Common Sentence Faults

Fragments

A sentence must have a subject and a verb and be a complete thought. When a dependent (subordinate) clause or a phrase is presented as a sentence, it is called a fragment. Fragments commonly occur:

  1. With subordinate clauses

    Typical error:   I sent Bobby to the store. Because we’d run out of milk.
    Correct:   I sent Bobby to the store because we’d run out of milk.
    Typical error:   People seek counselling. When they are experiencing difficulty coping with aspects of their lives.
    Correct:   People seek counselling when they are experiencing difficulty coping with aspects of their lives.
    Typical error:   Gudrun wanted to go to Cafe De Ville. Even though she’d already been three times that week.
    Correct:   Gudrun wanted to go to Cafe De Ville even though she’d already been three times that week.
    Typical error:   The city constructed ramps.  So that people with physical handicaps could access public buildings more easily.
    Correct:   The city constructed ramps so that people with physical handicaps could access public buildings more easily.
  2. With prepositional phrases

    Typical error:   It came as a great relief. To everyone.
    Correct:   It came as a great relief to everyone.
    Typical error:   Gordon hoped that Emma would abandon the idea of suing the company. For her own sake as much as for anybody else’s.
    Correct:   Gordon hoped that Emma would abandon the idea of suing the company, for her own sake as much as for anybody else’s.
    Typical error:   Most people wouldn’t do that job. Not for love nor money.
    Correct:   Most people would not do that job for love or money.
    Typical error:   They eventually found Abe in a crude cabin. Within a wood on the other side of that ridge.
    Correct:   They eventually found Abe in a crude cabin within a wood on the other side of that ridge.
  3. With verbal phrases

    Typical error:   Women need to have an average of two children. To keep the world’s population constant in the long term.
    Correct:   Women need to have an average of two children to keep the world’s population constant in the long term.
    Typical error:   She sat with the telephone on her lap. Waiting for the familiar ring, wondering whether she would ever get beyond the agony of waiting.
    Correct:   She sat with the telephone on her lap, waiting for the familiar ring, wondering whether she would ever get beyond the agony of waiting.
    Typical error:   For her sketching class, she borrowed ideas from Pre-Raphaelite paintings. Depicting doe-eyed, full-bosomed women.
    Correct:   For her sketching class, she borrowed ideas from Pre-Raphaelite paintings depicting doe-eyed, full-bosomed women.
    Typical error:   Having heard that there was a large and varied bird population there. Mavis was going to Bear Lake for the weekend.
    Correct:   Having heard that there was a large and varied bird population there, Mavis was going to Bear Lake for the weekend.
  4. With appositives

    Typical error:   The book focuses on the one topic, dinosaurs. The most fascinating of ancient life forms.
    Correct:   The book focuses on the one topic, dinosaurs, the most fascinating of ancient life forms.
    Typical error:   The story takes place in Thompson. A small mining town in northern Manitoba.
    Correct:   The story takes place in Thompson, a small mining town in northern Manitoba.
    Typical error:   He remembered his father’s imaginary invention. The hairy chest uncurler.
    Correct:   He remembered his father’s imaginary invention, the hairy chest uncurler.
    Typical error:   The annual Heritage Days is held at one of Edmonton’s largest parks, Hawrelak Park. A park on the south bank of the North Saskatchewan River.
    Correct:   The annual Heritage Days is held at one of Edmonton’s largest parks, Hawrelak Park, a park on the south bank of the North Saskatchewan River.

Comma Splice

Comma splice errors occur when independent clauses are not separated with a period, or joined with a comma and a coordinating conjunction

  1. With two independent clauses

    A comma cannot be used to join two independent clauses.

    Typical error:   Inconvenient banking hours are now a thing of the past, many branches now stay open until 5:30 p.m. weekdays, and some are open on Saturdays.
    Correct:   Inconvenient banking hours are now a thing of the past. Many branches now stay open until 5:30 p.m. weekdays, and some are open on Saturdays. (A period separates the two independent clauses.)
    Typical error:   He fell into a deep meditative state, his pulse slowed down to practically nothing.
    Correct:   He fell into a deep meditative state, and his pulse slowed down to practically nothing. (A comma and a coordinating conjunction join the two independent clauses.)
    Typical error:   Only the front facades were ornate, the back and sides were unadorned red brick.
    Correct:   Only the front facades were ornate; the back and sides were unadorned red brick. (A semicolon joins two independent clauses. See Semicolon.)
    Typical error:   Maria avoided the limelight, her privacy was of paramount importance to her.
    Correct:   Maria avoided the limelight: her privacy was of paramount importance to her. (A colon joins the two independent clauses. See The Colon.)
    Typical error:   Beryl just had too much to do, that’s why she couldn’t make it to dinner.
    Correct:   Because Beryl had too much to do, she couldn’t make it to dinner. (One clause is subordinated to the other. See Subordinating Conjunctions, Subordination.)
  2. With two independent clauses connected by a transitional phrase or a conjunctive adverb

    Transitional Phrases      Conjunctive Adverbs
    for example
    in conclusion
    in fact
    in the meantime
    on the one hand
    on the other hand
         accordingly
    also
    besides
    consequently
    furthermore
    however
    instead
         likewise
    moreover
    nevertheless
    otherwise
    then
    therefore
    thus
    Typical error:   The government made drastic cuts to education and social programmes, however, it did not raise corporate taxes. (A comma cannot be used to join two independent clauses connected by a conjunctive adverb.)
    Correct:   The government made drastic cuts to education and social programmes; it did not, however, raise corporate taxes.
    Typical error:   Children must be taught the relationship between work and consumer goods, otherwise they grow up expecting to have things without working for them. (A comma cannot be used to join two independent clauses connected by a conjunctive adverb.)
    Correct:   Children must be taught the relationship between work and consumer goods; otherwise they grow up expecting to have things without working for them.
    Typical error:   The superhighway of telecommunications will enable people involved in related disciplines from around the world to communicate more easily with each other, on the other hand the highway will further widen the information gap. (A comma cannot be used to join two independent clauses connected by a transitional phrase.)
    Correct:   The superhighway of telecommunications will enable people involved in related disciplines from around the world to communicate more easily with each other; on the other hand, the highway will further widen the information gap.
    Typical error:   Phyllis took an active role in cultivating the creative talents of her children, for example, she would spend hours with them scouring urban and rural trails for scraps of things to use in collages. (A semicolon or period is required when a transitional phrase is used to connect two independent clauses.)
    Correct:   Phyllis took an active role in cultivating the creative talents of her children. For example, she would spend hours with them scouring urban and rural trails for scraps of things to use in collages.

Run-on or Fused Sentences

Appropriate punctuation is required to join two independent clauses. A run-on or fused sentence occurs when this punctuation is completely absent.

Typical error:   Henry bought the Christmas tree Lois put it up and decorated it.
Correct:   Henry bought the Christmas tree; Lois put it up and decorated it.
Typical error:   Elvira Madigan was her all-time favourite film it had beautiful people, beautiful scenery, and best of all, beautiful music.
Correct:   Elvira Madigan was her all-time favourite film. It had beautiful people, beautiful scenery, and best of all, beautiful music.
Typical error:   She listened to the squeaky crunch of her tread through the snow she recalled a sensation, a sense of being, she had enjoyed more than once as a child.
Correct:   She listened to the squeaky crunch of her tread through the snow, and she recalled a sensation, a sense of being, she had enjoyed more than once as a child.
Typical error:   The distribution of the earth’s metals follows geochemical laws one of the results is that most of the rarer metals are deep within the planet’s core.
Correct:   The distribution of the earth’s metals follows geochemical laws. One of the results is that most of the rarer metals are deep within the planet’s core.

Subject-Verb Agreement

The main verb of a sentence must agree with its subject.

Singular Verbs

The following sentences require a singular verb:

  1. With singular subjects
    Typical error:   The son are expected to take over the business when Mr. Panne retires.
    Correct:   The son is expected to take over the business when Mr. Panne retires. (The subject is singular, so the verb is singular.)
    Typical error:   Martha’s room-mate, Jane, have won a scholarship.
    Correct:   Martha’s room-mate, Jane, has won a scholarship. (The subject Jane is singular, so it requires a singular verb.)
    Typical error:   The Premier’s enthusiasm for entrepreneurial approaches have caused severe job losses.
    Correct:   The Premier’s enthusiasm for entrepreneurial approaches has caused severe job losses. (The subject enthusiasm is singular, so it requires a singular verb.)
  2. With non-count nouns
    Typical error:   The news this morning were more depressing than ever.
    Correct:   The news this morning was more depressing than ever. (News is singular, so it requires a singular verb.)
    Typical error:   The research on baby monkeys indicate that an infant’s affection for its mother arises from physical contact not from breast-feeding.
    Correct:   The research on baby monkeys indicates that an infant’s affection for its mother arises from physical contact not from breast-feeding. (Research is singular, so it requires a singular verb.)
    Typical error:   Economics, so the argument goes, dehumanize people.
    Correct:   Economics, so the argument goes, dehumanizes people. (Economics is non-count, so requires a singular verb.)
  3. With compound subjects when they refer to the same thing
    Typical error:   Her friend and lover of twenty years have finally proposed to her. It sounds as if two people proposed to her.)
    Correct:   Her friend and lover of twenty years has finally proposed to her.
    Typical error:   The rise and fall of the Roman Empire have captured many a historian’s imagination. (Rise and fall is an idiom encompassing the entire process of empire building.)
    Correct:   The rise and fall of the Roman Empire has captured many a historian’s imagination.
    Typical error:   My mentor and colleague have challenged the department to raise its standards. (It sounds as if two people issued the challenge.)
    Correct:   My mentor and colleague has challenged the department to raise its standards.
  4. With correlative conjunctions when referring to singular subjects (either . . . or, neither . . . nor, etc.)
    Typical error:   Neither John nor Fred have been invited to the wedding.
    Correct:   Neither John nor Fred has been invited to the wedding.
    Typical error:   Either the policy itself or its implementation are at fault.
    Correct:   Either the policy itself or its implementation is at fault.
    Typical error:   The town is under siege, and neither adult nor child dare venture out for fear of being shot.
    Correct:   The town is under siege, and neither adult nor child dares venture out for fear of being shot.
  5. With collective nouns when they are treated as a single unit
    Examples: audience committee family orchestra
      band company flock public
      block council herd staff
      class crowd jury team
    Typical error:   A steering committee have been formed to manage the Heritage Project.
    Correct:   A steering committee has been formed to manage the Heritage Project.
    Typical error:   My family, like many others in the area, are involved in a number of community-enhancing activities. It takes its social responsibilities very seriously.
    Correct:   My family, like many others in the area, is involved in a number of community-enhancing activities. It takes its social responsibilities very seriously. (The it in the second sentence makes it clear that family is being treated as a single unit.)
    Typical error:   Brazil’s government is allegedly in dispute with the forestry industry over the clear-cutting of the rain forests. It is not the first time they have attempted to stop such action.
    Correct:   Brazil’s government is allegedly in dispute with the forestry industry over the clear-cutting of the rain forests. It is not the first time it has attempted to stop such action. (It is more likely that the government as an institution, rather than the individual elected members, would be in dispute with industry.)
  6. With indefinite pronouns (everyone, anything, each, etc.)
    Typical error:   Everyone is entitled to his or her views as long as they think the same way I do.
    Correct:   Everyone is entitled to his or her views as long as he or she thinks the same way I do. (Everyone is singular.)
    Typical error:   Either of the books are worthy of serious consideration for the award.
    Correct:   Either of the books is worthy of serious consideration for the award. (Either is singular.)
    Typical error:   Somebody left their wallet in the cafeteria.
    Correct:   Somebody left his or her wallet in the cafeteria. (Somebody is singular.)
  7. With none when it refers to a non-count noun, and when it means not one
    Typical error:   None of the water look as though it is drinkable, especially the water served with one’s meals.
    Correct:   None of the water looks as though it is drinkable, especially the water served with one’s meals.
    Typical error:   None of the information they received were reliable.
    Correct:   None of the information they received was reliable.
    Typical error:   There was plenty of information provided, but none were helpful.
    Correct:   There was plenty of information provided, but none was helpful.
    Typical error:   None of the grade twelve classes have a class average over 60%. (This is incorrect if the meaning is not one.)
    Correct:   None of the grade twelve classes has a class average over 60%. (Not one of the grade twelve classes has a class average over 60%.)
  8. With all, any, most, more, and some when they refer to non-count nouns
    Typical error:   The silver cutlery was in the cupboard that was broken into. All are missing.
    Correct:   The silver cutlery was in the cupboard that was broken into. All is missing.
    Typical error:   Some cash are also missing.
    Correct:   Some cash is also missing.
    Typical error:   We haven’t sufficient information to make a more comprehensive analysis. More are needed.
    Correct:   We haven’t sufficient information to make a more comprehensive analysis. More is needed. (More refers to information which is non-count.)
  9. With titles of plays, novels, businesses, etc.
    Typical error:   D. H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers are considered the most auto-biographical of all his works.
    Correct:   D. H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers is considered the most auto-biographical of all his works.
    Typical error:   Alfred & Freebone are reputed to have more millionaires as clients than any other law firm in the city.
    Correct:   Alfred & Freebone is reputed to have more millionaires as clients than any other law firm in the city.
    Typical error:   Cheers were a popular T.V. series.
    Correct:   Cheers was a popular T.V. series.
  10. With mass, quantity or number when such nouns are treated as single units
    Typical error:   Six thousand dollars are a living allowance that would not keep a dog for a year, let alone a single adult.
    Correct:   Six thousand dollars is a living allowance that would not keep a dog for a year, let alone a single adult.
    Typical error:   Three quarters of what he earns are gobbled up by basic living expenses such as food and housing.
    Correct:   Three quarters of what he earns is gobbled up by basic living expenses such as food and housing.
    Typical error:   In a democracy, the majority rules, or so it is believed. The majority in this country are composed of white, middle-class anglophones.
    Correct:   In a democracy, the majority rules, or so it is believed. The majority in this country is composed of white, middle-class anglophones.

Plural Verbs

Plural verbs are required:

  1. With plural subjects
    Typical error:   With the exception of Japan, most Asian bond markets is in the embryonic stage.
    Correct:   With the exception of Japan, most Asian bond markets are in the embryonic stage. (The subject markets is plural, so it requires a plural verb.)
    Typical error:   Changes in the federal pension plan is expected to be made soon.
    Correct:   Changes in the federal pension plan are expected to be made soon. (Changes is plural, so it requires a plural verb.)
    Typical error:   Sheep has been the only livestock to survive in that scraggy, hilly terrain.
    Correct:   Sheep have been the only livestock to survive in that scraggy, hilly terrain. (The subject sheep is plural, so it requires a plural verb.)
  2. With compound subjects joined by and if the two items are not treated as a unit
    Typical error:   Patricia and Elizabeth is expected to pass with honours.
    Correct:   Patricia and Elizabeth are expected to pass with honours.
    Typical error:   My mother and father has seldom disagreed over shared household duties.
    Correct:   My mother and father have seldom disagreed over shared household duties.
    Typical error:   Conscientiousness and reliability more than ability is what has earned her a management position.
    Correct:   Conscientiousness and reliability more than ability are what have earned her a management position.
  3. With collective nouns when the individual members are being referred to
    Typical error:   The staff was angry when they heard they would have to accept a 5% cut in pay if they wanted to keep their jobs. (They and their jobs makes it clear that the individual members of staff are being referred to.)
    Correct:   The staff were angry when they heard they would have to accept a 5% cut in pay if they wanted to keep their jobs.
    Typical error:   The committee grunts and nods their approval, but do not look the petitioner in the eye. (Their approval makes clear that the individual members of the committee are being considered.)
    Correct:   The committee grunt and nod their approval, but do not look the petitioner in the eye.
    Typical error:   The team has other things on their minds besides who will be the sponsors. (Their minds makes clear that the individual members of the team are being referred to.)
    Correct:   The team have other things on their minds besides who will be the sponsors.
  4. With the following indefinite pronouns

    both  few  others  several

    Typical error:   Dave and Kate have much in common; both likes country music and both enjoys the outdoors.
    Correct:   Dave and Kate have much in common; both like country music and both enjoy the outdoors.
    Typical error:   Many people are concerned about government cuts, but few seems bothered by the fishing rights dispute.
    Correct:   Many people are concerned about government cuts, but few seem bothered by the fishing rights dispute.
    Typical error:   Some of the girls attending the convent school have shortened their skirts, and several has the temerity to wear lipstick!
    Correct:   Some of the girls attending the convent school have shortened their skirts, and several have the temerity to wear lipstick!
  5. With all, any, most, more, and some when they refer to a plural
    Typical error: Any sandwiches left over from meetings is usually given to the office staff.
    Correct: Any sandwiches left over from meetings are usually given to the office staff. (Any refers to sandwiches, a plural noun, so a plural verb is required.)
    Typical error: Some more books has arrived for you.
    Correct: Some more books have arrived for you. (Some refers to books, so a plural verb is required here.)
    Typical error: UNICEF has collected two thousand blankets for the refugees. However, more is needed.
    Correct: UNICEF has collected two thousand blankets for the refugees. However, more are needed. (More refers to blankets, a plural noun, so a plural is required.)
  6. With none when it refers to a plural
    Typical error: None of the sheep has been shorn. Sing.
    Correct: None of the sheep have been shorn. (None means not any here.)
    Typical error: None of the girls in my class intends to get married before they finish university. (This is wrong if you want to mean not any.)
    Correct: None of the girls in my class intend to get married before they finish university. (None means not any here.)
    Typical error: Many people went through the re-habilitation programme. None was tracked to determine whether the programme had any long-lasting benefits.
    Correct: Many people went through the re-habilitation programme. None were tracked to determine whether the programme had any long-lasting benefits. (None refers to people, so a plural verb is required in the second sentence.)
  7. With mass, quantity, or number when they are treated as plurals
    Typical error: Three quarters was placed in her open palm.
    Correct: Three quarters were placed in her open palm.
    Typical error: Forty per cent of the houses in the town was severely damaged in the storm.
    Correct: Forty per cent of the houses in the town were severely damaged in the storm.
    Typical error: Most of the passengers filled out the survey that was handed out. The survey showed that the majority was from Florida.
    Correct: Most of the passengers filled out the survey that was handed out. The survey showed that the majority were from Florida. (Majority refers to passengers.)

Subject-Verb Agreement Errors

  1. When several words or phrases separate the subject and the verb
    Typical error: Despite the forecast of rain, Martha, along with the twins, John and Julian, were busy setting up for the garden party she had planned.
    Correct: Despite the forecast of rain, Martha, along with the twins, John and Julian, was busy setting up for the garden party she had planned. (Martha is the subject; along with the twins, John and Julian, is a non-essential phrase.)
    Typical error: The demand for changes to the college’s outreach programmes are going to be addressed at the next meeting.
    Correct: The demand for changes to the college’s outreach programmes is going to be addressed at the next meeting. (Demand is the subject.)
    Typical error: Historically, during times of economic hardship, nativism and racism in the dominant culture—in this case white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant—has always found expression in ultra-right wing groups such as the National Front.
    Correct: Historically, during times of economic hardship, nativism and racism in the dominant culture—in this case white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant—have always found expression in ultra-right wing groups such as the National Front. (Nativism and racism is a compound subject joined by and so it requires a plural verb.)
  2. When the verb precedes the subject
    Typical error: There are little news to report.
    Correct: There is little news to report. (News is the subject.)
    Typical error: There were at that time very little that families could do to prevent landlords from evicting them.
    Correct: There was at that time very little that families could do to prevent landlords from evicting them. (The subject is little. It is singular, so it requires a singular verb.)
    Typical error: There remains a number of unanswered questions.
    Correct: There remain a number of unanswered questions. (A number means several so it is treated as a plural subject requiring a plural verb.)
  3. When two subjects are joined by either . . . or / neither . . . nor, and one subject is singular and the other is plural, the verb agrees with the nearest one
    Typical error: Neither John nor his sisters has been invited to the dinner.
    Correct: Neither John nor his sisters have been invited to the dinner. (Sisters is plural and is closest to the verb so a plural verb is used.)
    Typical error: Neither the rebels nor the Myannur government were prepared to negotiate.
    Correct: Neither the rebels nor the Myannur government was prepared to negotiate. (Government is singular and is nearest the verb, so a singular verb is used.)
    Typical error: Either poor planning or the logistics of trying to implement the programme has defeated what was initially a good idea.
    Correct: Either poor planning or the logistics of trying to implement the programme have defeated what was initially a good idea. (Logistics is plural and is closest to the verb, a plural verb is used.)
  4. With compound subjects using and or or
    Typical error: My mother, step-father, or brother are coming to help with the move.
    Correct: My mother, step-father, or brother is coming to help with the move.
    Typical error: Putting on my boots, picking something up, and reaching up over my head causes my shoulder to dislocate.
    Correct: Putting on my boots, picking something up, and reaching up over my head cause my shoulder to dislocate.
    Typical error: My mother, step-father, or my brothers is coming to help with the move.
    Correct: My mother, step-father, or my brothers are coming to help with the move.

    Note that the pattern is a, b, and c are, but a, b, or c is. However, when the subjects are a mixture of singular and plural joined with or, the verb agrees with the nearest subject.

  5. When who, which, and that are used as subjects of a clause, the verb must agree with the antecedent
    Typical error: The student who do best in school doesn’t always do best in life.
    Correct: The student who does best in school doesn’t always do best in life. (Student is the antecedent of who, so a singular verb is used.)
    Typical error: The offender’s sentence, which have provoked a public outcry, is going to be reviewed by the Minister of Justice.
    Correct: The offender’s sentence, which has provoked a public outcry, is going to be reviewed by the Minister of Justice. (Sentence is singular and the antecedent of which, so the clause requires a singular verb.)
    Typical error: The children who still shows signs of infection are being kept in isolation.
    Correct: The children who still show signs of infection are being kept in isolation. (Children is plural and the antecedent of which, so the clause requires a plural verb.)

Pronoun Reference Agreement

Pronoun and Antecedent

Pronouns take the place of nouns. If the pronoun is referring to a stated noun, the noun to which the pronoun refers (the antecedent) must be clear, and the pronoun must agree in number with the antecedent.

Pronoun Reference Errors

  1. When the antecedent to which the pronoun should refer is not clear

    Typical error: John was helping an old man cross the road when he tripped and fell. (Who tripped and fell, John or the old man?)
    Correct: When he was helping an old man cross the road, John tripped and fell.
    Typical error: Lydia took Lisa to the ski outfitters where she bought some new poles. (Who bought some new poles, Lydia or Lisa?)
    Correct: When she took Lisa to the ski outfitters, Lydia bought some new poles.
    Typical error: Lori’s mother let her take her new camera on the trip. (Whose new camera, Lori’s or her mother’s?)
    Correct: Lori was allowed to take her mother’s new camera on the trip.
  2. When the pronoun is too far away from the antecedent

    Typical error: The plague had a profound influence on political and social developments in the fourteenth century: it greatly reduced the population which created an atmosphere of distress and a sense of crisis. It was the direct cause of social and economic conflict. (In the second sentence, what does it refer to, the plague, an atmosphere of distress, or a sense of crisis?)
    Correct: The plague had a profound influence on political and social developments in the fourteenth century: it greatly reduced the population which created an atmosphere of distress and a sense of crisis. This dreaded disease was the direct cause of social and economic conflict.
  3. With the vague use of this, that, or which when referring to the general idea in a preceding clause or sentence

    Typical error: The orchestra rose to its feet and the conductor twirled his baton, which delighted the audience. (What does which refer to, the orchestra’s action, or the conductor’s, or both?)
    Correct: The orchestra rose to its feet, and the audience was delighted when the conductor twirled his baton.
    Typical error: Josie had difficulty getting on with fellow-support staff, but her organizational skills were outstanding. That’s why she was made office manager. (Why? Because she didn’t get along with staff, or because of her organizational skills?)
    Correct: Josie had difficulty getting on with fellow-support staff, but because of her outstanding organizational skills, she was made office manager.
    Typical error: Mick told his friends and family that he was going to emigrate to Australia. This upset everyone. (What upset them, his decision to emigrate or his telling them?)
    Correct: Mick told his friends and family that he was going to emigrate to Australia. His news upset everyone.
  4. When a pronoun is used to refer to an implied but unexpressed noun

    Typical error: Colin had been interested in engineering ever since he was taken on a tour of the steel plant when he was twelve, and now his dream of becoming one was coming true. (There is mention of engineering but not of engineers.)
    Correct: Colin had been interested in engineering ever since he was taken on a tour of the steel plant when he was twelve, and now his dream of becoming an engineer was coming true.
    Typical error: I had hoped Gordon would call, and I waited all afternoon for it to ring. (What does it refer to?)
    Correct: I had hoped Gordon would call, and I waited all afternoon for the phone to ring.
    Typical error: When the president’s memorandum was circulated, she put her phone on call-forward so that no one could get through to her directly. (There is no antecedent for she. President’s is an adjective modifying memorandum. See Adjectives, Possessive nouns.)
    Correct: When the president had her memorandum circulated, she put her phone on call-forward so that no one could get through to her directly.
  5. With the vague use of they and you

    Typical error: In some homes, they consider speaking during meals bad manners. (Who are they?)
    Correct: In some homes, speaking during meals is considered bad manners.
    Typical error: In Paris, you aren’t allowed to sit or lie on park lawns. (Only me, or others too?)
    Correct: In Paris, people aren’t allowed to sit or lie on park lawns.
    Typical error: Only in a few countries do they drive on the left; in all others, they drive on the right. (Who are they?)
    Correct: Only in a few countries do people drive on the left; in all others, people drive on the right.
  6. With indefinite pronouns such as someone, everyone, somebody, etc.

    Indefinite pronouns ending in one or body are singular and must be referred to with a singular pronoun (he or her, his or hers). While it is common to hear and see constructions such as “Everyone had their cars stolen,” they are incorrect. One justification for such misuse is that using only his or her throughout is sexist, and that using his or her throughout becomes tedious. One solution is to alternate between his and her. Perhaps the best solution is to rewrite the sentence, making the indefinite pronouns plural:

    Typical error: Everyone had their cars stolen.
    Correct: All the people had their cars stolen.
  7. With it says when referring to information in newspapers, magazines, books, etc.

    Typical error: It says that astrogeologists are exploring the possibility of mining asteroids.
    Correct: The article says that astrogeologists are exploring the possibility of mining asteroids.
    Typical error: It says in the book I’m reading on child-rearing that parents should encourage independence in a child.
    Correct: The book I’m reading on child-rearing says that parents should encourage independence in a child.

Shifts

Consistency in sentences is kept by using one subject, one tense, voice, and mood, and one person and number in pronouns. Unnecessary shifts should be avoided. Shifts commonly occur between the following:

Types of Shifts

  1. Subject and voice
    Typical error:   When Olga was travelling in Europe, a lot of her time was spent standing in line-ups, waiting to buy tickets. (The subject of the main clause is not consistent with that of the subordinate clause; also whereas the voice in the subordinate clause is active, the voice in the main clause has shifted to the passive voice.)
    Correct:   When Olga was travelling in Europe, she spent a lot of her time standing in line-ups, waiting to buy tickets. (The subordinate clause is in the active voice and Olga is the subject. The same voice and subject are used in the main clause.)
    Typical error:   As David neared the door, the tinkle of Lavinia’s joyful little laugh could be heard.
    Correct:   As David neared the door, he heard the tinkle of Lavinia’s joyful little laugh.
    Typical error:   If you are considering a holiday in Mexico this year, Maddison’s book about the country is required reading.
    Correct:   If you are considering a holiday in Mexico this year, you must read Maddison’s book about the country.
    Typical error:   Although evidence was produced, they rejected it as inadmissable.
    Correct:   Although evidence was produced, it was rejected as inadmissable.
  2. Person or number

    Shifts in number in a sentence may also be called errors in pronoun reference. Shifts in number are clearly pronoun reference errors when they occur from sentence to sentence in a paragraph.

    Typical error:   When a person is laid off, they go into a state of shock initially. (The sentence shifts from third person singular, person, to third person plural, they.)
    Correct:   When a person is laid off, he or she goes into a state of shock initially. (He or she is consistent in person with a person.)
    Typical error:   If a person doesn’t look after themselves, they’ve no right to extra service from the Health Care system. (Shift from third person singular person to third person plural they.)
    Correct:   If people don’t look after themselves, they’ve no right to extra service from the Health Care system.
    Typical error:   Charlie likes to holiday in remote places where you don’t see another person for days on end. (Shift from first person singular to second person singular.)
    Correct:   Charlie likes to holiday in remote places where he doesn’t see another person for days on end.
    Typical error:   I often have half a grapefruit for breakfast for they are so refreshing. (Half a grapefruit is singular, they are is plural.)
    Correct:   I often have half a grapefruit for breakfast for it is so refreshing.
    Typical error:   Because they give him indigestion, George didn’t order the fish. (Fish is singular, they is plural.)
    Correct:   Because fish gives him indigestion, George didn’t order it.
    Typical error:   The police were called in because everyone had had their cars stolen. They came to the hall, parked, and went in. (Who came to the hall, the guests or the police? This example illustrates the problem caused by the treatment of indefinite pronouns as plural.)
    Correct:   The police were called in because all the guests had had their cars stolen. The guests had come to the hall, parked, and gone in not twenty minutes before.
        or
        The police were called in because everyone had had his or her car stolen. They came to the hall, parked, and went in. (Now it is clear that they refers to police.)
  3. Tense

    Change tense only when the meaning or the grammar requires such a change.

    Typical error:   He picked up his mail and starts to say something, but then leaves without a word.
    Correct:   He picked up his mail and started to say something, but then left without a word.
    Typical error:   Laura was playing happily with her doll one minute, and in the next, she is throwing herself on to the floor, screaming.
    Correct:   Laura was playing happily with her doll one minute, and in the next, she was throwing herself on to the floor, screaming.
    Typical error:   In a panic, I grabbed the gun and dash to the door.
    Correct:   In a panic, I grabbed the gun and dashed to the door.
    Typical error:   When Jude asked Alice whether she had liked the film, she said she didn’t.
    Correct:   When Jude asked Alice whether she had liked the film, she said she hadn’t.
  4. Moods

    Mood shifts are common in prose, that is, in paragraphs or other long texts. In particular, be careful to shift from indicative to imperative mood when describing a process or giving instructions. In general, mood should be kept consistent with a context unless this context dictates otherwise.

    Typical error:   If I had the money, I want to buy a truck. (Shift from subjunctive to indicative)
    Correct:   If I had the money, I would buy a truck.
    Typical error:   Enter your log-in, press enter, then you have to type in your password. (Shift from the imperative to the indicative)
    Correct:   Enter your log-in, press enter, then type in your password.
    Typical error:   The manager recommends that she takes early retirement. (The that-clause requires the present subjunctive.)
    Correct:   The manager recommends that she take early retirement.
    Typical error:   When you are making bread, the first step is to proof” the yeast (to dissolve it in lukewarm water to make sure it’s alive and working). At the same time, the fat should be melted in very hot liquid. When the yeast has risen a little, cool the liquid to lukewarm and add the yeast mixture.
    Correct:   When you are making bread, the first step is to “proof” the yeast (to dissolve it in lukewarm water to make sure it’s alive and working). At the same time, the fat should be melted in very hot liquid. When the yeast has risen a little, the fat/liquid mixture should be cooled to lukewarm and the yeast mixture added. (Describing a process is not the same as giving instructions—imperative mood. In the incorrect example, the paragraph shifts to imperative in the last sentence.)
  5. Indirect and direct speech
    Typical error:   An idiot approached me and asked if I knew Colonel Johnson and can I direct her to his house.
    Correct:   An idiot approached me and asked if I knew a Colonel Johnson and whether I could direct her to his house. (indirect/reported speech)
    Typical error:   Barry wondered whether she had left a note and what should I do if she hasn’t. (Shift from indirect speech to direct speech)
    Correct:   Barry wondered whether she had left a note and what he should do if she hadn’t. (indirect/reported speech)
        or
        Barry wondered, “Has she left a note? What should I do if she hasn’t?” (direct speech)

Misplaced Parts/Modifier Reference

A misplaced modifier fails to convey the writer’s intended meaning and confuses the reader. Errors generally occur under the following conditions:

  1. With adverbs of degree or limitation

    These adverbs are placed immediately before the word the writer wants them to modify.

    Examples:     actually     even     nearly     precisely
          almost     hardly (ever)     only     shortly
          assuredly     (only) just     practically     truly
     
    Typical error:   He only left ten minutes ago. (This would mean that he only left, that he didn’t perform any other action. It makes little sense, especially with the time given.)
    Correct:   He left only ten minutes ago. (Only modifies ten minutes.)
    Typical error:   The police just don’t suspect Tom Lacey, but everyone who was at the party. (This means that the police don’t suspect Tom, but do suspect everyone else.)
    Correct:   The police don’t suspect just Tom Lacey, but everyone who was at the party.
    Typical error:   We almost drove the whole way without stopping. (You almost drove, so did you in fact walk, or did you go anywhere at all?)
    Correct:   We drove almost the whole way without stopping.
  2. With modifying phrases

    Such phrases are placed directly after the words the writer wants to modify.

    Typical error:   George has ordered a T.V. from a company in Toronto with a built-in CD player. (This means that the company has a built-in player.)
    Correct:   George has ordered a T.V. with a built-in CD player from a company in Toronto. (Seems to mean the CD player is from Toronto.)
        or
        George has ordered, from a company in Toronto, a T.V. with a built-in CD player. (Now it is clear that the whole unit is from a company in Toronto.)
    Typical error:   The child was delighted to meet a man with a black beard named Blackbeard. (This means that the beard was named Blackbeard.)
    Correct:   The child was delighted to meet a man called Blackbeard who had a black beard.
    Typical error:   Michael McCabe wrote his first book about Africa in the sixties. (This means the he wrote about Africa in the sixties as opposed to how it was before or after the sixties.)
    Correct:   In the early sixties, Michael McCabe wrote his first book about Africa.
  3. With modifying clauses
    1. Clauses modifying nouns usually begin with who, which, that, or whose.

      Typical error:   When crossing the park, I met Mr. Jacobs walking his dog whose wife had just died. (This means that the dog’s wife had just died.)
      Correct:   When crossing the park, I met Mr. Jacobs, whose wife had just died, walking his dog.
      Typical error:   The girl wore shoelaces in her hair that were woven in with several small braids. (Were makes it impossible for the clause to refer to hair, yet hair is the preceding noun. The clause is misplaced.)
      Correct:   In her hair, the girl had shoelaces that were woven in with several small braids.
      Typical error:   The start of the trail was discovered behind an abandoned meat-packing plant that led to the old mine shaft. (This means that the plant led to the mine shaft.)
      Correct:   The start of the trail that led to the old mine shaft was discovered behind an abandoned meat-packing plant.
    2. Adverbial clauses begin with such words as when, before, since, because, etc. Writers have to be careful to place adverbial clauses in such a way that they modify the intended words.

      Typical error:   The women in the neighbourhood cleared the garbage from the picnic site when it began to stink. (Here it refers to picnic site not garbage.)
      Correct:   When it began to stink, the women in the neighbourhood cleared the garbage from the picnic site.
      Typical error:   Dave took the stray dog to the pound before it got too friendly. (The clause seems to modify the noun pound, not the verb took.)
      Correct:   Before the stray dog got too friendly, Dave took it to the pound.
      Typical error:   The police had the stolen car towed to the owner’s house after it was found torched. (This suggests that the owner’s house was torched.)
      Correct:   After the stolen car was found torched, the police had it towed to the owner’s house.
  4. With squinting modifiers

    Such modifiers could be modifying either the preceding or following word.

    Typical error:   We told him often to practise. (It is not clear whether the telling was often or the practise was to be often.)
    Correct:   We told him to practise often.
        or
        We often told him to practise.
    Typical error:   The manager who was asked to review the report yesterday sent a memo to the executive. (It is not clear what was done yesterday. Was the manager asked yesterday, or did he review the report or did he send a memo?)
    Correct:   The manager who was asked to review the report sent a memo to the executive yesterday.
        The manager who was asked yesterday to review the report sent a memo to the executive.
    Typical error:   She promised during her lunch break to give us a call. (The modifier squints at both promise and to give us a call.)
    Correct:   She promised to give us a call during her lunch break.
  5. With split infinitives

    Avoid splitting the to from the base verb.

    Typical error:   Eileen decided to, at the tender age of fifteen, become a pilot.
    Correct:   At the tender age of fifteen, Eileen decided to become a pilot.
    Typical error:   The college would like tutors to voluntarily take early retirement.
    Correct:   The college would like senior tutors to take early retirement voluntarily.
    Typical error:   The director tried to realistically make a film about everyday life in Upper Canada.
    Correct:   The director tried to make a realistic film about everyday life in Upper Canada.
  6. With auxiliary verbs

    Avoid using parenthetical elements to split up verb phrases.

    Typical error:   Mary had, according to Angela, already reported the incident to the police.
    Correct:   According to Angela, Mary had already reported the incident to the police.
    Typical error:   The director will, I hope, consider my proposal worthy of attention.
    Correct:   I hope the director will consider my proposal worthy of attention.
    Typical error:   There is, without a doubt, going to be serious public unrest if the regime doesn’t introduce more political reforms.
    Correct:   Without a doubt, there is going to be serious public unrest if the regime doesn’t introduce more political reforms.

Dangling Modifiers

When the word being modified is implied but not explicitly stated, the modifier is left dangling; it is not attached to anything and is called a dangling modifier. Dangling modifiers commonly occur:

  1. With participial phrases

    A participial phrase consists of a participle (verb+ing / verb+ed), its object, and any modifiers of the participle or object.

    Typical error:   Driving long distances late at night, disquieting thoughts often enter my head. (This means the disquieting thoughts drive long distances late at night.)
    Correct:   Driving long distances late at night, I often have disquieting thoughts enter my head.
    Typical error:   Being extremely hot, the glass-blower must be very careful when handling the molten glass. (This means the glass-blower is extremely hot.)
    Correct:   Because the molten glass is extremely hot, the glass-blower must be very careful when handling it.
    Typical error:   Stretched out under the tree with the sun sprinkling through the leafy canopy, his children skipped across the field. (The subject of the participial phrase he is implied but not stated.)
    Correct:   While he stretched out under the tree with the sun sprinkling through the leafy canopy, his children skipped across the field.
  2. With gerund phrases

    A gerund phrase consists of a gerund (verb+ing used as a noun), its object, and any modifiers of the gerund or object.

    Typical error:   Before going to breakfast, an inspection of our dorm was conducted by the matron. (This means that an inspection was going to go to breakfast.)
    Correct:   Before allowing us to go to breakfast, the matron conducted an inspection of our dorm.
    Typical error:   After locking all the doors and windows, the house felt impenetrable. (This means the house locked itself.)
    Correct:   After locking all the doors and windows, we felt the house was impenetrable.
    Typical error:   When teaching adults, an entirely different approach is needed. (This means an approach is the teacher.)
    Correct:   When teaching adults, an instructor needs to use an entirely different approach.
  3. With infinitive phrases

    An infinitive phrase consists of a infinitive, its object, and any modifiers of the infinitive or object.

    Typical error:   To repair the upper brickwork on the front of the house, scaffolding had to be erected. (This means the scaffolding repaired the brickwork.)
    Correct:   To repair the upper brickwork on the front of the house, the workmen had to erect scaffolding.
    Typical error:   To get to where I am today, a lot of people had to be pushed out of my way. (This means a lot of people got where I am today.)
    Correct:   To get to where I am today, I had to push a lot of people out of my way.
    Typical error:   In order to have an honourable future, our dishonourable past will have to be acknowledged by all of us. (This means the past will have an honourable future.)
    Correct:   In order to have an honourable future, all of us will have to acknowledge our dishonourable past.
  4. With elliptical clauses

    In elliptical clauses, the subject is understood but not stated. The problem can be avoided by (1) making the subject agree with that of the main clause and (2) stating the absent subject or verb.

    Typical error:   While crossing the bridge, a sudden gust of wind blew his hat off. (The gust of wind crossed the bridge.)
    Correct:   While he was crossing the bridge, a sudden gust of wind blew his hat off.
    Typical error:   When in Rome, a young man she had only just met proposed to her. (The young man was in Rome.)
    Correct:   When in Rome, she was proposed to by a young man she had only just met.
        or
        A young man she had only just met proposed to her while she was in Rome.
    Typical error:   After a day’s trek in the mountains, a long soak in a hot bath is what I want more than anything. (The long soak spent the day in the mountains.)
    Correct:   After a day’s trek in the mountains, I want nothing more than a long soak in a hot bath.

Parallelism

Parallel thoughts or ideas (thoughts or ideas of equal rank and value) are conveyed by using parallel grammatical structures. Errors in parallelism occur:

  1. With coordinate elements

    1. nouns with nouns, infinitives with infinitives, infinitives with infinitives, prepositional phrases with prepositional phrases, adjective clauses with adjective clauses, and so on.
    Typical error: He likes to read and playing hockey.
    Correct: He likes to read and to play hockey. (infinitive + infinitive)
    Typical error: Students poor in reading and who can’t write will have difficulty managing this course.
    Correct: Students poor in reading and writing will have difficulty managing this course. (gerund + gerund)
    Typical error: She found herself out of love, with no money, and having no luck.
    Correct: She found herself out of love, out of pocket, and out of luck. (prepositional phrase + prepositional phrase)
    Typical error: I had dinner with Martha James, a highly respected scholar and who is also a champion skier.
    Correct: I had dinner with Martha James who is a highly respected scholar and who is also a champion skier. (adjective clause + adjective clause)
    Typical error: After our trek, we felt dirty, tired, and wanted something to eat.
    Correct: After our trek, we felt dirty, tired, and hungry. (adjective + adjective)
  2. With than and as (also called comparison errors)

    Typical error: I have observed that a child’s perceptions of the world are sometimes more astute than an adult. (This means the perceptions are more astute than an adult is astute.)
    Correct: I have observed that a child’s perceptions of the world are sometimes more astute than an adult’s.
    Typical error: A labourer’s salary is as difficult to earn as a lawyer. (This means it is as difficult to earn a labourer’s salary as it is to earn a lawyer.)
    Correct: A labourer’s salary is as difficult to earn as a lawyer’s.
  3. With correlative conjunctions

    1. include either . . . or, neither . . . nor, both . . . and, not only . . . but also
    Typical error: You can get to Lake Cynthia either by train or go by bus.
    Correct: You can get to Lake Cynthia either by train or by bus.
    Typical error: Neither wringing your hands nor if you pull your hair will solve the problem.
    Correct: Neither wringing your hands nor pulling your hair will solve the problem.
    Typical error: He not only felt sorry for her but also was feeling sorry for himself.
    Correct: He felt sorry not only for her but also for himself.
    or He not only felt sorry for her but also for himself.
    Typical error: Both vendor and the person who was buying agreed to a compromise.
    Correct Both vendor and buyer eventually agreed to a compromise.

Omissions

Many omissions are common in informal writing and in speech. They are, however, incorrect in formal English. Omissions commonly occur:

  1. With repetition of articles, prepositions, the to of the infinitive, etc. in compound constructions

    Typical error: The successful candidate must be personable and presentable and also be able to work independently.
    Correct: The successful candidate must be personable and presentable and must also be able to work independently. (repetition of the modal must)
    Typical error: In the box were a number of small curios: a silver tinderbox, ivory hand-mirror, two ornate candlesticks, brass doorknob, and several cameo brooches. (The required articles are different, so cannot be omitted.)
    Correct: In the box were a number of small curios: a silver tinderbox, an ivory hand-mirror, two ornate candlesticks, a brass doorknob, and several cameo brooches. (repetition of articles)
    Typical error: The new president plans to flatten the administration hierarchy and combine Media Services with Marketing.
    Correct: The new president plans to flatten the administration hierarchy and to combine Media Services with Marketing. (repetition of the to for the infinitive)
    Typical error: He remembered as a child being fascinated, yet wary of, the little girl who had moved into the house across the road.
    Correct: He remembered as a child being fascinated by, yet wary of, the little girl who had moved into the house across the road.(The preposition required for each adjective is different, so the preposition by cannot be omitted.)
  2. With prepositions and conjunctions

    Typical error: Wayne put his back out again end of last season. (This is common in coloquial, spoken English, but it is not acceptable in formal, written English.)
    Correct: Wayne put his back out again at the end of the last season.
    Typical error: Hundreds of people gathered Churchill Square last night to ring in the New Year.
    Correct: Hundreds of people gathered in Churchill Square last night to ring in the New Year.
    Typical error: He ran out of the house, got into his car, screeched off down the road. I haven’t seen him since.
    Correct: He ran out of the house, got into his car, and screeched off down the road. I haven’t seen him since.
  3. With verb forms

    Typical error: Mary says she has never forgotten and never will the time she got stuck in an elevator. (The form of the verb required for will is different from that required for has, so the verb forget cannot be omitted.)
    Correct: Mary says she has never forgotten and never will forget the time she got stuck in an elevator.
    Typical error: The other mothers were disappointed with the way the school dealt with the problem, but Joanne appalled.(Were agrees with mothers but it does not agree with Joanne, so the verb was cannot be omitted.)
    Correct: The other mothers were disappointed with the way the school dealt with the problem, but Joanne was appalled.
    Typical error: The twins have their bats and balls, and Hanna her books.(Have agrees with twins but not with Hanna, so the verb has cannot be omitted.)
    Correct: The twins have their bats and balls, and Hanna has her books.
  4. With the idiom feel like

    Typical error: Angie says she doesn’t feel like volleyball this weekend. (This error is common in speech but incorrect in formal writing.)
    Correct: Angie says she doesn’t feel like playing volleyball this weekend.
    Typical error: Do you feel like a movie tonight? (This error is common in speech but incorrect in formal writing.)
    Correct: Do you feel like going to a movie tonight?
    Typical error: I feel like a beer after work. Would you like to join me? (This error is common in speech but incorrect in formal writing.)
    Correct: I feel like stopping for a beer after work. Would you like to join me?

    Coordination

    Coordination is a way of joining sentence elements (words, phrases, and clauses) to indicate grammatical equivalency of the elements. That is, coordination indicates that the elements are of equal importance, rank, value, and so on.

    Consider the following:

    Primer style: Jane likes coffee. Peter likes coffee.
    Jane doesn’t like tea. Peter doesn’t like tea.

    As illustrated, the primer style is both childish and boring. The example sentences, however, show clearly that there are equivalencies—ideas of equal rank and value that can be coordinated:

    Coordinated version: Both Jane and Peter like coffee, but neither likes tea.

Types of Coordination

  1. With coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, nor, so, yet, for)

    Primer style: Joe is a footballer. Sam is a footballer. Bob is a footballer.
    Coordinated version: Joe, Sam, and Bob are footballers.(coordinate subjects; coordinating conjunction and)
    Primer style: David never washes the dishes. He never vacuums the house. He never cleans the bathroom. He never makes the bed.
    Coordinated version: David never washes the dishes, vacuums the house, cleans the bathroom, or makes the bed. (coordinate predicates; coordinating conjunction or)
    Primer style: The sofa was old. It was comfortable.
    Coordinated version: The sofa was old but comfortable. (coordinate adjectives; coordinating conjunction but)
  2. With correlative conjunctions (both . . . and, either . . . or, neither . . . nor, not . . . but, not only . . . but also)

    Primer style: Someone will drive you to the airport. It may be Tom. It may be me.
    Coordinated version: Either Tom or I will drive you to the airport.
    Primer style: It is not a case of ignorance. It is a case of sheer stupidity.
    Coordinated version: It is not a case of ignorance but of sheer stupidity.
    Primer style: The apartment has an audiovisual room. It also has a heated in-door swimming pool.
    Coordinated version: The apartment not only has an audiovisual room but also has a heated in-door swimming pool.
  3. With conjunctive adverbs (however, consequently, therefore, nevertheless, etc.)

    When used with a semicolon, these adverbs may be used to coordinate whole sentences (see The Semicolon).

    Primer style: The escaping robbers drove very fast. The police caught them.
    Coordinated version: The escaping robbers drove very fast; nevertheless, the police caught them.
    Primer style: Seamus did not produce any work for two years. He lost his job.
    Coordinated version: Seamus did not produce any work for two years; consequently, he lost his job.
    Primer style: You wrote very well. You failed to answer the question.
    Coordinated version: You wrote very well; you failed, however, to answer the question.

Coordination Errors

  1. Illogical coordination

    Typical error: Computers were first introduced to the office environment in the late 60s, and they are less expensive now than they were then. (The two ideas expressed here are not logically related, so they should not be coordinated.)
    Correct: Computers were first introduced to the office environment in the late 60s, and they have since become an integral part of office routine.
    Typical error: Lisa tried to get in through the kitchen window, but she’s a little on the heavy side. (The reader has to think twice to get the relationship between the two ideas.)
    Correct: Lisa tried to get in through the kitchen window, but the window was too small for her to squeeze through.
    Typical error: The university library has access to a number of data bases, and students can use the new touch-tone service to reserve books. (The two ideas are unrelated and so should not be coordinated.)
    Correct: The university library has access to a number of data bases, and students can learn how to access these resources by attending an information session being held this Friday.
  2. Overuse of coordination

    Typical error: At times, a series of less complex sentences is best, and this is especially the case when you may want to make each idea or detail stand out as equally important, but at most times, however, you will want to make one idea stand out and you will want to present that idea along with secondary details.
    Correct: At times, a series of less complex sentences is best, and this is especially the case when you may want to make each idea or detail stand out as equally important. At most times, however, you will want to make one idea stand out and to present that idea along with secondary details.
    Typical error: The gulf between the haves and have-nots has widened considerably in the last two decades, and there are several identified causes for this state of affairs, one being that information technology quickly made redundant the skills of a whole generation, which immediately placed those people outside the job market, and another is that government economic policies have pandered to multi-national corporations.
    Correct: The gulf between the haves and have-nots has widened considerably in the last two decades. Several changes explain this state of affairs. One is that information technology quickly made redundant the skills of a whole generation, which immediately placed those people outside the job market. Another is that government economic policies have pandered to multi-national corporations.

Subordination

Subordination is important for conveying logical relationships between ideas in sentences. A writer uses subordination when he or she highlights an independent (main) clause to express his or her most important idea, and a dependent clause to express a related but less important idea.

A sentence that contains an independent clause and one or more dependent ones is called a complex sentence.

Consider the following:

Primer style: Peter had a shower at 7 o’clock.
He had breakfast at 7:30.

A sequence of events can be combined in one sentence. The writer may want to give more importance to the first action (had a shower ) in which case he will subordinate the second one (had breakfast ):

Subordinated version: Peter had a shower before he had breakfast.

Or, the writer may want to highlight the second action:

Subordinated version: Peter had breakfast after he had a shower.

Types of Subordination

  1. With subordinating conjunctions (if, when, in order that, because, etc.) (see Conjunctions)

    Primer style: The banks raised their interest rates. As a result, the economy did not pick up as expected.
    Subordinated version: If the banks had not raised their interest rates, the economy would have picked up as expected. (The relationship the writer wishes to convey is that of condition and result.)
    Primer style: The company put all employees on a four-day work week. This was done to prevent many lay-offs.
    Subordinated version: In order that there be fewer lay-offs, the company put all employees on a four-day work-week. (The relationship is that of purpose.)
    Primer style: Mary started making her own clothes. She could not afford ready-made ones.
    Subordinated version: Mary started making her own clothes because she could not afford ready-made ones. (The relationship is that of reason.)
  2. With adjective clauses: restrictive (defining, essential), non-restrictive (non-defining, non-essential) (see Clause Recognition)

    Non-restrictive clauses (also called “non-essential”, “non-defining”, or “non-indentifying” clauses) are set off by a comma and the information provided is just additional information; it is not needed to identify the noun that they qualify; e.g.

    Mrs. Smith, who is my next-door neighbour, is a good friend of mine.

    Restrictive clauses (also called “essential” , “defining”, or “identifying” clauses are not set off by a comma and the information provided is needed (essential) to identify the noun that they qualify; e.g.

    My neighbour who lives in the two-storey house is a good friend of mine.
    Primer style: You stole a woman’s car. The woman happens to be my mother.
    Subordinated version: The woman whose car you stole happens to be my mother. (The adjective clause defines which woman.)
    Primer style: Mr. Jordan met with the academic advisory committee last Wednesday. Mr. Jordan was recently appointed Academic Vice-President.
    Subordinated version: Mr. Jordan, who was recently appointed Academic Vice-President, met with the academic advisory committee last Wednesday. (The adjective clause is not defining but merely giving more information about the subject, Mr. Jordan.)
  3. With clauses requiring “that” or “which”.

    There is a further difference when using clauses requiring “that” or “which”. Use “that” in restrictive clauses and “which” in non-restrictive clauses.

    e.g. The two-storey house that belongs to the Smiths is next door to us; your friend’s bungalow, which is a much smaller house, is on the other side of ours.
    Primer style: The train was going very fast. Such speed was dangerous.
    Subordinated version: The train was going very fast, which was dangerous. (The adjective clause is not defining anything but merely giving more information.)

Subordination Errors

  1. Overuse of subordination of clauses

    Typical error: When I met John, which is twenty years ago now, he was working at Smith’s which was a law firm that had offices above the cafe where I used to have my morning cup of coffee.
    Correct: When I met John twenty years ago, he was working at Smith’s, a law firm with offices above a cafe where I used to stop to have my morning cup of coffee.
    Typical error: In the middle of a traffic island which is off the north-east corner of the park, there is a plaque, which is made of brass, which marks the spot where the famous hanging tree once stood.
    Correct: In the middle of a traffic island off the north-east corner of the park, there is a brass plaque which marks the spot where the famous hanging tree once stood.
    Typical error: After work, when he feels he has the time and energy, and when weather permits, Brian takes his dog, Max, who is a golden retriever, to the ravine for a good run because Max is usually desperate for some exercise after he has spent the day cooped up in the house.
    Correct: After work, when time, energy, and weather permit, Brian takes his dog, Max, a golden retriever, to the ravine for a good run. Max is usually desperate for some exercise after spending the day cooped up in the house.
  2. Misplacement of the most important information

    Typical error: While I discovered this old love-letter folded neatly between two pages, I was browsing through a book at the library. (The most important idea needs to be put in the main clause. Browsing through a book does not strike the reader as being as important or significant as discovering a love-letter.)
    Correct: While I was browsing through a book at the library yesterday, I discovered this old love-letter folded neatly between two pages.
    Typical error: Although Marco gave a brilliant performance of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, he had injured his hand the day before. (The conjunction although is misplaced.)
    Correct: Although he had injured his hand the day before, Marco gave a brilliant performance of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.
    Typical error: I was crossing the bridge while a car chase went screaming past me. (The conjunction while is misplaced.)
    Correct: While I was crossing the bridge, a car chase went screaming past me.
  3. Illogical relationships created through incorrect use of subordinating conjunctions

    Typical error: Because it was extremely dry outside, the family decided to organize a Weiner roast. (People do not usually decide on an open fire outdoors because it is dry, but rather in spite of it.)
    Correct: Although it was extremely dry outside, the family decided to organize a Weiner roast.
    Typical error: When she spent many hours studying, she needed high marks to get the scholarship. (The relationship should be cause (scholarship) and effect (many hours), not time.)
    Correct: She needed high marks to get the scholarship, so she spent many hours studying.
    Typical error: Although you put your hand on a hot burner, you will be burned. (The relationship is cause/effect, not contrast.)
    Correct: If you put your hand on a hot burner, you will be burned.

Comparisons

Comparisons convey a relationship between two or more things (e.g., This apple is bigger than that apple.). In formal writing, a comparison between two thoughts or ideas must mention both.

Comparison Errors

  1. Incomplete comparisons

    Typical error: Many people eat margarine because they think it’s healthier. (This sentence does not contain the two things required to make a complete comparison. It begs the question healthier than what?)
    Correct: Many people eat margarine because they think it’s healthier than butter.
    Typical error: London is reputed to have more parks than any other in the world. (More parks than any other what?)
    Correct: London is reputed to have more parks than any other major city in the world.
    Typical error: That child is more developed for his age than most. (Most what?)
    Correct: That child is more developed for his age than most other children.
  2. Illogical comparisons

    Typical error: A child’s perception of a person’s character is often more astute than an adult. (The sentence needs to compare a child’s perception with an adult’s perception, not perception with an adult.)
    Correct: A child’s perception of a person’s character is often more astute than an adult’s.
    Typical error: The new president’s approach is more value-driven than her predecessor. (Here, approach is compared to a predecessor.)
    Correct: The new president’s approach is more value-driven than her predecessor’s.
    Typical error: Earning a decent living is more difficult these days than you could twenty years ago. (The example means this is more difficult than you could, which is illogical.)
    Correct: Earning a decent living is more difficult these days than it was twenty years ago.
  3. Grammatically incomplete comparisons

    Typical error: Lorna is as smart, if not smarter than, Boris. (As must be used twice when used to make comparisons. Also, the commas indicate that the element between them is non-essential, so the sentence must be complete without it.)
    Correct: Lorna is as smart as, if not smarter than, Boris.
    Typical error: The Trans-Canada Highway is longer than any Canadian highway. (When comparing items from the same class—one Canadian highway with another Canadian highway—use any other or other.)
    Correct: The Trans-Canada Highway is longer than any other Canadian highway.
    Typical error: The Trans-Canada Highway is longer than any other European highway. (Only any is used when comparing items in different classes, in this case, Canadian highways with European ones.)
    Correct: The Trans-Canada Highway is longer than any European highway.
  4. Incorrect/illogical quality or quantity

    The degree of quality or quantity is expressed by the positive (e.g., high—no degree or comparison implied), the comparative (e.g., higher), or the superlative (e.g., highest) form of the adjective or adverb. There are exceptions and irregular forms, so always check your dictionary.

    1. In formal writing, the comparative form is used when two things are being compared:
      • one syllable, add er (e.g., slow, slower)
      • words of two syllables often have variant forms (e.g., lazy, lazier, more lazy)
      • three or more syllables, always use more (e.g., more difficult)
      • some common adjectives and adverbs retain irregular forms (e.g., good, better, best; badly, worse, worst). Check your dictionary.

      Typical error: He had more good marks this term than last. (This addresses the number of good marks rather than their quality.)
      Correct: He had better marks this term than last.
      Typical error: Karen’s car is the most expensive of the two.
      Correct: Karen’s car is the more expensive of the two. (Use the comparative form for two things.)
      Typical error: Jim’s house, a geodesic dome, is more high than any other house in the neighbourhood.
      Correct: Jim’s house, a geodesic dome, is higher than any other house in the neighbourhood. (Add er to adjectives and adverbs of one syllable.)

    2. In formal writing, the superlative form is used when three or more things are being compared:
      • one syllable, add est (e.g., slowest)
      • words of two syllables have variant forms (e.g., prettiest, most pretty). Check your dictionary.
      • three or more syllables, always use most (e.g., most horrible)
      • some words are by definition, superlative (e.g., unique, dead, perfect)

      Typical error: That rose is the beautifullest I’ve ever seen.
      Correct: That rose is the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. (Put most in front of words of three or more syllables.)
      Typical error: Maria and her husband have the most unique, but ugly, garden.
      Correct: Maria and her husband have a unique, but ugly, garden. (Unique is by definition the superlative form.)
      Typical error: Out of all the family who went to the dentist, John’s mouth is the most sore.
      Correct: Out of all the family who went to the dentist, John’s mouth is the sorest. (Add est to words of one syllable.)

Speech or Dialogue

There are two ways to relate what someone has said:

  1. Direct speech
    1. repeats the speaker’s exact words
    2. includes direct quotations and dialogue
      “Divorce laws should be modified, not to prevent divorce, but to signal society’s concern,” he says.
      My aunt used to say, “When God closes the door, the room gets stuffy.”
  2. Indirect (reported) speech
    1. gives the exact meaning of what the speaker has said, but does not use the exact words
      Blair said that few people could distinguish illusion from delusion.

Tense Changes from Direct to Indirect Speech

When direct speech is introduced by a verb in the past tense, the verb in the indirect speech is changed to a corresponding past tense:

Direct Speech Indirect Speech
Simple Present
“I always walk to work,” she said.
Simple Past
She said that she always walked to work.
Present Progressive
“They are closing off the Quesnel Bridge,” he said.
Past Progressive
He said that they were closing off the Quesnel Bridge.
Present Perfect
“The military junta has taken control,” she announced.
Past Perfect
She announced that the military junta had taken control.
Present Perfect Progressive
“I’ve been playing trombone in a local band for years,” she said.
Past Perfect Progressive
She said that she’d been playing trombone in a local band for years.
Simple Past
“We noticed a red car parked in the driveway,” George said.
Past Perfect
George said that they had noticed a red car parked in the driveway.
Future
“The doctor will let me know as soon as she hears anything,” Tina said.
Would + Infinitive
Tina said that the doctor would let her know as soon she heard anything.
Future Progressive
“I will be making my own way to the conference,” she said.
Would + be + Present Participle
She said that she would be making her own way to the conference.

Problem Areas: Sometimes past tenses remain unchanged because conversion to the past perfect tense would seriously alter the meaning intended or the time relationship.

“She lived in a small town that was in the middle of nowhere,” he said.
Incorrect: He said that she had lived in a small town that had been in the middle of nowhere. (This suggests that 1) she no longer lives there and, 2) the small town no longer exists. When describing a state of affairs that still exists, the simple past remains unchanged in reported speech.)
Correct: He said that she lived in a small town that was in the middle of nowhere.
“When we were fighting in Burma, a number of us picked up quite a bit of the language,” he said.
Correct: He said that when they had been fighting in Burma, a number of them had picked up quite a bit of the language.(The past progressive tense used in time clauses does not normally change. The main verb in the main clause can either remain unchanged or be changed to the past perfect.)
or He said that when they were fighting in Burma, a number of them had picked up quite a bit of the language.
or He said that when they were fighting in Burma, a number of them picked up quite a bit of the language

No Change from Direct to Indirect Speech

  1. With subjunctives

    Present, past, and perfect subjunctives remain unchanged in indirect speech

    “Shelley recommends that the meeting be adjourned,” he said.
    = He said that Shelley recommended that the meeting be adjourned. (present subjunctive)
    “I wish I had a car,” she said.
    = She said that she wished she had a car. (past subjunctive)
    “If Melinda had wanted to leave, she would have,“ retorted Angie.
    = Angie retorted that if Melinda had wanted to leave, she would have.
  2. With words that usually remain unchanged

    1. would, should, ought to, had better, might, used to, could, must

    “David would like to ask Maxine out,” Sophie confided.
    = Sophie confided that David would like to ask Maxine out.
    “You should exercise more,” the doctor told Paul.
    = The doctor told Paul that he should exercise more.
    “You ought to consider the consequences of your decision,” mother told Sandra.
    = Mother told Sandra that she ought to consider the consequences of her decision.
    “You’d better pull your socks up, or you’ll find yourself without a job,” the boss told Sam.
    = The boss told Sam that he had better pull his socks up, or he’d find himself without a job.
    “I might be able to get away sooner than expected,” Lynn said.
    = Lynn said that she might be able to get away sooner than expected.
    “I used to wear my hair long,” Gus said.
    = Gus said that he used to wear his hair long.
    “Could you do me a favour?” Pete asked.
    = Pete asked me if I could do him a favour.
    “Everyone must pull together in order to get the company out of this slump,” said the director.
    = The director said that everyone must pull together in order to get the company out of the slump.

Changes of Time Reference in Indirect Speech

Direct Speech Indirect Speech
today that day
yesterday the day before, the previous day
the day before yesterday two days before
tomorrow the next day, the following day
the day after tomorrow in two days’ time
next week/year, etc. the following week/year, etc.
last week/year, etc. the previous week/year, etc.
a year, etc. ago the year before/the previous year

Note: These changes are necessary only when there is a lapse of time between when something was said and when it was reported. If reported on the same day, the changes to time references are not applied.

At dinner this evening she said, “I’ll be going to bed early tonight.”
= At dinner this evening she said that she would be going to bed early tonight. (Same day, no change.)

Other Changes in Indirect Speech

  1. With here and there

    1. require logical adjustments

    Sue came to my office and said, “I’ll meet you here at 11.”
    = Sue came to my office and said she’d meet me here at 11. (I’m in my office now.)
    or Sue came to my office and said she’d meet me there at 11. (I’m not in my office now.)
  2. With this and that

    1. when referring to time, this is changed to that

    “I’m expecting a call from New York this evening,” he said.
    = He said that he was expecting a call from New York that evening.
    “I’ve been waiting for this moment all my life,” she said.
    = She said that she had been waiting for that moment all her life.

    or when used as adjectives, this and that usually change to the

    “I’ve picked out this grey shirt to go with my suit,” he said.
    = He said that he had picked out the grey shirt to go with his suit.
  3. With this and these/those

    1. when used as pronouns, they can be changed to it, they, or them

    She pointed at two remarkable etchings. “I picked those up for next to nothing at a flea market.”
    = She pointed at two remarkable etchings and said that she had picked them up for next to nothing at a flea market.
    He showed me his pen. “My mother gave this to me upon my graduating,” he said.
    = He showed me his pen. He said that his mother had given it to him upon his graduating.

Questions from Direct to Indirect Speech

  1. With tenses, pronouns, possessive adjectives, and adverbs of time and place

    “Why did you wear that red dress to the party last night?” Val asked me.
    = Val asked me why I had worn the red dress to the party the previous night.
    “How long have you been living here?” (Sid asked Nancy)
    = Sid asked Nancy how long she had been living there.
  2. With questions

    When the question becomes a statement in reported questions, the question mark is replaced with a period.

    “When’s the next train?” she asked.
    = She asked when the next train was.
    “Sue, what did you study at university?” Tim asked.
    = Tim asked Sue what she had studied at university.
  3. With a direct question

    When a direct question begins with a question word, the word is repeated in the reported question. Question words include who, what, when, where, etc.

    “When did you learn to scuba dive?” (Dave asked Pat.)
    = Dave asked Pat when she had learned to scuba dive.
    “How old do you have to be to drink in Alberta?” (Tom asked Bob.)
    = Tom asked Bob how old you had to be to drink in Alberta.
  4. With an auxiliary verb

    When an auxiliary verb is used to begin the question, if or whether is used in the reported question. Auxiliary verbs for questions include the various forms of be, and have, will, would, etc.

    “Are you a tutor or a student?” she asked.
    = She asked me whether I was a tutor or a student.
    “Will there be snow?” he wondered.
    = He wondered if there would be snow.