Study Guide for English Exam

Your English exam will contain questions on all the following items. To prepare for the English exam, use the resources listed in this file. The selftests are at the bottom of the explanatory files; the site calls them "quizzes". Some of you may know this material already, especially if you graduated from high school before 1970, or went to an excellent high school or have really good English technical skills already. So for each topic, take a selftest first, and then review the explanatory stuff based on your results.


I strongly suggest you achieve the highest possible grade you can on the English exam before you attempt to hand in ANY essays for this class.


You may repeat the English exam three times total until the cutoff date. Ask your instructor about the cut-off date and time, since it will vary from semester to semester. I will count your highest grade of the three attempts.


The English exam is the ONLY piece of work for this class for which you get multiple attempts.


If you do not score above 54 on the English exam by the cut-off date, your essays are unlikely to be technically adequate to pass the class.


  1. Misuse of the apostrophe (possessives and contractions)

    For review and selftests, see here. Also look here for information on possessives.

  2. Misuse of the comma

    For review and selftests, see here.

  3. Errors in pronoun-antecedent agreement

    For more information and selftests, see here.

  4. Errors in subject-verb agreement

    For more information and selftests, see here.

  5. Run-on sentences

    For more information and selftests, see here.

  6. Sentence fragments

    For more information and selftests, see here.

  7. Danglers (aka "misplaced modifiers")

    O'Conner has a whole chapter on danglers. Read it; it's a hoot! See here for another excellent explanation, and quizzes to test your understanding.

  8. Wordy, fat, redundant sentences

    Most students need work on this! See Writing Concisely (explanation and selftests).

  9. Avoiding passive voice

    See Active and Passive Voice (explanation and selftest).

  10. Parallel construction

    See Parallelism (explanation and selftest).

  11. Problems in punctuation of dialog

    Many students like to write their papers in dialog form. I like dialogs, too. They're more fun for both of us. BUT -- please don't attempt a dialog unless you can punctuate it correctly! In particular, note carefully the correct punctuation of direct address (when one character addresses another by name or by words such as "man," "dude," or "girl"). There's an important difference between "I know Jane" and "I know, Jane"; and between "I know that girl" and "I know that, girl." Because serious ambiguities can result from this kind of carelessness, you must use commas to separate the direct address word from the rest of the text, even when there is no apparent ambiguity. When the direct address word is embedded within a sentence, you need two commas, one before and one after: for example, "We all recognize, Lisa, that you are unusually intelligent."

  12. The following common confusions:

    accept / except

    affect / effect

    among / between

    amount / number (The same explanation applies to "fewer" and "less".)

    cite / site / sight

    chord / cord

    complement / compliment

    compose / consist / comprise

    conscience / conscious

    desert / dessert

    disinterested / uninterested

    do / due ("The paper is due Friday. I know you can do it!")

    each other / one another

    e.g. / i.e.

    everyday / every day

    fewer / less (The same explanation applies to "amount" and number".)

    imply / infer

    it’s / its

    know / no ("You're kidding! No way! You don't know this?")

    loose / lose

    posses (more than one posse, as in "We'll round up a posse, Sheriff")

    possess (have)

    principal / principle

    sole / soul

    ("Now that I'm dying, my sole concern is the fate of my soul!")

    than / then

    there / they’re / their

    udder / utter (Look this one up if you don't get it: it's too funny!)

    waver / waiver
    A waver is someone who waves. "Waver" is also a verb meaning to be unsteady.

    weather / whether

    who’s / whose

    your / you’re     
    Your is the possessive form of the pronoun you, meaning "belonging to you", while you're is a contraction of "you are". "The New Age guru said, 'You're your best friend.'"

  13. The following words occur commonly in philosophy papers. Spell these words correctly!

    phenomenon (singular)
    phenomena (plural)

For comprehensive review, do the General Self Test on English Grammar and Spelling.

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