Read These 10 Tips Before Your Next Essay or Presentation

The English language can be tricky business at times. Writer Renald Loh explores some common blunders we can avoid making in the future. I was 22 years old when I learned that ‘infamous’ did not mean ‘very famous’; 23 when I realized that ‘money paid for a service’ wasn’t spelled ‘runumeration’; 24 when I was informed that a zucchini is not a cucumber. I’m still convinced the latter is a conspiracy, but I digress. These mortifying instances had forced me to contemplate our collective standard of English. What other linguistic crimes have we been committing? How many times have our professors chuckled at our inadequate lingual know-how?

In pursuit of grammatical enlightenment, we reached out to Associate Professor Ludwig Tan, who is a committee member of the Speak Good English Movement. He shared with us three common mistakes (see tips 8 to 10) he sees university students make. We also scoured the Speak Good English Movement’s online resources and added some relevant tips that we thought you’d find helpful.

  1. “Our action plan comprises of three main parts.” The word ‘comprise’ is defined as ‘consists of’ or ‘made up of’. Hence, the word ‘of’ in the above sentence is unnecessary. BINGO: "Our action plan comprises three main parts."

  2. “With regards to Marx’s point of view…” The proper term is ‘with regard to’. Send your regards to the redundant ‘s’. Alternatively, you can start the sentence using the simpler ‘regarding’. BINGO: "With regard to / Regarding Marx's point of view..."

  3. “In this presentation, we will discuss about the consequences of inequality in Singapore.” As the word ‘discuss’ means to ‘talk about’, the subject need only be ‘discussed’, and not ‘discussed about’. BINGO: "We will discuss the consequences of inequality in Singapore."

  4. “As we can see, people who live further away from the city buy more cars.” ‘Farther’ is the appropriate term to describe physical distances, while ‘further’ indicates metaphorical distances. So, the reason you and your friends have drifted further apart could be the fact that you’ve moved farther away from them. Or maybe you should just shower more often. BINGO: "People who live farther away from the city buy more cars."

  5. “A common myth is that youths are disinterested in politics.” ‘Disinterested’ is defined as being uninfluenced by considerations of personal advantage. In other words, a disinterested person is someone who is ‘impartial’ and ‘unbiased’. The word does not have the same meaning as “not interested” or “uninterested”. For instance, referees in sports are required to be disinterested parties, even if they happen to be fans of a sportsperson or team. BINGO: "The notion of youths being uninterested in politics is ludicrous."

  6. “We would appreciate if you can participate in our Kahoot quiz…” There are two mistakes in the above sentence. First, the word ‘it’ should follow ‘appreciate’ (‘we would appreciate it if…’). Second, no one should be using Kahoot quizzes in their presentations anymore. Your acquiescent classmates have had enough. It’s no longer engaging. The tunes are annoying. You're doing it to fulfil a requirement on the rubric. It's true, and you know it. BINGO: "We would appreciate it if you actually made an effort to engage the class."

  7. “According to our survey, SMU students prefer using Instagram than using Facebook.” ‘Prefer to’ is the appropriate English phrase. Alternatively, you may also say that SMU students would rather use Instagram than use Facebook. Although at this point, with such complex rules, I think I very much prefer Singlish to English. BINGO: "According to our survey, SMU students prefer using Instagram to Facebook."

  8. “The plan to increase course fees have been shelved.” Many writers wrongly make the verb agree with the nearest noun (i.e. fees) when it should agree with the head noun (i.e. plan) of the noun phrase. Since it’s the plans that have been shelved, the verb should be 'has' rather than 'have'. BINGO: "The plan to increase course fees has been shelved."

  9. “As a superpower, I think the United States should set a better example for other nations.” Thank you, you superpower. This error is called a dangling modifier. Here, ‘as a superpower' modifies the wrong component of the sentence because of the badly placed 'I', giving the meaning of 'I = a superpower'. This can be avoided by placing 'the United States' immediately after 'as a superpower'. BINGO: “As a superpower, the United States should, I feel, set a better example for other nations.”

  10. “I have finished working on the slides; I will send it to you tomorrow.” As the word 'slides' is plural, the pronoun that follows should be plural ('them') rather than singular ('it'). Alternatively, we can change the plural 'slides' to a singular 'slide deck' or 'set of slides'. BINGO: "I have finished working on the slide deck; I will send it to you tomorrow."

Fingers crossed – your grasp of the English language has been strengthened, and you’re one step closer to semantic nirvana. More importantly though, you’ll no longer make these silly grammatical errors in your otherwise exemplary essays and phenomenal presentations in the upcoming semester!

Want to learn more? The Speak Good English Movement’s website provides further helpful resources for willing-learners and speakers of the English language.