You’ve brought down the mightiest of empires, possibly.
While that’s probably not true, grammatical errors in your law school personal statement certainly cast you in a negative light. It’s important to avoid them at all costs, but most people don’t have a firm enough grasp of grammar to properly edit their own essays.
That’s where we come in.
Here are the most common errors (by far) that I see in personal statements every year:
Most Common Law School Personal Statement Grammatical Error I: Watch out for your homonyms
Homonyms are words that sound the same but have different meanings and spellings. They’re also notoriously difficult to pick up on because most people edit by reading to themselves and correcting what sounds wrong. Homonyms don’t sound wrong. Autocorrect also misses them since they’re spelled correctly, just used incorrectly.
Their (possessive)/they’re (they are)/there (location)
Weather (what you experience outside)/whether (when choosing between two things)
Your (possessive)/you’re (you are)
Its (possessive)/it’s (it is)
Then (time related)/than (comparative)
Effect/affect – this one’s tricky. If it’s a noun, then effect means what you think it means, and affect means an emotional state displayed through action. If it’s a verb, then affect means to have an effect on (yeah, I know…), and effect means to cause something to happen.
“His determination of her attractiveness was affected by the amount of alcohol he imbibed.”
“The effect of drinking too much alcohol is an aversion to tequila for a week.”
“Her affect after the accident was detached.”
“He didn’t like the current regime, so he effected change in it.”
Most Common Law School Personal Statement Grammatical Error II: ‘Of’ does not equal ‘have’
“I could of made that shot,” should make every one of you out there cringe. But it didn’t, which is why this article is necessary.
That sentence makes no sense. Most people, however, will write it that way because it’s (again) a homonym of the correct phrasing. So look through your writing to see if you say you ‘should of’ done something, and change it to the correct ‘should have’.
Most Common Law School Personal Statement Grammatical Error III: Who vs. Whom
A lot of you think ‘whom’ is just a fancy way of saying ‘who’. A lot of you are incorrect.
When you use ‘who’, you’re referring to the subject of the clause. When you use ‘whom’, you’re referring to the object of the clause.
Now that I feel smart for saying that, here’s a quick way to figure it out. Rephrase your sentence as a question. If the answer is ‘him’ or ‘her’, ‘whom’ is correct. If it’s ‘he’ or ‘she’, then go with ‘who’.
Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar? He did. ‘Who’ is correct. So, “He is the one who stole the cookie from the cookie jar.”
Who did you have to carry home after one too many drinks last night? Him. So that should be, “Whom did you have to carry home last night?”
Most Common Law School Personal Statement Grammatical Error IV: Commas. Oh, dear God, the commas
I don’t believe I’ve ever edited a personal statement that didn’t have an errant comma, or a comma that was needed but missing.
There are a ton of rules for commas, so the best advice I can give you is to read your personal statement out loud. If you pause in the sentence, put a comma in there. If you take a breath, put a comma in there. Commas serve to put breaks between ideas and clarify. Use them as such.
A quick note on commas in lists: put one after each item unless it confuses the issue. Otherwise, you’ll end up with the following situation:
The strippers, FDR and JFK showed up to my party.
This sentence means that FDR and JFK, both employed in the illicit profession of stripping, showed up to my party. Instead, write:
The strippers, FDR, and JFK showed up to my party.
Here, I had a rip-roaring good time with two of our best presidents and some ladies of ill repute.
This list is far from complete, but there are far too many rules of grammar abused to get into a short article. It’s a good start, however, and there are always services out there more than willing to edit your law school admissions essays for you.