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Active Voice -- A sentence style in which the subject performs the action. Usually preferable to passive voice unless the passive is specifically called for.

Active Voice example: The lightning struck the tree.
Passive Voice example: The tree was struck by lightning.

See for more information:

 

 

Adjective -- A word or group of words that describe or modify a noun.

example: The slow, meandering creek sang a gentle song.

 

Agreement -- A singular noun or pronoun must take a singular verb, and a plural noun or pronoun must take a plural verb.

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Apostrophe -- A punctuation mark ( ' ) used to show possession. Also used in contractions, which should be avoided in formal prose.

possession example: "That was Jack's favorite coffee mug."
contraction example: "You shouldn't have dropped it."

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Appositive -- A noun or pronoun set beside another noun or pronoun to modify it. Usually accompanied by modifiers.

example: An experienced backpacker, she left no trace of where she had camped.

 

Clause -- A group of words containing both a subject and a predicate.

Independent Clause example: The hobo passed through town unnoticed.
Dependent Clause example: As the hobo passed through town...

 

Conjunction -- A word that joins words or phrases (i.e. and, but, or).

example: I'll pass on the pork and beans, but I'd love some pizza or ziti.

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Dependent (Subordinate) Clause -- A clause that can not stand alone as a sentence and must be combined with an independent clause.

Independent Clause example: The hobo passed through town unnoticed.
Dependent Clause example: As the hobo passed through town...

See for more information:

 

 

Independent Clause -- A clause that can stand alone as a sentence.

Independent Clause example: The hobo passed through town unnoticed.
Dependent Clause example: As the hobo passed through town...

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Introductory Phrase -- A group of words that cannot stand alone found at the beginning of a sentence.

example: Hoping to improve his writing, he never went to sleep before jotting down a page of random thoughts.

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Nonrestrictive Phrase -- A subordinate clause that is not essential to the meaning of the sentence but adds a relevant detail.

Nonrestrictive Phrase example: I gave a few coins to the street musician, who gave me a smile back.
Restrictive Phrase example: I gave a few coins to the street musician who played the sweetest song.

 

Noun -- A word that represents a person, place, thing, or idea.

example: A noun is a word that represents a person, place, thing, or idea.

 

Parallel Construction -- A sentence construction where equal parts are expressed using similar grammatical forms. Each part of speech in each idea has a counterpart in the next idea.

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Participle -- A verb form used as an adjective.

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Participial Phrase -- A phrase containing a participle and any modifiers.

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Passive Voice -- a sentence style in which the action is performed on the subject. Usually inferior to the active voice unless specifically called for.

Active Voice example: The lightning struck the tree.
Passive Voice example: The tree was struck by lightning.

See for more information:

 

 

Predicate -- The part of a sentence that tells what the subject does or has done to it.

example: I always forget the difference between a verb and a predicate.

 

Pronoun -- A word used as a substitute for a noun (known as the antecedent).

example: The pronoun is a lonely word; it must always be paired with an antecedent.

See for more information:

  • Guide to Grammar and Style Pronoun

 

 

Restrictive Phrase -- A subordinate clause that is essential in specifying something about the thing it modifies.

Nonrestrictive Phrase example: I gave a few coins to the street musician, who gave me a smile back.
Restrictive Phrase example: I gave a few coins to the street musician who played the sweetest song.

 

Semicolon -- a punctuation mark (;) used to separate independent clauses or items in a series.

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Sentence Modifier -- A word or phrase that is not the subject or predicate but adds to the meaning of the sentence.

 

Subject -- The thing in the sentence that is being discussed. Usually a noun or a noun phrase.

example: The butterfly had a short but beautiful existence.

 

Verb -- A word that expresses action or being.

example: A verb is a word that expresses action or being.

To join two independent clauses, use a comma followed by a conjunction, a semicolon alone, or a semicolon followed by a sentence modifier.

Examples

  • Incorrect: The delivery boy knew he carried strange cargo, but still ventured off unafraid.

  • Correct: The delivery boy knew he carried strange cargo, but he still ventured off unafraid.

  • Incorrect: My math teacher doesn't know how to lecture, she should have remained a student.

  • Correct: My math teacher doesn't know how to lecture; she should have remained a student.

  • Incorrect: Gregor has not changed physically; but has given himself an excuse to separate himself from the pain of previous experiences.

  • Correct: Gregor has not changed physically; however, he has given himself an excuse to hide from the pain of previous experiences.

    References

    More information about this rule is available from the following sources.

    Online Resources:
  • The Elements of Style: rule 4 and rule5

    Printed Resources: (see Books on Writing section)
  • Strunk and White: 1-4 and 1-5
  • Hacker: P1-a and P3-a,b

This list is a compilation of the most common errors that I've come across while grading papers in a required writing course for incoming college freshmen. I use this page as a key to comment on their papers; grammatical errors are indicated in the margin by the corresponding rule number. The students can then use this site or a printed version of the rules to learn about the rule and correct their errors. This helps students to realize that many of their mistakes violate a small but significant set of standards. Simultaneously, the use of this list eliminates some of the redundancy involved in the instructor's commenting upon student papers.

Thanks go out to my students of English 1001 at The University of Colorado for their efforts and examples, and to all of the users of these pages who have offered feedback.

Use commas to enclose nonrestrictive clauses or phrases, which are not essential to the sentence's meaning.

Examples

  • Incorrect: The bus driver with her ears tuned to the roar decided to take the grumbling bus on a detour across the football field.

  • Correct: The bus driver, her ears tuned to the roar, decided to take the grumbling bus on a detour across the football field.

  • Incorrect: My window as dirty as it is reveals the beauty of nature on a snowy morning.

  • Correct: My window, as dirty as it is, reveals the beauty of nature on a snowy morning.

  • Incorrect: King and Lucille, his customized black Gibson have electrified audiences all over the world.

  • Correct: King and Lucille, his customized black Gibson, have electrified audiences all over the world.

    References

    More information about this rule is available from the following sources.

    Online Resources:
  • The Elements of Style: rule 3

Printed Resources: (see Books on Writing section)

  • Strunk and White: 1-3
  • Hacker: P1-e