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Grammar for Art & Design

Most Art & Design students know what they want to say in their written assignments, however, some struggle to articulate their meaning clearly. It is important to pay attention to grammar and to identify and correct any errors you consistently make.

These are some common grammatical errors to watch out for.

  1. Missing articles
  2. incorrect This is small painting which is nevertheless dramatic.

    Articles or determiners, such as a, an and the, help identify noun forms in English. They also indicate whether information in a sentence is new or has already been specified. For instance, if the sample sentence above is the first sentence in a text, then a as the indefinite article must be used to indicate that the writer has not referred to the painting earlier.

    correct This is a small painting which is nevertheless dramatic.

    By contrast, if the sentence is the second sentence of the text, then the as the definite article will be used, as the writer is now discussing the painting that has previously been referred to. In other words, this information has already been specified. Compare sentence (a) with sentence (b).

    incorrect(a) Painting depicts scene from Bible.

    correct(b) The painting depicts a scene from the Bible.

    The word scene in sentence (b) is also new information, so a is used in front of it. Note a special use of the word the to indicate uniqueness. Because the Bible is one of a kind or unique, the must be used in front of it.

    You can learn more about articles here.

  3. Uncountable nouns
  4. incorrect The report contains many informations about the design specifications.

    Nouns in English are either countable, meaning they can be made plural by adding -s, or uncountable meaning they cannot be made plural. Some examples of countable nouns include chair s, line s and colour s. Some uncountable nouns are rice, sugar and knowledge. In the sample sentence, information is an uncountable noun.

    correct The report contains much information about the design specifications.

    You can learn more about countable and uncountable nouns here.

  5. Incorrect word form
  6. incorrect A major element in the painting is dynamic of the brushstrokes.

    The appropriate form of a word must be used to make a sentence grammatically correct. That is, a verb form should be used where a verb is needed, a noun when a noun is required and so on. Attention to word endings is therefore important. Two choices are possible here:

    correct A major element in the painting is the dynamism of the brushstrokes.

    or

    correct A major element in the painting is the dynamic brushstrokes.

  7. Subject-verb agreement
  8. incorrect This sculpture display rough surface strokes.

    In the sample sentence, the subject this sculpture is singular while the verb display is plural. To make the sentence grammatically correct, the subject and verb must be made to agree, either by adding the singular present tense ending -(e)s to the verb display or by making the subject this sculpture plural to agree with the verb.

    correct This sculpture display s rough surface strokes.

    or

    correct These sculpture s display rough surface strokes.

    Note that subject-subject agreement works on the same principle. Compare sentence (a) with sentence (b):

    incorrect(a) The sculpture is overwhelming in their height.

    correct(b) The sculpture is overwhelming in its height.

  9. Tense selection
  10. incorrect He employed a dedicated perspective painter, Giralomo Mengozzi Colonna, to paint the background. This is a common practice of the time.

    A sequence of actions is used in these sentences but one uses the past tense (employed) and the other uses the present tense (is). Given that the text is reporting historical facts, the past tense should be used in both.

    correct He employed a dedicated perspective painter, Giralomo Mengozzi Colonna, to paint the background which was a common practice of the time.

    Think about the difference between past events such as art movements, experiments or design periods, and current or ongoing situations such as theories, ideas or contemporary practices. Be consistent in your choice of tense and do not change from one tense to another unless there is a logical reason for doing so.

    You can learn more about verb tenses here and past tenses here.

  11. Connective problems
  12. incorrect Several figures are represented in the scene. Only one is intended as the focus, and this is achieved by the intense highlighting of this figure.

    To show the relationship and contrast between these two sentences, transition words (in this case, words which mark contrast) need to be used.

    correct Although several figures are represented in the scene, only one is intended as the focus. This effect is achieved by the intense highlighting of this figure.

    or

    correct Several figures are represented in the scene. Only one, however, is intended as the focus, and this is achieved by the intense highlighting of this figure.

    In English, only one connective word, such as but, however, although and so on, is typically required to connect the two parts of a statement. Compare sentence (a) with sentences (b) and (c):

    incorrect(a) Although the design is highly intricate but the piece is still functional.

    correct(b) Although the design is highly intricate , the piece is still functional.

    correct(c) The design is highly intricate but the piece is still functional.

    When beginning a sentence with words such as when, although, because, while and so on, two linked sentence parts (clauses) are required. For the sentence to make sense, a comma must join the clauses. Do not separate the two parts of the sentence from each other with a full stop. This is known as a sentence fragment and is ungrammatical. Compare sentence (a) with sentence (b):

    incorrect(a) When writers give explanations. They usually offer examples to support their views.

    correct(b) When writers give explanations , they usually offer examples to support their views.

    You can learn more about connectives and other transition words here.

  13. Parallel structures
  14. incorrect The following steps are involved: investigate the market, designing the product and build the prototype.

    When a sentence contains a list of items, each item must be written in the same grammatical form. In this case, all the actions are best put into the gerund or -ing form of the verb, although other variations are also correct.

    correct The following steps are involved: investigat ing the market, design ing the product and build ing the prototype.

    or

    correctThe following steps are involved: investigate the market, design the product and build the prototype.

    You can learn more about parallel structures here.

  15. Sentence fragments
  16. incorrect For example, Monet's Vetheuil.

    This sentence has no main verb and is therefore incomplete. The fragment is probably best attached to the previous sentence with a comma in front of for example, or it can be changed into a freestanding, complete sentence.

    correct Colour and composition play an important role in many Impressionist paintings, for example, Monet's Vetheuil.

    or

    correct Colour and composition play an important role in many Impressionist paintings. An example of this is Monet's Vetheuil.

    Similarly, compare sentence (a) with sentence (b)

    incorrect(a) A small painting, but strong because of the intense way colour has been applied.

    correct(b) This is a small painting but it is strong because of the intense way colour has been applied.

  17. Run-on sentences
  18. incorrect The church is clearly the focus of the picture however its triangularity is echoed in the houses and is framed by the triangular setting of the town.

    This sentence contains two grammatically separate statements, both with their own subjects, verbs and complements. It is also overlong. To resolve this problem, split the separate statements into distinct sentences.

    correct The church is clearly the focus of the picture. Its triangularity, however, is echoed in the houses and is framed by the triangular setting of the town.

  19. Incorrect use of 'its'.
  20. incorrect It's bold colouring nevertheless conveys a sense of tension.

    It's means it is and should not be confused with its, which is the possessive form of it. If you avoid using contractions or abbreviations like it's in your formal writing, you will not make this annoying error.

    correct Its bold colouring nevertheless conveys a sense of tension.

Further assistance with grammar can be found by reading:

Quick Ref 20 'Editing and Proofreading Your Work' or

The 'Handbook' section of Hudson, S. & Noonan-Morrissey, N. The art of writing about art, Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt College Publishers, 2002.

Chapter 9 of Barnet, S. A short guide to writing about art, 6th ed., New York: Longman, 2000.

The following websites may also be useful:

A guide to grammar and writing Opens in a new window Capital Community Technical College

Common errors Opens in a new window Virtual Language Centre Hong Kong

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