Common PS grammar errors

This forum made possible through the generous support of SDN members, donors, and sponsors. Thank you.


Full Member
7+ Year Member
Feb 12, 2017
Reaction score
I've read a number of personal statements for SDNers applying this upcoming cycle, and noticed some common grammar errors in all of them. While content is absolutely important, there's already a lot of advice on SDN about that. Catching basic grammar errors is a small task that can dramatically increase the readability of your statement with very little effort. Spellcheck will pick up some, but not all, of these errors. So I thought I'd open this thread up for other folks to share their advice. PS readers, what are the most common (and easily corrected) grammar/writing errors you see? What should applicants be keeping an eye out for when reviewing their personal statements?

I'll start with a few of my own:

- Inconsistent verb tenses: I've seen this in nearly every PS I've read. When writing a narrative style statement, pick a tense and stick with it. Don't bounce back and forth every paragraph (or worse, sentence) between past and present tense anecdotes.

- Missing words: This is so easy to do if you're cutting and pasting chunks of text all over the place during your editing process. Some of the best PS advice I got last cycle was to read my statement aloud, or have your computer/a friend read it aloud to you. When reading it in your head, your brain might automatically gloss over missing words because it knows what is supposed to be there. An outside reader might just be confused. Hearing my personal statement aloud really helped me catch these kinds of errors.

- Long, complicated sentences with lots of commas that it seems like maybe, the writer got lost halfway through the sentence and does the verb even match the subject anymore?: I'm totally guilty of this one, as my natural writing style leans towards complex sentence structures. Keep it simple. Your readers will thank you when they don't need a roadmap to your sentences.

Members don't see this ad.
  • Like
Reactions: 8 users
Members don't see this ad :)
Huge pet peeve of mine:

I don't know why this myth refuses to die, but it is perfectly acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition as long as the preposition is not extraneous and avoiding doing so would result in phrasing that no normal person would use. You should avoid informal phrasing in formal writing, but that does not mean you cannot end a sentence with a preposition if it sounds better.
  • Like
Reactions: 2 users
- Homophone errors: Don't confuse to and too, bare and bear, break and brake, fair and fare, principal/principle, their/there, etc. Spell checkers won't pick on this sort of mistake.

This is grate advice.
  • Like
Reactions: 6 users
This is grate advice.
Its knot fare of ewe too put the breaks on this thread after only fore replies.

  • Like
Reactions: 3 users
Not a PS reader, but I read a lot of papers as a tutor....

Comma Overuse: Commas have specific purposes. You can't just use them randomly to break up sentences.
Failure to use Parallel Structure: If you are making a list, make sure each component uses the same structure.
Correct: "I enjoy riding bikes, eating chocolate, and drinking beer."
Incorrect: "I enjoy bike riding, eating chocolate, and beer."
Avoid Clichés: There are much better ways of saying that you "put yourself in the patient's shoes."

As others mentioned, I also see a lot of inconsistent verb tenses and homophone errors (then/than and effect/affect are a couple peeves).
  • Like
Reactions: 3 users
I've also read a number and the most common issue along with incongruent verb tenses is the lack of transitions.

Most people write their essay using the skeleton as follows: paragraph on past traumatizing experience -> 2-3x paragraphs on meaningful experiences -> reflective conclusion paragraph. Usually, each meaningful experience paragraph is constructed as a standalone mini story/snippet of life, with each containing its own introduction, set of learning outcomes, and conclusion.

Transitions are crucial when you build an essay this way because not using them leaves the reader confused as to how the you in mini story 1 lead to the you in mini story 2. Was your first meaningful experience shadowing, but you wanted a better understanding of what it's like being a mentor, so you started volunteering or tutoring or whatever as meaningful experience 2? Then introduce the paragraph that way! It reads as an awkward disconnect and disrupts the flow of the essay if you jump right into the experience without properly introducing both the role and your motivations behind it.
  • Like
Reactions: 1 user
Also, it just looks and sounds more professional if you write out things. This isn’t texting

You’re= You are
I’d= I would

Also I always like to think my reader has never heard of the abbreviations of programs I did. So spell things out and if it shows up a second time, feel free to use the abbreviation.

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
  • Like
Reactions: 1 user