My second-year university students are, for the most part, pretty good writers, but on their fall semester essays I noticed a deficiency in (what I thought were) proofreading skills. So this past week I gave them a proofreading quiz (ungraded, as a learning exercise), consisting of ten sentences containing various errors and problematic choices that they had to identify and correct. I was stunned, not by their failures to identify the problems and their desire to make unnecessary corrections, but by the consistency. They all did pretty much the same.
None spotted the missing apostrophe in the possessive.
Most failed to insert a comma where two independent clauses were joined by a conjunction.
None spotted the misuse of the word inculcate.
None spotted the unnecessary capitalization of the word king.
Most failed to spot the sentence fragment.
None spotted the misspelling of amorous. (I spelled it amourous, a spelling that hasn’t been common since the 16th century. This one may have been unfair.), and most missed the misspelling of martial for marital (again, time pressure in a quiz may have made this one unfair).
Only half spotted the error in subject-verb concord (writes for wrote).
But on the plus side, only one flagged the split infinitive as an error.
In the future, I’m going to give this quiz earlier in the year. It seems to be a good method for identifying the areas of grammar and usage where they’re unsure.