The Editing Process

Producing a clean, error-free final draft isn't easy. Even the most carefully edited professional publications contain occasional typos. Most readers understand this and aren't bothered by such infrequent problems. Yet when errors occur often, they undermine the writer's authority and disrupt communication.

To edit well, it helps to know the basics of grammar and mechanics, but equally important are good editing habits. To be a strong editor, you'll need to be patient and attentive to detail. Try using the suggestions below to develop good editing habits.

1. Know what you're looking for. What types of errors do you tend to make most often? Do you have problems with Subject/Verb Agreement or with Tense Shifts? Look for patterns in your errors and focus on eliminating the more serious and higher frequency errors first. Then check for less obvious problems.

2. Edit printed copy. If you're writing at the computer, check your work over quickly on the screen and run a spell-check. Then print out a draft to go over carefully, looking for anything you may have missed.

3. Edit actively. With a pencil in hand, go over your draft carefully. Actually touch each word with your pencil. Look especially at word endings. Have you dropped any s or ed endings? Does each pronoun have a clear antecedent?

4. If possible, edit with a partner. Read your draft slowly aloud while your partner, pencil in hand, reads another copy of the draft. Have your partner stop you whenever there might be a problem. Discuss each questionable punctuation mark or word choice.

All this may seem tedious at first, but it pays big dividends. A clean, well-edited final draft makes a good impression. It shows that you care about your writing, and when readers sense this care, they'll care, too.

Grammar for Writing

How Grammar Works
Basic Sentence Concepts
  • The S V/C Pattern
  • Expanding the Basic Pattern
  • Subordination and Modification
  • Coordination
  • Substitution
  • Two Kinds of Connectors

  • How Grammar Works

    It's helpful to think of grammar and mechanics as matters of convention or mutual agreement among language users. Such agreement is necessary for language to work. To communicate with even the simplest words, for example, we must agree on their meaning. These grammatical conventions come partly from custom and tradition and partly from a need for clarity and accuracy. And like conventions in other areas of life, rules of grammar change continually.

    Learning grammar, then, isn't just a matter of memorizing rigid laws laid down by English teachers, but of developing your awareness of how our language is actually used today: how it works, why it works the way it does, how it affects others.

    If you've used the language most of your life, you've developed a feel for its grammar from experiences with family and friends and from contacts with television, newspapers, movies, and books. If someone wrote, "This like book I," you'd sense something was wrong. If asked what, you might reply correctly that the words weren't in the right order and so the sentence was awkward and hard to understand. To correct it, you might edit it to read, "I like this book." If the writer asked why you changed it, you could say, "Well, it just sounds better that way. The words are in the right order, and the meaning is more clear."

    If you're new to the language, welcome. Millions of people throughout the world have learned to use English effectively. With a little effort and persistence, you'll soon be among them. In learning more about grammar, you'll be increasing your knowledge of why we use language the way we do. As you become attuned to the whys and hows of language use, your knowledge of grammar will help you feel more confident about expressing yourself. Instead of seeing grammar as an obstacle, you'll find that it helps keep your writing clear, fluid, and readable.

    Basic Sentence Concepts

    Our language organizes thoughts into sentences. As a core, these sentences have a two-part structure. For simplicity and easy reference, we can represent the two parts as follows:


    The subject, a noun or noun-substitute, tells who or what is doing something. The predicate tells what the subject is doing.

    This bird sings.
    Marcus plays soccer.
    My old Chevy still runs.
    This pen leaks.
    These books are heavy

    This two part structure is so basic that a thought doesn't feel complete when one part is missing. Both are needed for a complete sentence. Of course most sentences are longer and more sophisticated than those above, but even the most complex sentences are based on this two part principle. Learning to recognize it, to listen for it, and to use it are the first steps to mastering English sentence structure.

    The S V/C Pattern

    A second step, slightly less important but still useful, is to see that the predicate often is composed of two parts.


    The verb is the word or cluster of words actually naming the action performed by the subject. The complement comes after the verb. It may do a number of different things, but most often it's the receiver of the action performed by the subject and named by the verb:

    John hit/the ball

    Here John is the agent, the one doing something. "Hit" names the action he's performing, and "the ball" receives the effect of the action. Not all cases are so clear, however. Sometimes the complement refers to the subject, as in "John is tall." Here, "tall" doesn't receive the effect of the action. In fact, there doesn't seem to be any action at all, unless we consider merely existing to be an action. But such cases need not cause problems as long as we recognize the basic pattern and sense that it has been completed. For us, as writers, a detailed understanding of linguistics is secondary. Learning to use the language effectively comes first.

    For now, it's enough to say that the basic pattern upon which English sentences are built is: SUBJECT VERB/COMPLEMENT (S V/C).

    S V/C
    Luis eats apples.
    Carla is happy.
    People form governments.
    Justice serves everyone.
    Cigarettes are dangerous.
    Running builds endurance.

    Each of these is a simple sentence. Because it can stand by itself as a complete sentence, it's also called an independent clause. Because it often serves as the foundation of a much longer sentence, it's sometimes called a base clause. What we call it, though, is less important than learning to sense its presence or absence in every sentence we build.


    4.1 Some word groups listed below contain a subject and predicate and are therefore complete sentences. Others do not and can therefore be considered fragments or parts of sentences. If the word group is a sentence, put an S in the corresponding space. If it is a fragment, put an Fr in the space.

    a. ___ Beyond the big river.

    b. ___ Huge waves lapped the prow.

    c. ___ More than enough money.

    d. ___ Sitting down together for Sunday breakfast.

    e. ___ Her wound healed.

    f. ___ Earlier and earlier each night.

    g. ___ The sun slipped below the horizon.

    h. ___ Steeping the neighborhood in shadow.

    i. ___ Calling us in from our play.

    j. ___ Our mother was cooking supper.

    4.2 The following word groups are all simple sentences. Label the subject, the verb, and the complement by writing the appropriate letter above it.

    a. Morning dawned gray and heavy.

    b. That basket broke the old record.

    c. You are not alone.

    d. Storm warnings don't scare me.

    e. The students attended the concert.

    f. The chimpanzee learned sign language.

    g. The new proposal deserves serious consideration.

    Expanding the Basic Pattern

    Writing made up of only such little sentences would quickly grow monotonous and would also sound like it had been written by someone without much language experience. Fortunately, the basic S/VC pattern allows for easy expansion in almost unlimited ways. You already use the following methods of expansion, though perhaps without knowing their names. After reading about them, though, you'll understand some of the terms linguists use to describe how you build sentences, and you'll see how you can use these methods to make your sentences more effective. If you're interested in some more advanced sentence strategies, see Designing Effective Sentences.

    Subordination and Modification

    The easiest and most common way of developing the S V/C pattern is by adding a modifier. To modify means to change or alter. A modifier, therefore, is a word or wordgroup that changes the meaning of another word or wordgroup that is more basic to the sentence.

    S V/C
    Luis eats/apples.

    By adding a modifier to the complement, we can alter the meaning of "apples."

    S V/C
    Luis eats/green apples.

    We can also add a modifier to the subject.

    S V/C
    Little Luis eats/green apples.

    And even to the verb.

    S V/C
    Little Luis never eats/green apples.

    Notice how the basic pattern remains even after several modifiers have been added. This is because modifiers cluster around base elements like iron filings around a magnet.

    The principle that describes this relationship between modifiers and more basic sentence elements is subordination. Subordination means taking a position of lesser importance or rank. In the Army, for example, a private is subordinate to a captain and a captain to a general. Likewise, when we say a modifier is subordinate to the base element, we mean it has less importance and is dependent upon that more basic element for its claim to a place in the sentence. We can see this by looking at our last example.

    Little Luis never eats green apples.

    When we drop all the modifiers, we still have a sentence that feels complete.

    Luis eats apples.

    But when we drop the base words that the modifiers depend on, we are left with something entirely different.

    Little never green.

    The result is nonsense. Our minds want to process the data as a sentence, but it won't fit. We have modifiers, but we don't know what is being modified. The base elements are missing.

    We've seen how these two principles, modification and subordination, join individual words in clusters. It's also worth noting how they join word groups together. Just as individual words cluster around more important ones, so the clusters they form attach themselves to more important elements. Notice how this happens in the following example.

    S V/C
    The river was/cold.

    Adding a little modification, we get this:

    S V/C
    The recently thawed river was/icy cold.

    "Recently" modifies "thawed," while the two words join together to modify "river," the base word of the cluster.

    Whole sentences can be joined in this way:

    Although the recently thawed river was icy cold,

    we dove right in.

    Now the former sentence, which was also an independent clause, has become a part of a larger whole. It is now subordinate to "we dove right in," which becomes the new base clause of the sentence. Without our base clause we would be left with a subordinate element that had no independent element to depend on, like an orphan.

    Modification and subordination can help you in two ways: first, they can help you understand how your sentence elements relate to each other and to the sentence as a whole; second, they're important tools for combining those elements into more complex and sophisticated sentences.


    The basic S V/C pattern can also be expanded by coordination. Whereas subordination ranks one element as more important than the other, coordination places elements on an equal footing. If the relationship of subordination is that of child to parent, the relationship of coordination is that of spouse to spouse. In a sentence it works like this:

    S V/C
    Esther types/letters.

    The subject can be expanded by adding a coordinate element:

    S V/C
    Lois and Esther type/letters.

    And coordination can also be used to expand the complement.

    S V/C
    Lois and Esther type/letters and memos.

    Or the verb.

    Lois and Esther type letters and memos but write-out short notes and signatures.

    Now each element has been compounded with a resulting structure that might be represented as follows:

    S V/C
    Lois and Esther type/letters and memos
      write-out/short notes and signatures.

    This sentence has a compound subject, a compound verb, and two compound complements. In every case the compound elements are coordinate to each other and therefore, because they are of equal importance, may be said to balance.

    And just as we can subordinate either individual words or whole groups of words, the same is true of coordination. In the previous example we compounded the various parts of a single independent clause, but we could also coordinate two separate clauses.

    S V/C S V/C
    Esther types/letters, but Lois types/memos.

    Now our sentence has two independent clauses, each of which could stand alone as a complete sentence.


    A third way of expanding the basic pattern is substitution, which means replacing a single word with a word group. Again, an example will help.

    S V/C

    I saved/my meager wages.

    By substituting, we can expand the complement to read:

    S V/C

    I saved/what I earned, which wasn't much.

    "My wages" has been expanded to "what I earned" and "meager" to "which wasn't much." As you can see, this adds more words without adding much meaning and so could be objected to as uneconomical. Still it's a perfectly grammatical way of expanding sentences, and there may be times when it will suit your needs exactly, either to give emphasis or to improve sound and rhythm. Sometimes, as in the example below, you can use substitution to clarify or summarize your thoughts:

    Change: Harold and Arthur earn more than I do. This makes me furious.
    to: Getting paid less than my male coworkers makes me furious.


    English sentences have traditionally been built upon the foundation of an independent base clause consisting of two parts, a subject and a predicate. This simple pattern may be expanded in three ways. First, subordinate modifiers may be added to one of the main elements or to the base clause as a whole. Second, words or phrases may be coordinated with existing elements. Third, you may sometimes want to substitute a word group for an individual word. Finally, coordination, subordination, and substitution are often used in combination to expand a single base clause.


    4.3 Write five base clauses (S V/C) without modifiers. Exchange and compare them.

    4.4 Keeping the five base clauses you received from a classmate in exercise 1, add modifiers to the base elements and then return them and discuss them again.

    4.5 Underline and label (S, V, or C) the main word clusters in each of the following sentences.

    a. The maturing tadpole slowly grows legs.

    b. Slow dancing is much more fun.

    c. That kind of thinking will cause big trouble.

    d. The freshly lit match touched the pile of dry woodchips.

    e. The clear water cooled her cheeks and forehead.

    f. Small aspen leaves flickered and danced in the bright morning air.

    g. Most team members brought their own gloves.

    h. The swirling dust almost obscured the distant horizon.

    i. Some old cars get pretty good mileage.

    j. That wise old carp wouldn't even consider my shiny new spinner.

    4.6 Use coordination to expand at least one part in each of the following sentences.

    a. Donnie devoured his waffles.

    b. The teachers played football.

    c. Rain flooded my basement.

    d. Those boys won the trophy.

    e. Doris is a mechanic.

    f. The horses ate hay.

    g. Clouds spilled their rain.

    h. The semi snapped a stop sign.

    i. Cowboys love horses.

    j. The cheerleaders did handsprings.

    4.7 Rewrite the sentences you expanded for Activity 4.5, this time expanding them even further by adding modifiers or by substituting a word group for a single word.

    Two Kinds of Connectors

    Besides the uses already described, coordination and subordination are the two basic ways of linking clauses. Sometimes we don't have much choice about what kind of connection to make, but often, if we're aware of the options, we do.

    These trees lose their leaves every winter, but they don't die.

    The clauses in the example above are joined by coordination, but could as easily have been joined by subordination.

    Although these trees lose their leaves every winter, they don't die.

    Now the first clause has been subordinated to the second. The two words that make the difference are called conjunctions, or joining words. "But" belongs to a group of conjunctions that coordinate. "Although" belongs to a group that subordinates. Learning to recognize these two groups of conjunctions will not only help you with your sentence structure, but also with your punctuation.

    Coordinating Conjunctions

    Not too much needs to said about them. They are few in number: and, or, but, for, nor, yet, so, and they can always be found at the point where the two coordinate structures are joined together, as in the example above.

    Subordinating Conjunctions

    These are used to subordinate one clause to another. They are placed at the beginning of the clause you want to subordinate, which may or may not be where the two clauses actually meet on the page. Some common subordinating conjunctions are if, although, as, when, because, since, though, when, whenever, after, unless, while, whereas, even though. When one of these words is attached to the beginning of an independent clause, that clause is weakened. It becomes dependent. It can no longer stand alone as a complete sentence.

    Independent clause (complete sentence):

    The streets were covered with snow.

    Dependent clause (fragment):

    Because the streets were covered with snow.

    Dependent clause attached to a base clause (complete sentence):

    Because the streets were covered with snow,

    we could ski to school.


    4.8 Italicize the base clause in each of the following sentences. Boldface the subordinating conjunction.

    Example: Because Lisa was my best friend,

    I let her borrow my dress for the party.

    a. Alan scores a point whenever we need one.

    b. Since we changed the air cleaner, we've been getting better mileage.

    c. They canceled the picnic because it was raining.

    d. When I got home, my landlord was there waiting.

    e. Stand here if you want to get wet.

    f. Whenever the ponds freeze, I sharpen my skates.

    4.9 Join five of the following pairs of sentences by using coordination and five by using subordination.

    a. My new watch was very expensive. It doesn't work.

    b. We were new in town. Everyone made us feel welcome.

    c. I studied long and hard. I passed the course.

    d. These tires are bald. You should replace them.

    e. I get home from class. I collapse on the couch.

    f. The mail is here. Your magazine didn't arrive.

    g. My heart pumps faster. My legs are tired.

    h. The warm weather comes. My dog starts to shed.

    i. You eat too many sweets. You will get cavities.

    j. The subway was crowded. We found two seats.

    4.10 Rewrite the sentences you did for Activity 4.9. This time use coordination where you used subordination before and vice-versa. Which sentences are improved by the change? Which would be better left alone? Why?

    Six Problem Areas

    General Guidelines
    Subject/Verb Agreement
    Pronoun/Antecedent Agreement
    Pronoun Reference
    Shift in Tense
    Shift in Person
    Misrelated Modifier



    General Guidelines

    The following guidelines are easier for some to follow than for others, but they can, with a little work, be learned by almost anyone. Once learned, they'll become part of your permanent knowledge base like the multiplication tables or your best friend's phone number. You won't have to learn them twice.

    Take time then, even it you're fairly confident about your grammar, to see if you need to work on any of these six areas. If you do, try to understand the logic of the rule, what its purpose is. Study the examples until you see how the rule is violated and how it can be set right. Work the activities until you've mastered the rule. Notice which areas are most problematic for you personally.

    Finally, make the carryover into your own writing. When you do that, you can consider the rule learned.

    Subject/Verb Agreement

    This rule comes first because it's by far the most troublesome and because understanding it can help you to understand some of the others. In most sentences you follow it naturally, but sometimes it can cause trouble. It can be briefly stated as follows: The subject and verb of each clause must agree in number. If you have a singular subject, you need a singular verb. If you have a plural subject, you need a plural verb. Singular and plural tell how many. Singular means one. Plural means more than one. Both your subject and verb must give the same signal as to how many you are talking about.

    Read the following sentences and see if you can find any problems with subject/verb agreement.

    1. The cat come home tired.

    2. The cat comes home tired.

    3. The cats come home tired.

    4. The cats comes home tired.

    Can you explain the problem in sentence one and sentence four? If not, consider that with most nouns our language forms the plural by adding an s, but with verbs an s is added only in the third person singular.

    Person/Number Chart

      Singular Plural
    1st person I come. we come
    2nd person you come you come
    3rd person* he, she, it,

    this, or that comes.

    the reward* comes.

    they, these those come the rewards* come.

    *All nouns such as table, cat or frog should be considered 3rd person.

    Mastering Subject/Verb Agreement

    1. Force yourself to listen for s sounds as you write. In speaking, we sometimes drop these sounds as we fade the end of one word into the beginning of another; because of this, we may forget the sounds are even there. As a result, we fail to make our subjects and verbs agree. Listening for those s sounds is the real key to getting rid of most agreement problems.

    2. Don't be misled by false subjects. Be sure the word you make your verb agree with is actually the subject of the clause, not just another noun.

    Change: Those tomatoes from my brother looks juicy.
    to: Those tomatoes from my brother look juicy.

    The first sentence gives mixed signals because the verb has been made to agree with "brother" rather than the real subject, "tomatoes." Here's another example of the false subject.

    Change: Forgetting your tickets cause problems.
    to: Forgetting your tickets causes problems.

    At first glance it appears that "tickets" is the subject, but a moment's reflection tells us that "forgetting your tickets" causes problems, rather than the tickets themselves. Whenever such verb phrases serve as the subject, they should be thought of as singular.

    3. Treat collectives as singulars. Collectives are words that refer to a group such as a team, a platoon, a class, a congregation, or a family. Such words as nobody, everybody, anyone, each, and everyone should be treated as singular also.

    Change: My family like to go to church together.
    to: My family likes to go to church together.

    Even if the family has eight or nine people, it is still only one thing; therefore, it is considered singular.

    4. Watch out for compound subjects. When the parts of a compound subject are joined by "and," treat the subject as plural, even if the individual parts are singular.

    Change: Danny and Rolando gets their share of rebounds.
    to: Danny and Rolando get their share of rebounds.

    When the parts are joined by "or" or "nor," let the one nearest the verb determine the verb's number.

    Change: Either the head table or the chairs needs realigning.
    to: Either the head table or the chairs need realigning.
    Change: Neither the chairs nor the head table need realigning.
    to: Neither the chairs nor the head table needs realigning.


    4.11 Edit the following sentences for subject/verb agreement.

    a. The gloves I got for Christmas is too small.

    b. My knee look like it is starting to heal.

    c. Breakfast and lunch always fills me up.

    d. Opening the cans spoil the meat.

    e. Our team don't get discouraged when we lose.

    f. The bus always get me here on time.

    g. The corner and the edge shows the rust first.

    h. These bandages works great.

    i. Neither the captain nor his platoon are responsible for this.

    j. Our staff and equipment is ready to serve you.

    4.12 Read the following sentences and tell whether the subject and verb agree in number. Be prepared to explain and justify your answer.

    a. A big tree with all the trimmings make the holidays special.

    b. Everybody with muddy boots are to stand over there.

    c. The houses by the river are the oldest.

    d. The old man in the corner booth looks tired.

    e. Our selection of tomatoes top them all.

    f. At the foot of the dunes a small boy plays by the shore.

    g. Flags of my nations flutters in the chilly breeze.

    h. The shocks in my Mustang is shot.

    i. The tie with the bold stripes looks just fine.

    j. Too many onions spoils the stew.

    Pronoun/Antecedent Agreement

    Just as subjects and verbs must agree, pronouns must agree with their antecedents. A pronoun is a word used as a substitute for a previously mentioned noun. If that noun (called the antecedent) is plural, the pronoun used to stand-in for it must also be plural. Similarly, if the antecedent is singular, so must the pronoun be singular. A quick look at the person/number chart will help you to recognize whether a particular pronoun is singular or plural.

    Change: My club is having a bake sale. These should help our finances.
    to: My club is having a bake sale. This should help our finances.

    In the first example, "these" refers back to the antecedent "bake sale," but because "these" is plural and its antecedent is singular, an agreement problem results. Making both pronoun and antecedent singular solves the problem.

    Person/Number Chart

      Singular Plural
    1st person I, me we, us
    2nd person you you
    3rd person* he; him; she; her; they; them; it; this; that; or any noun representing ONE person, place, or thing, as: a table. these; those; or any noun representing MORE THAN ONE person, place, or thing, as: some tables.


    4.13 Edit the following sentences for pronoun/antecedent agreement.

    a. If the people want unsafe cars, they will get it.

    b. When a person needs advice, they can go to a psychologist.

    (HINT: Try making the antecedent plural to avoid gender problems.)

    c. After the streets had been swept, it looked very clean.

    d. I don't like tacos. It's too spicy.

    e. The director organizes the play. They make sure everything works out right.

    f. Some students pick this up quickly. This person can go on to the next section.

    g. Good friends, food, and a roof over your head--this is the only necessities.

    h. Playing a musical instrument is a valuable experience for a child. They teach them many important things.

    Pronoun Reference

    Faulty pronoun reference means the antecedent of your pronoun is not totally and immediately clear. There is no single rule for making pronoun reference clear in all cases. Most often a reader will try to connect the pronoun with the subject of a previous clause or sentence:

    When Andre cut his finger, he screamed out in pain.

    But not always, sometimes the reader will connect it with the closest noun:

    When Andre cut his finger, it started to bleed.

    In both cases the meaning is clear, and so there is no problem.

    Problems occur, though, when two words compete as antecedents and the meaning begins to blur:

    Finally, he wrapped his finger in a bandage, and it stopped bleeding.

    Problems also occur when the antecedent is not named explicitly:

    The danger of creosote build-up has not been properly publicized by the makers of woodburning stoves. This should be looked into thoroughly.

    And problems occur when a pronoun seems to refer back to a single word but is intended to refer to a whole clause:

    My brother caught my cold which made me feel bad.

    Because the relative pronoun "which" seems to refer to both "cold" and the entire base clause, the meaning is slightly out of focus.

    A careful writers keep the meaning in focus by making sure pronoun/antecedent relationships are totally and immediately clear. It isn't enough to say readers who want to understand your meaning will be able to if they work at it long enough. Any reader should be able to connect your pronoun with its antecedent at once.

    Making the reference clear may require you to change the wording slightly:

    As I opened my popcorn, I was drawn into the movie.


    As I began to watch the movie, I opened my warm, buttery popcorn.

    Sometimes a key word will need to be repeated:

    The danger of creosote build-up has not been properly publicized by the makers of woodburning stoves. This lack of publicity should be looked into thoroughly.

    And sometimes you may have to re-word the entire sentence and eliminate the pronoun:

    I felt bad that my brother caught my cold.

    The method you choose for solving the problem, however, is less important than the fact that you see the problem in the first place, and having seen it, eliminate any possibility of misunderstanding.


    4.14 Edit the following sentences for clear pronoun reference.

    a. This car has a small dent. It shouldn't be much of a problem.

    b. The car drove slowly along the back road. It was quite muddy.

    c. I got home late from my date, which was okay.

    d. The hills there were covered with flowers. They were many different sizes.

    e. The beach was littered with broken glass. I think the park service should look into it.

    f. I like his ideas about fall gardens. They just make sense.

    g. Whenever the ladies made gingerbread men for the children, they looked delighted.

    h. Miss Waldman said if I worked hard I could still get an A or a B, but it didn't happen.

    i. Although the sun was hot and the water was polluted, it made me want to dive in anyhow.

    j. The faster I walked, the more water spilled out of the bucket. It had become a real nuisance.

    Shift in Tense

    The tense of your verb tells when events are taking place, whether in the past, the present, or the future. When you begin writing, establish a "base tense" as of your paper and shift away from it only when you have a good reason. If you are writing about events that happened in the past, use the past tense as your foundation. If you are writing about the present or the future, build around that tense.

    Change: We went into Bruno's and ordered a pizza. The waitress comes over and brings us our drinks. I can see she's going to spill one.
    to: We went into Bruno's and ordered a pizza. As the waitress came back with our drinks, I could see she was going to spill one.

    The first example, while vivid and effective in casual conversation, isn't precise enough for writing. We can't tell what happened when. The second version locates the experience in the past. Of course when logic insists that you change tense, as in the following example, you should.

    During high school I lived with my parents, but now I live with a close friend. Someday I will have a family of my own.


    4.15 Edit the following paragraph for consistency in tense.

    The first thing I hear was the terrible scream of somebody's voice blending into the squeal of rubber as we come hurtling down on the Honda from behind. It's my little sister, both hands pressed to the sides of her head, while my dad tried to push the brakes through the floor. Then suddenly we're going sideways, and I see a big church come floating across the windshield. Then I knew we'll crash.

    Shift in Person

    Here, as in other areas, the goal is to be clear and consistent. This time, however, the aim is to establish a steady and reliable point of view. Doing so helps the reader understand where the two of you stand in relation to the subject under discussion, and just as importantly helps develop a strong writer/reader relationship.

    Change: Helga is my best friend. She won't let a person down. You can always count on her to be there when you need help.
    to: Helga is my best friend. She won't let me down. I can always count on her to be there when I need help.

    The writer is clearly talking about her own relationship with Helga, not the reader's. Therefore, it makes more sense to stick with the first person singular throughout all three sentences.

    For our purposes, the main points of view from which to choose correspond to the persons on the Person/Number Chart . Thus, a paper based on the first person singular point of view would use "I" and "me" as its foundation, while a paper based on the third person plural would be built around "they" and "them."

    First person singular--This point of view is most suitable for informal writing, especially for writing about your personal interests and experiences. It draws attention to the writer, which may or may not be a good thing.

    EXAMPLE--I have always enjoyed crocheting for the relaxation it provides me.

    First person plural--Slightly more formal than first person singular, this point of view can be effective for developing a feeling that the writer and the reader are partners. It takes emphasis away from the writer as an individual and places it on whatever group is designated by "we."

    EXAMPLE--When we look closely at last month's sales figures, we can see what the future holds for our company.

    Second person singular or plural--Used carefully, this point of view can make readers feel you are speaking directly to them, that you are in a sense looking directly at them. Sometimes, however, the second person is blurred into a weak or ineffective substitute for another, more appropriate point of view. Like first person singular, it is generally most effective in personal and informal writing.


    strong: You can't imagine how much Helen enjoyed talking with you the other day.

    weak: You had to be willing to give a hundred percent whenever you went out on the floor or Coach Bavasi would bench you.

    Third person singular and plural--These points of view distance you from your subject and your reader. Their effect is to make your writing less personal and more formal. They are used for much academic, technical, and scientific writing where either tradition or the subject demands an air of distance and objectivity.


    A person who violates any of the following laws can expect to receive prompt and immediate punishment. (third person singular)

    Students who wish to graduate in June should have their transcripts reviewed by their advisors. (third person plural)

    Note: Choosing a dominant point of view doesn't mean you've limited yourself to a single set of pronouns for your whole paper, only that departures from the dominant point of view should be logical and effective.

    EXAMPLE--I hope you told them we would be late.


    4.16 Rewrite the following paragraph twice, each time from a different point of view.

    At the entrance of the canyon you could see the vegetation change radically. What struck you most was the sparse, stunted growth of plants otherwise similar to those you had seen a few miles back where the river, calmer and wider, took you through a lush, open area covered with huge trees and some of the longest grasses you had ever seen.

    Misrelated Modifier

    All modifiers should connect clearly and immediately with the words you want them to modify. The reader shouldn't have to guess what you're trying to say.

    Change: Louisa saw some strange mushrooms playing in the park.
    to: While playing in the park, Louisa saw some strange mushrooms.

    Probably it wasn't the mushrooms but Louisa playing in the park. By placing the modifying phrase right next to the word it modifies, we eliminate the confusion. Sometimes careless modifier placement can create several possible meanings.

    Change: All afternoon I reminisced about friends I had known with my sister.
    to: All afternoon I reminisced with my sister about friends I had known.
    or: All afternoon I reminisced about friends my sister and I had known.
    or: All afternoon my sister and I reminisced about friends we had known.

    In the first example "with my sister" is confusing because it could modify either "reminisced" or "had known" or both. The writer has a responsibility to make such relationships clear.


    4.17 Edit the following sentences for clarity of modification.

    a. Rounding the corner too quickly, a lightpost was sheared-off by the school bus.

    b. By not doing my assignments, the course was flunked.

    c. From then on I always came to the tryouts he called with my own bat.

    d. I found a ripe apple on the counter, which I ate.

    e. We have harder lessons for advanced students with difficult problems.

    f. I saw him break the window drinking in the park.


    Our language, unlike German and a few others, uses capital letters sparingly; and usually writers who have trouble with capitalization use too many rather than too few capital letters. Of the guidelines below, the two general ones are the most important. The others, while worth studying and learning, can be considered special conventions because their use is limited to a relatively small number of specialized situations.

    General Conventions

    1. Capitalize the first letter of the first word of each sentence you write.

    Too much ketchup spoils the steak.

    Why don't you order a hamburger?

    2. Capitalize the first letter of proper names and of adjectives derived from them.

    I thought Lennie was driving.

    I've always wanted to visit Nepal.

    The English language is like a spaceship.

    You have to hand it to Mr. Park.

    Special Conventions

    1. Capitalize north, south, east, and west and their compounds only when they designate an actual place, not when they point in a direction.

    I've always loved the beauty and freedom of the Southwest.

    The East is heavily industrialized.

    Go west two blocks and then head north.

    2. Capitalize the first word of a title of a book, magazine, story, essay, or play; and capitalize all other important words also.

    We really enjoyed The Taming of the Shrew.

    I want to renew my subscription to Ebony.

    Have you ever read "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

    3. Capitalize the official title of a person when you use it with the person's name.

    This award goes to Major Burckhardt.

    I voted for Senator Wurgel.

    You can get away with it if you're a general.

    4. Capitalize the names of months and of days of the week.

    I'll be going on Tuesday, November 23.


    4.23 Supply capitalization to the following sentences.

    a. this new toyota belongs to uncle myron.

    b. our drama club at shoreline college did an excellent performance of the fantasticks.

    c. i've always done better in math than in english.

    d. last night we saw woman in the dunes.

    e. i slipped the note to senator kaufmann.

    f. the most beautiful city i've ever seen is san diego.

    g. to someone newly up from the south, detroit felt cold and frightening.

    h. my sister came back from miss valerie's school of dance with a dream of joining the pennsylvania ballet.

    A Note on Spelling

    There's no quick, easy way to overcome spelling problems. This is true partly because our English spelling system is complex and difficult to explain logically. Also, most spelling habits are formed early when we're learning to read. As we grow older, those habits, good or bad, become almost automatic, and often we spell without thinking about whether we're right or wrong. Even computer spell-checkers can cause problems for unwary users.

    If you have trouble with spelling, then, you need to do more than learn a few words. You need to form new spelling habits, and the most important is to make spelling a conscious activity. This can be frustrating if you interrupt your writing to look up a word, only to find you knew how to spell it all along. Because spelling improvement is as important as it is difficult, however, you can't afford to let it slide. The suggestions that follow are intended to help you develop good spelling habits.

    Suggestions for Spelling Improvement

    1. Don't look words up while you're composing. Wait until your thought-flow runs its course. As you write, highlight or mark any words you aren't absolutely sure about. Then later when editing, your attention will go right to these words and you can look them up all at once without interrupting and losing track of your thoughts. By looking up words later, you also can concentrate on learning to spell them correctly so you won't have to look them up again. You might even consider keeping a list of Target Words to concentrate on.

    2. Every time you write a word ask yourself whether you know how to spell it. There are only two possible answers to this question: yes and no. Maybe, probably, and I think so all count as no. If the answer is yes, keep on writing, but if the answer is no, mark the word to look up. Most spelling errors come not on words like "cataclysmic," which you know you need to look up, but on words like "front," where you think the odds are with you.

    3. Notice what part of the word you've spelled wrong. Hardly ever do you spell a whole word wrong. Usually one or two letters need to be changed. Find the trouble spot by comparing the dictionary version with the version you've already written down. Sometimes a memory prod will help you get those letters right next time. For example, you might learn to spell "environment" by remembering that it has the word "iron" in it.

    4. Watch out for words that sound like other ones. Here the problem isn't so much spelling as using the wrong word, as when someone says, "I don't care weather it rains." Besides "whether" and "weather," some other frequently confused words are listed below. These words are especially treacherous because computer spell-checkers won't pick them up.

























    4.24 Use each of the above-listed words correctly in a complete sentence. Use a dictionary to check the meaning of any word you aren't sure of. Exchange and compare your sentences with those done by a partner.

    4.25 As a partner dictates the following passage, transcribe it onto a sheet of paper. When you've finished, check back over what you've written to see if all sound-alikes have been used correctly. Check your writing slowly. Actually touch each word with your pen or pencil. Examine every part of every word. When you're satisfied, check your version against the version below. Again, actually touch each word with your pencil or pen. Notice which sound-alikes give you problems, look them up in a dictionary, and learn to use them correctly.

    The Good Old Days

    Folks don't always do what they're supposed to do, not like they used to when I was a kid. Too often these days people think life's just a game, but back then it was more than that. A person knew where he stood. People were kind to each other and honest, but now we're all confused about our values. Our values are too superficial. Our standards are too loose. There aren't many folks around who know their own minds. You're never sure who your friends are anymore. It just keeps on getting worse.

    4.26 Make your own Target List of frequently misspelled words. Keep it on your desk or with your writing equipment so you can refer to it easily and work on the words. Mark the part of the word that you tend to spell wrong, focus on that part, and when you've learned the word, check it off as learned.

    Target List

    My Spelling Correct Spelling OK
    disasterous disastrous x
    paralell parallel  
    psycology psychology  
    reciept receipt  
    predjudice prejudice