Avoiding Grammatical Tangles
when you incorporate quotations
• When you incorporate quotations into your
writing, and especially when you omit words
from quotations, you run the risk of creating
ungrammatical sentences. Three common
errors you should try to avoid are verb
omissions, and sentence fragments.
• When this error occurs, the verb form in the introductory
statement is grammatically incompatible with the verb form in
the quotation. When your quotation has a verb form that does
not fit in with your text, it is usually possible to use just part of
the quotation, thus avoiding verb incompatibility.
As this sentence illustrates, use the present tense when you refer to events in a literary
• Sometimes omitting text from a quotation leaves you with an ungrammatical
sentence. Two ways of correcting the grammar are (1) adapting the
quotation (with brackets) so that its parts fit together grammatically and (2)
using only one part of the quotation.
• Sometimes when a quotation is a complete
sentence, writers neglect the sentence that
introduces the quote — for example, by forgetting to
include a verb. Make sure that the quotation is
introduced by a complete sentence.
Avoiding Ambiguous Use
of This and That
• The Problem. Because you must frequently
refer to the problem and the solution in a
proposal, you will often use pronouns to
avoid the monotony or wordiness of
repeatedly referring to them by name. Using
this and that vaguely to refer to other words
or ideas, however, can confuse readers.
How to Correct It.
• Add a specific noun after this or that. For example,
in his essay in this chapter, Patrick O’Malley writes:
• Another possible solution would be to help students
prepare for midterm and final exams by providing sets
of questions from which the exam questions will be
selected. . . . This solution would have the advantage
of reducing students’ anxiety about learning every fact
in the textbook. . . . (par. 12)
• O’Malley avoids an ambiguous this in the second
sentence by repeating the noun “solution.”
• (He might just as well have used preparation or
action or approach.)
Revising Sentences that
Lack an Agent
The Problem: A writer proposing a solution to a problem usually needs
to indicate who exactly should take action to solve it. Such actors—
those who are in a position to take action—are called “agents.” Look,
for example, at this sentence from O’Malley’s proposal:
• To get students to complete the questions in a timely way, professors
would have to collect and check the answers. (par. 11)
• In this sentence, professors are the agents. They have the authority
to assign and collect study questions, and they would need to take
this action in order for this solution to be successfully implemented.
• Had O’Malley instead written “the answers would have to be
collected and checked,” the sentence would lack an agent. Failing to
name an agent would have made his argument less convincing,
because it would have left unclear one of the key parts of any
proposal: Who is going to take action.
How to Correct It
• When you revise your work, ask yourself
who or what performed the action in any
given sentence. If there is no clear answer,
rewrite the sentence to give it an agent.
Watch in particular for forms of the verb to
be (the balls were dropped, exams should
be given, etc.), which often signal agentless