In this article, we will try to highlight various types of errors that one may encounter in a sentence correction problem (which may include selecting the correct/incorrect sentences in the exam).
Remember, more often than not, a sentence correction question will present to you a combination of multiple errors simultaneously. All the errors should be corrected and no other error should be introduced during the correction process. Following sections deal with different errors separately, but the examples taken may present you multiple errors. So, be careful!
Here are the most common errors in sentences.
1. Using the wrong word.
2. Singular-Plural pronouns.
3. Modifier errors
4. Parallelism errors
5. Idiomatic errors.
6. Diction errors
7. Punctuation errors
Let us have a detailed look at them now.
1. Using the wrong word
• Practice vs. Practise
• Affect vs. Effect
• Lay vs. Lie
Practice vs. Practise
These words sound alike and are spelled similarly – they differ only by one alphabet in spelling. They have a variety of meanings (to practise an instrument, a profession; a doctor’s practice etc.) but there is one golden rule:
The word practise with an S is a verb, whereas the word practice with a C is a noun.
For example: I practise the piano (verb), but I did my piano practice (noun). The doctor practised for twenty years (verb), but his brother, the solicitor, had a practice that lasted over thirty years.
Another pair of words that functions exactly the same way is advise (the verb) and advice (the noun).
2. Singular-Plural Errors
• A picture of the All-Star Team, composed of players from different leagues, were given to each member.(This is incorrect)
The trick to catch these errors is to isolate the true subject of a sentence. Remember to use the bracket technique to isolate the distracting phrases so that you can focus on the important elements of each sentence.
In the above example, the subject—picture—is singular, but the verb—were—is plural.
Therefore, this is not a correct sentence. The correct statement would be:
A picture of the All-Star Team, composed of players from different leagues, was given to each member.
3. Modifier Errors:
Modifiers should be close to what they modify. This is the golden rule used for finding modifier errors.
Example: The man saw the house on the hill with the telescope.
So, why is this wrong?
We have two modifiers here, which are phrases that give additional information: on the hill and with the telescope. It isn’t clear from the way in which the sentence has been corrected to what these modifiers refer. We can reasonably assume that the seeing was done with the telescope, since that is what telescopes are for. Probably, the house was on a distant hill, so it seems the scenario on the left is the most likely one. However, it would have been better to put the modifier with the telescope next to the seeing, and the on the hill next to the house:
The man saw with the telescope the house on the hill.
… or better still …
Using the telescope, the man saw the house on the hill.
This makes it abundantly clear that the seeing was done with the telescope, and it is a quite legitimate change to make.
4. Parallelism Errors
Parallelism is comparing or listing of two or more phrases or clauses which should both/all take the same form. Here is an example of two parallel items being compared:
Seeing is believing.
In this case, seeing is being listed alongside believing. They both take the same form, i.e. a verb ending in “-ing” which is being used as a noun (termed a gerund in grammatical text books). The three-word proverb above does not contain any parallelism errors. We could also rewrite the proverb as follows:
To see is to believe.
This time, both verbs are listed as infinitives, “to …” Again, since they are both in the same form, there is no parallelism errors. However, if we wrote the following, it would be wrong:
To see is believing.
Here a gerund is being compared to an infinitive. This is grammatically wrong. The same applies to the following:
Seeing is to believe.
5. Idiom Errors
Idiom errors arise due to incorrect usage of idioms. It is not easy to spot these errors if one hasn’t heard of them before. Go through the various idioms booklets for practice.
• Many teenagers feel a great deal of pressure to conform with the values, attitudes, and behavior of their peers.(Incorrect idiomatic usage).
The correct expression is “conform to”; the preposition “with” is incorrect.
6. Diction Errors
A diction error refers to using the wrong word for the meaning intended. You have to be very careful to spot this error because the word given in the sentence is spelled almost exactly like the word that should have been used.
• The space launch will take place next month, providing that the weather is good.
The word providing in the example should have been provided. A diction error is not a spelling error, but rather the wrong word.
7. Punctuation errors
Sentence fragments and run-on sentences can be fixed with proper punctuation and by transitional words or phrases.
Many students are intimidated by math, they do not realize that solving problems is a lot like following simple recipes.
The error here lies with the comma that appears after the word math.
Why is it an error?
When two halves of a sentence can both stand on their own, a comma is not the correct punctuation. The comma here should be replaced by either a period or a semicolon.
So, replace the comma with a semi colon in the above statement and you are done.
Lets take a look at another common error.
The summer program offered intensive immersion sessions in the following languages, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and even Latin and ancient Greek.
The statement looks just about fine. I can’t find any tense, modifier, parallelism error in it.
The error lies in the incorrect punctuation (read absence of a colon) in the sentence. The error free sentence should be:
The summer program offered intensive immersion sessions in the following languages: French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and even Latin and ancient Greek.
Important: A colon is used to introduce specific information discussed earlier in a sentence.
These are few of the major errors that you will encounter in exams for Sentence Corrections. Solving these questions from previous year papers is the only panacea for gaining a sufficient level of prowess over it.