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Brief Descriptions & Examples of The Dirty Dozen

The abbreviations in parentheses are the editing symbols that English teachers use to indicate the error. The first five errors are the most egregious.

1. (frag) fragment: A fragment occurs when a group of words is punctuated as if it were a sentence when, in fact, it is not a sentence because (1) it needs a subject, (2) it needs a verb, (3) it needs both a subject and a verb, (4) it is a dependent clause.

  • Fragment example: Runs down the street. (This fragment needs a subject.)
  • Fragment example: The teacher writing on the board. (This fragment needs a helping verb—is, was, has been.).
  • Fragment example: I found my keys. On the table. (On the table is a prepositional phrase and needs both a subject and a verb.)
  • Fragment example: Because it is too wet and cold. (This fragment is a dependent clause.)

Detailed description: Fragments

2. (fs) fused sentence (also called a run-on sentence): A fused sentence occurs when two independent clauses are joined with nothing in between them.

  • Fused sentence example: It is a dark and cloudy day I will go home and take a nap. (The two independent clauses are “run together,” creating a fused sentence.)

Detailed description: Fused Sentences

3. (cs) comma splice: A comma splice occurs when two independent clauses are joined with only a comma between them.

  • Comma splice example: It is a dark and cloudy day, I will go home and take a nap. (The two independent clauses are joined with a comma, creating a comma splice.)

Detailed description: Comma Splices

4. (s/v) subject-verb agreement error: A subject-verb agreement error occurs when a singular subject is matched with a plural verb and vice versa. Subjects and verbs must agree in number.

  • Subject-verb agreement error example: I likes apples.
  • Subject-verb agreement error example: The boys in the band is out of practice.

Detailed description: Subject-Verb Agreement Error

5. (p/a) pronoun-antecedent agreement error: A pronoun-antecedent agreement error occurs when a singular pronoun is matched by a plural antecedent or vice versa. (The antecedent is the word, phrase or clause to which the pronoun refers.)
  • Pronoun-antecedent agreement error example: A high school senior should research their college options carefully. (Senior is singular, but their is plural.)

Detailed description: Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement Error

6. (pro) vague or ambiguous pronoun reference: A vague or unclear pronoun reference occurs (1) when it is not clear to which noun a pronoun refers or (2) when a pronoun refers to a concept rather than to a previous noun.

  • Unclear pronoun reference example: The teacher gave the girl her book. (It is unclear whether her refers to teacher or girl.)
  • Vague pronoun reference example: Adding the proper ingredients is essential. This is the gist of the instructions. (This refers to the idea in the preceding sentence but not to any specific word.)

Detailed Description: Vague or Ambiguous Pronoun Reference

7. (mm) misplaced modifier: A misplaced modifier occurs when a modifier is placed too far away from the word that it modifies. (A modifier is a word or phrase that modifies, or “describes,” another word.)

  • Misplaced modifier example: The movie did not appeal to the people currently playing at the theater. (The modifier is currently playing at the theater. The phrase currently playing at the theater is supposed to modify movie but is placed so that it seems as though it’s modifying people.)

Detailed Description: Misplaced Modifiers

8. (dm) dangling modifier: A dangling modifier, which is similar to a misplaced modifier, occurs when a group of words is intended to modify another word that either is not in the sentence or is not clearly linked to the modifier.

  • Dangling modifier example: Currently playing at the theater, the people didn’t care much for it. (The modifier is currently playing at the theater. The phrase currently playing at the theater modifies movie, but the word movie isn’t present in the sentence.)

Detailed Description: Dangling Modifiers

9. (//) Lack of parallel structure: A lack of parallel structure occurs when two or more parts of a sentence should be worded in the same way but are not. Faulty parallelism occurs especially in lists.
  • Lack of parallel structure example: I like apples, oranges, and pears are tasty too. (Apples and oranges are nouns. Are tasty too is a phrase, so the items are not parallel. To maintain parallel structure, the third item should be pears.)
  • Lack of parallel structure example: I won’t go sailing if it’s windy, if it’s rainy, or late at night. (If it’s windy and if it’s rainy are dependent clauses. Late at night is a phrase, so the items are not parallel. To maintain parallel structure the third item should be if it’s late at night.)

Detailed Description: Lack of Parallel Structure

10. (shift): inappropriate shift in person or tense: A shift occurs when a writer changes from one person or tense to another person or tense without a logical reason. At Methodist University, shifts in person and tense are considered most serious.

  • Shift in person example: I hate to go to the mall because you can never find a parking place. (There is a shift from first person—I—to second person—you.)
  • Shift in tense example: The server took our order but then disappears for an hour. (There is a shift from past tense—took—to present tense—disappears.)

Detailed Description: Inappropriate Shifts

11. (apos) error in the use of an apostrophe: An error in the use of an apostrophe occurs (1) when an apostrophe is used for no reason, (2) when an apostrophe is needed but is not used, or (3) when an apostrophe is misplaced.

  • Error in the use of an apostrophe example: The girl’s are having a lot of fun at summer camp. (Girl’s should be girls.)
  • Error in the use of an apostrophe example: Its hot today. (Its should be It’s.)
  • Error in the use of an apostrophe example: The girls shoe is untied. (Girls should be girl’s.)
  • Error in the use of apostrophe example: The three girl’s shoes are all alike. (Girl’s should be girls’.)

Detailed Description: Apostrophe Usage Errors

12. (fp) faulty predication: Faulty predication occurs when a subject does not work grammatically with its predicate (verb).

  • Faulty predication example: The most valued trait in a friend is a person who is loyal. (Because a person is not a trait, the sentence should read “The most valued trait in a friend is loyalty.”)

Detailed Description: Faulty Predication

 

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