Top Five Most Common Grammatical Errors (as I see them)

As the new College of Online Education’s Student Writing Support Specialist, I work with both graduate and undergraduate learners on advancing their writing skills, from crafting thesis statements to developing arguments to ensuring that either APA and MLA formatting guidelines have been met. Today, I am going to briefly explore what I see as the five most common grammatical errors that students make in their writing.  In no particular order, they are:

1.       Using “you” and “I” in formal writing assignments.  

Maintaining a formal tone while writing helps to establish your respect for your audience and to suggest that you are serious about your topic.  Almost all of academic writing uses a formal tone.

In order to maintain such formality, try adopting the following strategies.  Avoid first-person pronouns (I, me, my, we, us).  Using these pronouns in analytical writing can make the writing wordy and the writer appear less confident in his or her ideas.  Readers will know that the arguments presented are yours.  Instead, “one,” or “a person,” can be used effectively in place of “I” or “we.”  Secondly, and more importantly, avoid the second person pronoun (you).  This act can bring assumptions into a piece that are simply not true.  In essence, when you use the second person pronoun, you are assuming that the reader is the one to whom an action refers.  Or, possibly, the one who should be performing an action (i.e. “You will want to avoid discount travel sites for the following reasons…”).


2.       Subject-verb agreement error.

The verb in a sentence should always agree with its subject in number, no matter if the verb comes before the subject.  In order to ensure proper subject-verb agreement, you must first correctly identify the subject.  Here are two examples.  Incorrect: “One of the men who live in the trailers want to move to a house.”  (What is the actual subject here?  One – which is a singular subject, and therefore requires a singular verb.)  Now for the revised version: “One of the men who live in the trailers wants to move to a house.”


3.       Pronoun agreement error.

For example, writing “Everyone is entitled to their opinion.”  Everyone is a singular pronoun!  Use “his or her” instead.  This goes for any time you use a singular pronoun (including anybody, anyone, each, either, everybody, neither, nobody, no one, one, somebody, or someone). 


4.       Creating comma splices.

Simply put, a comma splice occurs when a comma is placed where a period should be, without a coordinating conjunction to follow (including and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet).  For example, “Jimmy likes to take cream and sugar with his coffee, when he drinks it warm, he also likes it black.”  Do you notice how this sentence just runs on?  Now for the revised version: “Jimmy likes to take cream and sugar with his coffee, and when he drinks it warm, he likes it black.”


5.       Misusing the “-ing” form of a verb.

The “-ing” form of a verb is technically called the present participle.  The most common verb abused here is “to be,” which is often conjugated as “being,” when it should be “is” or “who.”  For example, “He argued all day long.  The point being important.”  Revised, you might write: “He argued all day long, as his point was important.” 


I hope this brief exploration of the top five most common grammatical errors students make has been helpful!  And for even more tips and strategies, please visit the JWU College of Online Education Student Writing Support website (https://coewritingsupport.jwu.edu/).  Lastly, don’t hesitate to reach out to me, either through email (knappa@jwu.edu) or phone (401-598-5268)!