Ayer's Common Errors

Ayer's Common Errors


 This handout is designed to enable you to edit more efficiently. It does not provide a comprehensive list or explanation of all grammatical errors or stylistic conventions but briefly addresses the problems I repeatedly see semester after semester in college writing. For fuller explanations and examples, refer to the grammar and style sections of our website (under "Writing Resources"). Use this handout when proofreading an almost-final draft of a piece of writing. Determine which errors you are in the habit of making and reread your draft several times searching for those specific errors.

* The examples marked with an asterisk have been taken (or adapted) from Infinite Jest. a remarkable novel by David Foster Wallace (Little, Brown & Company, 1996) and are indicated by page number.

Sentence Fragment

To be a sentence, a word group must consist of at least one full independent clause. An independent clause has a subject and verb and either stands alone or could stand alone. Words such as after, although, because, before, if, unless, until, when, where, who, which, and that usually begin subordinate clauses.

       The blue sky is glossy and fat with heat. A few thin cirri sheared to blown strands like hair at the rims. (15)*

       I am debating whether to risk scratching the right side of my jaw. Where there is a wen. (4)*

In both examples the first word group is an independent clause, and the second segment is a fragment: a phrase in the first example and a dependent clause in the second. You may revise them by attaching the fragment to the independent clause:

      The blue sky is glossy and fat with heat, a few thin cirri . . .

       I am debating whether to risk scratching . . . jaw, where there is a wen.

Subject-Verb Agreement

Verbs must agree with their subjects in number (singular or plural) and person (first, second, third).

       The disorder I've caused revolve all around. (13)*

In this example, "disorder" is a singular noun; thus add an "s" to the verb "revolve" to make it agree in person (third) and number (singular).

Treat most indefinite pronouns anybody, anyone, each, either, everybody, everyone, everything, neither, none, no one, someone, something as singular. Everyone on the team supports the coach; each of them has a candy bar.

Six Common Comma Errors