Drudging and grinding through grammar rules can make the head spin. Why? There are so many. Unfortunately, grammar rules are mischievous little gremlins none of us can avoid if we want our writing to be taken seriously. Nobody has time to learn them all, but learning the rules to the most common goofs is worth your time.
A common grammar error is sentences that do not have subject/verb agreement. The subject is the noun (person, place, or thing), who is the mover and the shaker, the person who is the point, the guy we’re talking about. The noun or subject could be a word such as “mouse.” The verb is the word that performs, such as “eats.” It’s an action word. Our obnoxious schoolmaster, Mr. Grammar, dictates that the verb must agree with the subject, which simply means that it must have the same number. Number is how many subjects you have; do you have six mice or one mouse? In the sentence, “The mouse eats the cheese,” you only have one mouse, so the subject is a single mouse, or a singular subject. A singular subject takes a singular verb, such as “eats.” For instance, you wouldn’t write, “The mouse eat.” The native English speaker usually has an ear for what sounds right under these circumstances. Others will have to research a specific verb’s conjugation.
Longer sentences add to the confusion. Consider the sentence, “The Farsendruber family, full of clowns and basket weavers, are making a mess in my back yard with their animal balloons and wicker.” The verb in this sentence is “are making,” which makes the complete subject of the sentence, “The Farsendruber family, full of clowns and basket weavers.” To identify if your verb is in the proper number, you must first identify the simple subject, which in this sentence is “family.” “Full of clowns and basket weavers” is not the simple subject. These words just describe “family.” To avoid confusion and violating the grammar rule, take out the appositive phrase (words between commas) altogether. That would leave you with the sentence, “The Farsendruber family are making a mess in my back yard….” You wouldn’t write “are making” after “family” if the appositive phrase wasn’t there, so the correct verb should be “is making.”
Needs a subject. Must have a verb. Or a predicate. These sentences break another rule, and we’ve all seen that red word “fragment” written in the margins of our papers once or twice. Simply put, a true sentence needs a subject and a predicate. In other words, it needs a noun that is doing something, which means the noun has a verb. If you don’t have both, then you don’t have a sentence. An example of a sentence fragment is, “She climbed into bed. Warm blankets and cool sheets.” The second sentence has two nouns but no verb; it needs to be joined to the first sentence or to take on a verb. A correct way to keep in line with the grammar rule is to write, “She climbed into the bed with warm blankets and cool sheets.” Other sentence fragments are, “You’ll love our water park! Fun! Exciting! Long lines! Sunburn!” These short words are not sentences, just adjectives and nouns.
Another common grammar error is the comma splice. Mr. Grammar is quick to get his switch out for this one. The rule stands that two full sentences should never be put together by a comma. Separate them with a period. For example, “I called my mother about my injuries, she told me to stop trying to fly with my magic feather.” This sentence should be broken into two sentences, such as, “I called my mother about my injuries. She told me to stop trying to fly with my magic feather.” Another solution is to write, ‘”I called my mother about my injuries, and she told me to stop trying to fly with my magic feather.” A semicolon could also be used in place of the comma. The semicolon is the same as writing “and.”
A run-on sentence is just a comma splice with no comma. The sentence, “I’m never going to try to eat Beanie Weenies while balancing on a wire across Niagara Falls again are you?” violates this grammar rule. “Are you?” should be it’s own separate sentence.
Errors that are easy to commit are incorrect tense shifts. An example is, “The mosaic of Cher displayed on the wall during the open house gives just the right selling feature to the home.” Here we have the past tense “displayed,” meaning that it happened in the past, in the same sentence with the present tense verb “gives,” which means it is happening now in the present. Both of the verbs should either be in the past or present tense.
The surplus grammar rules could fill volumes, but if a writer is careful to memorize the typical pathways that lead to common grammar errors, he is likely to stay out of trouble most of the time.
Source: Video “Standard Deviants: Grammar Pitfalls,” Cerebellum Corporation