What the #%&@ Does That Mean? A Clear Grammar Resource for Shady Grammar Feedback

October 1, 2018 by Spencer Darr

I’m about to grade my first batch of ENG 101 student essays, and I’ve been reflecting on my own experiences with professors grading my papers as an undergraduate student. One of the worst experiences I remember was when a professor in the Religion and Philosophy department massacred my first writing assignment for one of his upper level Religion classes. My paper came back to me with an inky web of ovals around my words connected with jagged red lines ripping throughout the paragraphs of my paper and this phrase in mostly legible block handwriting written repeatedly in the margins: “PASSIVE VOICE.”

At this point years later, I don’t remember what the paper was about and I don’t remember what grade I received on the paper. I do remember thinking at the time that my professor seemed far more concerned with what he considered an egregious grammatical error--that I had no idea existed--than he did with any of the other content in my paper. Furthermore, I had no idea how to fix PASSIVE VOICE because I didn’t know what he was talking about or why it was bad. Why hadn’t any other professor up to that point taken issue with my use of PASSIVE VOICE?

Looking back now, I should have just asked the professor, but I was too scared to do so and didn’t consider it worth my time to try and appease an audience of one who didn’t really give a #%&@ what I had to say because I had written it in PASSIVE VOICE. So, without further ado, here is one of my favorite go-to online resources for all things grammar-related. If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, you have a resource at your disposal--a collection of online articles by Grammar Girl--to figure out what someone is talking about if they mention an unfamiliar grammar term as well as how you can fix it.

Wait. Here, I’ll show you how you can use this resource using PASSIVE VOICE as an example.

  1. Do an internet search that contains both your unknown grammar term, such as PASSIVE VOICE, followed by Grammar Girl.
  2. Choose an article that contains the grammar term you’re looking for, such as Active Voice Versus Passive Voice | Grammar Girl - Quick and Dirty Tips
  3. Read and/or listen to the article. One of the things I love about Grammar Girl articles is they have the articles in both written form for reading and in audio format for listening.

That’s all well and good if you actually know the name of the grammatical error you’re making. But what if you don’t know what the right “grammar term” is? Or what if you want to double check your writing for some of the most common grammatical errors?

Once again, Grammar Girl has a good article that addresses that issue as well titled: Grammar Girl's Editing Checklist. Each section has examples of the error, examples of how to correct the error, and the grammatical term or concept the examples address. And, there are links to articles that expand on each topic if you want to know more.

Hopefully, this is a resource that will serve you and your grammatical needs well in the rare event that a professor doesn’t give you all the information you need.