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Avoid Common Pitfalls

Summary: This resource will help you write clearly by eliminating unnecessary words and rearranging your phrases. Contributors:Ryan Weber, Nick Hurm Last Edited: 2010-04-17 05:34:50

1. Avoid overusing expletives at the beginning of sentences


Expletives are phrases of the form it + be-verb or there + be-verb. Such expressions can be rhetorically effective for emphasis in some situations, but overuse or unnecessary use of expletive constructions creates wordy prose. Take the following example: "It is imperative that we find a solution." The same meaning could be expressed with this more succinct wording: "We must find a solution." But using the expletive construction allows the writer to emphasize the urgency of the situation by placing the word imperative near the beginning of the sentence, so the version with the expletive may be preferable. Still, you should generally avoid excessive or unnecessary use of expletives. The most common kind of unnecessary expletive construction involves an expletive followed by a noun and a relative clause beginning with that, which, or who. In most cases, concise sentences can be created by eliminating the expletive opening, making the noun the subject of the sentence, and eliminating the relative pronoun. Wordy: It is the governor who signs or vetoes bills. (9 words) Concise: The governor signs or vetoes bills. (6 words) Wordy: There are four rules that should be observed: ... (8 words) Concise: Four rules should be observed:... (5 words) Wordy: There was a big explosion, which shook the windows, and people ran into the street. (15 words) Concise: A big explosion shook the windows, and people ran into the street. (12 words)

2. Avoid overusing noun forms of verbs


Use verbs when possible rather than noun forms known as nominalizations. Sentences with many nominalizations usually have forms of be as the main verbs. Using the action verbs disguised in nominalizations as the main verbs--instead of forms of be--can help to create engaging rather than dull prose. Wordy: The function of this department is the collection of accounts. (10 words) Concise: This department collects accounts. (4 words) Wordy: The current focus of the medical profession is disease prevention. (10 words)

Concise: The medical profession currently focuses on disease prevention. (8 words)

3. Avoid unnecessary infinitive phrases


Some infinitive phrases can be converted into finite verbs or brief noun phrases. Making such changes also often results in the replacement of a be-verb with an action verb. Wordy: The duty of a clerk is to check all incoming mail and to record it. (15 words) Concise: A clerk checks and records all incoming mail. (8 words) Wordy: A shortage of tellers at our branch office on Friday and Saturday during rush hours has caused customers to become dissatisfied with service. (23 words) Concise: A teller shortage at our branch office on Friday and Saturday during rush hours has caused customer dissatisfaction. (18 words)

4. Avoid circumlocutions in favor of direct expressions


Circumlocutions are commonly used roundabout expressions that take several words to say what could be said more succinctly. We often overlook them because many such expressions are habitual figures of speech. In writing, though, they should be avoided since they add extra words without extra meaning. Of course, occasionally you may for rhetorical effect decide to use, say, an expletive construction instead of a more succinct expression. These guidelines should be taken as general recommendations, not absolute rules. Wordy: At this/that point in time... (2/4 words) Concise: Now/then... (1 word)

Wordy: In accordance with your request... (5 words) Concise: As you requested... (3 words)

Below are some other words which may simplify lengthier circumlocutions.

o o o o o o o

the reason for for the reason that owing/due to the fact that in light of the fact that considering the fact that on the grounds that this is why

"Because," "Since," "Why" =

o o o

on the occasion of in a situation in which under circumstances in which

"When" =

o o o o o

as regards in reference to with regard to concerning the matter of where ________ is concerned

"about" =

o o o o o

it is crucial that it is necessary that there is a need/necessity for it is important that cannot be avoided

"Must," "Should" =

o o o o

is able to has the opportunity to has the capacity for has the ability to

"Can" =

o o o o

it is possible that there is a chance that it could happen that the possibility exists for

"May," "Might," "Could" = Wordy: It is possible that nothing will come of these preparations. (10 words) Concise: Nothing may come of these preparations. (6 words) Wordy: She has the ability to influence the outcome. (8 words) Concise: She can influence the outcome. (5 words) Wordy: It is necessary that we take a stand on this pressing issue. (12 words)

Concise: We must take a stand on this pressing issue. (9 words)

Overview of Two-Part (Phrasal) Verbs (Idioms)


Summary: Provides an overview and lists of phrasal/two part verbs. Contributors:Allen Brizee Last Edited: 2010-10-14 03:45:09

Many verbs in English are followed by an adverb or a preposition (also called a particle), and these two-part verbs, also called phrasal verbs, are different from verbs with helpers. The particle that follows the verb changes the meaning of the phrasal verb in idiomatic ways:

drop off - decline gradually The hill dropped off near the river

drop off(2) - fall asleep While doing his homework, he dropped off.

drop off(3) - stop and give something to someone Would you drop this off at the post office?

drop out - cease to participate After two laps, the runner dropped out.

Some particles can be separated from the verb so that a noun or pronoun can be inserted, and some particles can't be separated from the verb. In addition, some phrases are intransitive, meaning they cannot take a direct object.

Separable add up (meaning: to add) Correct: She added up the total on her calculator. Correct: She added it up on her calculator.

Inseparable get around (meaning: to evade) Correct: She always gets around the rules. Incorrect: She always gets the rules around (This construction makes no sense in English.)

Intransitive catch on (meaning: to understand)

Correct: After I explained the math problem, she began to catch on. Incorrect: She began to catch on the math problem. (catch on cannot take a direct object in this meaning.) Correct: She began to catch on to the math problem. (the word to makes the math problem an indirect object, which is acceptable in this meaning.) Unfortunately, there is usually no indicator whether an idiomatic phrase is separable, inseparable, or intransitive. In most cases the phrases must simply be memorized. Below is a partial list of each kind of phrase.

Sequence of Tenses
Summary: This handout explains and describes the sequence of verb tenses in English. Contributors:Chris Berry, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli Last Edited: 2010-10-14 04:02:06

Strictly speaking, in English, only two tenses are marked in the verb alone, present (as in "he sings") and past (as in "he sang"). Other English language tenses, as many as thirty of them, are marked by other words called auxiliaries. Understanding the six basic tenses allows one to re-create much of the reality of time in his writing. Simple Present: They walk Present Perfect: They have walked Simple Past: They walked Past Perfect: They had walked Future: They will walk Future Perfect: They will have walked Problems in sequencing tenses usually occur with the perfect tenses, all of which are formed by adding an auxiliary or auxiliaries to the past participle, the third principal part. ring, rang, rung walk, walked, walked

The most common auxiliaries are forms of "be," "can," "do," "may," "must," "ought," "shall," "will," "has," "have," "had," and they are the forms we shall use in this most basic discussion.

Present Perfect
The present perfect consists of a past participle (the third principal part) with "has" or "have." It designates action which began in the past but which continues into the present or the effect of which still continues.

1. Betty taught for ten years. (simple past) 2. Betty has taught for ten years. (present perfect) The implication in (1) is that Betty has retired; in (2), that she is still teaching. 1. John did his homework. He can go to the movies. 2. If John has done his homework, he can go to the movies. Infinitives, too, have perfect tense forms when combined with "have," and sometimes problems arise when infinitives are used with verbs such as "hope," "plan," "expect," and "intend," all of which usually point to the future (I wanted to go to the movie. Janet meant to see the doctor.) The perfect tense sets up a sequence by marking the action which began and usually was completed before the action in the main verb. 1. I am happy to have participated in this campaign! 2. John had hoped to have won the trophy. Thus the action of the main verb points back in time; the action of the perfect infinitive has been completed. The past perfect tense designates action in the past just as simple past does, but the action of the past perfect is action completed in the past before another action. 1. John raised vegetables and later sold them. (past) 2. John sold vegetables that he had raised. (past perfect) The vegetables were raised before they were sold. 1. Renee washed the car when George arrived (simple past) 2. Renee had washed the car when George arrived. (past perfect) In (1), she waited until George arrived and then washed the car. In (2), she had already finished washing the car by the time he arrived. In sentences expressing condition and result, the past perfect tense is used in the part that states the condition. 1. If I had done my exercises, I would have passed the test. 2. I think George would have been elected if he hadn't sounded so pompous.

Future Perfect Tense


The future perfect tense designates action that will have been completed at a specified time in the future. 1. Saturday I will finish my housework. (simple future)

2. By Saturday noon, I will have finished my housework. (future perfect)

Review
1. Judy saved thirty dollars. (past) 2. Judy will save thirty dollars. (future) 3. Judy has saved thirty dollars. (present perfect) 4. Judy had saved thirty dollars by the end of last month. (past perfect) 5. Judy will have saved thirty dollars by the end of this month. (future perfect) Notice: There can be only one "would have" action group in a sentence.

What is an Action Verb?


An action verb expresses achievements or something a person does in a concise, persuasive manner.

Why is it Important to Use Action Verbs in Workplace Writing?


You should use action verbs in workplace writing because they make sentences and statements more concise. Since concise writing is easier for readers to understand, it is more reader-centered. Because reader-centered writing is generally more persuasive, action verbs are more convincing than nonaction verbs. The following job description uses a non-action verb:

Was the boss of a team of six service employees

The job description below uses an action verb:

Supervised a team of six service employees

The job description using a non-action verb is less concise. It contains ten words, and it focuses action on a form of the verb "to be" (was). The job description using an action verb is more concise. It contains seven words, and it focuses action on an action verb (supervised). Because concise writing is easier for readers to understand, the job description using an action verb is more powerful and is more persuasive. Use action verbs in resumes to describe all skills, jobs, or accomplishments. Using action verbs will allow you to highlight the tasks you can do. Word choice is critical in order to describe what you have done and to persuade potential employers to give you an interview. In order to make a striking first impression, use action verbs as the first word of each bullet point to emphasize job descriptions in your resume. The following list is an example of action verbs in resume job descriptions:

Accelerated introduction of a new technology, which increased productivity by 15% Organized consumer databases to efficiently track product orders Supervised a team of six service employees.

The next section of this handout contains a categorized list of action verbs and examples to make concise and persuasive sentences, job descriptions, and/or lists of skills and accomplishments. In addition, you may view a sample resume using several action verbs in the Work Experience Section to see how these verbs work in employment documents.

Verbs: Voice and Mood


Summary: This handout will explain the difference between active and passive voice in writing. It gives examples of both, and shows how to turn a passive sentence into an active one. Also, it explains how to decide when to choose passive voice instead of active. Contributors:April Toadvine, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli Last Edited: 2010-10-14 03:32:21

Active and Passive Voice


Verbs in the active voice show the subject acting. Verbs in the passive voice show something else acting on the subject. Most writers consider the active voice more forceful and tend to stay away from passives unless they really need them. ACTIVE: Tim killed the chicken hawk. PASSIVE: The chicken hawk was killed by Tim. Check out our handout on active and passive verbs.

Indicative, Imperative, and Subjunctive Mood


Most verbs we use are in the indicative mood, which indicates a fact or opinion: Examples:

He was here. I am hungry. She will bring her books.

Some verbs are in the imperative mood, which expresses commands or requests. Though it is not stated, the understood subject of imperative sentences is you. Examples:

Be here at seven o'clock. (Understood: You be here at seven o'clock.) Cook me an omelette. (Understood: You cook me an omelette.) Bring your books with you. (Understood: You bring your books with you.)

When verbs show something contrary to fact, they are in the subjunctive mood. When you express a wish or something that is not actually true, use the past tense or past perfect tense; when using the verb 'to be' in the subjunctive, always use were rather than was: Examples:

If he were here... (Implied: ...but he's not.) I wish I had something to eat. (Implied: ...but I don't.) It would be better if you had brought your books with you. (Implied: ...but you haven't brought them.)

Review
INDICATIVE: I need some help. IMPERATIVE: Help me! SUBJUNCTIVE: If I were smart, I'd call for help.

1.2: Verb Tense


This resource was written by Jaclyn M. Wells. Last edited by Allen Brizee on August 7, 2009 . Summary: This resource deals with verb tense, regular, and irregular verbs.

Verb Tense
Some questions will ask you to correct verb tense errors. This section reviews the different verb tenses and the irregular verbs that can cause confusion.

General Guidelines
The following are some general suggestions for dealing with verb tense questions. Some questions will require you to read the entire passage so that you can choose verb tenses that are consistent with the whole passage instead of just one isolated sentence. Look to both the passage and the individual sentence to figure out which tense should be used. Use clues in the passage and sentence to determine what verb tense you should choose. Certain words and phrases may indicate time. For example, yesterday would indicate the past and would provide a clue that the past tense should be chosen, while tomorrow would indicate the future and would provide a clue that the future tense should be chosen. Also, pay attention to other verbs in the passage and sentence. The verb youre looking at may also need to be in the past tense if all the other verbs are in the past tense. Stay focused on what is happening in the passage. Concentrate on the individual words and the grammar and the message that is being communicated. This message will help you to figure out what is happening in the past, present, and future and therefore decide what verb tenses should be used.

Regular Verbs
For regular verbs, there is a pattern for forming verbs based on tenses (or time). There are seven basic verb tenses:

1. Simple Present: They talk

2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.

Present Perfect: They have talked Present Progressive: They are talking Simple Past: They talked Past Perfect: They had talked Future: They will talk Future Perfect: They will have talked

The examples above work with the subject they. They is a third-person plural noun. What do these verbs look like when paired with a third-person singular noun? See below.

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.

Simple Present: She talks Present Perfect: She has talked Present Progressive: She is talking Simple Past: She talked Past Perfect: She had talked Future: She will talk Future Perfect: She will have talked

Note that only two major elements differ between the third-person plural and third-person singular nouns: the simple present and the helping verbs (has, is, had, will, will have) in the Present Perfect, Present Progressive, Past Perfect, and Future Perfect tenses. The table below reviews the verb forms for all seven basic tenses used with I, you, we, they (thirdperson plural), and she (third-person singular). The table also reviews the general meaning of each tense.

Tense

Verb Form I, you, we, they talk he, she, it talks I, you, we, they, he, she, it talked I, you, we, they, he, she, it will talk

Meaning

Simple Present

An action occurring habitually or generally: I talk to my mother every day.

Simple Past

An action in the past: I talked to my mother yesterday. An action in the future: I will talk to my mother tomorrow.

Future

Present Progressive

I am talking you, we, they are An action in progress: I am talking to my mother right talking now. he, she, it is talking I, you, we, they have talked he, she, it has talked An action that occurred in the past and continues until present: I have talked to my mother every day this week.

Present Perfect

Past Perfect

I, you, we, they, he, she, it had talked

An action from the past that was completed before something else: I had talked to my mother before my brother called her.

I, you, we, they, A future action that will be completed at some specific Future Perfect he, she, it will have time: I will have talked to my mother for 10 days in a talked row by this time next week.

Irregular Verbs
Some verbs in the English language are a bit tricky. These verbs dont follow the usual verb patterns described above. Its a good idea to become familiar with these verbs so that you can spot errors involving them on the multiple-choice questions and be careful with them when writing your essay. The tables below list the most common irregular verbs and provide their present, simple past, and past participle tenses. Have, Do, and Be The three most common irregular verbs in English are have, do, and be.

Present Have I, you, we, they (or any plural noun) Have He, she, it (or any singular noun) Do I, you, we, they (or any plural noun) Do He, she, it (or any singular noun) Be I Be He, she, it (or any singular noun)

Simple Past

Past Participle (used with has, have, or had)

Have

Had

Had

Has

Had

Had

Do

Did

Done

Does

Did

Done

Am

Was

Been

Is

Was

Been

Be You, we, they (or any plural noun)

Are

Were

Bee

Other Irregular Verbs


The table below includes some other commonly used irregular verbs. The simple present, simple past, and past participle of each verb is included.

Present Become Begin Blow Break Bring Build Burst


Catch

Past became began blew broke brought built burst caught chose came cut dealt drank drove ate

Past Participle become begun blown broken brought built burst caught chosen come
cut

Choose Come Cut Deal Drink Drive Eat

dealt drunk driven eaten

Fall Fight Find Fly Forbid Forget Forgive Freeze Get Give Go Grow Hear Hide Hold Hurt Keep Know Lay Lead Leave

fell fought found flew forbade forgot forgave froze got gave went grew heard hid held hurt kept knew laid led left

fallen fought found flown forbidden forgotten forgiven frozen gotten given gone grown heard hidden held hurt kept known laid led left

Let Lie Lose Make Meet Pay Quit Read Ride Run Say See Seek Sell Send Shake Shine Sing Sit Sleep Speak

let lay lost made met paid quit read rode ran said saw sought sold sent shook shone sang sat slept spoke

let lain lost made met paid quit read ridden run said seen sought sold sent shaken shone sung sat slept spoken

Spend Spring Stand Steal Swim Swing Take Teach Tear Tell Think Throw Understand Wake Wear Win Write

spent sprang stood stole swam swung took taught tore told thought threw understood woke (waked) wore won wrote

spent sprung stood stolen swum swung taken taught torn told thought thrown understood woken (waked) worn won written

Verb Tense Exercise 1


Check the following sentences for confusing shifts in tense. If the tense of each underlined verb expresses the time relationship accurately, write S (satisfactory). If a shift in tense is not appropriate, write U (unsatisfactory) and make necessary changes. In most cases with an inappropriate shift, there is more than one way to correct the inconsistency. ___ 1. If the club limited its membership, it will have to raise its dues. ___ 2. While Barbara puts in her contact lenses, the telephone rang. ___ 3. Thousands of people will see the art exhibit by the time it closes.

___ 4. By the time negotiations began, many pessimists have expressed doubt about them. ___ 5. After Capt. James Cook visited Alaska on his third voyage, he is killed by Hawaiian islanders in 1779. ___ 6. I was terribly disappointed with my grade because I studied very hard. ___ 7. The moderator asks for questions as soon as the speaker has finished. ___ 8. Everyone hopes the plan would work. ___ 9. Harry wants to show his friends the photos he took last summer. ___ 10. Scientists predict that the sun will die in the distant future. ___ 11. The boy insisted that he has paid for the candy bars. ___ 12. The doctor suggested bed rest for the patient, who suffers from a bad cold. Click here for exercise answers.

Verb Tense Exercise 2


In the following passage from Alex Haley's Roots, some of the verbs have been deliberately omitted. Supply the appropriate tense for each missing verb. The plain form of each missing verb is given in parentheses. In Banjuh, the capital of Gambia, I met with a group of Gambians. They (tell) me how for centuries the history of Africa has been preserved. In the older villages of the back country, there are old men called griots, who (be) in effect living archives. Such men (memorize) and, on special occasions, (recite) the cumulative histories of clans or families or villages as those histories (have) long been told. Since my forefather (have) said his name was Kin-tay (properly spelled Kinte), and since the Kinte clan (be) known in Gambia, the group of Gambians would see what they could do to help me. I was back in New York when a registered letter (arrive) from Gambia. Word (have) been passed in the back country, and a griot of the Kinte clan (have) , indeed, been found. His name, the letter said, (be) Kebba Kanga Fofana. I (return) to Gambia and (organize) a safari to locate him.

Answers to Exercises
Subject-Verb Agreement Exercise
The correct verb is in italics. 1. Annie and her brothers are at school. 2. Either my mother or my father is coming to the meeting. 3. The dog or the cats are outside. 4. Either my shoes or your coat is always on the floor. 5. George and Tamara don't want to see that movie. 6. Benito doesn't know the answer. 7. One of my sisters is going on a trip to France. 8. The man with all the birds lives on my street. 9. The movie, including all the previews, takes about two hours to watch. 10. The players, as well as the captain, want to win. 11. Either answer is acceptable. 12. Every one of those books is fiction. 13. Nobody knows the trouble I've seen. 14. Is the news on at five or six? 15. Mathematics is John's favorite subject, while Civics is Andrea's favorite subject. 16. Eight dollars is the price of a movie these days. 17. Are the tweezers in this drawer? 18. Your pants are at the cleaner's.

19. 20. 21. 22. 23.

There were fifteen candies in that bag. Now there is only one left! The committee debates these questions carefully. The committee lead very different lives in private. The Prime Minister, together with his wife, greets the press cordially. All of the CDs, even the scratched one, are in this case.

Verb Tense Exercise 1


In most cases with an inappropriate shift below, there is more than one way to correct the inconsistency. Each suggested change is probably not the only correct one for the sentence. Correct responses are in bold, and incorrect responses are in italics. _U_ 1. If the club limited its membership, it will have to raise its dues. (change will to would) _U_ 2. As Barbara puts in her contact lenses, the telephone rang. (change puts to put) _S_ 3. Thousands of people will see the art exhibit by the time it closes. _U_ 4. By the time negotiations began, many pessimists have expressed doubt about them. (change have to had) _U_ 5. After Capt. James Cook visited Alaska on his third voyage, he is killed by Hawaiian islanders in 1779. (change is to was) _U_ 6. I was terribly disappointed with my grade because I studied very hard. (change studied to had studied) _S_ 7. The moderator asks for questions as soon as the speaker has finished. (asks as habitual action; will ask is also possible) _U_ 8. Everyone hopes the plan would work. (change hopes to hoped) _S_ 9. Harry wants to show his friends the photos he took last summer. _S_ 10. Scientists predict that the sun will die in the distant future. _U_ 11. The boy insisted that he has paid for the candy bars. (change has to had) _U_ 12. The doctor suggested bed rest for the patient, who suffers from a bad cold. (change suffers to was suffering)

Verb Tense Exercise 2


The verbs in bold in the following passage are each in the correct tense. In Banjuh, the capital of Gambia, I met with a group of Gambians. They told me how for centuries the history of Africa has been preserved. In the older villages of the back country, there are old men called griots, who are in effect living archives. Such men memorize and, on special occasions, recite the cumulative histories of clans or families or villages as those histories have long been told. Since my forefather had said his name was Kin-tay (properly spelled Kinte), and since the Kinte clan was known in Gambia, the group of Gambians would see what they could do to help me. I was back in New York when a registered letter arrived from Gambia. Word had been passed in the back country, and a griot of the Kinte clan had, indeed, been found. His name, the letter said, was Kebba Kanga Fofana. I returned to Gambia and organized a safari to locate him.

Pronoun Exercise 1
The answers are below.

It is an object pronoun that replaces coffee mug. His is a possessive pronoun that replaces Henry. He is a subject pronoun that replaces Henry. Mine is a possessive pronoun that replaces my coffee mug (the my is implied). It is a subject pronoun that replaces Starbucks.

Pronoun Exercise 2
The original sentence is in italics. An explanation of the error and revision follow. My mother gave ten dollars to my sister and I. Problem: My sister and I is an object, not a subject. So, the appropriate pronoun is me (object pronoun), not I (subject pronoun). Revision: My mother gave ten dollars to my sister and me. Him and Mitch went to the video store to pick a movie. Problem: Him and Mitch is the subject. So, the appropriate pronoun is he (subject pronoun), not him (possessive pronoun). Revision: He and Mitch went to the video store to pick a movie. Anyone running in the marathon should remember to bring their shoes. Problem: Anyone is a singular noun, but their is a plural pronoun. So, they dont match in number. Revision: Anyone running in the marathon should remember to bring his or her shoes. orRunners in the marathon should remember to bring their shoes.