A lot of people who write English make several mistakes because they are not aware of the grammar rules or find most usages tricky and confusing. Here are the six most common grammar mistakes one should avoid:
Too Many Adverbs
When it comes to creative writing tips, using too many adverbs is regarded ‘lazy writing’. Aspiring writers are advised to prune their writing to avoid the over-use of adverbs, for it weakens the prose. If your piece of writing has a lot of adverbs, it is possible that you may not be able to translate the emotion you felt while writing to the reader. Mark Twain complained about writers using too many adverbs. Stephen King says adverbs are like dandelions and “the road to hell is paved with adverbs”.
Why is using adverbs in writing bad? Adverbs are those words in English language that describe or modify verbs, adjectives, other adverbs, a phrase or a clause. An adverb gives information about where, when and how something happens, as well as shows the degree or quality of the action. Such adverbs are required. Similarly, there are adverbs that help emphasize, compare, contrast, and connect ideas. They are required to strengthen your writing. Most adverbs are considered bad, and they show weak writing.
- Adverbs do not show rather they tell. When you write, it would be better to allow your reader to make interpretation. For example, “She walked slowly to the kitchen.” You can write, “She ambled to the kitchen.”
- Some adverbs are repetitive. For instance, “He screamed loudly.” Here, the adverb loudly is redundant for ‘scream’ is understood as ‘loud’.
A squinting modifier is usually an adverb that modify the words that come before or after it. It is called an ambiguous or misplaced modifiers. Some examples of squinting modifiers are:
- “Whipping the cream cheese rapidly produces solid clumps.”
The adverb ‘rapidly’ in the above sentence is a modifier and it creates an ambiguity whether it modifies the gerund phrase ‘whipping the cream cheese’ or the verb ‘produces’. The interpretation the writer intends is not clear, and either way of reading changes the meaning significantly. Is it the whipping of the cream cheese rapidly will produce solid crumps, or the whipping of the cream cheese will rapidly produce solid crumps?
How do you correct this problem of ambiguous modifier? You can place the modifier somewhere else in the sentence or add a punctuation or a word or phrase to give better clarification.
“Rapidly whipping the cream cheese produces solid crumps.”
The other examples are:
“I told him this afternoon I would call him.” (Squinting modifier)
“I told him this afternoon that I would call him.” Or “I told him I would call him this afternoon.” (Better)
It is not easy to prevent squinting modifiers as they are tricky. Writers know what they mean, so any ambiguity will be less apparent to them than to the readers. It is better to give some time between writing and proofreading to read the text and improve it.
Unclear Pronoun References
When you write, you use a pronoun instead of using a noun every time. The pronoun used should clearly refer to the noun mentioned before it, and hence, it called an antecedent of the pronoun. A sentence is vague and confusing with unclear pronoun reference.
“Both Peter and Martin prepared his report.”
In the above sentence, it is not clear whose report they prepared. Since the antecedent is either Peter or Martin, it causes confusion. If you correct the above sentence as:
“Both Peter and Martin prepared Martin’s report.”
It gives a clear picture and makes sense.
A pronoun reference error may be because of:
- Several antecedents in the sentence
A pronoun should represent only one antecedent. For instance,
“The managers told the staff that they would meet the guests.”
The pronoun reference is not clear, for you do not know who will meet the guests. It can be either the managers or the staff. How would you fix this?
“The managers told the staff that they themselves would meet the guests.”
“The managers told the staff about their possible meeting with the guests.”
- Hidden antecedents
The other occurrence of a pronoun-antecedent error is when the antecedent is hidden and acts as an adjective to another noun.
“David cleaned Ms. Anne’s house the whole day, but she didn’t pay him.”
Though the pronoun ‘she’ refers to Ms. Anne, it is not clear, for Ms. Anne’s is an adjective that modifies the noun ‘house’, or Ms. Anne is a hidden antecedent. If you write it as:
“David cleaned Ms. Anne’s house the whole day, but Ms. Anne didn’t pay him.”
it makes sense. The other way of writing it is:
“Ms. Anne didn’t pay David though he cleaned her house the whole day.”
- No antecedent
The other type of vague pronoun reference error is when the sentence does not have any antecedent for the pronoun given. For instance,
“The victim called the police station, but they didn’t answer.”
There is no antecedent for the pronoun ‘they’ in this sentence. You need to correct it.
“The victim called the police, but they didn’t answer.”
A comma is used for various reasons in a sentence. Here are a few ones discussed.
- Listing Comma: It is used in a list when three or more words, phrases or even complete sentences are joined by the word ‘and’ or ‘or’.
For example: The Three Musketeers were Athos, Porthos and Aramis.
- Serial Comma: A final comma in the end of the list to separate each element.
For example: Please bring me a pencil, eraser, and notebook.
- Introductory comma: is used after introductory exclamatory and after expressions of affirmation or negation, after an introductory clause, after an introductory prepositional phrase of more than four words and after introductory transitional words.
For example: Well, it’s about time. Oh, you shouldn’t have! Yes, I’d love to.
When two or more complete sentences or independent clauses are joined with no proper punctuation or coordinating conjunction, it results in run on sentences.
You need to use a comma and semicolon to show the transition in the middle of the sentence. The other way of correcting the sentence is by using a period to break the sentence.
You can also use a subordinating conjunction to correct the above sentence.
“Because riding a bicycle is excellent exercise, I ride mine every day.” (Correct)
Use of Tautologies
Tautologies are different words used to explain the same idea.
“He is a single bachelor.”
“He left at 5 am in the morning.” It is redundancy and should be avoided. With a good grammar tool, you can find help with editing and when writing.