2General Reminders and Suggestions No contractions in formal writingUse present tense to discuss literatureAvoid overuse of be verbs/weak verbsAvoid absolutesAvoid expletivesNever place a single comma between a subject and its verbDiscuss literature in third personPronouns and antecedents must agreeRun-on sentences (learn how to avoid creating them)
4ContractionsStudent example: “In the end, it’s their friendship that brings them together and keeps them happy.” Better: it is their friendship Later Avoid expletives (“there” statements and “it is”)
5Present TenseUse present tense to discuss literature (and film!)
6Present TenseStudent example: What was the promise that Mortenson told the Balti people after he failed to climb K2? Better: What is the promise that Mortenson tells the Balti people after he fails to climb K2? (later— stronger verbs)
7Strong VerbsAvoid be (is, are, was, were, be, am, been) verbs. Although grammatically correct, using “is” (or any be verb) again and again presents poor word choice. Vary verb selections. In general, action verbs make stronger verb phrases than be verbs or helping or linking verb constructions. Students need not rid themselves of these weaker constructions instantly. If a student uses be verbs or other weak verb constructions 50% of the time, he should attempt to reduce that by 20 to 25%.
8VerbsStudent example: This novel is excellent at using symbolism. Better: This novel uses symbolism excellently.
9VerbsStudent example: Throughout the story, Eragon is forced to mature quickly to survive in his harsh reality. Better: Throughout the story circumstances force Eragon to mature quickly to survive in his harsh reality.
10VerbsStudent example: When the main character is discussing military tactics it shows the personality and thoughts. Better: When the main character discusses military tactics, he shows personality and thoughtfulness. (other concerns also addressed)
11Avoid AbsolutesAbsolutes are rarely accurate. If a student says, everybody failed Ms. Miller’s test, the absolute is “everybody.” Ms Miller has never given a test that every student failed, so the claim rings false.
12Avoid absolutesStudent example: Everyone loves a good romance. Better: Most teenage girls enjoy a good romance.
13ExpletivesExpletive are words or phrases that add no meaning to a sentence. Obscenities provide the most common examples; however, since foul language remains inappropriate for school, “there” statements are the most common expletives found in student writing. There is, there are, there have been, there was, there were, and more. These constructions weaken prose.
14ExpletivesStudent example: With such a momentous task placed on Harry’s shoulders, there is a feeling of worry about whether Harry can accomplish it or not. Better: With such a momentous task on Harry’s shoulders, a feeling of worry fills the reader.
15ExpletivesStudent example: There is a lot of pleasure in reading a humorous work. Better: Readers glean pleasure from humorous works.
16Comma errorsDozens of comma errors exist. The ACT (some students are taking it Saturday) covers this one. Never place a single comma between a subject and its verb. Never! English grammar contains many exceptions but not in this case. Never place a single comma between a subject and its verb. (Two commas may, however, be placed between a subject and its verb).
17CommasStudent example: Francine River’s Redeeming Love, is the biblical story of Hosea and his Journey. Better: Francine River’s Redeeming Love is the biblical story of Hosea and his journey. (notice the title is also set off and the random act of capitalization removed. Strengthening the verb comes next!).
18Third personDiscuss literature in third person not first or second.
19Third PersonStudent example: I believe that she appreciates this, because it reminds her of being at home when her mom and dad would teacher her things. Better: She appreciates this because it reminds her of home and her mom and dad’s teachings. (also comma splices removed; sentence presently more succinctly)
20Third PersonStudent example: Do you have to be cruel to survive in the apocalypse? Better: Does apocalypse survival require cruelty?
21Pronoun/Antecedent agreement Pronouns must agree with their antecedents (the word they replace/rename) in number and gender.
22Pronoun/Antecedent agreement Student example: Is it essential to know about a role model’s past for a better understanding of their values, like when James questions his mother’s life before kids? Better: Is it essential to know about a role model’s past for a better understanding of his values, like . . .?
23Run-on sentencesRun-on sentences generally occur when a writer separates two (or more) independent clauses with a comma (or commas).
24A number of grammar terms provide assistance Simple sentence: a sentence containing only one independent clauseCompound sentence: a sentence containing two or more independent clauses
25A number of grammar terms provide assistance Complex sentence: a sentence containing one independent clause and at least one dependent clauseCompound/complex sentence: a sentence containing at least one dependent clause and two (or more) independent clauses
26Punctuating two or more independent clauses Two independent clauses may be written as two separate sentences—utilize a period and a capital letter to correct
27Punctuating two or more independent clauses Two independent clauses may be divided with a comma and a coordinating conjunction (and, but, so, etc.)
28Punctuating two or more independent clauses Two independent clauses may be separated by a semicolon.
29Punctuating two or more independent clauses Two independent clauses may be separated by semicolon, a conjunctive adverb (however, therefore, moreover, nonetheless, etc.), and a comma
30Punctuating two or more independent clauses Two independent clauses may be separated by a colon if the first introduces a second clause which modifies the first.This usage occurs infrequently—do not force!
31Run-on SentencesStudent example: Throughout his whole journey the only constant thing is his beliefs and outlook on life, Tolstoy and Thoreau are mentioned a plethora of times, and Chris bases his needs and his wants off of the authors works of fiction. Better: Throughout his journey his beliefs and outlook on life remain constant; Chris bases his needs and wants off works by Tolstoy and Thoreau.