How to Self-Check your Grammar in English
July 20, 2017All, English Learning, English Grammar, Writing in English
Don’t have time to hire a professional proofreader? These tips will give you confidence in your own proofreading ability, enabling you to write grammatically correct blogs, articles, and other content to grow your business or achieve a good grade in school.
1) Read your work out loud.
Reading out loud forces you to slow down and pay attention to the specific words on the page. When reading silently, it’s tempting to skim your work, which will cause you to accidentally skip important grammatical errors. Find a quiet place so you can concentrate, and read each word slowly, deliberately, and out loud so you can focus on the small details as well as the flow of the piece as a whole. Reading out loud is particularly helpful with punctuation—a natural pause when you read indicates that you should use a comma or a period. If you are out of breath by the end of a sentence, your sentence is probably a run-on or otherwise too long.
2) Read a printed copy of your work.
When possible when proofreading, print a hard copy of your work for review. Several studies suggest that reading on a screen absorbs more mental energy than reading a physical page, thus making readers prone to skipping important information or remembering less of what they’ve read. With a hard copy, you can use a pen to take notes or make edits on the page. Just remember to incorporate any edits from your paper onto the computer screen before printing or publishing your work!
(Image: Penn State)
3) Check for sentence fragments.
A complete sentence needs two parts: a subject and a verb. You (subject) run (verb). I (subject) dance (verb). We (subject) went (verb) to the store yesterday. A sentence fragment is when a sentence is missing its verb or its subject. The sentence, “Went to the store,” isn’t really a sentence at all because it is missing its subject (who went to the store?). Similarly, if I wrote “You water,” it would be a sentence fragment because it is missing a verb (what are you doing with the water—drinking, swimming, bathing?). Writers often write dependent clauses, which have neither the sentence’s main subject or verb, as sentence fragments. For example, “After the party” is a fragment because it neither tells us what happened after the party, or who did something after the party. A complete sentence might be, “After the party, I went back home” (subject: I; verb: went).
Does this sound like a lot to remember? This is where your hard copy comes in handy. After you have printed your work, take two pens with different colors such as blue and red. Use one pen to circle the subject of each sentence, and use the other pen to circle the verb. If every sentence has one circle of each color, you’re good to go!
4) Check for run-on sentences.
The opposite of a sentence fragment, a run-on sentence is when two or more complete sentences are joined without conjunctions or punctuation separating them. For example, a run-on sentence might be, “Larry went to the store he rode his bike back home.” “Larry went to the store” and “he rode his bike back home” are both independent clauses, or full sentences, because each has a subject and a verb. Putting the two clauses together without a conjunction or punctuation makes it a run-on. This run-on sentence can be fixed in the following ways:
Adding a conjunction: “Larry went to the store, and he rode his bike back home.”
Separating the independent clauses into two sentences: “Larry went to the store. He rode his bike back home.”
Run-ons can also be fixed with a semi-colon (Larry went to the store; he rode his bike back home), but one of the first two methods is usually better for language learners to use. Try to use the simplest solutions to grammatical problems.
(Image: Fitness Magazine)
5) Check for ambiguous pronouns.
Pronouns can be the perfect shortcut in writing, or they can lead your readers down a path to confusion. Pronouns are short words that are used to replace proper nouns (names) and objects. In the English language, some common pronouns are “I,” “we,” “you,” “he,” “she,” “they” and “it.” However, in sentences with multiple names and objects, it is not always clear which name or object the pronoun is meant to replace. For example, look at the sentence, “Joe asked Robert if he could cook dinner.” Who is “he” referring to? Is Joe asking Robert to cook dinner? Or is Joe asking Robert if Joe can cook dinner? There are a few ways to fix the ambiguous pronoun problem.
Change the sentence to a dialogue: Joe asked Robert, “Can I cook dinner?”
Use the proper noun again rather than the pronoun: Joe asked Robert if Joe could cook dinner.
If, while reading over your work, you come across a pronoun and cannot easily identify the name or object it is meant to replace, the sentence should be rewritten.
6) Make sure you’ve used parallelism in all sentences.
Parallelism is when all clauses in a sentence have the same grammatical structure. For example, in the sentence, “Isabel went to school, rode her bike, and ate a sandwich,” all verbs are in the past tense (“went,” “rode,” and “ate”). Therefore, this sentence exhibits parallelism. By contrast, the sentence “Isabel likes riding her bike and to eat sandwiches,” does not use parallelism because the verbs use different forms (“riding” and “to eat”). To be grammatically correct, the sentence should read, “Isabel likes riding her bike and eating sandwiches,” or “Isabel likes to ride her bike and to eat sandwiches.” Advanced English writers use parallelism for poetic or rhetorical purposes, but all writers should use parallelism to stay grammatically consistent in their writing.
(Image: Towson University)
7) Check for correct capitalization in your text.
Online writing in particular suffers from chronic misuse of capitalization. WHETHER YOU ARE WRITING IN ALL CAPS TO GET ATTENTION, or writing every word in lowercase like i am doing here, professional writing follows strict rules for using capital letters. Throughout your text, ensure all names, places, nationality, institutions, days of the week, and months of the year are capitalized. The first word of each sentence should also begin with a capital letter. All other words should begin with a lowercase letter.
(Image: Georgia State University)
8) Use the correct capitalization for your titles.
Keep in mind there are special capitalization rules for titles. In the title of an article, blog, or essay, each main word should be capitalized, while conjunctions, articles, and prepositions should stay in lowercase (unless one of these is the first word in the title). For example, in the title “Pride and Prejudice,” the “and” is lowercase while “Pride” and “Prejudice” are capitalized. Similarly, Mark Twain’s novel “The Prince and the Pauper” starts with a capitalized “The,” keeps the conjunction “and” and article “the” in lowercase, and capitalizes “Prince” and “Pauper” because they are the main words in the title. The title is usually the reader’s first impression of your work, so make sure it follows the rules!
9) Indefinite Articles
Indefinite articles are easy to miss while editing your work, so it’s worth mentioning them here. Indefinite articles (“a” or “an”) precede a singular noun or an adjective that modifies a singular noun. But how do you know which article to use? If the first syllable of the noun or adjective begins with a vowel sound (“apple,” “hour,” “angry mob”), then you will use the article “an” (“an apple,” “an hour,” “an angry mob”). If the first syllable of the noun or adjective begins with a consonant sound (“piano,” “horse,” “slippery snake”), then you will use the article “a” (“a piano,” “a horse,” “a slippery snake”). If helpful, circle every indefinite article in your work and ensure it follows the rules. Circling all indefinite articles will also help you determine if you are missing any.
10) Review for spelling errors and typos.
As always, remember not to rely on spellcheck. Spellcheck will not catch all grammatical errors, nor will it catch all mistakes in usage. Spellcheck would mark the following sentence correct: “The manager left his shit early.” (Did you catch the error? Would you be embarrassed if you didn’t write the word “shift” instead?). If you are unsure of any spelling, consult a print or online dictionary.
When you have the time, it’s always beneficial to have a second pair of eyes looking over your work. Ask a trusted colleague, a friend, or a proofreading service like Writesaver to review your writing and ensure it is ready for publication. Writesaver will quickly have your writing edited by a native English speaker, to make sure your writing sounds fluent. All writing is double checked by two English speakers, so your writing is guaranteed to be perfect.
Have more ways you self-check your writing? Let us know in the comments!