Grammar Dos and Don’ts
1. Do not begin sentences with pronouns.
Reasons: Pronouns are not as clear as referencing the noun. Consistency is also and issue.
Examples of the mistake: This is the rule. At three, he went home.
2. Spell out contractions
Reasons: Contractions are informal, and some teachers do not like them. Making contractions everywhere you can is often difficult—spelling them out is easier to do consistently.
Example of the mistake: It’s a rule that you cannot break pool sticks.
Fix: It is a rule that you cannot break pool sticks.
3. Do not overuse words like “however”
Reasons: Students tend to use word such as “however” often in papers, and the redundancy is hard to miss. Shorter words such as “but” can sneak by a little more often. You should vary your sentence structure, so you are not forced to use conjunctions and/or interjections.
4. Avoid using the word “get” in all of its conjugations
Reason: You need to be using better verbs.
Example of mistake: I got a book from my teacher.
Fix: I received a book from my teacher.
5. Stay away from using phrases such as “I think” and “I believe”
Reasons: Generally, these phrases are unnecessary the opinions in the paper should be your own and when they are not you must clearly attribute the quotes and paraphrase.
Example of mistake: I think that you are wrong.
Fix: You are wrong.
6. Make your verbs active, not passive
Reasons: Passive voice lacks efficiency and immediacy.
Examples of the mistake: The dog was walked by me.
Fixes: I walked the dog.
7. Also, keep from using phrases such as “there are” and “it is”
Reason: These statements lack efficiency.
Example of mistake: It is Chris who runs the office.
Fix: Chris runs the office.
8. Limit the amount of questions that you ask in a paper to one, if that.
Reasons: Students tend to ask questions when writing the paper. The reader does not have to know about the process of writing the paper; they need to know your answers.
9. Eliminate words such as “very,” “just,” “really,” etc. from your writing.
Reason: These words do not add meaning.
10. Do not use absolutes such as “all,” “everyone,” “always,” “never,” etc.
Reason: Absolutes can cause your argument to be flawed.
11. Employ gender-neutral terms and be politically correct.
Reasons: You want to neither offend nor belittle a group of people.
Examples of mistake: The fireman slide down the pole and grabbed his hat. Thanksgiving celebrates the Indians and Pilgrims’ harvest.
Fixes: The firefighter slid down the pole and grabbed his or her hat. Thanksgiving celebrates the Native Americans and Pilgrims’ harvest.
12. If you put a dash in your paper, use the symbol for a dash (--) instead of a hyphen (-)
Reasons: A hyphen is a different type of punctuation and they are not interchangeable.
Example of mistake: The student-teacher’s assignment makes no sense-I will ask her about it.
Fix: The student-teacher’s assignment makes no sense—I will ask her about it.
13. An ellipsis is three spaced dots.
Reasons: MLA formats the ellipsis as three spaced dots, and we apply MLA style in this class.
Good Example: I was going down the road . . . going where the water tasted like wine.
14. Limit your usage of the verb “is” and its varied conjugations.
Reason: You can avail yourself of better verbs and limit unnecessary repetition.
15. Ensure that you are using the words “that” and “who” correctly.
Reasons: “That” qualifies ideas and things while “who” restricts people.
Example of mistake: The doctor that put my arm in a cast has broken his arm.
Fix: The doctor who put my arm in a cast has broken his arm.
16. Keep from using words such as “possibly,” “probably,” “seems,” “appears,” etc.
Reasons: These words make you sound less than sure about your argument, thereby weakening your argument.
Example of Mistake: The stereotype is possibly due to the elephant being Republican party’s symbol.
Fix: The stereotype is due to the elephant being the Republican party’s symbol.
17. Exclamation points have no place in academic writing.
Reason: Your MLA Handbook reads “[e]xcept in direct quotation, avoid exclamation points in research writing."
18. You do not need to use the word “obviously.”
Reasons: You need to be explaining why you think it is obvious.
The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of Michele Reese. The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by the University of South Carolina.