IV. Logical consistency in language use
25. Unique – “Unique,” by definition, refers to something that is one of a kind. Therefore, uniqueness does not exist in degrees. Either something is unique or it is not (i.e, there is no such thing as being more or less unique, any more than one can be more dead, less divorced, etc.)
Incorrect: This is one of the most unique vases I have ever seen.
Correct: This is one of the most unusual vases I have ever seen.
Correct: This vase is unique.
26. Plural pronouns with improperly singular nouns – When referring to things that are possessed by each member of a group (i.e., each member of the group has his or her own), the things should be referred to in the plural.
Incorrect: People should take better care of their body, or they may end up regretting their life.
Correct: People should take better care of their bodies, or they may end up regretting their lives.
27. Between – The preposition “between” should be followed by the conjunction “and,” not by the preposition “to.”
Incorrect: Most people begin puberty between the ages of nine to thirteen.
Correct: Most people begin puberty between the ages of nine and thirteen.
28. At least – The phrase “at least” specifies a minimum point and should therefore be followed by a single value, not a range.
Incorrect: There were at least 75 to 100 people at the event.
Correct: There were at least 75 people at the event.
29. Because – The word “because” indicates a specific cause and effect relationship. Do not use the word unless the cause-effect relationship is factually accurate.
Incorrect: The dinner was great because we hated the movie.
Correct: The dinner was great, but we hated the movie.
30. Although – The word “although” is essentially the inverse of “because.” It indicates the fact that something happened in spite of the occurrence of something else that would ordinarily have prevented it.
Incorrect: Although our first date was great, we dated for a very long time.
Correct: Although our first date was awful, we dated for a very long time.
Correct: Because our first date was great, we dated for a very long time.
31. Double negative – The word “not” or any other negative word form is used to reverse a sentence’s meaning to its opposite. Doing so twice therefore causes the sentence to revert back to its original meaning.
Incorrect: I could not find nobody to help me.
Correct: I could not find anybody to help me.
Correct: I could find nobody to help me.
31a. Hardly – The word “hardly” constitutes a negative form and is subject to the same rule above.
Incorrect: There was hardly no one around by the time we arrived.
Correct: There was hardly anyone around by the time we arrived.
Correct: There was almost no one around by the time we arrived.
32. Care less – Just as the ability to own less property indicates that one does own property, the ability to care less about an issue indicates that one does care. Therefore, if attempting to indicate that someone does not care…
Incorrect: Tony could care less if he ever gets his $3 tax refund.
Correct: Tony could not care less if he ever gets his $3 tax refund.
33. Redundancy – Do not include words or phrases that are redundant.
Incorrect: This is the house in which I live in.
Correct: This is the house in which I live.
Correct (but slightly less formal): This is the house I live in.
33a. etc. – The abbreviation “etc.” stands for the Latin et cetera which means “and other things.” It should not be preceded by a redundant “and.” Also, note that it is not spelled “ect.”
Incorrect: We packed our shirts, shoes, and etc.
Incorrect: We packed our shirts, shoes, ect.
Correct: We packed our shirts, shoes, etc.
34. Its/It’s: “Its” (meaning “of or belonging to it”) is the possessive form of the pronoun “it.” “It’s” (meaning “it is”) is a contraction. But see rule #36.
Incorrect: Its a shame that PBS had problems with it’s membership drive.
Better, but informal: It’s a shame that PBS had problems with its membership drive.
Correct (formal): It is a shame that PBS had problems with its membership drive.
35. Your/You’re: First, see rule #19 and rule #36. If a circumstance requires the use of a second person pronoun, it should be used correctly. “Your” means “of or belonging to you.” “You’re” is a contraction meaning “you are.”
Incorrect: Your lucky you remembered to make you’re reservations.
Better, but informal: You’re lucky you remembered to make your reservations.
Correct: You are lucky you remembered to make your reservations.
36. Contractions: Contractions, while not grammatically incorrect, are informal. Do not use contractions (couldn’t, hasn’t, you’re, they’re, I’m, etc.) in writing assignments. Rather, write out both words fully.
Incorrect: I’m sure they’ll be here, but they haven’t arrived yet.
Correct: I am sure they will be here, but they have not arrived yet.
37. Apostrophes: See rule #36. The appropriate situation in which to use an apostrophe is for the possessive form of a word (Harold’s shoes, Wednesday’s meeting, etc.). The apostrophe should precede the “s” except for the possessive plural of nouns ending in “s” (students’ grades [more than one student], athletes’ injuries [more than one athlete]), for which the apostrophe should follow the “s.”
Incorrect: Many citizen’s attended yesterdays rally to address womens’ issue’s. The protester’s signs numbered in the thousand’s.
Correct: Many citizens attended yesterday’s rally to address women’s issues. The protesters’ signs numbered in the thousands.
38. Quotations marks: See rule #3. Except for direct quotes and titles of works (e.g., poems, book chapters, articles, episodes of television programs) that formally take quotation marks, do not otherwise put words in quotations unless intending to indicate that the word is actually a misnomer. A period at the end of a sentence should be enclosed by the quotations marks at the end of a sentence, whether the quoted material comprises a full sentence or not.
Incorrect: Most television executives only care about the “ratings” and therefore repeat successful formulae like “The Simpsons – Treehouse of Horror”.
Correct: Most television executives only care about the ratings and therefore repeat successful formulae like “The Simpsons – Treehouse of Horror.”
(The quotation marks in the first context insinuate that the ratings are not really ratings at all, which is a mistake if the writer intends to refer to the Nielsen television viewership ratings.)
38a. Paired quotation marks – Whenever quotation marks are used they must occur in pairs (both opening and closing.)
Incorrect: He said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. I
found that very inspirational.
Correct: He said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” I found that very inspirational.
38b. Spaces in quotation marks-When you use a quotation mark, the word starts right after the quotation mark without a space in-between.
Incorrect: “ Subjects were far away.”
Correct: “Subjects were far away.”
38c. Punctuation and quotation marks—Punctuation goes within a quotation mark, unless there is a parentheses at the end of the quotation mark.
Incorrect: “Subjects were far away”.
Incorrect: “Subjects were far away.” (Jones, 2010)
Correct: “Subjects were far away” (Jones, 2010)
39. Commas – Commas are used to indicate a slight pause in a sentence, to indicate the beginning of a new clause, or to separate elements in a list (as in the sentence you are currently reading). They should not be used to separate a list with only two elements.
Incorrect: We brought sandwiches, and pie to the picnic and everyone liked the food. However some people ate too much.
Correct: We brought sandwiches and pie to the picnic, and everyone liked the food. However, some people ate too much.
40. Semicolons – Semicolons are used to combine two independent clauses into a single sentence without using a conjunction (and, or, but, nor) or to separate elements in a list preceded by a colon.
Incorrect: There are three countries in NAFTA: Canada, Mexico, and the United States; and these countries have a combined population of approximately half a billion people, most of these people however are unfamiliar with the details of NAFTA.
Correct: There are three countries in NAFTA: Canada; Mexico; and the United States, and these countries have a combined population of approximately half a billion people; most of these people, however, are unfamiliar with the details of NAFTA.
41. Run-on sentences – Run-on sentences should be divided in one of three ways: by a comma and conjunction, by a semicolon, or by converting them into separate sentences.
Incorrect: Light that enters the eye is focused onto the retina and the rods and cones detect the stimulus energy of the light.
Correct: Light that enters the eye is focused onto the retina, and the rods and cones detect the stimulus energy of the light.
Light that enters the eye is focused onto the retina; the rods and cones detect the stimulus energy of the light.
Light that enters the eye is focused onto the retina. The rods and cones detect the stimulus energy of the light.
42. Fragment sentences – Dependent phrases are not sentences and should not be punctuated as independent sentences.
Incorrect: People have inaccurate memories of the details of childhood experiences. Although they do not realize it.
Correct: People have inaccurate memories of the details of childhood experiences, although they do not realize it.
42a. Fragment sentences with “so” – The word “so,” when used to express the extremity of something, should be followed by a description of how extreme it is or was. Otherwise, the “sentence” is actually an unfinished fragment.
Incorrect: There are so many different areas of psychological research.
Correct: There are so many different areas of psychological research that it is nearly impossible to describe the entire field in a few sentences.
There are many different areas of psychological research.
43. Titles of works – When mentioned in a paper, the titles of large scale works (books, magazines, journals, movies) should be either underlined or, preferably, italicized; the titles of smaller scale works (chapters, articles, poems, scenes) should be enclosed in quotation marks.
Incorrect: I first discovered Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening in the Norton Anthology of American Literature.
Correct: I first discovered Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” in the Norton Anthology of American Literature.
VI. Formal vs. informal writing:
44. Hyperbole – Avoid exaggerated claims, especially those with the words “always,” “never,” “ever,” “every,” “everyone,” and “forever.”
Incorrect: No one ever believes that Dr. Phil is a real doctor.
Correct: Many people do not believe that Dr. Phil is a real doctor.
45. Colloquialisms and clichés – Avoid using any informal colloquial phrases. Avoid clichés also.
Incorrect: You really need to take the bull by the horns if you want to make something of yourself.
Correct: In order to achieve success, it is best to face one’s challenges directly.
46. When/Where – Use “when” only to refer to times and “where” only to refer to locations. Do not use either word to refer to situations, conditions, etc. (It is rare that one ever needs to use the phrase “is when” or “is where,” but an example of the correct context for these phrases appears in the second correct sentence below.) Often, the improper use of “when” or “where” can be corrected by substituting the phrase “in which.” (e.g., “a situation where we are afraid” should be “a situation in which we are afraid”).
Incorrect: Amnesia is when somebody cannot remember things they used to know, and this is a condition where things can become very confusing for the person.
Correct: Amnesia is a condition of severe memory loss, and it can be very confusing for those who suffer from it.
Correct: Early in the morning is when I have the most trouble remembering things, such as the fact that the kitchen table is where I left my keys.
47. Topics and paragraphs – A useful guideline is “one paragraph per topic and one topic per paragraph.”
48. Length of paragraphs – A paragraph should be more than one sentence long.
49. Indentation – The beginning of each paragraph should be marked by an indentation.
50. Space between paragraphs – The indentation and indentation alone should mark a new paragraph. Do not include any additional spacing between one paragraph and the next. That is, a double-spaced paper should have double-spacing within paragraphs and double-spacing (not triple or quadruple) between paragraphs.