How to Proofread Your Article for Grammar Mistakes, Confusing Words, Sentence Agreement, Run-ons and Sentence Fragments
Helpful tips to the three most common rules and most common errors in article writing.
Grammar refers to the hundreds of rules that govern sentences. Tips are limited to the three most common rules for the most common errors in article writing:
a. Grammar mistakes and confusing words (they’re, there, their)
b. Sentence agreement (singular nouns with singular verbs, plural nouns with plural verb)
c. Run-ons and sentence fragments
a. Grammar Mistakes and Confusing Words
Often, words are confused because the writer is in a hurry. It’s not a matter of needing to learn the meaning of the words, but rather taking the time to check for accuracy. However, certain groups of words are commonly confused because not only do they sound or look alike, but also their meanings may be close enough to cause hesitation. Check the following list for those you’re unsure of, and commit that shorter list to memory.
Reinforcement: Word definition and usage.
- accept (verb) to recognize
- except (prep.) excluding
- affect (verb) to influence
- effect (noun) result
- effect (verb) to bring about
- among (prep.) to compare three or more people or things
- between (prep.) used for two people or things
- beside (adj.) next to
- besides (adv.) in addition to
- complement (noun) match
- compliment (noun, verb) praise; to give praise
- desert (noun) arid, sandy region
- dessert (noun) sweet served after a meal
- e.g. abbrev. for Latin exempli gratia (free example or for example)
- i.e. abbrev. for Latin id est (it is or that is)
- elicit (verb) to stir up
- illicit (adj.) illegal
- farther (adv.) beyond
- further (adj.) additional
- imply (verb) to hint or suggest
- infer (verb) to assume, deduce
- its (pronoun) belonging to it
- it’s (contraction) contraction of it is (Hint: Unlike most possessives, it doesn’t have an apostrophe.)
- lay (verb) the action of placing or putting an item somewhere; a transitive verb, meaning
- something you do to something else
- lie (verb) to recline or be placed (a lack of action); an intransitive verb, meaning it does not
- act on anything or anyone else
- loose (adj.) not restrained, not fastened
- lose (verb) to fail to win; be deprived of
- principal (adj.) main
- principal (noun) person in charge
- principle (noun) standard
- stationary (adj.) not moving
- stationery (noun) writing paper
- than (conj., prep.) in contrast to
- then (adv.) next
- that (pronoun) introduces a restrictive (or essential) clause
- which (pronoun) introduces a nonrestrictive (or nonessential) clause. Hint: Imagine a parenthetical by the way following the word which. “The book, which (by the way) Joanne prefers, is her first novel,” is incorrect. Therefore, it should read, “The book that Joanne prefers is her first novel.” “Lou’s pants, which (by the way) are black, are made of leather,” is correct.
- their (pronoun) belonging to them
- there (adv.) in a place
- they’re (pronoun) contraction for they are
- who (pronoun) substitute for he, she or they
- whom (pronoun) substitute for him, her or them
- your (pronoun) belonging to you
- you’re (pronoun) contraction for you are
Take your time. Studies show that waiting at least 20 minutes before proofreading your work can increase your likelihood of finding errors. Get up from your computer, take a break or move on to some other task, and then come back to your writing.
Read backward. Go through your writing from the last word to the first, focusing on each individual word, rather than on the context.
Ask for help. A pair of fresh eyes may find mistakes that you have overlooked dozens of times, and one or more of your colleagues or friends may be better at finding spelling and grammar errors than you are.
Go under cover. Print out a draft copy of your writing, and read it with a blank piece of paper over it, revealing just one sentence at a time. This technique will encourage a careful line-by-line edit.
Watch the speed limit. No matter which proofreading technique you use, slow down. Reading at your normal speed will not give you enough time to spot errors.
Know thyself. Keep track of the kinds of errors you typically make. Common spelling errors can be caught by spell check if you add the word or words to the spell-check dictionary. When you know what you are looking for, you are more likely to find it.
b. Sentence agreement
Agreement refers to the balance of sentence elements such as subjects and verbs and pronouns and antecedents. (An antecedent is the noun a pronoun replaces.) To agree, singular subjects require singular verbs, and plural subjects require plural verbs. Likewise, singular nouns can be replaced only by singular pronouns, and plural nouns require plural pronouns. Most of these errors are easy to spot. If you mistype “The scientists was working on an important experiment,” you (or, possibly, your grammar-check program) will catch it. But problems arise when a phrase or phrases separate the subject and verb or noun and pronoun.
Here’s an example: “Eat, drink, and be merry,” is a label associated with Greek philosopher Epicurus, but like most catchy slogans, they simplify what is actually a rich and complex message.
Notice how the phrase like most catchy slogans can mislead you. If you assume slogans is the subject, then the pronoun they and the verb simplify seem correct-they agree with the plural subject. But look again at the sentence. Slogans isn’t the subject of the verb simplify. What is simplifying? Not the slogans, but the label “Eat, Drink, and Be Merry”-a singular noun. Thus, the pronoun must be it and the verb must be simplifies to agree with the subject.
c. Run-ons and Sentence Fragments
Complete sentences require a noun and verb, and express a fully developed thought. Two common sentence errors are extremes. Sentence fragments stop too quickly; they are phrases that are not whole thoughts. Run-on sentences don’t stop soon enough; they include two or more complete clauses or sentences. Sentence fragments are often missing a subject or verb, and may be phrases or parts of other sentences. Be aware that fragments can sometimes be difficult to identify because even though they don’t express complete thoughts, they can be long and appear correct. Here are a few examples, with corrections:
Wrong: Because she had to stop studying and go to lacrosse practice.
Correct: She had to stop studying and go to lacrosse practice.
Wrong: Cried a lot.
Correct: Shoo Ling cried a lot.
Wrong: When we finished the game after the sun began setting.
Correct: We finished the game after the sun began setting.
Run-on sentences are made up of two or more independent clauses or complete sentences placed together into one sentence without proper punctuation. For example:
- We were hungry and John was tired so we had to stop at the first rest area that we saw.
- Kim studied hard for the test that’s why he got an A.
- Patty took flying lessons every Saturday so she couldn’t go to the picnic and she couldn’t go to the graduation party either but she has already signed up for another group of flying lessons because she likes it so much.
Here’s how to fix run-on sentences:
1. Separate the clauses with a period. Example: We are here. You are not.
2. Connect the clauses with a comma and a conjunction (and, or, nor, for, but, so, yet).We are here, but you are not.
3. Connect the clauses with a semicolon (and possibly an adverb such as however, therefore, or otherwise, making sure it expresses the right relationship between the two ideas).We are here; you are not.
The previous run-ons can be corrected as follows:
- We were hungry and John was tired, so we had to stop at the first rest area that we saw.
- Kim studied hard for the test; that’s why he got an A.
- Patty took flying lessons every Saturday, so she couldn’t go to the picnic. She couldn’t go to the graduation party either, but she has already signed up for another group of flying lessons because she likes it so much.