Antecedents and Pronoun Errors
As is known, a pronoun is a word used to stand for (or take the place of) a noun. And because the pronoun is effectively standing in for a noun, it must refer back to the very noun it is replacing/referring to. This clearly defined word/noun that comes before the pronoun and is referred to by the pronoun itself is called an antecedent.
REMEMBER: Since the pronoun replaces the noun, it has to agree in number. So, if the antecedent, or word that comes before, is singular, then the pronoun that takes its place must also be singular.
The indefinite pronouns anyone, anybody, everyone, everybody, someone, somebody, no one, and nobody are always singular. This is sometimes perplexing to writers who feel that everyone and everybody are referring to more than one person (Both are collective nouns, and hence ONE collective entity). The same is true of either and neither, which are always singular even though they seem to be referring to two things.
In conversation and in informal writing, we often use pronouns that have no single word as their antecedent. During your exam, should you come across a pronoun that does not have a specific noun or a word used as a noun as its antecedent, know that you have encountered an ambiguous pronoun error.
This sort of error is more likely to occur in the kind of question that gives you a choice of revisions. The correct answer will either get rid of the ambiguous pronoun or supply a specific antecedent.
“I bought a radio and a record player at the second-hand store, but when I plugged it in, it would not work.”
In the above sentence, the pronoun “it” in the second part of the sentence is ambiguous because it does not make clear which of the radio and the record player was plugged in (and was consequently not working).
Correction: “I bought a radio and a record player at the second-hand store, but when I plugged the radio in, it would not work.”
Some more examples:
Erroneous: “I wrote checks for my phone bill, gas bill, and union dues, and this made my account overdrawn.”
Correct: “By writing checks for my phone bill, gas bill, and union dues, I overdrew my account.”
Notice how rephrasing the sentence has omitted the ambiguous pronoun “this” completely.
Erroneous: “I came in fifteen minutes late, which made the whole Chemistry class incomprehensible to me.”
Correct: “I came in fifteen minutes late and found the whole Chemistry class incomprehensible.”
OR by rephrasing “My coming in fifteen minutes late made the whole Chemistry class incomprehensible to me.”
A complete sentence must be an independent clause. Do not assume that a subject and a verb automatically make a complete sentence. Most sentence fragments are dependent clauses, and naturally so because they are dependent on the independent clause and/or other essential parts of the sentence.
Here are a few examples of sentence fragments:
- Hoping to find some nice restaurants (Widely used in text messages)
- The runners from Asia, together with the volleyball teams of South America, and the United States.
When it comes to double negatives, errors can be less obvious, even though it is rarely difficult to spot the fact that a double negative has been used in the sentence.
Here are few examples of errors:
- I spent ten dollars on gasoline, and now I don’t have hardly any money. (Correct to: I hardly have any money)
In the above example, the italicised bit will only come off as an obvious error if you know that “hardly” itself implies “not having the money” and hence, the use of “don’t” is unnecessary and incorrect here. In fact, as a consequence of the double negative, the sentence erroneously now implies that “I have money”.
- I don’t have but a dollar, and that will not scarcely pay my bills. (Correct to: I have but a dollar, and that will scarcely pay my bills.
The use of “but a dollar” implies that the author has insufficient funds. So once again, “don’t have but a dollar” implies the opposite of what was meant here.
This is where your understanding of the sentence tone helps you realize what the author means to say. Clearly, the author here is in a distressed state, and is expressing discontent over his lack of funds.
Errors of omission
When we read carelessly, incorrect and incomplete sentences appear to be complete.
“He always has and always will eat like a pig”
If we carefully break this sentence down, we will see how it is, in fact, incorrect:
The author intends to convey that “He has always eaten like a pig in the past” and that “He always will eat like a pig”.
But, in the given sentence, the author has, by omission, written:
“He always has eat…” and “He always will eat…”
Of the two, only the latter is grammatically correct.
Hence the sentence should say “He always has eaten, and always will eat like a pig”
Watch very carefully for a missing preposition in sentences with two adjectives joined by a conjunction, and then followed by a preposition. Can both adjectives be followed by the same preposition?
Case in point: “I am uninterested and bored by shopping for clothes.”
Can we say “uninterested by” and “bored by”?
Well, we can certainly say “bored by”, but we cannot say “uninterested by”. The correct usage would be “uninterested in”. Clearly, “in” has been omitted, and this is an error by omission.
Hence, the correction would result in: “I am uninterested in and bored by shopping for clothes.”
You need to be particularly careful with omissions when comparisons are involved.
Remember that you can only compare two elements that are equivalent in nature (Remember apples and oranges?).
Omission error: “The amount of Vitamin C in eight ounces of tomato juice is much greater than eight ounces of milk.”
Correction: “The amount of Vitamin C in eight ounces of tomato juice is much greater than that in eight ounces of milk.”
The erroneous version of the sentence implies a comparison between the “amount of Vitamin C” and “eight ounces of milk”, which is clearly incorrect.
Like and As
Like is a preposition, that is, a word used to connect a noun or pronoun to another element of the sentence. This noun or pronoun that is being connected to the rest of the sentence is also referred to as being the object of the preposition.
(Note that a prepositional phrase, used either as an adjective or an adverb to modify other words in a sentence, includes a preposition, its object, and any modifiers of the object.)
As is a conjunction that is used to introduce a clause with a subject and verb or implied verb.
Marigolds are easy to grow, as zinnias are.
Like zinnias, marigolds are easy to grow.
Who, Which, and That – Restrictive and Nonrestrictive Clauses
Given a choice among who, which, or that, use who when the antecedent is a single person (the man who; the girl who) or a group thought of as individuals (the players who, the jurors who).
Use that or which for a group thought of as a group (the team, which; the jury that, the senate that).
Conservative grammarians distinguish between which and that, using that in defining or restrictive clauses and which in non-defining or non-restrictive clauses.
A restrictive clause identifies or defines the noun it modifies, while a non-restrictive clause merely describes or adds information.
The novel that he wrote in 1860 was not published until 1900.
The novel The Guardian, which he wrote in 1860, was not published until 1900.
Miscellaneous Grammar, Sentence Correction
Constructing a grammatical sentence can be a tricky business, especially when it comes to conjugating verbs; this refers to the way in which a verb is modified depending on the rest of the sentence.
In this blog post, we focus on subject-verb agreement. Put simply, this is the need to ensure that the subject (i.e. the active entity) and verb (i.e. the action) agree with one another in terms of number. As such, plural subjects must be accompanied by a plural verb and singular subjects require a singular verb.
Plural vs. Singular
The general rule here is to add an ‘-s’ to the verb when using a plural noun for the subject. With the verb ‘run’, for example, the singular form is ‘runs’ while the plural is ‘run’:
Singular = The dog runs through the garden.
Plural = The dogs run through the garden.
Other examples of verbs that follow this convention include:
|He argues…||They argue…|
|She dances…||They dance…|
|It drinks…||They drink…|
This isn’t always the case, especially when first-person pronouns are used (e.g. we’d say ‘I argue…’, not ‘I argues’, even though ‘I’ is singular).
There are also some irregular verbs in English that do not follow the typical rules for conjugation. In terms of subject-verb agreement, the most common is ‘be’. We can see the various forms this verb takes when we consider how it’s used in relation to singular and plural pronouns:
|First Person||I am…||We are…|
|Second Person||You are…||You are…|
|Third Person||He/She/It is…||They are…|
As the table above shows, the verb ‘be’ is modified to either ‘am’, ‘are’ or ‘is’ in the singular depending on the grammatical person used. However, it becomes ‘are’ in the plural.
Confused? That’s okay. Needless to say, the key here is mostly practice, so try to familiarise yourself with the correct modifications for any irregular verbs that you use regularly.
Another tricky factor in subject-verb agreement is how to modify the verb in a sentence containing a compound subject. The subject of the sentence is said to be ‘compound’ when it contains two or more nouns linked by the words ‘and’, ‘or’ or ‘nor’.
When two singular nouns in the subject of a sentence are connected with ‘and’, the verb used should be plural:
The dog and the cat are digging up the garden.
When two singular words are connected by ‘or’ or ‘nor’, however, a singular verb should be used:
Either the dog or the cat is digging up the garden.
Neither the dog nor the cat is digging up the garden.
When a compound subject contains both a singular and a plural noun connected by ‘or’ or ‘nor’, moreover, the rule is to modify the verb based on the part of the subject that is nearest the verb in the sentence:
Either the dog or the cats are digging up the garden.
Neither the cats nor the dog is digging up the garden.