What are Some Common Grammatical Errors That Students Make When Composing Essays?

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Answered by: Dawn, An Expert in the Writing Quality Essays Category
The English language is highly complex in nature, and even the best of writers sometimes fall prey to a host of common grammatical errors. Among these commonly made errors are subject-verb agreement errors, pronoun-antecedent errors, and dangling modifiers. These errors can cloud the meaning of the writer's words, causing the writer to lose credibility with his or her readers. It is therefore important that a student learn to recognize these common grammatical errors prior to composing an academic essay to receive the best grade possible.

Complete sentences consist of two main components: a subject and a predicate. A sentence's subject almost always consists of a noun that identifies either the agent or the recipient of an action. Meanwhile, the sentence's predicate is the remainder of the sentence. The predicate always consists of a verb, which identifies either what action the subject does or what action happens to the subject. In the sentence, "Naturalists believe that every aspect of the human experience can be explained in terms of scientific processes," "Naturalists" is the subject, while the remainder of the sentence is the sentence predicate. "Believe" is the simple predicate since it is the verb that identifies what action the subject, naturalists, performs.

In order for a sentence to be grammatically correct, its subject and corresponding verb must agree in number; that is, they must be either both plural or both singular. In the case of a subject-verb agreement error, the noun in the subject and the verb in the predicate do not agree in number. The aforementioned sentence is correct because "naturalists" is a plural noun, while "believe" is a plural verb. The sentence would have contained a subject-verb agreement error if it had read, "Naturalists believes that every aspect of the human experience can be explained in terms of scientific processes," since "naturalists" is a plural noun, while "believes" is a singular verb.

As a general rule, plural nouns end in an "s," while singular nouns do not. Conversely, singular verbs typically end in an "s," while plural verbs do not. There are some exceptions to this general rule, however. For instance, "mice" is a plural noun that does not end in "s." Students must take care to always pair singular nouns with singular verbs and plural nouns with plural verbs when composing essays.

Another one of the common grammatical errors that students often make is the pronoun-antecedent error. Pronouns are general nouns such as he, she, it, him, her, they, their, everyone, anyone, and no one. These pronouns rename a previously identified specific noun, known as a pronoun antecedent since it appears before the pronoun. Like subjects and verbs, pronoun antecedents and pronouns must agree in number. A writer should never refer to a singular noun such as "child" using a plural pronoun antecedent such as "they." Therefore, the sentence, "A child must know that they are loved," is grammatically incorrect. To correct this sentence, a writer may either make the pronoun antecedent plural by rewriting the sentence as, "Children must know that they are loved," or the writer may make the pronoun singular by rewriting the sentence as, "A child must know that he or she is loved."

Misuse of the pronouns "they," "them," and "their" has grown increasingly common as society has grown more gender neutral. Writers often use plural pronouns avoid merely referring to an unidentified individual as "he" or "him" as was done in previous times. However, it is incorrect to refer to a singular being as "they," "them," or "their." It is likewise incorrect to assume the gender of someone like a child in the aforementioned example. "He or she" or "him or her" is the grammatically correct method for writing about an individual who may be either gender.

Finally, students often incorporate the grammatical error known as the dangling modifier into their essays. A dangling modifier is a phrase that is attached to a sentence in which the thing that the phrase is supposed to modify does not appear. For example, the sentence, "By studying hard, grades will be improved," contains a dangling modifier since it does not identify who will be studying hard. To correct this sentence, the writer must identify the agent who studies. The revised sentence, "When students study hard, their grades will improve," no longer contains a dangling modifier because it identifies students as the agents who will be doing the studying.

Writing is a more complicated process than it appears on the surface. Students often unnecessarily lose points on their essays for committing one or more common grammatical errors. Through learning how to identify and correct common errors such as subject-verb agreement errors, pronoun-antecedent errors, and dangling modifiers, students can be on their way to composing more credible essays.

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