Checklist for Grammar and Style

by Steve Sargent, History Department, Union College 

Before you turn in your paper, reread it carefully, word by word, sentence by sentence, looking for ways to improve your writing. Use the following checklist to find and correct basic grammatical flaws. Check off each item when you are sure the paper contains no errors of that type. Pass in this checklist with your paper.

  • Every word is spelled correctly. Even if you use a spell-checker, you must make sure it has not missed incorrect usages of correctly spelled words, such as to for too, forth for fourth, or their for there.

  • The paper contains no contractions, especially it's.

  • The paper uses an apostrophe to indicate possessive nouns and pronouns in both the singular form (person's, one's) and the plural form (persons'). But remember that the possessive pronoun its has no apostrophe.

  • Book titles have been either underlined (Hamlet) or italicized (Hamlet).

  • The paper contains no sentence fragments or incomplete sentences.

    Sentence fragments occur when you treat a piece of a sentence as if it were a sentence. To be a sentence, a word group must consist of at least one full independent clause. An independent clause has a subject and a verb, and it either stands alone as a sentence or could stand alone. Some fragments are clauses that contain a subject and a verb but begin with a subordinating word, such as if, when, because, etc. Others are phrases that lack a subject, a verb, or both.
  • The paper contains no comma splices or run-on sentences.

    A comma splice or run-on sentence occurs when two independent clauses are joined by a comma without a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet). If two independent clauses appear in one sentence, they must be joined by a comma and a coordinating conjunction or by a semicolon.
  • If the subject of a sentences is singular, the verb is singular; if the subject is plural, the verb is plural.

  • The paper avoids passive constructions in which the subject receives the action of the verb. Revise to use active constructions in which the subject performs the action of the verb.

    Example: Hamlet was told by the ghost that his father was killed by Claudius.
    Revision: The ghost told Hamlet that Claudius killed his father.
  • Whenever two independent clauses are joined by a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet), and the clauses have different subjects (or the same subject repeated), the coordinating conjunction is preceded by a comma.
    Incorrect: Krishna showed himself to Arjuna in his full majesty and Arjuna fell to his knees in worship and devotion.
    Correct: Krishna showed himself to Arjuna in his full majesty, and Arjuna fell to his knees in worship and devotion.

    Incorrect: He swore that he would avenge his father's murder immediately but he lacked the courage and determination to do so.
    Correct: He swore that he would avenge his father's murder immediately, but he lacked the courage and determination to do so.

    Exception: If the two independent clauses are short and there is no danger of their being misread, the comma may be omitted.
    Example: Krishna was right and Arjuna knew it.

    If the two clauses have the same subject, and the subject is not repeated, then the comma may be omitted.
    Example: Hamlet saw Claudius kneeling in prayer but decided not to kill him.

  • No sentence has a comma separating the subject from its verb.
    Incorrect: The conflict that occurs in Shakespeare's Hamlet, concerns revenge.
    Correct: The conflict that occurs in Shakespeare's Hamlet concerns revenge.
  • No sentence begins with There is, There are, or It is.

  • No extraneous material has been included in parentheses.

  • The paper contains no freestanding quotations. Every quotation is incorporated into or introduced by another sentence.

  • All quotations or direct references to the text of Hamlet should be cited by act, scene, and line number. (V.ii.24-32).

  • All quotations of four or more lines have been single spaced and indented from the main text. Omit quotation marks for such "block quotations."

  • Every paragraph in the body of the paper contains at least one quotation from the text.