5 Common Grammar Mistakes College Students Make
By Ashtyn Creel
Do you cringe when you see a misspelled word or grammatical error? The common misuse of words like your and you’re can drive English enthusiasts (also known as grammar police) up the wall.
While no one is asking you to take grammar rules as seriously as you might take marriage vows, even a small slip-up on a writing assignment could potentially lower your grade.
Here are five common grammar mistakes that college students make, along with a few tricks you can use to avoid them.
1. Me, myself, and I
We all need to look out for number one, and that includes knowing how to refer to ourselves.
In the case of me, myself, and I, the best tip is to remove all other people from the sentence to see whether it still makes sense. For example, “Jesse and myself are studying the periodic table” would not sound right if you removed Jesse from the sentence. Myself would need to be replaced with I.
Or how about this trickier example: “Mr. White gave an assignment to Jesse and I.” Again, remove Jesse, and “Mr. White gave an assignment to I” does not work. Instead, change I to me.
Me is the object of a sentence, as in “give me more knowledge,” or “Mr. White taught chemistry to Jesse and me.”
Myself should only ever be used to describe yourself as the object of a sentence, as in “I read Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass to myself this morning.”
2. You’re and your; they’re, there, and their; it’s and its
For some people, the rules for these words are obvious. Other people struggle to remember which word should be used where, and that’s understandable. After all, they all sound alike!
Your is the possessive form of you, as in “chemistry is your favorite subject,” while you’re is a contraction of “you are,” as in “you’re really good at mixing chemicals!”
Similar to you’re, they’re is a contraction of “they are,” as in “they’re getting a Fleetwood Bounder RV.” There describes a place, as in “we should go over there.” And lastly, their is the possessive form of they, as in “their favorite color is blue.”
It’s is a contraction of “it is,” as in “it’s a good day to work together.” Its, on the other hand, is the possessive form of it, which is confusing since possessives in English typically use an apostrophe. No wonder so many people get this one wrong! Example: “Its color was tan with yellow, orange, and red stripes down the side.”
3. Ending sentences with prepositions
Although this one’s not so much a rule as it is a suggestion, the general principle is still important for college students to be familiar with. It can make for choppy writing when prepositions are dangling at the end of sentences, the rule for which many people lack an understanding of.
Did you notice that the previous two sentences ended in prepositions?
Any words you could use to describe where a squirrel went—on, off, at, onto, over, and approximately 150 more words we call prepositions—should not be placed at the end of a sentence unless an alternative structure would sound equally as awkward.
For example, “What did you step on?” sounds more natural than, “On what did you step?” But, “The general principle is still important for college students to be familiar with,” may be improved by saying, “It is still important for college students to familiarize themselves with this rule.”
4. Commas and semicolons
Some people play fast and loose with commas, inserting them anywhere their voice would naturally pause in a sentence. But that’s overkill, since we likely pause way more in speaking than we do in writing. Here are a few clear rules to keep in mind regarding commas:
Use commas to separate independent clauses when they are joined by conjunctions, as in, “Mr. White likes chemistry, but many of his students find it boring.”
Use commas after introductory clauses, phrases, or words that come before a main clause, as in, “After learning about chemistry, I felt like I could conquer the world.”
Semicolons, on the other hand, are used to separate two clauses that relate to each other and could potentially be written as two separate sentences. Example: “I woke up early today to study chemicals; I’m really tired, but very intellectually fulfilled.”
5. Using passive voice
Now that we’ve covered some of the more basic grammar mistakes, let’s dive into the nitty-gritty. Or, if we were to use passive voice, the more in-depth grammar rules will be discussed next.
Passive voice is not an inherently incorrect use of grammar; it just lacks pizzazz and weakens an otherwise clear and direct sentence. It occurs when the subject and verb relationship is not as clear as it would be in active voice.
For example, in the sentence, “We are reading Walt Whitman,” we is clearly the subject and reading is the verb. In passive voice, however, the subject/verb agreement becomes convoluted, as if some unknown force swooped in and did the reading, such as, “Walt Whitman was being read.”
If you find yourself writing too many passive sentences (unless it’s for legal documents), try going back and turning those passives into actives. You want your sentences to show up to work on time and be professional, not lounge around in their pajamas all day playing video games.
With these grammar rules in mind, you’re now better prepared to tackle any research paper or writing assignment!
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