Popular Student Errors

1. SPELL CHECK! Capitalization and misspellings continue to be the number one problem in my composition classes.
2. In addition to spell-checking your Word documents (under Tools), please also read every paper you write OUT LOUD. These two tools combined are THE MOST IMPORTANT tools I have as a professional writer. Time is an equally important tool. If you allow yourself a day or two (or at least a few hours) to step away from the writing, then it will be much easier for you to 'hear' and 'see' the errors in your own writing. NEVER TURN IN A PAPER without completing these steps.

2. Fragments are incomplete sentences. Usually, fragments are pieces of sentences that have become disconnected from the main clause. One of the easiest ways to correct them is to remove the period between the fragment and the main clause. Other kinds of punctuation may be needed for the newly combined sentence.

This information is from our Friends at the OWL Purdue Online Grammar and Punctuation Guide

Below are some examples with the fragments. Notice that the fragment is frequently a dependent clause or long phrase that follows the main clause.
  • Fragment:Purdue offers many majors in engineering. Such as electrical, chemical, and industrial engineering.
    Possible Revision: Purdue offers many majors in engineering, such as electrical, chemical, and industrial engineering.
  • Fragment: Coach Dietz exemplified this behavior by walking off the field in the middle of a game. Leaving her team at a time when we needed her.
    Possible Revision: Coach Dietz exemplified this behavior by walking off the field in the middle of a game, leaving her team at a time when we needed her.
  • Fragment: I need to find a new roommate. Because the one I have now isn't working out too well.
    Possible Revision: I need to find a new roommate because the one I have now isn't working out too well.
  • Fragment: The current city policy on housing is incomplete as it stands. Which is why we believe the proposed amendments should be passed.
    Possible Revision: Because the current city policy on housing is incomplete as it stands, we believe the proposed ammendments should be passed.
3. Why do I keep seeing this: im
Apostrophes! Yikes!
I + am = I'm NOT Im or, worse, im
Is this a habit related to 'texting'? Hmmm, I wonder. Whatever the reason, it's an easy one to fix.

This information is from our Friends at the OWL Purdue Online Writing Guide

The apostrophe has three uses:
  1. to form possessives of nouns
  2. to show the omission of letters
  3. to indicate certain plurals of lowercase letters

Forming Possessives of Nouns

To see if you need to make a possessive, turn the phrase around and make it an "of the..." phrase. For example:
the boy's hat = the hat of the boy
three days' journey = journey of three days
If the noun after "of" is a building, an object, or a piece of furniture, then no apostrophe is needed!
room of the hotel = hotel room
door of the car = car door
leg of the table = table leg
Once you've determined whether you need to make a possessive, follow these rules to create one.
  • add 's to the singular form of the word (even if it ends in -s):
    the owner's car
    James's hat (James' hat is also acceptable. For plural, proper nouns that are possessive, use an apostrophe after the 's': "The Eggles' presentation was good." The Eggles are a husband and wife consultant team.)
  • add 's to the plural forms that do not end in -s:
    the children's game
    the geese's honking
  • add ' to the end of plural nouns that end in -s:
    houses' roofs
    three friends' letters
  • add 's to the end of compound words:
    my brother-in-law's money
  • add 's to the last noun to show joint possession of an object:
    Todd and Anne's apartment

Showing omission of letters

Apostrophes are used in contractions. A contraction is a word (or set of numbers) in which one or more letters (or numbers) have been omitted. The apostrophe shows this omission. Contractions are common in speaking and in informal writing. To use an apostrophe to create a contraction, place an apostrophe where the omitted letter(s) would go. Here are some examples:
don't = do not
I'm = I am
he'll = he will
who's = who is
shouldn't = should not
didn't = did not
could've= could have (NOT "could of"!)
'60 = 1960

Forming plurals of lowercase letters

Apostrophes are used to form plurals of letters that appear in lowercase; here the rule appears to be more typographical than grammatical, e.g. "three ps" versus "three p's." To form the plural of a lowercase letter, place 's after the letter. There is no need for apostrophes indicating a plural on capitalized letters, numbers, and symbols (though keep in mind that some editors, teachers, and professors still prefer them). Here are some examples:
p's and q's = a phrase taken from the early days of the printing press when letters were set in presses backwards so they would appear on the printed page correctly. The expression was used commonly to mean, "Be careful, don't make a mistake." Today, the term also indicates maintaining politeness, possibly from "mind your pleases and thank-yous."
Nita's mother constantly stressed minding one's p's and q's.
three Macintosh G4s = three of the Macintosh model G4
There are two G4s currently used in the writing classroom.
many & s = many ampersands
That printed page has too many & s on it.
the 1960s = the years in decade from 1960 to 1969
The 1960s were a time of great social unrest.

Don't use apostrophes for possessive pronouns or for noun plurals.

Apostrophes should not be used with possessive pronouns because possessive pronouns already show possession — they don't need an apostrophe. His, her, its, my, yours, ours are all possessive pronouns. Here are some examples:
wrong: his' book
correct: his book
wrong: The group made it's decision.
correct: The group made its decision.
(Note: Its and it's are not the same thing. It's is a contraction for "it is" and its is a possessive pronoun meaning "belonging to it." It's raining out= it is raining out. A simple way to remember this rule is the fact that you don't use an apostrophe for the possessive his or hers, so don't do it with its!)
wrong: a friend of yours'
correct: a friend of yours
wrong: She waited for three hours' to get her ticket.
correct: She waited for three hours to get her ticket.

Proofreading for apostrophes

A good time to proofread is when you have finished writing the paper. Try the following strategies to proofread for apostrophes:
  • If you tend to leave out apostrophes, check every word that ends in -s or -es to see if it needs an apostrophe.
  • If you put in too many apostrophes, check every apostrophe to see if you can justify it with a rule for using apostrophes.

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