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The Writing Center

Mastering Writing Skills

 
 

Tense Consistency

Remember that if you're writing in the present tense, don't shift to the past tense (or vice versa) unless you have a good reason to do so. For instance, in the sentences below there is no reason to switch from the present tense. This is especially true when writing papers about literature: wherever possible, stay in the present tense.

Example

In Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, the narrator is one of the few truly successful characters in terms of moral development. However, she was also seriously flawed in some ways.

Correction

In Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, the narrator is one of the few truly successful characters in terms of moral development. However, she is also seriously flawed in some ways.

Pronoun Reference

Remember that if you are referring to you, or we, or I, or one, try to remain consistently within the same case.

Example 1

In Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, we find the narrator to be one of the few successful characters in terms of moral development. However, even the narrator, you soon realize, is seriously flawed. [We've shifted from the third-person, plural "we" (quite common when writing about literature) to the second-person, singular "you."]

Correction

In Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, we find the narrator to be one of the few successful characters in terms of moral development. However, even the narrator, we soon realize, is seriously flawed.

Example 2

People enjoy themselves immensely at UConn women's basketball games. You don't have to be an expert in basketball to get caught up in the crowd's enthusiasm. [In these sentences, we've gone from a third-person, plural reference, "People," to second-person "you."]

Correction

People enjoy themselves immensely at UConn women's basketball games. It isn't necessary to be an expert in basketball to get caught up in the crowd's enthusiasm.

Independent Clauses

Independent Clauses could stand by themselves as discrete sentences, except that when they do stand by themselves, separated from other clauses, they are normally referred to as sentences, not clauses. The ability to recognize a clause and to know when a clause is capable of acting as an independent unit is essential to correct writing.

Sentence Fragments

A Sentence Fragment fails to be a sentence since it cannot stand by itself. There are several reasons why a group of words may seem to act like a sentence but not have the wherewithal to be considered a complete thought.

Example 1

A Sentence Fragment may locate something in time and place with a prepositional phrase or a series of such phrases, but it lacks a proper subject-verb relationship within an independent clause.

In Japan, during the last war and just before the armistice.

This sentence fragment accomplishes a great deal in terms of placing the reader in time and place, but there is no subject, no verb. What happened?

Example 2

A Sentence Fragment describes something, but has no subject-verb relationship:

Working far into the night in an effort to salvage her boat.

This is a verbal phrase that wants to modify something, the real subject of the sentence (about to come up), is probably the she who was working so hard.

Run-on Sentences

A run-on sentence has at least two parts, either one of which can stand by itself (in other words, two independent clauses), but the two parts have been thrown together instead of being properly connected.

Tips

It is important to realize that the length of a sentence really has nothing to do with whether a sentence is a run-on or not; being a run-on is a structural flaw that can plague even a very short sentence:

The sun is scorching, put on some sunscreen.

When two independent clauses are connected by only a comma, they constitute a run-on sentence that is called a comma-splice. The example just above (about the sun-block) is a comma-splice. When you use a comma to connect two independent clauses, it must be accompanied by a little conjunction (and, but, for, nor, yet, or, so).

The sun is scorching, so put on some sunscreen.

Wrap-up

Some of the most mis-used words:

  • its/it's
  • there/their
  • your/you're
  • to/too/two
  • are/our
  • here/hear