I frequently see students confuse these two words in their writing. Many people do not even know that there are two separate spellings. "To compliment" is to offer someone praise. As in: "Karen's boyfriend complimented her new haircut." "To complement" is to make something more complete or perfect. As in: "Karen thinks her boyfriend really complements her life." This word is also used in geometry to refer to two angles whose degrees add up to 90 (i.e. form a right angle).
One of my personal pet peeves in both written and spoken English is the confusion of the words "less" and "fewer." These words are not interchangeable. While they have the same essential meaning, one must use them in different contexts. "Less" applies to quantities that cannot be counted. Less sugar, less air, less dirt, less dust, less light, less water. "Fewer" applies to quantities that can be counted. Fewer people, fewer aardvarks, fewer tissues, fewer cups. At the same time, remember: Fewer granules of sugar, fewer molecules of air, fewer dust bunnies, fewer drops of water.
My students at the University of Wisconsin told me that they found the acronym MEAL to be helpful to them when they were writing in-class essays. MEAL is a way to remember how to structure your paragraphs if you are stuck or if the writing process does not happen organically for you. M - Main Idea - Each paragraph should begin with a topic sentence introducing what the paragraph will discuss E - Evidence - What facts, quotations, artifacts, articles, etc. do you have to support your main idea? A - Analysis - You cannot just present the evidence, you must tell the reader why your evidence supports your topic L - Link - How does this paragraph support your overall thesis?
One of the most common grammatical errors I see in the writing of students of all levels is the lack of agreement of adjectives and verbs when "each" is the subject of the sentence. For example: "Each of the cats are calico." This sentence is incorrect because the subject is "each," not "the cats." Therefore, the correct form of the sentence is: "Each of the cats is calico." If you get confused, remove the words that modify "each" and read the sentence. In this case, the sentence would read: "Each is calico."
One of the most common problems I see in my students' writing is their use of evidence. What constitutes good evidence? What is a good source? The first thing I tell all of my students is that Wikipedia is never an acceptable source. Why not? Wikipedia is written and edited by a variety of people who may or may not have expertise in the topic about which they are writing. Wikipedia is littered with incorrect or dubious information, and should therefore never be cited in a formal essay. A good, reliable source is one whose credibility can be verified. Books by known experts, articles published in peer-reviewed journals, and newspaper articles that rely on experts may all be cited in an history essay as proof of a thesis. Primary sources--interviews with historical actors, memoirs, photographs, artifacts--are also excellent sources of proof in a historical essay, but take care to provide adequate analysis... read more
Your writing should be internally consistent in the way in which it refers to people. For example: "One should never leave your door unlocked when you're not at home." This sentence is awkward to read because the pronouns are inconsistent: the author uses "one" and "you" to refer to the same abstract person. This sentence can be revised to read one of two ways: "One should never leave one's door unlocked when one is not at home." "You should never leave your door unlocked when you're not at home." The sentences have slightly different meanings. The first is abstract, while the second seems to be giving specific instructions to a person that the speaker is directly addressing. Both are correct because both sentences consistently use the same pronouns.
While it is occasionally acceptable to use the passive voice for rhetorical purposes, in general grammar experts frown upon this style as being inappropriate in formal essays. How do you know if you are using the passive voice? Here's a simple example: "The road was crossed by the chicken." This construction uses the passive voice because the subject in this sentence is not doing the action--an action was done to the subject. Say instead: "The chicken crossed the road."