What to Do
If we have these issues in our writing, the first step to correcting them is understanding that they are errors. This is the easy part. The harder part is catching them in our writing and correcting them. If you find yourself struggling with this, don’t give up. Realize that it takes time. Learning to read our own writing objectively, as others do, is one of the hardest writing skills to master.
Have you ever thought you knew the lyrics to a song, only to find out later that you’d misheard them? How many times after that did you still insert the wrong ones when singing along with it afterward? Unless you were making an extra effort to sing the right ones when that point of the song came along, you probably sang in the wrong ones a lot. It’s reflex. It’s what sounds right to our ear.
The same thing happens in our writing with errors like these, so the first step in fixing the error. When we are proofreading and editing our work, we have to make sure to pay extra attention to the verbs we are using.
Some students find it helpful to read their papers out loud when proofreading. When you do this, you involve more of your senses and are more likely to catch errors in your writing. However, since it’s usually our ears helping us out with this proofreading trick, and they may be less than reliable in helping with these errors, we may need to try something else.
Another trick to try is to print a copy of your draft, read through it, and highlight all of the verbs. Then go back and look at them individually. Do you have the correct endings on them? Review last week’s post if you need to for help in making corrections.
Either of these may seem like a lot of work, but remember, you need to pay extra attention to points in your writing where you might be making these errors or you will continue to make them. And, the more effort you put into detecting them and bringing them to your attention now, the easier it will be catch them with a simple read through or avoid them in the future.
If you’re trying to make sure you’ve used “see” correctly as we talked about last week, highlight its forms (see, saw, or seen) throughout your paper. If you’re writing about something that happened in the past, have you used the correct word? Remember, if you are using “seen,” you have to use it with either “have” or “has”.
Also, remember when deciding should you say “I saw” or “I have seen” that these two phrases, while similar, have different meanings. The word “saw” is used as a past tense verb and is probably the word you want to use in most cases. It refers to something that happened at a specific point in the past. For example:
I saw the latest episode of Sherlock last night.
The phrases “has seen” or “have seen” are used when we want to describe something that happened at an unspecified point in time or when we want to state that something started happening in the past and continues in the present.
For example, in the sentence, “I have seen people acting like this all my life,” the inference is that people have acted a certain way in the past and they still are. In the sentence, “I’ve seen this movie before,” it implies that the film has been seen as some point prior to now, but not at a specific point in the past.
Keep working on proofreading for and fixing these errors and before you know it, you won’t be singing “Pennsylvania” when you’re watching The Lion King anymore.