg’s Miss Julie an aristocratic woman pays a nighttime visit to the servants’ 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.
-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 “should have” because “of” is a phonetic way of saying “have” in spoken English.
-Should’ve = should have
-“Of” is a preposition while “should have” 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.
-A comma doesn’t 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.
-A new subject and a new verb after “vacation” – 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 … 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