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Grammar

Subject-verb agreement

i)If the subject of the sentence is singular, the verb must be in singular form. If the subject is plural, the verb must be in plural form.

Example: The experience of living overseas and learning the language and customs of other countries are of great benefit to international students.

This is incorrect. The subject is ‘experience’ and not ‘customs/countries’ and so the verb should be ‘is’.

ii)One source of confusion arises with the word ‘each’. ‘Each’ is singular and should always be followed by a singular verb. However, ‘each’ is often separated from its verb by a prepositional phrase ending in a plural noun eg ‘Each of the students’. Many people assume that the following verb should be ‘are’, but this would be incorrect. The correct verb would be ‘is’.

Example: Each of the students is expected to complete this Unit before continuing to the next one.

‘Each’ is singular which requires a singular verb. The following words are also always singular and so need a singular verb: ‘anyone’, ‘anybody’, ‘every’, ‘everyone’, ‘someone’, ‘somebody’, ‘no-one’, ‘nobody’, ‘neither’, ‘either’.

iii)When fractions, percentages and the words ‘all’, ‘more’, ‘most’, ‘some’ and ‘part’ are followed by an ‘of’ phrase, the number of the subject is determined by the number of the word following the ‘of’. A single (or uncountable) noun has a singular verb, and a plural noun has a plural verb.

Example: Two thirds of the student’s discussion was irrelevant.

‘Discussion’ is singular, so the verb is singular.

Example: According to e-mail monitoring firm eLabs Inc. (2006), approximately half of all e-mails sent in April of this year were spam.

‘E-mails’ is plural, so the verb is plural.

Position of 'such as'

‘Such as’ must be positioned next to the word to which it is referring. If it is placed in a different position in the sentence, it can cause confusion for the reader.

Example: Some common terms are defined because they are often used in different contexts, such as ‘title’ or ‘format’. 

This is confusing. ‘Title’ and ‘format’ are examples of terms, not examples of contexts. Therefore, they must be placed next to terms.

Example: Some common terms, such as ‘title’ or ‘format’, are defined because they are often used in different contexts.
This is correct.

Prepositions at the end

Although it is common in spoken English to place prepositions at the end of a sentence, in written English it is considered incorrect to end a sentence with a preposition (words such as ‘to’, ‘in’, ‘of’, ‘from’).

Example: It is difficult for members of a society to evaluate issues associated with race, given the limited information which such evaluations are made from.

This is incorrect in academic writing. The following sentence is correct.

Example: It is difficult for members of a society to evaluate issues associated with race, given the limited information from which such evaluations are made.

Confusing participles (ing forms)

A participle (an ‘ing’ word) which is not preceded by a noun in a sentence will take the first noun following the comma as its subject, whether or not that is what you intend. So you need to ensure that the subject is the same for the main verb and the introductory ‘ing’ word (participle).

Example: After struggling through several chapters of dense academic text, the reward for the reader is a deeper understanding of contract law.

The only subject in this sentence is ‘reward’. This sentence, therefore, means that the ‘reward’ has struggled through the text.

This sentence could be corrected in the following ways:

Example: After struggling through several chapters of dense academic text, the reader achieves a deeper understanding of contract law.

Or change the verb to a passive form:

Example: After struggling through several chapters of dense academic text, the reader is rewarded by a deeper understanding of contract law.