25 Mini-Grammar Review: Confusing Shifts

One of the more common errors students make in writing is shifting from one form to another in the middle of a sentence. Whether this shift is in person, number, subject, voice, or tense, this can be confusing for readers.

Type of Shift Explanation Example
Person Person refers to the point of view. A writer might write in first person (I/we), second person (you), or third person (he, she, it, they). It’s important to keep the person consistent. Incorrect: When a writer edits his work, you should be sure to check spelling errors. (shift from 3rd to 2nd person)
Number Number refers to whether something is singular or plural. If a sentence starts out singular, it should not shift to plural mid-stream. Incorrect: A student should always revise their work. (shift from singular to plural)
Subject The subject here is the subject of the sentence. In a compound sentence, and even in a paragraph, it’s important to be consistent with the subject to avoid confusion. Incorrect: Students look forward to graduation, but people don’t always enjoy graduation. (shift from students to people)
Voice Voice refers to active or passive voice. With rare exceptions, all parts of a sentence should maintain the same voice. Incorrect: Most students expect to graduate, but challenges should be expected. (shift from active to passive)
Tense Tense refers to the tense of the verb, i.e. past, present, future. The tense should not change in a sentence. Incorrect: When the class began, students are working hard. (shift from past to present tense)

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The Worry Free Writer by Dr. Karen Palmer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.