Editing Grammar

Sentence Structure, Agreement, and Reference

A CLAUSE must contain both a subject and a verb:

Plants grow. I grow plants. I give you plants. I make you happy. You are grateful.

The only exceptions are commands, whose subjects are not states: Pay attention.

One kind of SENTENCE FRAGMENT is not a clause because it contains no complete verb. Therefore, these examples are mistakes:

Especially phrases with no verb whatsoever.
To use the infinitive form of the verb, too.
The reason being the incomplete form of the verb.
Some sentences written with this form, also.

A CLAUSE may be INDEPENDENT (main) or DEPENDENT (subordinate). Dependent clauses begin with relative pronouns or subordinating conjunctions. A dependent clause by itself is a SENTENCE FRAGMENT. Therefore, these examples are mistakes:

Who worked on the project with me.
Which was a fabulous project.
Because we work so well together.
If I had done my fair share sooner.
After we finished at the last minute.

A COORDINATING CONJUNCTION leaves the clause it begins independent. The coordinating conjunctions are and, but, for, nor, or, so, and yet. It is informal but correct to begin sentences with them.

RUN-ON SENTENCES occur in two forms.

  1. A FUSED SENTENCE occurs when two independent clauses have no conjunction or punctuation between them. This is a mistake: I felt sick I went to the doctor.
  2. A COMMA SPLICE occurs when two independent clauses are connected by a comma without any conjunction. This is a mistake: I felt sick, I went to the doctor.

A run-on sentence may be corrected by using a period or a semicolon or a comma plus a coordinating conjunction between the two independent clauses or by making one of the clauses dependent. Here are these correct sentences:

I felt sick. I went to the doctor.
I felt sick; I went to the doctor.
I felt sick, so I went to the doctor.
Because I felt sick, I went to the doctor.

The SUBJECT and VERB of every clause must both be singular or both be plural. When one is singular and the other is plural, the result is a SUBJECT-VERB AGREEMENT ERROR, as in these examples:

The boys and the girl has gone to the movies.
Either Smith or Jones are the most common name.
The city on a river and seven hills are beautiful.

You can correct such mistakes by learning three rules.

    1. Two subjects connected by and require a plural verb. 
      The boys and the girl have gone to the movies.
    2. Two singular subjects connected by or remain singular:
      Either Smith or Jones is the most common name.
    3. The number of the subject isn't changed by words after it:
      The city on a river and seven hills is beautiful.

A PRONOUN and its ANTECEDENT (the noun it stands for) must both be singular or both be plural. When one is singular and the other is plural, the result is a PRONOUN AGREEMENT ERROR, as in these examples:

I hate punching and kicking; it is very bad.
The company says they will stop hiring illegal workers.
Everyone picked up their books and went home.

You can correct such mistakes by learning three rules:

  1. Two nouns connected by and require a plural pronoun:
    I hate punching and kicking; they are very bad.
  2. A noun that needs a singular verb needs a singular pronoun:
    The company says it will stop hiring illegal workers.
  3. A pronoun ending in one or body is always singular:
    Everyone picked up his or her books and went home.

[Note: If a "his or her" construction is awkward, use a plural noun in place of the singular pronoun: The students picked up their books and went home.]

A PRONOUN must always have an ANTECEDENT; it must refer back to the most recently used noun. If there is no noun for it to refer to or it the reader cannot be certain which noun it refers to, the result is a PRONOUN REFERENCE ERROR, as in these examples:

It says in the book that writing must be clear. (What is it?)
I hate grammar. They have too many rules. (Who are they?)
Sue and Ellen agreed to meet her parents. (Whose parents?)
I hate my brother. This is a problem. (What is a problem?)
Writing is hard, which I dislike. (What do you dislike?)

To correct such mistakes, use a noun whenever a pronoun is unclear.

The book says that writing must be clear.
I hate grammar. The books [or teachers] have too many rules.
Sue and Ellen agreed to meet Ellen's [or Sue's] parents.
I hate my brother. My hatred [or my brother] is a problem.
I dislike the difficulty of writing. [Or I dislike writing.]