10 common errors in students' papers



WELL, TEACHERS TOO sometimes commit them. And these errors occur not just in students’ papers but also during recitations and in answering essay questions during exams.

Tim O’Keefe of University of Minnesota at Morris, in his article “Some Common Grammar and Usage Mistakes in Undergraduate Philosophy Papers” (© 2001 Tim O'Keefe), explains how the following terms are properly used:

1. “They” and “their”

This sentence is grammatically incorrect: “Billy exclaims that someone has to be responsible for their actions, they have to be accountable to their own deeds.” O’Keefe explains that “’they’ and ‘their’ are plural pronouns, not singular ones.”

Since “someone” is a singular pronoun, “their” and “they” are not supposed to be used in the sentence.  O’Keefe gives, as an example, the following sentence that contains a similar mistake: “A person who cares only about their own happiness will not achieve happiness.”

O’Keefe suspects that “students often use 'they' and 'their' as generic singular pronouns because they want to avoid using 'he' and 'his,' which are male pronouns, to refer to people generally.”

2. It's vs. its, who's vs. whose, and you're vs. your

“The word it's is always a contraction of it is; to see if it's correct to use it's, substitute in the phrase "it is" and see if it makes sense. The possessive form of the pronoun it is its, not it's.

Similarly, the word who's is always a contraction for who is or who has. The possessive form of the pronoun who is whose, not who's. You're is always a contraction of you are, and the possessive form of you is your.

3. I.e. vs. e.g.

I.e.is an abbreviation that means that is, as in the following example: "Epicurus is an ethical egoistic hedonist, i.e., he thinks that only one's own pleasure has intrinsic value."

E.g. is an abbreviation that means for instance, or such as, as in the following example: ‘Aristotle thinks that many things are intrinsically valuable, e.g., virtue, virtuous activity, and pleasure.’”

4. Can not

Cannotshould be one word, not two. If you say "Tim cannot sing well," you mean that Tim is unable to sing well. If you say "Tim can not sing well," you mean that Tim is able to refrain from singing well.”

5. Then vs. than

Thenis used to indicate a time ("Now I feel OK, but I was scared then") or to introduce the consequent in an "if...then..." phrase ("If death is annihilation, then it is nothing either to the living or to the dead"). Than is used to make comparisons ("Jesse Ventura is taller than Dr. Ruth").”

6. Valid

“In philosophy, valid is a precise term that is applied only to arguments. It means that the conclusion of an argument is entailed by its premises. Bad arguments can be valid, and statements cannot be either valid or invalid… So don't say that "I think that Descartes' argument is valid" when you mean that you think his argument is convincing, or "Hume's statement is valid" when you mean that his statement is true.” (Related: Methodic Doubt: The Cartesian Method of Philosophy

(A detailed discussion on the topic validity is done in the article, “'True vs. valid': An article on Logical terms” @ www.OurHappySchool.com under the topic ‘Philosophy’)

7. Begging the question

“In philosophy, begging the question is the name of a logical fallacy in which one is already assuming the truth of the conclusion of one's argument in the premises… It does not mean ‘raising the question’ or ‘prompting the question.” So don't say something like the following: “Now that Barry Sanders has retired, this begs the question of who is the shiftiest running back in the NFL.’” (A detailed discussion on this topic is done in the article, “So what's wrong with my argument? (II)” @ www.OurHappySchool.com under the topic ‘Debate’)

8. Very unique

Uniquemeans "one of a kind," so something cannot be very unique or quite unique. (It is possible, however, for something to be almost unique.) In such cases, use the word distinctive instead, e.g., ‘Barry Sanders' running style is quite distinctive.’”

9. Using rhetorical questions instead of statements

“Strictly speaking, using a rhetorical question isn't a mistake, but rhetorical questions are often misused, especially when objections are phrased as questions. Rephrase rhetorical questions as direct statements. Your paper will read better, and often your point will be clearer.”

10. (Philosophical) dialogues

“Don't write your paper in the form of a dialogue, either between you and a philosopher, or between you and your roommate. Handled well, the dialogue form can produce impressive results, as Plato and Hume show.

But it's difficult to write a good philosophical dialogue, and trying to do so usually just creates problems, as the student concentrates on adding cute literary touches rather than on presenting convincing arguments.”

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Usual errors in English are that, sometimes people do not know which word is to be used. I think this error should also be added: 'Am", "is", and "are" as used before verb When using these words before a verb, the verb should be in the "ing" form. Study the ff examples: I am Agree with your statement.-This means that "I" is described as agree, which is wrong. I agree with your statement.-This means that "I" seconds on the statement, or "I" is in favor of the statement, which is correct because it gives the right meaning of the message. She is Dancing. We are reporting about this topic. There are many errors committed anyway...

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