explanatory key for error sheet #1

(1) After a few day, people noticed a peacock had been kill again. .

After a few days, people noticed another peacock had been killed.

• "a few day" should be "a few DAYS" because "few" is always followed by a plural count noun
• "had been kill" should be "had been killed" because the verb phrase is in the passive voice and, therefore, the main verb should be in the past participle form

• The sentence, "After a few days people noticed a peacock had been killed again" is grammatically correct, but "After a few days people noticed another peacock had been killed" is much better. Because "again," an adverb, seems to be modifying the verb "kill" and because "a peacock" seems to be referring to a particular peacock, the former sentence can logically but absurdly be interpreted as meaning that the same was killed twice.

(2) The next day five more peacock kill, so people worried.

The next day five more peacocks were killed, so people were worried.

• "Five more peacock" should be "five more peacockS"; because the reference is to more than one peacock, a plural noun is required.
• "Kill should be "WERE killED." The peacocks weren't doing the killing; they were "receiving" it; and, therefore, the passive voice, not the active voice is required.
• "So people worried" should be "so people WERE worried." Here, "worried" is being used as a participial adjective not a past participle in a verb phrase. (Notice that it would be correct to say "the people were VERY worried"; this shows that "worried" is being used as an adjective. If it were a past participle then it could not be modified in that way.)

(3) Later the murder of birds repeated again.

GRAMMATICAL: Later the murder of birds was repeated.
BETTER: Later more birds were murdered.

•In the first place, this sentence is unnatural because "the murder" has been used as the subject; it is more natural and more clear to use "more birds" as the subject and use "murder" as a verb. ("Murder" is often used as a noun to make an abstract reference in sentences such as "In some countries murder is punishable by death" or when referring to an event that has already been described, as in "The murder of the prisoners was never properly investigated." It is not normal to use it when simply reporting an event as in this sentence.)

• Apart from being unnatural, the sentence is also ungrammatical because it is, incorrectly, in the active voice. A murder is an "event," not something that "does an action" but something that "receives an action." To report this event properly in the active voice, a sentence like "Someone murdered more birds" or "An unknown person murdered more birds" would have to be used.

•If the sentence were rewritten as "Later, the murder of birds was repeated again" it would be grammatical, but there would still be a semantic problem. The sentence is redundant because both "repeat" and "again" are used; this is redundant because "repeat" means "do something again," so to say something was "repeated again" is like saying "it was done again again."

• The most important thing to be said about this item, however, is that although "The murder was repeated" is grammatically and semantically correct, "More birds were murdered" is a much better sentence.

(4) A woman named Brenda. She was charged murder.

A woman named Brenda was charged with murder.

• The noun phrase, "a woman named Brenda" has been incorrectly written as a sentence — starting with a capital letter and ending with a period. In fact, it is a complex noun phrase: "woman" is the headword and "named Brenda" is an abbreviated adjective clause modifying "woman. " If this abbreveiated clause were expanded to a full adjective clause it would become: "a woman who was named Brenda." (Notice that it is possible to interpret "a woman named Brenda" as a properly made sentence; to do this we have to take it to have the meaning "A woman gave Brenda a name." But, as the sentence that follows shows, that is clearly not what the words mean here.)

• To understand this sentence "A woman named Brenda was charged with murder" you must see, in the first place, that it is the passive-voice version of the active-voice sentence "The police charged a woman named Brenda with murder." (The passive voice is appropriate here because when the verb "charge [someone] with [a crime]" is used, it is automatically understood that the action was done by the police — and therefore the event is described more quickly and more clearly by putting the verb into the passive voice.) The second thing that must be understood here is that the verb "charge [someone] with [something]" is a ditransitive prepositional verb; it has "a woman named Brenda" as its direct object and "murder" as its indirect prepositional object. To write "A woman named Brenda was charged murder" is to make the mistake of using a ditransitive prepositional verb as if it were an "ordinary" (non-prepositional) verb. (Compare, for example, the incorrect sentence, "A woman named Brenda was charged murder" with a correct sentence using the same structure "A woman named Brenda was given a prize." The latter sentence is correct because "give" is an ordinary, non-prepositional ditransitive verb.)

(5) One lady stabbed another lady and baby born died.

One lady (OR: "woman") stabbed another lady (OR: "woman") and her baby (OR: "the baby") was born dead.

• A determiner is required before the singular count noun, "baby." The possessive determiner, "her" is best, but the article, "the" is also correct.

• The verb phrase should be "WAS born DEAD." There are two errors here. In the first place, the auxiliary verb "was" is required because when the subject of a sentence of this kind refers to a baby, the verb phrase must be in the passive voice.

• The verb, "die" must be replaced with the adjective "dead." To understand why this is so, it is necessary, first, to see that the basic "theoretical verb phrase" in a sentence like this is, "to bear [a child]." This verb phrase is "theoretical" because, in present day English, it not used in the active voice; it is, however very commonly used in the passive voice in sentences such as "Harry was born in 1947." The fact that this verb is now used only in the passive voice is confusing to ESL students; and things are made even more confusing by the fact that when "bear" is used in this way, its past participle is spelled "born" although —it is spelled "borne" when it is used in other ways in sentences such as "Harry has borne all his troubles very bravely." In the verb phrase "was born dead," there is another complication: the verb is used with an object complement. The "theoretical" active verb phrase here would be "bear a child dead." "Died" is wrong in item (5) because object complements must be either nouns or adjectives; they cannot be verbs.

• The sentence "One lady stabbed another lady and her baby was born dead" is grammatical as it stands but it would be more natural if "lady" were replaced with "woman." In the past, "lady" was used mainly for women with a high social standing. it is still used, but mainly informally and with a slightly negative connotation when a man is speaking to a woman he does not know as in "When the plumber was finished, he called to Jill, 'OK lady, that tap shouldn't give you any more trouble now.'"

• Also: in "one lady," the word "one" could be replaced with "a" without changing the meaning of the sentence. Here "one" is used not as a numeral but as an article. . This is acceptable in informal speech but it should usually be avoided in writing.

(6) Another case was happened in Vancouver in 1991.

There was another case in Vancouver in 1991. (OR: Something similar happened in Vancouver in 1991.)

• The grammatical error here is putting "happen" into the passive voice. "Happen" is an intransitive verb; in other words it can never have an object — and, therefore, can never be in the passive.

• • The sentence becomes grammatically correct if the verb phrase is put into the active voice: "Another case happened in Vancouver in 1991." But there is still a serious error of collocation: It is not normal to use the noun "case" as the subject of the verb "happen." We use "case" as the subject in sentences like "The case Jack mentioned is discussed in the textbook" or "Harry's case will be brought to court sometime next year" or "The first cases of that disease were recorded in the 1940s." In other words, we generally use "case" when we are talking about descriptions, or discussions, or investigations of events, not just reporting that they happened.

•There are also quite strong habitual restrictions on the subjects that can be used with "happen." It is often used with a pronoun subject in sentences such as "Something interesting is happening across the street" or "This happened in early 1989" or "When that happened, Harry realized that Jill would never leave Jack." It is also used with a vague noun phrase as its subject as in "Last week a terrible thing happened next door." And it is very common in questions such as "What happened when Tom arrived?"

• "Happen" is used with a different meaning, and complemented by a "to-clause," in sentences such as "Jill happened to be in Paris at the same time as Harry." This means that Jill and Harry were in Paris at the same time but they had not planned to be there at the same time; it was "accidental" in other words.

(7) On May 28, Brenda was born a child in her bathroom.

On May 28, Brenda had a baby in her bathroom. (OR: On May 28, Brenda gave birth in her bathroom.)

• When, as here, the passive form of "bear" is used to describe a birth, the subject must refer to the baby who is coming into the world; it cannot refer to the baby's motherh — as it does incorrectly in this item. If the subject of a sentence or clause about a birth refers to the baby's mother then, except in rare cases where the verb "bear" is used in the active voice, another verb must be used. Most often this is the verb "have." More formally, and much less commonly, the clausal verb "give birth" is used.

(8) He couldn't find a job, he had a mental illness.

He couldn't find a job. He had a mental illness. (OR: He couldn't find a job because he had a mental illness.)

• This item is a "run-on sentence." In other words it is not a sentence at all but two sentences that have been unproperly punctuated as one sentence. There are two ways to correct errors of this kind:
(1) correcting the punctuation (2) connecting the two sentences with a conjunction, making them one correctly formed sentence.

(9) While he was treated in the mental hospital, he attacked a dog.

While he was being treated in the mental hospital, he attacked a dog.

• This item is typical of sentences in which the simple past is required in one clause and the past continuous is another: His being in a mental hospital is the "big event" that was extended over a long period of time and his attacking a dog is the "small event" that happened "inside" the big one.

(10) When he told her he was going to chop her head off, she started cry.

When he told her he was going to chop her head off, she started crying. (OR: ... she started to cry.)

• The verb "start" can be complemented by either an "ing" clause or by a "to"-infinitive clause. There is little, if any, difference in meaning between the two types of complementation. In this item, "start" is incorrectly complemented by a base form. (Complementation with a base form is possible with only a few verbs — most importantly with "verbs of perception" such as "see" and "hear.")

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error sheet #1
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