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Chapter 5 Improving your writing: grammar and self-editing. Learning objectives. On completion of this chapter students will know how to: identify ways to improve writing independently develop a strategic approach to editing written work

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Chapter 5 Improving your writing: grammar and self-editing

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Chapter 5Improving your writing: grammar andself-editing

Learning objectives

On completion of this chapter students will know how to:

  • identify ways to improve writing independently

  • develop a strategic approach to editing written work

  • understand the basic features of specific grammatical constructions.

Grammatical constructions addressed in this chapter

  • Subject/verb agreement

  • Parallel construction

  • Verb tense

  • Article use

  • The apostrophe

  • Word form

  • Passive tenses

  • Gerunds and infinitives

  • So, neither and nor

  • Still and yet

Be proactive about learning how to write well

  • Students who adopt an independent and proactive approach to their language development are likely to make better progress than those who simply hope the problem of language will disappear.

How can you improve your English language skills?

  • Investigate any language support services your university offers, whether as workshops or online. In some universities you can make appointments with trained staff to discuss your written work.

  • Invest some money in a self-study grammar book with answers. Ask university staff for advice on useful texts.

  • Approach your university librarian for suggestions on how they can help you to improve your language and the resources and services they offer.

Activity 1

  • Write down the resources available in your university that can help you to improve your English language.

  • Discuss the options you have tried and recommend some to other students.

Common grammatical errors

  • Errors are easy to overlook, particularly when working within tight deadlines.

  • Not all errors are detected by computer grammar checkers so edit your work after you have used the software.

    Remember: Poor grammar may change your meaning or make your ideas difficult to understand.

Sentence structure

  • There are two kinds of common error in writing sentences:

    • incomplete sentences

    • ‘run-on’ (or run-together) sentences.

Complete sentences

A complete sentence must contain a subject and a predicate.(The rest of the sentence must contain a verb.)


Our business partners will arrive tomorrow

Subject Predicate

The verb

Complete sentences (cont.)

  • In formal writing you must use complete sentences.

  • A group of words without a subject or predicate is NOT a sentence. For example:

    • And arrived later. No subject

    • He feeling very happy. Incomplete verb

Activity 2

  • Complete Activity 2 on p. 96 of your textbook.

Complete sentences (cont.)

  • A complete sentence is also called an independent clause.

  • A clause may be independent (able to stand alone—a sentence) or dependent (cannot stand alone—is not a complete sentence).

  • A clause is a group of words with a subject and a verb.

Run-on sentences

  • If two independent clauses are written together with

    • no punctuation

    • merely a comma

    • no joining word

      they are called a run-on sentence.


    • He is a good manager all the staff like him

    • He is a good manager, all the staff like him

      (Both are run-on sentences and therefore incorrect.)

Using conjunctions to fix run-on sentences

  • Using coordinating conjunctions:

    • with a comma and one of the following words: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.


    • He is a good manager, and all the staff like him.

Using conjunctions to fix run-on sentences (cont.)

  • Using correlative conjunctions:

    • use: both…and, not only…but also, either…or


    • Not only is he a good manager but also all the staff like him.

Using conjunctions to fix run-on sentences (cont.)

  • Using a semicolon (;) and a conjunctive adverb plus a comma (,):

    • common conjunctive adverbs: finally, then, consequently


    • He is a good manager; consequently, all the staff like him.

Using conjunctions to fix run-on sentences (cont.)

  • Using a subordinating conjunction:

    • one sentence is less important than the other


    • All the staff like her because she is a good manager.

Using conjunctions to fix run-on sentences (cont.)

  • Join the sentences with a relative pronoun such as who, which or that:

    • He is a good manager he initiated new business practices. (Run-on sentence)

    • He is a good manager who initiated new business practices. (Correct sentence)

Activity 3

  • Complete activity 3 on pp. 97–98 of your textbook.

Subject/verb agreement

  • A singular subject must have a singular verb.

  • Plural subjects must have a plural verb.


Susan and Annaare excellent colleagues.

Subject/verb agreement (cont.)

The verb ‘to be’ must

be plural too.

Susan and Anna are two people

so the subjects are plural.

Subject/verb agreement (cont.)


The university is quite new compared to others in the state.

The verb ‘to be’ must take

the singular form ‘is’.

The university is a

singular subject

Singular words take singular verbs

  • ‘one’ words: anyone, someone, everyone, one, no one

  • ‘body’ words: anybody, everybody, somebody

  • ‘thing’ words: anything, everything, something, nothing

  • each, either, neither

Singular words take singular verbs (cont.)

  • Examples

    • Someone needs to oversee the changes.

    • Everybody is happy with the changes.

    • Everything has been agreed.

    • Each manager has granted approval.

Other singular subjects

Group words

  • The following ‘group’ words take a singular verb if you are thinking of the group as a whole, but they take a plural verb if you are thinking of the individuals in the group:

    • audience, band, class, family, kind, committee, crowd, dozen, flock, group, heap, herd, jury, lot, number, none, public, team, majority, minority, orchestra, pair, staff

Group words (cont.)

  • Examples

    • The jury are still arguing. (individuals in the group)

    • The team is on the field. (group)

    • The team are suiting up. (individuals in the group)

    • My family is behind me. (group)

    • The jury is ready. (group)

    • My family are all scattered. (individuals in the group)

Group words (cont.)

  • Subject/verb agreement may be confusing if these words are separated by others.


    • The colour on the walls matchesthe company logo.

  • Identify the verb in the sentence (‘matches’) and then ask what is being matched (‘The colour of the walls’).

Parallel construction

  • When using one sentence to express two ideas, both ideas should have the same type of construction.

  • You will also need to use the same construction when there are two sentences that are joined with conjunctions such as ‘and’ and ‘but’.

Parallel construction (cont.)

  • Which one of these sentences is correct? Why?

    • Enrolling in a course that is assessed on coursework is preferable to take one with a final exam.

    • Enrolling in a course that is assessed on coursework is preferable to taking one with a final exam.

  • The second example is correct. Both ideas in the sentence have matching verb forms. They both end in ‘ing’.

Parallel construction in verb phrases (dot points)

  • Example

    Management aims to:

    • introduce new safety measures

    • coordinate focus groups

    • establish a social club

    • investigate ideas from other companies.

Parallel construction in verb phrases (dot points) (cont.)

  • Each dot point begins with the verb in the same form.

  • Note that the verb after the dot point is not capitalised because it continues the stem sentence. It does not begin a new one.

Parallel construction in verb phrases (dot points) (cont.)

  • Rewrite using parallel construction:

    With regard to safety, management aims to:

    • to have the building officially inspected by a fire safety officer

    • that we should provide three more fire extinguishers on each floor of the building

    • instruct the students in fire drill evacuation procedures

    • always insist that the ‘No Smoking’ rules are observed

    • the lockers which cover the fire stair must be removed

    • there should be clearly marked ‘Exit’ signs in the corridors.

Verb tense

  • Tense indicates the time that action occurs.

  • There are six verb tenses.

  • The verb tenses fall into two groups

    • simple

    • perfect

      whichoccur in progressive/continuous (-ing form) and non-progressive/continuous forms.

  • You can use the term ‘progressive’ or ‘continuous’. In this presentation ‘continuous’ will be used.

Continuous tenses

Non-continuous tenses

Non-continuous tenses

  • The following tenses are not normally used in the present continuous tense (Murphy 2004):

    • like

    • love

    • hate

    • want

    • need

    • prefer.

  • Can you think of any others?

Activity 4

  • Complete Activity 5 on p. 102 of your textbook.

Present tense

  • A present simple tense verb expresses action that is habitual, permanent or a general truth. It may also be used to express a scheduled future action.


    • He works late every night.

    • Water boils at 100 degrees centigrade.

    • His plane leaves tonight at ten.

Present tense (cont.)

  • Present continuous tense verbs are used to indicate temporary actions happening now and actions in the present time or future.


    • John is presenting his idea to the board.(present or future)

Present perfect tense

  • The present perfect links past and present time, and indicates repeated actions that have happened very recently.

  • It is constructed using the verb ‘to have’ with the past participle.


    • She has lost her keys (and is looking for them now).

    • She has written this twice.

    • They have bought a new house (recently).

Present perfect continuous tense (cont.)

  • The present perfect continuous tense is used to emphasise that an action started in the past is still happening or to indicate how long something has been happening.


    • We have been working all day (and we are still working now).

    • I have been studying English for five years.

Past simple tense

  • Past simple tense indicates action that began and ended in the past.

  • Add ‘-ed’ with regular verbs: learn/learned.

  • Change the root word with irregular verbs: teach/taught.

  • It may also indicate habitual actions in the past: ‘We watched cartoons when we were young.’

Past continuous tense

  • This tense is used for actions in progress in the past when another action occurred, or for actions in progress at a specific time in the past.


    • We were writing the report when the manager arrived.

    • He was studying at 5 pm. (It is now 10 pm.)

Past perfect tense

  • The past perfect is used for actions that happened in the past prior to another event in the past.


    • We had just finished the work when the manager arrived.

Past perfect continuous tense

  • This tense is used to emphasise the duration of an action in progress prior to another past action or to indicate the length of time of a prior past action.


    • The meeting had been going for an hour by the time I arrived.

Simple future tense

  • This tense is used to give predictions that are usual or to make another offer or promise.


    • The bus will come around seven o’clock.

    • I will help you with your report.

Future continuous tense

  • This tense is used to express an activity that will be happening at a specific future time.


    • She will be working on Saturday.

Future perfect tense

  • The future perfect is used to indicate an event that will have happened before another time in the future.


    The staff will have discussed this before you arrive tomorrow.

    X__________X__________________X___ Now The staff discusses You arrive

Future perfect continuous tense

  • This tense is used to emphasise the duration of an activity at a specific future time.


    By the end of the month Brian will have been working here for thirty years.


    1979 March 2009 April 2009

    Brian started working Now Next month

Activity 5

  • Complete Activity 6 on p. 104 of your textbook.


  • ‘The’, ‘An’ and ‘A’ are all articles.

  • ‘The’ is known as a definite article.

  • ‘An’ and ‘A’ are called ‘indefinite articles’.

‘The’ is used when…

‘The’ is used when… (cont.)

‘The’ is used when… (cont.)

First and subsequent references

  • When referring to something in written text, use an indefinite article (a, an).


    • A newspaper has an obligation to seek out and tell the truth.

  • In subsequent references, use the definite article (the).


    • There are situations, however, when the newspaper must determine whether the public’s safety is jeopardised by knowing the truth.

No article needed

  • Several kinds of nouns never use articles:

    • languages (‘He speaks Chinese’)

    • sports (‘I play netball’)

    • seasons (‘It is cold in winter’)

    • meals (‘We had breakfast’)

    • diseases (‘She has cancer’)

    • abstract nouns (‘We all fear death’)

Activity 6

  • Complete Activity 7 on p. 106 of your textbook.

Correct use of the apostrophe

  • The apostrophe has only two functions:

    1.To show when some letters have been left out.

    • I’ll (I will), you’re (you are), shouldn’t (should not), it’s (it is), I’d (I would).

      Generally, abbreviations are not used in academic writing, except when reporting direct speech.

      2.To indicate possession (ownership)

    • The report’s findings

    • The team’s hard work.

Correct use of the apostrophe (cont.)

  • Dates do not need an apostrophe.

    • 1980s, NOT 1980’s.

  • Words ending in ‘ss’ put the apostrophe outside the last ‘s’.

    • The boss’ desk.

  • Word form

    • Words can be used in a variety of forms so they can look similar but their endings are different. A word may be used in a verb form, or as a noun, adjective or adverb.

    Verb forms

    • See the section on tense in this chapter. The verbs below are written in the ‘infinitive’; that is, they are written like this before being placed in a particular tense.

      to explainto plan

      to introduceto implement

      to manageto suggest

      to organiseto direct


    • Nouns are sometimes referred to as ‘things’ but this is really a little too general as an explanation. There are in fact four kinds of noun in English:

      • Common nouns: employee, manager, desk

      • Proper nouns: Australia, Auckland, Dr Bordia, Mike

      • Abstract nouns: happiness, kindness, respect, love

      • Collective nouns: herd, flock, pack


    • Adjectives are words used to describe nouns. Thomson & Martinet (1990, p. 33) identify six main kinds of adjectives:

      • Demonstrative: this, that, these, those

      • Distributive: each, every, either, neither

      • Quantitative: some, any, no, little, much

      • Qualitative: intelligent, exciting, engaging, interesting

      • Interrogative: which, what, why, whose

      • Possessive: my, your, his, its, our


    • Adverbs are used to describe verbs. According to Thomson & Martinet (1990, p. 47) there are eight different kinds of adverb:

      • Manner: bravely, quickly, gladly

      • Place: up, close, near, there

      • Time: tomorrow, still, yet, later

      • Frequency: regularly, usually, never, only

      • Sentence: certainly, definitely, fortunately

      • Degree: extremely, quite, fairly, very

      • Interrogative: why? where? how?

      • Relative: when, where, why?


    The dynamic accountant quickly became the firm’s most successful finance manager.

    • Identify any verbs, nouns, adjectives or adverbs in this sentence.

    Exercise (solution)

    The dynamic accountant quickly became the firm’s most successful manager.

    • Verb – became

    • Adjective – dynamic, successful, most

    • Adverb – quickly

    • Noun – firm, accountant, manager

    Activity 7

    • Complete activity 8 on p. 108 of your textbook.

    Passive tenses

    • The passive tense is used when the writer wishes to emphasise what was done rather than who carried out the action. In contrast an active tense focuses on who or what performed an action.

    Passive tenses (cont.)

    • The passive tense is constructed by using the appropriate form of the verb ‘to be’ (e.g. is, are, was, were, has been, had been) and adding a past participle (e.g. studied, raised, criticised, rewritten).


      It was understood that Glen resigned because of bullying at work.


    • Passive tense

      • It is recognised that participating in the knowledge economy is important (Crossman 2005, p. 22).

    • Active tense

      • Both governments and businesses recognise the importance of participating in a knowledge economy (Crossman 2005, p. 22).

    Activities 8–10

    • Complete Activities 9–11 on pp 109–111 of your textbook.

    Gerund (‘-ing’) or infinitive

    • A gerund is a verb that takes an ‘-ing’ form on the ending (e.g. processing, developing, explaining).

    • Compare it to the infinitive verb, which does not refer to a tense, a person or a subject. It is basically a verb that has had no changes made to it and is sometimes preceded by ‘to’ (e.g. ‘to pay’).

    Gerund (‘-ing’) or infinitive (cont.)

    • Some verbs are followed by a second verb in the infinitive and others are followed by a second verb in the gerund form.

    Gerund (‘-ing’) or infinitive (cont.)

    • Some examples of verbs and expressions followed by a second verb in the gerund form are:

    Gerund (‘-ing’) or infinitive (cont.)

    • Some examples of verbs and expressions followed by a second verb in the gerund form are:

    Gerund (‘ing’) or infinitive (cont.)

    • Some examples of sentences using a gerund or an infinitive are:

      • Gerund

        • She avoided talking to her.

        • Weng Fai wasn’t keen on going to management meetings.

      • Infinitive

        • She intended to look for another job.

        • He tended to overlook his own errors.

    Activities 11 and 12

    • Complete Activities 12 and 13 on pp. 112–113 of your textbook.

    So, neither and nor

    • When expressing agreement, ‘so’ is used in response to positive statements and ‘neither’ or ‘nor’ are used in response to negative statements.

      Positive statement

      ‘I believe that ethical behaviour is vital to the company’s credibility.’


      ‘So do I’.

      (If you disagreed with the speaker you would say ‘I don’t!’ meaning I don’t agree that ethical behaviour is always vital to a company’s credibility.)

    So, neither and nor (cont.)

    Negative statement

    ‘I don’t think she should borrow so much from the bank.’


    ‘Nor do I.’

    Negative statement

    ‘She doesn’t check all my references.’


    ‘Neither does my lecturer.’

    So, neither and nor (cont.)

    • Neither/nor are used when two negative statements are connected.


      • She neither comes to class nor hands in her assignments.

        (She doesn’t come to class and she doesn’t hand in her assignments.)

    Activity 13

    • Complete Activity 14 on p. 113 of your textbook.

    Still and yet

    • ‘Still’ is used to indicate when an action or situation is continuing.

    • It usually goes in the middle of the sentence after the verb ‘to be’.

    • ‘Still’ is more often used with the affirmative (positive statements) or questions.


      • Is he still drinking heavily?

      • They are still paying bribes even though it has been forbidden by head office.

    Still and yet (cont.)

    • ‘Yet’ is used when we ask if something has or has not happened, usually in questions or negative sentences.

    • ‘Yet’ often goes at the end of the sentence, after the verb.

    • ‘Yet’ means that something continues to be the case up until the time of speaking.


      • Has the closing date for applications closed yet?

      • Alexander hasn’t applied to any universities yet.


    • Crossman, J. 2005, ‘Strangers and bedfellows; The relationship between the commercialisation of Australian universities and international education’, HERDSA news, vol. 25 no. 3, pp 22–26.

    • Thomson, A. & Martinet, A. 1990, A practical English grammar, 4th edn, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

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