Here are tips for several common grammar and punctuation mistakes. Therefore, the following tips focus on the common errors that writers have been encountered in their papers. It is not about reviewing all the necessary grammar and punctuation rules; rather, it is an overview to help writers troubleshoot common errors.

Capital Letters Apostrophe Quotation Marks
Italics/Underline Commas Nouns
Verbs Articles
Modals Subject-Verb Agreement
Pronoun Agreement Parallelism Fragments
Adjectives (-ED/-ING) Commonly Confused Words Words Choice

Capital Letters
Capital letters are used with:

  • the first word in a sentence or direct quotation
    1. They like hamburgers
  • names of persons and the word “I”
    1. Jerry, Jill and I went shopping.
  • names of particular places
    1. We like to go to the Abbey in Ely Center.
  • names of the days of the week, months, and holidays
    1. Christmas falls on December 25 every year.
  • names of commercial products
    1. Our copy machine is made by Xerox
  • names of organizations such as religious and political groups, associations, companies, unions and clubs
    1. Many people are members of the National Association of the Deaf.
  • words in titles of books, magazines, newspapers, articles, stories, poems, films, television shows, songs, papers that you write
    1. Gallaudet Today is an informative magazine.

However, a word like a, an, the, but, for, and is not capitalized unless it is the first word of the title or the first word after a colon.

  • Perspectives on Deafness: A Deaf American Monograph was edited by Mervin D. Garretson.
  • On the Green is an in-house Gallaudet publication for faculty and staff.

The two main uses of the apostrophe are:

    • to show the omission of one or more letters in a contraction
      do + not = don’t
      is + not = isn’t
      that + is = that’s
  • to show ownership or possession
    Ellen’s books
    Dorothy’s pen
    Howard’s hands

Quotation Marks
Use quotation marks when you want to show the exact words of a speaker or writer. Place all commas and periods inside of the quotation marks.

Incorrect: “, the instructor said, “is the one you don’t ask“.
Correct: ,” the instructor said, “is the one you don’t ask.”

Use quotation marks when you want to quote or show the titles of short stories, novellas, articles, chapter titles in books, poems, television shows, songs, and papers that you write.

Incorrect: I read the poem The Tyger, the other day.
Correct: I read the poem “The Tyger,” the other day.

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Use italics or underline to show the titles of books, magazines, newspapers, plays, art masterpieces, and long musical compositions.

Incorrect: The novel, “Gone with the Wind,” was extraordinary.
Correct: The novel, Gone with the Wind, was extraordinary.
The novel, Gone with the Wind, was extraordinary.

Commas often show a pause in a sentence. There are nine main uses of the comma:

  • to separate items in a series
    1. I like swimming, summer, and vacations.
  • to set off introductory material
    1. First, let me explain our cut policy.
  • on both sides of words that interrupt the flow of thought in a sentence
    1. The Tutorial Center, a division of the School of Undergraduate Studies, is a place where students can get one-on-one help
  • between two complete thoughts connected by and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet
    1. I love to watch basketball, but I do not play it.
  • to set off a direct quotation from the rest of a sentence
    1. According to I. King Jordan, “Deaf people can do anything — except hear.” 
  • in dates
    1. April 6, 1976 
  • in addresses
    1. My address is P.O. Box 250, Gallaudet University, Washington, D.C., 20002 
  • in the openings and closings of letters
    1. Dear Judith, . . . Sincerely yours, Ellen

A noun is a person, place, thing, quality, concept or action. The first letters of some nouns are capitalized to show a specific name or title (Greg). These are called proper nouns. Other nouns that are not specific do not use a capital letter (man). These are called common nouns. Nouns that have a singular and plural form are called count nouns. Nouns that only have a singular form are called non-count nouns. For example, homework is a non-count noun.

Incorrect: I have some homeworks.
Correct: I have some homework.

A verb is a word that tells what the subject of the sentence does. The verb tells the action of the sentence. Sometimes the action shows movement (jump) or sometimes it shows how a thing is or that it exists (is). The verb also shows time which is called tense. The form of the verb or its tense can tell when the action takes place.

Present Simple
Past Simple
Future Simple
will kiss
Present Perfect
has/have kissed
Past Perfect
had kissed
Future Perfect
will have kissed
Present Continuous
is/am/are kissing
Past Continuous
was kissing
Future Continuous
will be kissing
Present Perfect Continuous
has/have been kissing
Past Perfect Continuous
had been kissing
Future Perfect Continuous
will have been kissing

If you are writing more than one sentence (a paragraph, an essay, etc), you should try to use a consistent tense. In other words, if you begin in the past, stay in the past, do not shift to the present tense without a good reason. Constant changes in tense confuse the reader. For example:

Incorrect: Yesterday afternoon, I played my stereo and watch TV.
Correct: Yesterday afternoon, I played my stereo and watched TV.

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“A” and “An” are used before general or non-specific count nouns such as people, animals, things and places. But they cannot be used before non-count nouns. “The” is used before specific names of people, animals, things and places (for both count and non-count nouns).

Incorrect: I have a homework to do tonight
Correct: I have homework to do tonight
Incorrect: I am going to Abbey.
Correct: I am going to the Abbey.

Grammatically, modal verbs behave in a different way from ordinary verbs. They do not show tense and do not follow subject/verb agreement rules. The structure of the sentence is subject + modal + second verb.
Never add -s, -es, -ed, or -ing to the second verb.

Incorrect: I can sleeping six hours tonight
Correct: I can sleep six hours tonight
Incorrect: I couldn’t worked last night
Correct: I couldn’t work last night.
Incorrect: I couldn’t works last night.
Correct: I couldn’t work last night.
  • Modals don’t follow the subject-verb agreement rule for 3rd person singular. They do not add s in the third person singular (he, she, it).
Incorrect: She mights go to class.
Correct: She might go to class.
  • Most modal verbs are followed by the verb without the infinitive (to) or the gerund (-ing).
Incorrect: Gallaudet should to build a new computer center.
Correct: Gallaudet should build a new computer center.
Incorrect: My teacher can signing well.
Correct: My teacher can sign well.

Subject-Verb Agreement
In English, the subject and verb of a sentence must agree. In the present tense, all singular subjects except I and you require that you add ‘s’ or ‘es’ to the verb. If the subject is plural, do not add ‘s’ or ‘es’ to the verb.

First person singular
First person plural
Second person singular/plural
Third person plural
don’t add -s to the verb (I sign.)
don’t add -s to the verb (Sue and I sign. We sign.)
don’t add -s to the verb (Your sign.)
don’t add -s to the verb (Sue and bob sign. They sign.)
Third person singular he
add -s to the verb (Adam signs. He signs.)
add -s to the verb (Sue signs. She signs.)
add -s to the verb (A cat meows. It meows.)

Remember, most nouns use -s or -es to show plurality while verbs do not. If your sentence has an -s on the subject and an -s on the verb, your sentence is probably wrong.

Incorrect: Many students learns American Sign Language at Gallaudet.
Correct: Many students learn American Sign Language at Gallaudet.

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Pronoun Agreement
Pronouns are substitutes for nouns that keep writers from unnecessarily repeating words in writing.

Without Pronoun: Carol finished Carol’s paper.
With Pronoun: Carol finished her paper.

In the above example, her takes the place of Carol. Just like verbs and subjects must agree, pronouns have to agree with the noun or verb they are replacing.

Incorrect: A student should write their own paper.
Correct: A student should write his/her paper.

Words in a pair or a series should have parallel structure. Parallel structure means that if you write a sentence that uses two verb infinitives, for example, then add a third verb, all three verbs should use infinitives. However, you only need to use the word to for the first verb. It will automatically apply to the other verbs in the list.

Incorrect: I decided to lose weight, study more, and watching less TV.
Correct: I decided to lose weight, study more, and watch less TV.

Every sentence must have a subject and a verb and must express a complete thought. A word group that lacks a subject or a verb and that does not express a complete thought is a fragment.

Incorrect: Because Tom ate and drank too much.
Correct: Because Tom ate and drank too much, he got sick.

Adjectives made from Verbs (-ED/-ING)
Verbs of EMOTION can become Adjectives by adding either ED or ING.

My English class bores me(verb) (adj.)
I am bored by my English class

(verb) (adj.)
The class is boring to me

Verb+ED becomes an adjective when it is used to describe a person or animal that experiences an emotion. You can call this adjective the Experiencer adjective.

  • One good way to remember to use ED to describe the Experiencer’s emotion is to remember that both words start with E. The Experiencer is described with ED.
Incorrect: I am interesting in sports.
Correct: I am interested in sports. (I is the Experiencer, which means that you must use ED).

Verb+ING becomes an adjective when it is used to describe the things that cause an emotion. You can call this the Instigator (Causing) adjective.

  • One good way to remember to use ING to describe the Instigator (or Causing) adjective is to remember that both words start with I. The Instigator is described with ING.
Incorrect: The football game is excited. (This means that the game itself feels excited, which is impossible).
Correct: The football game is exciting. (This means that the football game is causing someone to feel excited).

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Commonly Confused Words
You’re and Your

You’re is a contraction for you + are. You’re very busy today.
Your shows possession. Is that your book?

To and Too

To shows direction. I am going to work.
Too shows how much. It is too hot to work today.

They’re and Their

They’re is a contraction of they + are. They’re going to Panama next week.
Their is a pronoun that shows possession. Their books are on the table.

It’s and Its

It’s is a contraction of it + is It’s a beautiful morning.
Its is pronoun that shows possession. Tell the cat to keep its paws off the table.

Whose and Who’s

Whose is a pronoun. Whose book is this?
Who’s is a contraction for who + is. Who’s there?

Advice and Advise

Advice is a noun. I need some advice on my grammar.
Advise is a verb. My teacher advised me to revise the paper.

Effect and Affect

Effect is a noun. The tax increase had an effect on the poor.
Affect is a verb. The weather affects my mood.

Words Choice
Some words can become different parts of speech by changing their endings or their placement in the sentence. The forms of these words look almost the same, but depending on which part of speech they are, their spelling changes.

Verb Noun (thing) Noun (person) Adjective Adverb
Succeed Success Successful Successfully
Analyze Analysis Analyst Analytical Analytically
Predict Prediction Predictor Predictable Predictably

Some words use the same spelling for different forms of the word, but depending on how it is used in the sentence, it can mean different things.

Verb Noun (thing) Noun (person) Adjective Adverb
Love Love Lover Loving Lovingly
Challenge (A) Challenge Challenger Challenging/ed

If you would like to see more sample words and their various forms, look at our Word Endings page.

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