5 Grammar: The Four Most Common Errors in ESOL Writing

Cranes and building construction

What do you already know?

Read these sentences:

  • Miguel needs a pencil, he wants to write a note to his teacher.
  • Because he wants to explain his answer.
  • The teacher has a pencil he will give it to Miguel.
  • They is talking in the hallway now.

Subject-verb agreement

In English, a singular subject requires a singular form of the verb. A plural subject requires a plural form of the verb. This is usually only a problem when writing in the present tense. For example: One cat lives in the gray house, but three dogs live in the brown house.

  • cat = singular; so you write lives (the singular form of the verb in the present tense)
  • dogs = plural; so you write live (the plural form of the verb in the present tense)

Try it

INSTRUCTIONS: Rewrite each sentence correctly.

  1. One of my many lamps are broken.
  2. Many of the people in my apartment building is having a party today.
  3. The bus were very cold today because the window were open.
  4. I don’t know that person. Who is they?
  5. Can all six child bring their dogs to the park?

Sentence fragments

Fragments are pieces of something. They are not whole. This often happens when writers do not attach a dependent clause or a prepositional phrase to an independent clause. What’s left is an incomplete idea, and that can confuse your reader. For example:

  • If he is tired. = This is a fragment. Although it has a subject and a verb, the idea is not finished. It is a dependent clause. You cannot use it by itself.
  • If he is tired, he will not come to the party. = This is complete sentence. It has a subject, a verb, and a complete idea.

Remember this: a complete sentence requires a subject, a verb, and a complete idea. Usually, sentence fragments can be corrected by adding information to make a complete idea, or attaching the fragment to the sentence before or the sentence after — often as a dependent clause. You’ll study more about dependent clauses later in this course.

Try it

INSTRUCTIONS: Rewrite each sentence correctly. Use your imagination to add any missing information.

  1. Because I don’t like chocolate.
  2. When it rains.
  3. Where they live.
  4. In downtown next to the river.
  5. That will help me to learn English.

Run-on sentences and comma splices

A run-on sentence is when you use two independent clauses in one sentence without conjunctions or enough punctuation. This makes it difficult for readers to know where the first idea ends and the second one begins. For example:

  • I have a dog he is small. = run-on sentence

A comma splice is similar; it’s when a writer uses only a comma to join two independent clauses. However, a comma alone is not strong enough. It needs a little help. For example:

  • I have a dog, he is small. = comma splice

Here are three simple ways to fix them:

  • I have a dog, and he is small. = add a coordinating conjunction (FANBOYS: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so)
  • I have a dog; he is small. = use a semicolon (if the two ideas are closely related)
  • I have a dog. He is small. = use a period and start a new sentence. (remember to capitalize the first word of the new sentence)

Try it

INSTRUCTIONS: Rewrite the sentences correctly.

  1. The students know what to do, they will be able to complete their assignment on time.
  2. He wants to run the race I think he will win it.
  3. Please give me another example I need to study it more.
  4. The artwork in the gallery was expensive, I didn’t buy it.
  5. I have a new chair in my office it is uncomfortable, can you please replace it?

Try it

INSTRUCTIONS: Correct errors in the following paragraph. There is one error in each sentence.

Human rights are moral principles or norms for certain standards of human behavior and is regularly protected in municipal and international law. Commonly understood as rights “to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being.” They are “inherent in all human beings” regardless of age, ethnic origin, location, language, religion, ethnicity, or any other status, they are applicable everywhere and at every time in the sense of being universal. Egalitarian in the sense of being the same for everyone. This one collection of many rights are regarded as requiring empathy and the rule of law. It imposes an obligation on persons to respect the human rights of others, it is generally considered that these rights should not be taken away except as a result of due process based on specific circumstances.



INSTRUCTIONS: Each sentence has one error. Rewrite the sentence correctly. Add any necessary information to express a complete idea.

  1. My son don’t like to eat fruits and vegetables.
  2. Since the days are getting longer.
  3. They is all my relatives in that picture.
  4. Joan needs to go to the library she needs to print her essay for class.
  5. Reading books is great it helps us learn many things.
  6. Don’t know what to do when my car doesn’t work.
  7. Where is the dogs right now?
  8. That box of pens are old and should be thrown away.
  9. I broke the plates that was on the table.
  10. I often worry about getting sick, I don’t want to miss any classes.


Use these resources to study more about the four most common errors in ESOL writing:




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