Proofreading is the final stage of the writing process. All writers are prone to error, so setting time aside late in the process to check for sentence-level errors, grammar errors, and mechanical errors is a good strategy. This page reviews how to diagnose and repair some common mistakes.
Sentence Fragments and Independent Clauses
The fragment is a group of words lacking either a subject or a verb (or sometimes both) that masquerades as a regular sentence.
the –ing fragment
—ing verbs cannot stand alone as main verbs
The girl running down the street.
The girl is running down the street.
Dakota is the girl running down the street.
the who/which fragment
who and which cannot stand alone as subjects in declarative sentences
I saw the man. Who reminded me of my uncle.
I saw the man who reminded me of my uncle.
the because fragment
because causes the second clause to be dependent, and thus not a sentence
I went home. Because I felt sick.
I went home because I felt sick.
The fragment above also can be repaired by removing the word because: I went home. I felt sick.
Replace the period with a semicolon: I went home; I felt sick.
Replace the period with a comma and a coordinating conjunction: I went home, for I felt sick.
Subordinate one of the clauses: Since I felt sick, I went home.
Replace the period with a semicolon, conjunctive adverb, and a comma: I felt sick; consequently, I went home.
If a subject is singular, then the verb form must be singular. If the subject is plural, then verb form must be plural. The rules are termed agreement. It is a peculiarity of English that we add an s to a verb with a third person singular subject.
|Singular forms||Plural forms|
The girl grows
The girls grow
The flower in the yard grows
The flowers in the garden grow
Special agreement situations
The correlatives: in either/or and neither/nor constructions, the verb takes the number of the subject nearer to it.
Either John or the children are coming to the party.
Either the children or John is making the cookies.
Elements (like prepositional phrases) that come between the subject and the verb do not change the number of either.
The fact that he lost the five races upsets no one.
A collection of rare oil paintings is part of the exhibit.
The chairman, along with the delegation members, sits at the head table.
Use a singular verb with an indefinite pronoun (e.g., each, anybody, everybody, someone):
Each of the campers takes a survival skills test.
Everybody eats a little too much fatty food.
The use of there to begin a sentence reverses the order from subject-verb to verb-subject.
There are five new laws under review.
There is a reason the governor would not consider tax increases.
A pronoun is a word that substitutes for a noun, or sometimes another pronoun. There are many types of pronouns: personal (he, she, it, we, you, they), relative (who, which), indefinite (everyone, anybody).
Many personal and relative pronouns come in pairs, like she/her, he/him, and who/whom. Which member of the pair to use depends on how the pronoun functions in the sentence.
She, he, and who are used as subjects of verbs and as complements (predicate nominative):
She ran the race.
The man watching the race is he.
No one knows who will win the race next week.
Her, him, and whom are used as objects, especially of verbs and prepositions:
The marshal awarded her the trophy.
Give the second-place trophy to him.
We’re not sure whom the marshal disqualified.
Who vs. Whom
The selection of who vs. whom will not present difficulties if you
- work with only the dependent clause in which who/whom appears;
- rearrange the words in this clause into standard subject-verb word order; and
- substitute he and him for who or whom to determine the correct choice.
Applied to “We’re not sure whom the marshal disqualified” yields the following:
- Isolate dependent clause “who/whom the marshal disqualified”;
- rearrange words “The marshal disqualified who/whom”; and
- substitute he/him: “The marshal disqualified he” is obviously wrong;
- the correct choice is “The marshal disqualified him”; so…
- the object form is the correct selection: “whom the marshal disqualified.”
A misplaced modifier is a group of words that is in the wrong place in a sentence. Modifiers should be near the words or phrases they modify. Correcting a misplaced modifier involves identifying and moving it.
Tony bought a car from an old lady without an engine.
- Identify the misplaced modifier: without an engine.
- As written, the sentence means that the old lady had no engine!
- Move the misplaced modifier alongside the word (or phrase) that it modifies. The writer means to say that the car lacked an engine:
Tony bought a car without an engine from an old lady.
A dangling modifier is a group of words that does not explicitly modify anything else in the sentence; thus, it “dangles.” Very often, the dangling modifier comes at the beginning of the sentence, in this pattern: -ing or –ed word + comma + subject
Studying for hours, the GRE challenges even the brightest students.
The –ing word should modify the word or phrase right after the comma; here, it does not, since the exam does not study. Unlike the misplaced modifier, the dangling modifier cannot simply be relocated: “GRE exam, studying for hours, challenges even the brightest test-takers” is no improvement. The sentence needs some rehabilitation.
Even after studying for hours, John, a very bright student, found the GRE challenging.
The GRE challenges even the brightest students, many of whom prepare for hours.
Additional Proofreading Areas
- Please, Mother, hand me the application form. My mother is Princeton graduate.
- My hardest class this summer is Calculus. My calculus test was difficult.
- I speak English and French in my history and sociology courses.
- Let’s go to Mexico in the spring.
- Who’s in karate class with Alan? Whose history paper was found in the cafeteria?
- It’s time to write our first drafts. The Web site is having problems with its security system.
- One’s critical documents should be backed up on other media. Ours
- The university’s academic honesty rules should be the same as my professors’
- I sit (no action) I set the book down. (action)
- I lie (no action, present tense) I lay the book down. (action, past tense)
- The temperature rises. (no object) He raises (object)
- I would have (correct) I would of gone. (incorrect)
- Speakers and writers imply. Listeners and readers infer.
- The argument is between two students. The argument is among four sorority sisters.
- The principal (main) thing to remember is that the principal of the school upholds the
- principles (rules).
- I have less time than ever. There seem to be fewer hours available for sleep.
- Rain affects (verb) the soil. The effect (noun) is usually muddiness.
- The writer cited (quoted) the site (place) as a beautiful sight (vision).
- “He played real good” in informal speech becomes “He played really well” in writing.
- “Joe is as stingy as they” [are stingy], not “Joe is as stingy as them.” “Sue is smarter than I” [am smart], not “Sue is smarter than me.
If possible, read your draft aloud! Reading aloud forces you to slow down and focus on each word in a sentence, helping you catch errors and mistakes that your eyes might miss. Additionally, hearing your paper read aloud provides you with the opportunity to hear and understand how your paper is organized and how your ideas are connected on the page.
Tips for reading aloud:
- Read at a slow or moderate pace.
- Use your finger as a marker while reading or cover the page to help you focus on one section or sentence.
- Have a friend read your paper to you. Pay close attention to places where they stop or stumble while reading, as that could indicate a spot in need of revision.
- Use Microsoft Word Tools to listen to your work.
Reading Aloud. (n.d.). Retrieved June 30, 2020, from https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/reading-aloud/