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Cách tránh một số lỗi quan trọng – consistency – trong viết tiếng Anh – Avoiding shifts in writing English [1]

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Writers should keep the elements in a sentence consistent, avoiding any unnecessary changes in tense, voice, mood, person, number, and discourse.  Such unnecessary changes, or “shifts”, may make reading difficult and obscure the sentence’s meaning for readers.

See more below:

  1. Avoid shift in verb tense

Except for special cases where the intended meaning requires a change in tense, maintain the same tense within a sentence.

  • Error example:

She CAUGHT the ball and then THROWS it to the catcher for the out.

The sentence above begins in the past tense but shifts, without reason, to the present tense.

  • Error repaired:

She caught the ball and then threw it to the catcher for the out.


She catches the ball and then throws it to the catcher for the out. 


  1. Avoid shift in voice

The VOICE of a verb may be either ACTIVE or PASSIVE in a sentence.  When a sentence contains two or more verbs, both verbs should maintain the same voice.

  • Error example:

When the children TURNED ON the TV, a buzzing sound WAS HEARD.

The sentence above begins in active voice but shifts without reason to passive voice.

  • Error repaired:

When the children turned on the TV, they heard a buzzing sound.

BUT: emphasis on subject requires shift in voice:

Two men ESCAPED from prison yesterday but WERE CAPTURED immediately.

Here, the use of passive allows the sentence to focus on the subject.


  1. Avoid shift in mood

Shifts in mood often occur with directions, where the mood shifts from indicative to imperative or from imperative to indicative.

  • Error example:

TAKE two aspirins, and then YOU SHOULD CALL me in the morning. (shift from IMPERATIVE mood to INDICATIVE mood)

  • Error repaired:

Take two aspirins, and then call me in the morning.


  1. Avoid shift in person

English has three “persons” or points of view:

  • first person – the speakerI, me, my, mine, we, us, our, ours
  • second person – the person spoken to: you, your, yours 
  • third person – the person or thing spoken about: he, him, his, she, her, hers, it, its, they, them, their, theirs

Unless the meaning of a sentence clearly requires a change, keep person consistent within a sentence.

Shifts in person usually occur with changes from the third to the second person point of view.

  • Error example:

If SOMEONE wants to play games, YOU must follow the rules. (shift from THIRD PERSON to SECOND PERSON)

  • Error repaired:

If someone wants to play games, he or she must follow the rules.

If you want to play games, you must follow the rules

If people want to play games, they must follow the rules.


BUTIf the meaning of a sentence clearly requires a change, then you may change person as needed.

  • Example requiring a change in person:

I stayed at the house, but the OTHERS left. (From first person to third person)

Since both I and the others are doing something in the above sentence, the shift in person is justified.


  1. Avoid shift in number

Use singular pronouns to refer to singular antecedents; use plural pronouns to refer to plural antecedents.

  • Error example:

When SOMEONE calls, tell THEM that I’m not at home. (Shift from singular to plural)

  • Error repaired:

When someone calls, tell him or her that I’m not at home.

When people call, tell them that I’m not at home.

Tell anyone who calls that I’m not at home.


  1. Avoid shift in discourse

There are TWO WAYS to recount someone’s words.  Each way requires its own format.


Alex asked, “Are the potatoes ready and can I cut them for the salad?”

The quoted section (in the quotation marks) is Alex’s exact words.

  • WAY #2 – USING INDIRECT QUOTATION: An indirect quotation paraphrases the speaker’s words and does not place them inside quotation marks.  Even if the indirect quotation paraphrases a question, the sentence ends with a period.


Alex asked whether the potatoes were ready and whether he could cut them for the salad.

This indirect quotation does not use the exact words Alex said, and has no quotation marks.

Note the difference in the formats above.


A shift in discourse occurs when, within a sentence, the writer uses the format of one form and shifts some part to the format of the other.

  • Error example:

My instructor asked WHETHER I WAS PREPARED for the course and HAVE I BOUGHT myself a laptop.

What is wrong with the sentence above is the mixture of indirect and direct format, i.e. the part whether I was prepared for the course is in an indirect question format while the part have I bought myself a laptop is in a direct format.

  • Error repaired with indirect discourse:

My instructor asked WHETHER I WAS PREPARED for the course and WHETHER I HAD BOUGHT myself a laptop. 

  • Error repaired with direct discourse:

My instructor asked, “ARE YOU PREPARED for the course, and HAVE YOU BOUGHT yourself a laptop?”          


  1. Avoid shift in sentence construction

A shift in sentence construction occurs when words or phrases intended for one purpose are used for another, upsetting the natural flow of the sentence.

Below are examples of THREE FREQUENT ERRORS that shift sentence construction.  Below each error is an example showing one or more ways to repair the error.

Error #1: prepositional phrase used as subject

  • Error example:

By the time we got there was too late (prepositional phrase subject)

  • Error repaired:

By the time we got there, it was too late.

Error #2: Faulty subject

  • Error example:

The selection of the CEO was chosen by the company employees.

  • Error repaired:

The CEO was chosen by the company employees.

Error #3: Using is because, is where, or is when


  • Error example:

The reason I am late IS BECAUSE the traffic was heavy.

  • Error repaired:

I am late because the traffic was heavy.


The reason I am late is that the traffic was heavy.


  • Error example:

Proctoring exams IS WHERE you watch for cheating.

  • Error repaired:

Proctoring exams means watching for cheating.


One who proctors exams watches for cheating.


  • Error example:

Claustrophobia IS WHEN one fears closed spaces.

  • Error repaired:

Claustrophobia creates fear of closed spaces.


One with claustrophobia fears closed spaces.

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