8 Common Grammar Mistakes for Primary School Compositions
Is your child’s compo score constantly dragged down by his or her language marks? Do you feel like even after all the model compo books you’ve made him read, your child doesn’t seem to improve?
For this article we examine some common grammar mistakes made by students who have not grasped the concept behind these grammar rules. Not having a full understanding of these concepts leads to wrong application of these rules. Here are 8 common types of grammar mistakes made by students like your child, when writing. Do you recognise any of them?
You may think this is a no brainer. Past tense should be used for all compositions as it is usually a narration of an event that has happened in the past.
- Time Sensitive
When writing in a narrative voice, it is a recount of what has happened. In this case, all verbs (action by the characters) are to be recounted in past tense.
However, when writing dialogue, characters are speaking in real time, therefore, it should be in present tense (of course, unless the character themselves are talking about something that has happened).
Past continuous tense:
What is the difference between this and past tense? Look at the example below:
He rode his bicycle on the pavement when he witnessed the accident.
He was riding his bicycle on the pavement when he witnessed the accident.
We use past continuous when we are recounting an action and describing it as it was happening. Further emphasis is also placed on the past continuous action to show that it was happening for a longer period of time.
- Not time sensitive
When writing about universal concepts and making expositional statements, we write in present tense. This is because these universal statements (or facts) hold true through the ages. It is not time sensitive. These statements are usually written in the introduction or conclusion.
Kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see.
2. Subject Verb Agreement
In a sentence, we have a subject (which can be a singular or plural) and action words describing what is happening. The subject and verb used has to “agree” with each other. Do you know what this means?
Consider the following:
a) My mother and my brother shop for groceries at the supermarket.
b) My mother, together with my brother, shops for groceries at the supermarket.
Both sentences describe two people doing an activity but the subject for each sentence is different. The verb to be used (is/are) is dependent on whether the subject is singular or plural. For A, the subject is (“My mother and my brother”) plural. While for B, the subject is (“My mother”) singular.
c) My family shops for groceries at the supermarket.
d) My siblings shop for groceries at the supermarket.
In C, while “family” represents more than one person, as a noun, it is still a singular unit. So words that convey a singular unit of more than one person / objects (like “a team”, “the basket of fruits”, etc) should still be treated as singular and the corresponding verb would follow the usual grammar rule.
3. Connectors / Conjunctions
Conjunctions, otherwise known as connectors, connect one clause to another, often carrying a subtle layer of meaning about the relationship between clauses.
There is always a temptation to overuse connectors. For example:
Although you were very kind to protect the kitten, however, you should have stayed calm when you were being attacked.
Either one of the connectors (“although” or “however”) would suffice. Putting both in the sentence would be grammatically wrong. Besides memorising the list of connectors, it is also important to know how to use them by reading examples. You can also simply taking note of their usage in sentences as you are reading.
4. Complex sentences, comma – joining sentences wrongly with comma, incomplete complex sentences
When writing compositions, it is important that your child varies his or her sentence structure.
Not only does it demonstrate his or her understanding of simple, complex and compound sentences, but it also makes the story more interesting to read thereby avoiding the onset of monotony. Sentence structures are one of the most common grammar mistakes in writing.
- Missing comma and/or connectors
However if no proper punctuation is inserted into a complex sentence the ideas your child is trying to convey would get lost in the sea of words leaving people confused breathless trying to read one long sentence without any comma not knowing when it will end what point it was that is being conveyed.
I hope you appreciate the importance of punctuation after reading the above “sentence”.
When writing complex sentences, a key thing to note is that such sentences consist of more than one clause.
A clause is one single idea – an action, a description of a person or surrounding. When joining two or more separate clauses into a sentence, the placement of commas or semi-colons is paramount to your child’s writings being understood.
Try to identify the clauses in the sentence below:
After eating I let out a satisfied burp rubbed my bloated belly and headed home.
Clause #1 – After eating
Clause #2 – I let out a satisfied burp
Clause #3 – rubbed my bloated belly
Clause #4 – headed home
To combine more two clauses or more into a complex sentence, there must be correct placement of punctuation and/or connectors:
After eating, I let out a satisfied burp, rubbed my bloated belly and headed home.
- Joining sentences wrongly with comma
I sang out loud the best I could and when I had finished, the crowd clapped, shouted their appreciation, I took a bow to the crowd and went backstage.
What is wrong with the above “sentence”? There are seven clauses and would read better as three sentences.
I sang out loud the best I could. When I had finished, the crowd clapped and shouted their appreciation. I took a bow to the crowd and went backstage.
While it is good to have complex sentences, it should not be done at the expense of making ungrammatically long sentences. It is alright to have simple sentences sandwiching complex ones, like in the example above. My advice – try to have no more than three clauses in a complex sentence.
5. Prepositions / phrasal verbs
Prepositions are words that come before or after a noun which informs us of the position physically or position on a timeline. But did you know that prepositions cannot always be taken literally, especially when paired with certain verbs? These pairings of verbs followed by prepositions form Phrasal Verbs. Certain actions can only be expressed using phrasal verbs.
See the sentences below:
He quickly put his running attire that his coach gave him as a birthday present last year.
We decided to take each other’s phone number.
While it may seem that the verbs underlined are sufficient to express the intended meanings, they fall short grammatically. What they are missing are prepositions that make up phrasal verbs.
He quickly put on his running attire that his coach gave him as a birthday present last year.
We decided to take down each other’s phone number.
Now that you know the difference between prepositions and phrasal verbs, pick a page out of a book and test yourself and your child on whether you can identify the phrasal verbs used in the page. You’ll be surprised at how often we come across and use them in our reading and writing!
6. Connectors to convey time transitions
Under point #3, we talked about what connectors are. While most connectors we are familiar with may be a single word, it can also be made up of adverbial phrases.
Some of the most common grammar mistakes occur when student try to express time transitions. In this case, the connectors used should be specific enough to express the duration, time passed or a point on a timeline as accurately as possible. For example:
“What is happening to me?” was the last thought in his head, as he looked around, only to see nothing but darkness… Before all this happened, Richard Thompson arrived in Beijing, China, for the Olympics.
The phrase “before all this happened” is firstly grammatically wrong because of “all this”. If you are going to use “all” means that there are a series of events that happened, which means you would have to use the plural form of “this” >>> “all these”.
Secondly, “before” is a vague reference, as the reader would be left wondering, “How much time before this?” Unless the event referenced is specific, for instance, “before the soccer match”, using the word “before” would be next to meaningless. A better way of conveying the idea in the example would be:
“What is happening to me?” was the last thought in his head, as he looked around, only to see nothing but darkness… Earlier today, Richard Thompson arrived in Beijing, China, for the Olympics.
You can also use more specific phrases like ‘few weeks ago’, ‘two days ago’, ‘three hours earlier’… and so on. Don’t you feel that you have a better understanding of the duration and the time chronology of events that the writer is trying to convey?
To help your child better express time transitions in writing, get her to be more specific with the time frame.
Pronouns are words that are used in place of previously mentioned nouns. Words like I, You, Me, Myself He, She, Her, Him, His, Its, They are pronouns.
You should encourage your child to use pronouns to help them vary their sentences instead of always starting with “John is…”, “John wants to…”
Be creative and think of ways to include different pronouns while writing. But be careful to make sure you use pronouns correctly.
- Me vs Myself
One way to differentiate between when to use which is to remember that “myself” (and other forms like “himself”, “herself” and “themselves”) usually has an element of exclusiveness and “aloneness” in having to carry out an action.
As the rest of the team was on court, Sarah had to carry the ice bucket by herself.
Look at the example below:
Unbeknownst to myself, I was shortlisted for the competition!
Unbeknownst to me, I was shortlisted for the competition!
*In this context, many other people present did not know that the character was shortlisted for the competition.
If the character feels that he himself is kept in the dark, the first sentence should be right. However, if the context is such that many others have not heard the news as well, then the 2nd sentence is more appropriate.
- Name vs Personal Pronoun
“Tim, you are selected for the inter-school soccer competition,” coach said.
Start the word with capital letters when using it as a term of address like “Coach”, “Mother” and “Father”. However another way to write it would be “my coach”. With the inclusion of a personal pronoun – “my” – stating possession then the noun that follows would not need to be capitalised.
8. Dialogue punctuation mistakes
It is easier said than done. How true. About 80% of the students we come across are confused by the rules that apply to different ways of writing dialogue.
These may be a few of the mistakes that your child has made in his or her compositions:
- “Tim, go and pack your room!” My mother shouted.>>> should be small letter “m”
- A loud, authoritative voice shouted. “James!” >>> should be comma
- Tom shouted proudly “Wow! That’s good! Let’s go out and eat today!” >>> missing comma after the word proudly
These are very common grammar mistakes made by students. These rules can get confusing especially when your child doesn’t understand the underlying principles. Besides forcing them to memorise these rules, another way to explain to them is based on the concept of a sentence. Let’s use the above examples again.
Basically when writing dialogue, think of the entire dialogue (both the speech & the accompanying description of who is saying it) as a sentence. Apply the sentence rules to it.
- “Tim, go and pack your room!” my mother shouted.
If you treat this entire dialogue from the open inverted comma to the full stop after “shouted” as a sentence, you will realise that “My” should not have a capital “M” as the description of who is saying it is still within the sentence and not a new sentence.
- A loud, authoritative voice shouted, “James!”
Again, by seeing this dialogue as a sentence beginning with “A” and ending with “James!” you should be putting a comma after “shouted” as the sentence has not ended till the dialogue has been expressed.
- Tom shouted proudly, “Wow! That’s good! Let’s go out and eat today!”
Now, applying rules of sentence structure – after one clause “Tom shouted proudly” you should put a comma before the next clause.
Practice makes perfect. It is true only if you are practising correctly. So first up, help your child stop making these common grammar mistakes and their practice will eventually lead to the perfection he or she desires!
(You might also be interested in this >>> 9 Common Mistakes made in PSLE Composition Writing)
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