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How to Improve Your Grammar

Taking responsibility over your understanding of grammar is an important step in academic writing.

If you are uncertain about your use of a grammar rule, it is best to check the rule and then check your work. Use the resources on this page to learn more about different grammar rules and to determine whether your grammar usage is correct. You may also submit your writing to the ASC  for review before turning in your assignment.  

Here, you will find a number of common grammar mistakes frequently seen in writing. One way to test your understanding of a particular grammar rule is to intentionally break the rule by writing an incorrect sentence. Then, use the information and example we provide for each concept, and write the sentence correctly. 

You may also use the following links to explore different grammar exercises and games to test your knowledge! 

 

Grammar Exercises and Games
Jeopardy Grammar Games

Common Grammar Mistakes

Run-on Sentences

A run-on sentence occurs when two or more independent clauses (or complete ideas) are incorrectly connected or strung together. Run-on sentences can be fixed by properly connecting the ideas or separating the different independent clauses into two sentences.

Example of a run-on sentence: 

Run-on sentence example: the developmental changes between ages three and five years old are subtle however these changes are crucial to later development in the school-age years.

 

There are three different ways to fix a run-on sentence:

Run-on sentence. Make two shorter sentences by using a period to separate ideas.            

 

 

 

 

Run-on sentence. Use a semicolon to connect two ideas.

Quick tip:

Use the mnemonic device “FANBOYS” to help you remember the different coordinating conjunctions:

“For – And – Not – But – Or – Yet – So”

 

Run-on sentence. Use a comma and a coordinating conjunction to connect two ideas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Semi-colons

Use a semi-colon to separate two independent clauses. 

Semicolon example: child development theory is fascinating; I feel alive when I'm studying it.

 

Colons

Use a colon after a complete sentence to introduce a word, phrase, clause, list, or quotation. 

Colon example: Three child development theories stand out above the others: Erik Erikson, Robert Emde, and Alicia Lieberman.

 

Also, the colon is used to separate two independent clauses when the second explains or illustrates the first. In such usage, the colon functions in much the same way as the semicolon. As with the semicolon, do not capitalize the first word after the colon unless the word is ordinarily capitalized. 

Colon example: Child development professionals hold many different types of jobs: a classroom teacher is just one position a child development professional may hold.

Affect vs. Effect

Affect with an “a” means "to influence," as in “The rain affected Amy's hairdo.” Affect can also mean, roughly, "to act in a way that you don't feel," as in “She affected an air of superiority.”

Effect has a lot of subtle meanings as a noun, but the meaning "a result" seems to be at the core of the definitions. For example, "The effect was eye-popping," or "The sound effects were amazing," or "The rain had no effect on Amy's hairdo."

Affect as a verb example: Erikson affected theories of child development. Effect as a noun example: The loud noises has no effect on the infant's sleep.

Continuous vs. Continual 

Things that are unceasing or exist without interruption are continuous.
Things that occur frequently or recur intermittently are continual. The continual action does not happen ceaselessly, but it does happen regularly. 

Continuous example: The heartbeat of a healthy baby is continuous.  Continual example: The phone calls from caregivers to the childcare center are continual.

Further vs. Farther

Contrary to popular opinion, further and farther do not have the same meaning. Basically, further refers to something that is additional, and farther refers to actual distance between objects. Here are some easy-to-understand definitions and examples of how to use these two words.

Further is defined as something that is additional, such as a longer distance or time period. It is used when there is no knowledge of the actual physical distance or time difference.

Further example: The girl is further along in her development than the boy.

 

Farther refers to a physical distance that has been measured. When used as an adjective, it refers to when one object is farther away than the other, requiring a measurement of the distance from one common point to both objects. When used as an adverb, it refers to when an action results in a greater distance. 

Farther example: The child is farther away from the blocks than her sister is.

 

Quick Usage Trick:
If you cannot replace "further" with "additional" in a sentence, you are using it incorrectly.
Unfortunately, further tends to be used by many people for all situations, whether or not the actual distance is known. Remember, you need to measure to use "farther," but you use "further" in all other situations.

Lie vs. Lay

Lie and lay are most often confused where lie means to recline and lay means to put down. But the distinction is simple: Lay needs an object – something to be laid, while lie cannot have an object. For example, you might lay a book on the table, lay a sweater on the bed, or lay a child in her crib. When you feel tired at the end of the day, you may lie down. But you cannot lie a book anywhere, and you cannot lay down (no object) at the end of the day.

Lie example: The mother stated that the baby does not like to lie on her back when she sleeps.Lay example: I'm going to lay the baby in her crib.

Then vs. Than

"Then" has an element of time; it can mean "next" or "at that time." "Than" conveys a comparison.

Then example: Back then, graduation for Erikson students took place at Barbara Bowman's house.

Than example: Preschoolers have development more language than infants.

 

 

 

Which vs. That

Here is the deal: some people may argue that the rules are more complex and flexible than this, but to make things as simple as possible: remember to use that before a restrictive clause and which before everything else.

Restrictive Clause—That
A restrictive clause is part of a sentence that you cannot get rid of because it specifically restricts some other part of the sentence. 

That example: Children that have a secure attachment relationship often separate easily from their caregivers.

 

The phrase “that have a secure attachment” restrict the kind of children you are talking about. Without this phrase, the meaning of the sentence would change. Without this phrase, you would be saying that all children separate easily from their caregivers. Note that you do not need commas around the words that have a secure attachment relationship.

Nonrestrictive Clause—Which
A nonrestrictive clause is a phrase that can be left off without changing the meaning of the sentence. You can think of a nonrestrictive clause as being additional information. Also, note that nonrestrictive  clauses are usually surrounded by, or preceded by, commas.

Which example: Dramatic play, which may or may not involve costumes, is a wonderful opportunity for children to explore different roles and identities.

Helpful Websites

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