Grammatical and Stylistic Problems

(with examples from student essays in English 230)


General Notes

Note: avoid contractions in scholarly essays (he's supposed to; I'd like to prove; etc.)

Note: concluding paragraphs should not simply repeat points that you've already made in the paper. Actually use this paragraph to make some interesting concluding argument or observation.

Note: maintain the present tense when referring to events in a fictional text. Only use the past tense when referring to historical events (including, for example, events in Milton's life).

Note: Avoid including filler. Example: Milton's Paradise Lost is probably one of the most inventive epics in writing. He purposefully abandoned conventional epic styles in an attempt to put himself apart from other writers. I believe Milton succeeded in doing just that. He began his story with the focus on the fallen angels in hell. I feel that this take on the story made it more interesting for the readers.... Sin and Death were two of Milton's allegorical characters that added an engaging view of the temptation of Adam and Eve. As a duo, they continually appeared throughout the epic and played a quintessential role in the development of the story.

Note: always underline an independently published text (or put it in italics, especially if, as on the World Wide Web, you are unable to represent underlined text), hence: Paradise Lost.

Note: if you are going to use a dictionary definition in your essay, for example the definition for "incest" as in one student essay, then have a reason for providing the definition. You can assume the reader knows the meaning of incest and that the reader would consider incest to be a bad thing. Providing the definition would be interesting if, for example, the Oxford English Dictionary defined the term in a way that seems misogynistic and you went on to discuss how deeply (and even unconsciously) misogynistic our culture really is.





I think there is no doubt that Eve accepted the serpents word as true.

Paradise Lost by John Milton is considered by many authors to be one of the greatest epic's of all time.


Dangling Modifier

Mammon disregarded God's love for his own materialistic lust.


Unclear Antecedent/ Referent

I see several similarities between the escapades of Satan and the reality of Milton's life when he wrote this great epic. He was supposed to have "free will" and he got censored by Parliament, which resulted in the unjustified removal of his rights.

Throughout most of Milton's life, he was involved in a quest for political and religious freedom.


Run-On/ Sentence Splice

Milton was raised Puritan, which was one of the main sects in the church at one time, outside the church were the Catholics, the Independents, and various sects.

Some epic conventions are followed by Milton in Paradise Lost, however it is the differences that make his epic stand out from all the other epics prior to Paradise Lost.


Sentence Fragment

Satan is clever in pointing out that Heaven is much too vast and powerful to overcome, and that they should get back at God instead by tampering with a creation of His; namely man.

Not only did Satan try to overthrow God, but he raped his own daughter, and then destroyed man. All to please his own selfishness and jealousy.



There is nothing wrong with questioning oneself or the culture and society surrounding their life.



Milton seems to be letting his feelings out through Satan by making him like the prisoner and having no more control over what happened to him.

Milton also builds sympathy for Satan's fallen warriors in an attempt to throw the reader for a loop.

Maybe Satan is not so bad of a guy after all.

After seemingly stating his view on man's disobeying God, Milton then quickly starts into Satan, kind of doing a "meanwhile..." by starting in the middle.


Diction and Word Choice

The qualities that Satan bears resemble human possibilities and aim to evoke in the reader a sort of partial sympathy, as it is that any mortal (sinner) may be subject to such expressions.

[QUOTE] This exert reflects Satan's case against God. It condemns God as unforgiving, unmerciful, and strict. This is the case that Milton uses at the beginning exemplifying Satan as the protagonist.

Milton leaves the true meaning of Paradise Lost to the reader's conscious.

Satan's banishment was an incest against free will.

This tends to have an interesting affect on today's reader.

Satan transforms from an angel of normal statute to a meager angel.


Split Infinitive

I am going to go on to further state that Satan is guilty.


Passive Voice

It is to be questioned why there is a double standard.

Another perspective is in viewing the attributes of some of the other fallen angels.





Noun Accumulation

One child is a goddess of wisdom, and another a fear bearing creature of Sin representation.



Milton presents Satan as a brave leader, a great rhetorician, and possessing guile.



Milton introduces Satan as the first character of his epic poem. This suggests to the reader that he is the antagonist. God can be interpreted as being extremely overpowerful and tyrannical.

The council decides to send Satan on a search for God's new creatures, mankind. In Paradise Lost, Satan is the first protagonist at the beginning of the epic

[The last sentence in each of these two excerpts has no clear relationship to what comes before. In a scholarly paper, each sentence should proceed logically and clearly from the one preceeding it. The same point applies to paragraphs: each one should proceed clearly and logically from the one preceeding it.]



Sample first paragraph: William Blake and "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell" makes two excellent points. One is that Milton is a true poet and he was of the "devils" party. In my essay I will discuss the difference of Miltons epic from the epics of a much earlier time and I will also discuss the role of the devil in Paradise Lost. [ok, but it is still not clear what argument this student wishes to make. State your argument up front in the thesis and make that thesis take into account all of the points you plan to make in the paper.]

Sample first paragraph: John Milton's epic masterpiece Paradise Lost is a long narrative poem conceived on a grand scale, telling a story of great heroic deeds and adventures. The scale of an epic is larger than life. Its heroes are taken up into events that set them apart for celebration by their fellow man. An epic is linked with literary legends and conventions. The style and formula of an epic is marked by its unique diction. Various epic devices are used by Milton. A classic epic begins with an invocation to a muse, the act of appealing to a god for aid or inspiration. The discourse, how the story is presented, of an epic is in medias res ("in the middle of things""). Other characteristics of an epic may include epic machinery, epic similes, catalogues, and misogyny. Prime examples of epic would be Paradise Lost and the Odyssey. It is interesting to see how and why Milton began his religious epic the way he did and also how it compares to the Odyssey. [Rather than simply listing unrelated points in essays, you should tie points to one over-arching argument or thesis. You would do better, then, to concentrate on a few of the points in the excerpt above and tie them together into an actual argument. Rather than say: "here's an invocation in the Odyssey and now here's one in Milton," go on actually to state the significance of any differences you see. What do these differences suggest to you about the development of epic tradition? How does the change affect our reading of the text at hand?]



Example: According to Milton, God and his angels live in a heavenly realm. When one of his angels, Satan, tried to overthrow God, Satan was banished into a new world known as Hell. Hell is eternally dark and ever-flaming. Satan and his angels wake up chained to the fiery lake in Hell. Heaven, where God lives, is atop the universe, and Hell, is below the universe. Chaos, or the name used to describe the space between Heaven and Hell, is where Adam and Ever are created to live. This reworking is different than in The Odyssey as Mt. Olympus, where Zeus lives, Hades the Underworld, and the mortal lands are considered all contained on the same flat surface. [Rather than stop at paraphrase, explain why it might be significant that one landscape is horizontal whereas the other is vertical. Does the change in landscape affect the representation of society, of government, of the self, for example? Does the change reflect changes in the understanding of the universe (for example, the movement from a Ptolemaic to a Copernican universe)?]