The Princeton Review asked admissions officers at 18 colleges for their grammatical pet peeves. Here we present the repeat offenders. Make sure your college applications are free of these pesky errors by proofreading your application from beginning to end.
Your and its are ownership pronouns. Use them to indicate possession or ownership: Your slip is showing. You're and it's are contractions, shortened versions of you are and it is. To say You're slip is showing would mean: You are slip is showing, which would sound very silly.
Be careful not to try to pass off a dependent clause as a complete sentence unless you are writing informally or you are doing it intentionally for emphasis. A dependent clause that is not attached to an independent clause is called a sentence fragment, and nothing drives teachers, professors and college admission officers crazier than sloppy, unintended sentence fragments.
Is the subject of the sentence singular or plural? If your subject is singular, match it with the correct verb. If your subject is plural, match they with the correct verb. We promise you will be able to conjugate this correctly by using your ear.
There can be an adverb, a noun, an adjective or an expletive; there indicates location. Their is an ownership pronoun: "Their pants" means the pants that belong to them. They're means they are: They're in their house, which is over there.
Remember that an infinitive is the form of the verb that begins with to. To play, to speak, to flee. If you insert a word between the to and the rest of the infinitive, you are guilty of splitting the infinitive: To happily play, to harshly speak, to quickly flee. This is not a good idea, although it has become rampant even in good writing. If it doesn't lead to awkwardness and confusion, place your adverb on either side of the infinitive to play happily; to speak harshly; to flee quickly.
This is one of those rules that we think people get overexcited about. (See?) But, it's always possible that the admissions officer reading your essay will be one of those people. So yes, if you are writing formally, recast the sentence so that a preposition does not fall at the end.
If you're not sure about semicolons, avoid them.
Exclamation points are used for emphasis! Excitement! Surprise! Don't get carried away with exclamation points. The only error generally committed is using an exclamation point to try to give writing more emphasis than it deserves. Use them sparingly!!!
Take care when proofreading every aspect of your application from essays and short answers to your list of extracurriculars. Grammar mistakes are distracting and can even cast doubt on the amount of care you put into your college application. Good grammar fades into the background, and lets admissions officers concentrate on understanding the person behind the application. Our awesome college admissions counselors are laser focused on helping you craft a stellar (and error-free) application.
Grammar advice excerpted from Grammar Smart: The Savvy Student's Guide to Perfect Usage by the Staff of The Princeton Review. ©The Princeton Review and Penguin Random House, 2017.
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