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5 grammar tips that could improve your grades

On Punctuation Day, Concordia expert Laura Dunbar offers a few fast facts
September 24, 2015

Whether or not you're feeling the #PunctuationDay love, it's crucial to know your way around a comma.

As the memes and greeting cards say, "Good grammar is like personal hygiene. You can ignore it if you want, but don't be surprised when people draw their own conclusions."

Happily Laura Dunbar, assistant coordinator of the Department of English's composition and professional writing programs, is here to help. Here are the mistakes she most often comes across — and her advice on how to fix them.

1. A sentence is a complete thought.

Not sure if what you've written is a complete thought or a sentence fragment? Try putting "I realize" in front of your sentence. If the result doesn't make sense, you need to fix it.

2. Pity the poor comma.

When you use a comma to join sentence sections together without adding coordinating conjunctions like andbut, or, for, nor, yet, or so, you force your reader to take your idea-stairs two at a time. Guess what? I'm old, I'm crabby, and I don't like it. Points deducted.

3. Yes, Virginia, you can begin a sentence with because.

Because because signals an adverb clause, you have to follow the clause with a comma. See what I did there?

4. Let's get the apostrophe issue cleared up once and for all.

It's means it isIts shows possession — the dog wagged its tail. Think this doesn't matter? See my self-description, Point 2, and assume it to be true for all you're professors and markers. Points if you are (you're) paying attention and notice the second big apostrophe error in the previous sentence that's likely to cause your grade to drop. Sheesh.

5. Never mind who and whom.

Get your vague pronouns under control first, for crying out loud. Thisthat, and it are the reasons you get papers back with question marks or "unclear" scrawled in the margins. When you proofread (don't get me started — that's another lecture), fix vague pronoun errors by rewriting the sentence and adding the subject.


BONUS TIPS:  Stop using very. Nothing signals a writer who hasn't met a thesaurus like this overused and underwhelming modifier. The same holds for really and clear or clearly. Also, quit writing due to the fact — the word you want is because.


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