Grammar Tips for College Students: Common Mistakes That Make You Look Bad
When you’re in college, written communication is key. Your professors will judge your competence, your grade, and even your intelligence by the way you write. Your writing skills are definitely important in traditional college settings, but they’re even more crucial when you’re studying online. Your online professors will have virtually no communication with you that isn’t in writing: via email, forum postings, written assignments, and more.
Good writing will make a good impression. Grammatical mistakes could be embarrassing—and might even have an effect on your grade. Here are a few common grammatical errors all college students should avoid.
Any spelling mistake at all
Okay, maybe your high school teachers let the occasionally misspelled word slide. But college professors will expect you to know how to use a dictionary. Be careful relying only on the Spell Check function to check your papers; it might catch some mistakes, but it won’t catch everything. Be sure to proofread your assignments carefully before you hand anything in.
See Also: Online English Grammar Courses
Your writing represents you—especially when you’re studying online.
In addition, apostrophes are often misused in the case of singular and plural possessives. Never place an apostrophe to the left of a noun unless it’s plural: Six chairs’ legs are wobbly. This is the only time an apostrophe should be placed to the left of a word.
See Also: Online Degrees in English
Affect vs. Effect
There are many words in the English language that have very close spellings and meanings, and are often misused. “Affect” and “Effect” are two examples that are often interchanged. The difference is simple: affect is a verb, while effect is a noun. You can affect something or you can have an effect on something—but you can’t do it the other way around.
Its vs. It’s
“Its” is used to show ownership—for example, the dog scratched its leg. “It’s” is used to indicate a contraction for “it is.” This one is confusing, because apostrophes are commonly used to show possession. But not with the word “it.” This is a common mistake, but one your college professors will expect you to know not to make.
There vs. their vs. they’re
These three words all have very different meanings—and because they sound exactly the same, they are easily confused. “There” refers to a place a relative distance away; as in over there or I left my paper there. “Their” indicates ownership by a group of people: The students left their books in the classroom. “They’re” is a contraction of “they” and “are”: They’re going into town later.
Your vs. you’re
“Your” indicates ownership by the person you are talking to: Your breakfast is ready. “You’re” is a contraction of “you” and “are”: You’re a strong swimmer. These are commonly confused, and should be avoided at all costs.
Commas are used often in English—and they’re misused just as often. One of the more common mistakes is the comma splice: two complete sentences, joined together with a comma, as in: I left my wallet at home, I had to go back for it. If you’re going to join two complete sentences, use a conjunction along with the comma: I left my wallet at home, and I had to go back for it.
All sentences should include a subject and a predicate, as well as a complete thought. The subject is the person, place or thing that’s doing the action in a sentence; while the predicate is the action that’s being done. It’s not uncommon for people to leave out either the subject or the predicate by mistake. If you look at all the bolded sentences in this article, they’re fragments; in some cases, fragments can be used to have a specific effect in writing. But in college-level papers, professors will expect complete sentences.
Your writing represents you—especially when you’re studying online. You don’t necessarily have to be Ernest Hemingway to pass a college course, but you do need to be able to write without errors. If you have trouble with basic writing skills, an online course in grammar and mechanics may be the ideal preparation for college.
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