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PRINCIPLES OF ENGLISH USAGE: STANDARD WRITTEN AMERICAN ENGLISH by Joseph Suglia. Table of Contents

PRINCIPLES OF ENGLISH USAGE: STANDARD WRITTEN AMERICAN ENGLISH

by Joseph Suglia

Table of Contents

 

A Few Words of Introduction

124 Problems of Usage

All of these sentences are wrong. Why?

“Subconscious,” “subconsciously”

Stupidity vs. Ignorance

Analogy Blindness

Twenty-Seven More Principles of English Usage

Groups of Animals

A Brief Mention of “Mention”

Access

Adverse vs. Averse

Affect vs. Effect

Aggravate

Alliteration

Alternately vs. Alternatively

Although; also

Amid vs. Among

Analogous vs. Similar

And, But, Or, Because

Anxious vs. Eager

Apostrophe

“As to”

Avoid These Words

Bare / Bear

Because

Blatant vs. Flagrant

“Blog”

The Brave and the Cowardly

Brutalize

Cactuses, Octopuses, and Ignoramuses on your Syllabuses

Censure vs. Censor

Classic vs. Classical

Claustrophobic

Cliches

Cohort

Compliment vs. Complement

Compose vs. Comprise

Convince

Copious Notes, Stark Contrasts, Heated Debates, Devastating Losses, and Firm Believers

Danglers (Misplaced or Dangling Modifiers)

Decimate

Deism vs. Theism–Or, Why I am Such a Spiritual Person

Deja vu

Delusion vs. Illusion

Devil’s Advocate

Dialogue, Conference, Reference, Table

Diaphanous

Dilemma

Discreet vs. Discrete

Discriminating against People Like Me

Disinterested vs. Uninterested

Dynamic Arch-Nemeses

Each other vs. One another

Economic vs. Economical

Elicit vs. Illicit

Emulate

Enjoying Reading

Enormity vs. Enormousness

Envelop vs. Envelope

“Everybody danced with their spouses”

Everyday vs. Every Day

Fascist

Few vs. Less

Fleshy vs. Fleshly

Fruit, Salt, and Mustard

French Latin vs. Anglo-Saxon German

Grammar: Volume One

“Happy Birthday to Infants!”

The Holy Dictionary

Hopefully…

However…

Hyphen

I

Iconic Role Models

“I could care less”

“I find your tone very gratuitous”

Imply vs. Infer

In behalf of vs. On behalf of

Infamous

Inflammable Flammables

“In terms of…”

Into vs. In to

It isn’t ironic. It really isn’t.

Kids

Like

Leading Question

Literally

“Looking forward to receive…”

Malnutrition, malnourishment

Masterful vs. Masterly

May, Might, Could

Muscular

Mutual Friends Love Platonic Friends

Narrative

Number

Oblivious

On Commas and How to Use Them

Optimistic

Oversimplified Oversimplifications

Parameter vs. Perimeter

Penultimate

Phenomenal Phenomena!

Preposition at the End of the Sentence

Presently

Pretentious

Pristine

“Quick question!”

Quoting

Realize / Realization

Refute

Restauranteur vs. Restaurateur

Ridiculously Ridiculous Ridiculousness

Sensual vs. Sensuous

Sports Metaphors

Than vs. Then

Too Many Words

Tragedy

Transpire

Is it “try to help you” or “try and help you”?

Uniquely Unique Uniqueness

Waiting All Night on You (in High School)

Which vs. That

The End

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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doctor joseph suglia, dr joseph suglia, dr. joseph suglia, english grammar guide, English grammar guide online, grammar, grammar danglers, grammar danglers misplaced modifiers, grammar misplaced modifiers, joseph suglia, Uncategorized

Grammar: Volume One

A Guide to Grammar: Standard Written American English

Joseph Suglia

 

What is a Sentence?

A sentence is an arrangement of words that begins with a capital letter and ends with a period (.) or an exclamation point (!).

Every sentence must contain a subject and a predicate.

A subject says what the sentence is about.

A predicate says what the subject is doing OR tells what the subject is.

 

EXAMPLE A:

The bird sings a sad song.

In this sentence, The bird is the subject.  The sentence is about the bird.

What is the bird doing?  The bird is singing a sad song.  Sings a sad song is the predicate.

 

EXAMPLE B:

The children are eating ice cream.

In this sentence, The children is the subject.  The sentence is about the children.  Are eating ice cream is the predicate, since it describes what the children are doing.

 

EXAMPLE C:

I am good.

In this sentence, I is the subject.  The sentence is about I.

Am good is the predicate.  It describes what the I is.

 

What is the Difference between a Subject and a Noun?

A subject is what a sentence is about.

A noun is a name for a person, place, thing, or idea.

A person: Guadalupe, Jason, Michael, Robin.

A place: Illinois, Brazil, Germany, Neptune, ocean, forest, restaurant.

A thing: aquarium, tennis racket, tomato, barn, armadillo.

An idea: crime, technology, politics, love, travel, happiness, life.

 

EXAMPLE:

The green parrot echoed my words.

In the sentence above, The green parrot is the subject.

However, parrot is the noun.

 

Some words can be both nouns and something else.  For instance, orange can be a noun or an adjective (we will discuss adjectives later).

 

Every subject must contain a noun.

BUT:

A subject may contain more than just one noun.

 

A subject may include much more than just a noun.  Here are some examples.  The subject, in each case, is emphasized in bold:

 

The yellow dogs are running across the lawn.

Notice that the article (the), the adjective (yellow), and the noun (dogs) all constitute the subject of the sentence.

 

You yank open the door.

Here, the subject is the pronoun you.

 

Open the door!

In this example, the subject is you, even though the subject is never explicitly stated.

 

There is hope for us.

Notice in this last example that the subject (hope) comes AFTER thereThere cannot be a subject.  Whenever you have there (or here) in a sentence, the subject comes AFTER the verb.

 

Count Nouns

It is easy to indicate more than one person/place/thing/idea in English.

Usually, you just add the letter S to the end of the noun!

 

Never Confuse Plurals with Possessives

Most plurals sound like possessives.  Most possessives sound like plurals.

This is because most plurals and possessives end with the letter S.

 

The possessive case of a noun indicates belonging: Something belongs to something else.  In such instances, an apostrophe (’) should always be used.  The apostrophe should either come before the S or after the S.

If the noun is singular (there is only one), the apostrophe will usually come BEFORE the S.

If the noun is plural (there are many), the apostrophe will usually come AFTER the S.

A plural indicates that there is more than one person, place, thing, or idea.  In such instances, the noun usually ends in S.  There should NOT be an apostrophe.

 

EXAMPLES:

The flamingo’s feathers are pink (if there is one flamingo).

This sentence means that the feathers belong to ONE flamingo.  Flamingo’s is a possessive.  The apostrophe comes before the S because there is only one flamingo.

The flamingos’ feathers are pink (if there is more than one flamingo).

This sentence means that the feathers belong to MANY flamingos.  Flamingos’ is a possessive.  The apostrophe comes after the S because there are many flamingos.

 

BUT: The feathers of the flamingos are pink.

Flamingos in this sentence is a plural, not a possessive.  Of the does the job of possession.  There is no apostrophe.  None is needed.

 

DVD’s, CD’s, and T-shirt’s are not the correct plurals of DVD, CD, and T-shirtDVDs, CDs, and T-shirts would be the correct plural forms.

EXAMPLES:

The DVD’s special features include a directorial commentary, outtakes, and deleted scenes.

The DVDs have no special features.

 

When referring to a decade, never use an apostrophe.

EXAMPLES:

Janet Jackson was among the most prominent musical performers of the 1990s.

Notice that there is no apostrophe in 1990s!

HOWEVER:

Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 was 1990’s bestselling album.

In the sentence above, 1990’s refers to the year of grace 1990.

 

Non-count Nouns

Some nouns only have a singular form.  More precisely: For some nouns, the singular form IS THE SAME AS the plural form.

These nouns are called non-count nouns.

 

For example:

The plural of dirt is dirt.

The plural of cheese is cheese.

The plural of soup is soup.

The plural of fruit is fruit.

The plural of food is food.

The plural of meat is meat.

The plural of sand is sand.

The plural of elk is elk.

The plural of water is water.

The plural of sugar is sugar.

The plural of mustard is mustard.

The plural of research is research.

The plural of snow is snow.

The plural of happiness is happiness.

The plural of moose is moose.

The plural of antelope is antelope.

The plural of veal is veal.

The plural of mud is mud.

The plural of zebra is zebra (though some disagree).

 

All of these are non-count nouns.  You cannot count them.  They don’t form separate elements.

 

Now, if you want to indicate that there is more than one of any of these things, use kinds of, styles of, troves of, modes of, legions of, sorts of, forms of, types of, some, or any.

 

For example:

We saw all different kinds of antelope.

What types of cheese do you eat?

I have some sand in my shoe.

The café doesn’t sell any soup.

 

Surprisingly Singular Nouns

Some nouns are really singular, even though they are sometimes regarded as plural.  Such nouns are known, in the jargon, as singular collective nouns.

Here is a short list:

 

politics

forensics

acrobatics

economics

mathematics

statistics

acoustics

ethics

measles

athletics

news

 

Some of these are controversial.  For instance, is the media a singular or plural collective noun?  Is intestines a singular or plural collective noun?  It is a matter of style, perhaps, but always be ready to defend your choices.

 

Pronouns

A pronoun takes the place of a noun.  It is as simple as that.

Pronouns are, however, classified under many different categories.

 

PERSONAL PRONOUNS

Personal pronouns refer to specific things or people.  They are: I, you, she, he, it, we, and they.

 

EXAMPLES:

I see the light.

You see the light.

She sees the light.

He sees the light.

It sees the light.

We see the light.

They see the light.

 

POSSESSIVE PRONOUNS

Possessive pronouns indicate belonging.  They are either adjectives (my, your, his, her, its, our, their, whose) or replace nouns (mine, yours, his, hers, its, ours, theirs, whose).

 

EXAMPLES:

My life is mine.

Your life is yours.

His life is his.

Her life is hers.

Its life is its own.  (In this case, I would add own.)

Our life is ours.

Their lives are theirs.

Whose life is whose?

 

REFLEXIVE PRONOUNS

Reflexive pronouns refer BACK to the subject.  They are: myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, oneself, ourselves, yourselves (for the plural form of you), themselves.

 

NOTE: The pronouns listed above can also be used as intensive pronouns: that is, pronouns that are used to emphasize the subject of a sentence.

 

EXAMPLES:

I like myself.

Notice that myself refers back to I, the subject of the sentence.

 

You like yourself.

Notice that yourself refers back to you, the subject of the sentence.

 

He likes himself.

Notice that himself refers back to he, the subject of the sentence.

 

She likes herself.

Notice that herself refers back to she, the subject of the sentence.

 

It likes itself.

Notice that itself refers back to it, the subject of the sentence.

 

One likes oneself.

Notice that oneself refers back to one, the subject of the sentence.

 

We like ourselves.

Notice that ourselves refers back to we, the subject of the sentence.

 

You like yourselves.

Notice that yourselves refers back to you (plural), the subject of the sentence.

 

They like themselves.

Notice that themselves refers back to they.

 

 

INDEFINITE PRONOUNS

Indefinite pronouns refer to general / non-specific nouns: Anybody, nobody, somebody, something, nothing, no one, anyone, each, either, everybody, everything, neither, someone.

 

EXAMPLES:

Everybody tells you the meaning of the song.

Nobody tells you the meaning of the song.

Somebody tells you the meaning of the song.

Something tells you the meaning of the song.

Nothing tells you the meaning of the song.

No one tells you the meaning of the song.

 

Indefinite pronouns take the s-form of present-tense verbs (more on this below).

 

DEMONSTRATIVE PRONOUNS

Demonstrative pronouns refer to specific nouns: this, that, these, those.

 

EXAMPLES:

This is the best day of my life.

That was the best day of my life.

These are the best days of my life.

Those were the best days of my life.

 

INTERROGATIVE PRONOUNS

Interrogative pronouns are used to ask questions: Who, which, what, where, when.

 

EXAMPLES:

Who called me yesterday?

Which book did I give you last summer?

What is your favorite band?

 

RECIPROCAL PRONOUNS

Reciprocal pronouns point to parts of the subject: Each other or one another.

Use each other if there are no more than two people; use one another if there are more than two people.

EXAMPLES:

Demarkus and Alonso spoke with each other.

Everyone in the classroom spoke with one another.

 

What is the Difference between a Predicate and a Verb?

 

A predicate is what a subject does or what a subject is.

A verb is the most important word of a predicate.  A verb indicates the action of the subject or the state of being of the subject.

 

Every predicate must contain a verb, but a predicate may have more than one verb and more than just a verb.

 

EXAMPLES (the predicates are in bold):

The rhinoceroses are snorting.

We are looking at the paintings in the dentist’s office.

She lies on the couch while I watch television.

In the last sentence, there are TWO subjects and TWO predicates.

 

Transitive Verbs

A transitive verb is a verb that indicates what the subject does to someone or to something.

Every transitive verb has a direct object.  A direct object is what the transitive verb does to someone or something.

 

EXAMPLES:

She ate the orange and sighed.

Ate tells us what she is doing to the orange.  She is the subject of the sentence.  The orange is the direct object—the Something that the subject (she) ate.

In the sentence above, sighed is NOT a transitive verb.  It is an intransitive verb (we will discuss intransitive verbs below).

 

I find such conversations fascinating.

The subject is IFind is a transitive verb.  Such conversations is the direct object.  Fascinating is what is known as the object complement: a word or words that describes/describe the direct object.

Find describes what the subject (I) is doing to the direct object (such conversations).

Because find describes the action of a subject on a direct object, find is a transitive verb.

 

Intransitive Verbs

An intransitive verb does NOT have a direct object.

An intransitive verb is a verb that describes something that the subject does—NOT something that a subject does to someone or something.

 

EXAMPLES (the intransitive verbs are in bold):

The hide of the cougar glistens in the rain.

The owls are hooting.

 

In the examples above, the cougar’s hide is glistening, and the owls are hooting.  But they aren’t doing anything to anyone or anyone in particular.

 

Verb Forms: The Present Tense

 

The present tense of verbs is simple to master.  All verbs follow the same pattern in the present tense.

If you want to describe something that happens in the present, use this model:

 

I walk.

You walk.

He walks.

She walks.

It walks.

We walk.

They walk.

You (plural) walk.

 

When Do You Use the s-form of Present-Tense Verbs?

 

Place an “–s” (or “-es”) at the end of verbs that follow he, she, it, or one.

EXAMPLES: He likes, she likes, it likes, one likes.

 

Place an “–s” (or “-es”) at the end of verbs that follow singular nouns.

EXAMPLES: The mother likes, the father likes, the lawyer likes, etc.

 

Place an “–s” (or “-es”) at the end of verbs that follow indefinite pronouns (see “Pronouns”).

EXAMPLES: Somebody likes, anybody likes, everybody likes, everyone likes.

 

NOTE: Never write/say, “Everybody danced with their spouses.”

There is a plural possessive adjective in this sentence: their.  However, everybody is an indefinite pronoun and is singular.

The sentence should read: Everybody danced with his or her spouse.

If this sentence sounds a bit awkward (and it does), you might want to pluralize the sentence:

They danced with their spouses.

Pluralizing a sentence sometimes eliminates awkward-sounding constructions.

 

There are exceptions to the patterns that are described above.  Certain irregular verbs and modal verbs do not correspond to these patterns.

 

Verb Forms: The Past Tense

 

The past tense of verbs is even simpler to master than the present tense.  In the past tense, most verbs end in “-ed.”

Follow this pattern:

 

I walked.

You walked.

He walked.

She walked.

It walked.

We walked.

They walked.

You (plural) walked.

 

Verb Forms: The Present-Progressive Tense

 

You should use the present-progressive to describe ongoing actions, actions that are continually going on in the present.

The present-progressive is used to indicate something that is happening RIGHT NOW.  The present tense is often used to indicate something that USUALLY happens.

The present-progressive tense of verbs is also very simple to master!  The present-progressive tense is formed by a helping verb (a form of to be) and a present participle (which ends in “-ing”).

 

I am walking.

You are walking.

He is walking.

She is walking.

It is walking.

We are walking.

They are walking.

You (plural) are walking.

 

Verb Forms: The Future Tense

 

Use the future tense to indicate something that hasn’t happened yet, but that absolutely will happen.

Shall is underused.  When something shall happen, it will happen without the subject trying to make it happen.

Will is often used to indicate something that the subject wants to happen—though not always.

To form the future tense, use will and then the base form of the verb (the verb itself).

 

I will walk.

You will walk.

He will walk.

She will walk.

It will walk.

We will walk.

They will walk.

You (plural) will walk.

 

Verb Forms: The Present-Perfect Tense

 

The present-perfect tense describes an action that begins sometime in the past and continues on into the present.

In the present-perfect tense, all regular verbs have a helping verb (a form of to have) and a past participle (which ends in “-ed”).

 

I have walked.

You have walked.

He has walked.

She has walked.

It has walked.

We have walked.

They have walked.

You (plural) have walked.

 

In each case, the subject walked in the past and is still walking now.

 

Irregular Verbs

 

TO REVIEW:

 

In the present tense, regular verbs end in “-s” if the subject is she, he, one, or it.

She walks, he walks, one walks, it walks.

 

In the past tense, all regular verbs end in “-ed,” no matter what the subject is.

I walked, she walked, he walked, it walked, you walked, they walked, we walked.

 

The present-progressive tense is formed by a helping verb (a form of to be) and a present participle (which ends in “-ing”).

I am walking, you are walking, she is walking.

 

The future tense is formed by adding will to the base form of the verb (the verb itself).

I will walk, you will walk, she will walk.

 

In the present-perfect tense, all regular verbs have a helping verb (a form of to have) and a past participle.

I have walked, she has walked, he has walked, you have walked, they have walked, we have walked.

 

Irregular verbs do not follow these patterns.  Irregular verbs, as the name itself implies, are unusual verbs.

 

TO THINK is a good place to start:

I think

You think

He thinks

She thinks

We think

They think

You (plural) think

 

Now, this seems all very normal and regular, but consider the PAST TENSE of to think:

I thought

You thought

He thought

She thought

We thought

They thought

You (plural) thought

 

Notice that “thinked” is never once used!  Never say/write, “thinked.”

 

 

TO TEACH (in the past tense):

I taught

You taught

He taught

She taught

It taught

We taught

They taught

You (plural) taught

 

NOTE: Never say or write, “teached”!

 

TO BE (in the present tense):

I am

You are

He is

She is

It is

We are

They are

You (plural) are

 

TO BE (in the past tense):

I was

You were

He was

She was

It was

We were

They were

You (plural) were

 

TO BECOME (in the past tense):

I became

You became

He became

She became

It became

We became

They became

You (plural) became

 

TO BRING (in the past tense):

I brought

You brought

He brought

She brought

It brought

We brought

They brought

You (plural) brought

 

NOTE: Never say or write, “bringed”!

 

TO BUILD (in the past tense):

I built

You built

He built

She built

It built

We built

They built

You (plural) built

 

NOTE: Never write/say, “builded”!

 

TO CATCH (in the past tense):

I caught

You caught

He caught

She caught

It caught

We caught

They caught

You (plural) caught

 

TO BUY (in the past tense):

I bought

You bought

He bought

She bought

It bought

We bought

They bought

You (plural) bought

 

TO DRINK (in the past tense):

I drank

You drank

He drank

She drank

It drank

We drank

They drank

You (plural) drank

 

TO EAT (in the past tense):

I ate

You ate

He ate

She ate

It ate

We ate

They ate

You (plural) ate

 

TO FIND (in the past tense):

I found

You found

He found

She found

It found

We found

They found

You (plural) found

 

TO FLY (in the past tense):

I flew

You flew

He flew

She flew

It flew

We flew

They flew

You (plural) flew

 

TO GIVE (in the past tense):

I gave

You gave

He gave

She gave

It gave

We gave

They gave

You (plural) gave

 

TO HAVE (in the present tense):

I have

You have

He has

She has

It has

We have

They have

You (plural) have

 

TO HAVE (in the past tense):

I had

You had

He had

She had

It had

We had

They had

You (plural) had

 

TO KNOW (in the past tense):

I knew

You knew

He knew

She knew

It knew

We knew

They knew

You (plural) knew

 

TO RUN (in the past tense):

I ran

You ran

He ran

She ran

It ran

We ran

They ran

You (plural) ran

 

TO SEND (in the past tense):

I sent

You sent

He sent

She sent

It sent

We sent

They sent

You (plural) sent

 

 

TO SLEEP (in the past tense):

I slept

You slept

He slept

She slept

It slept

We slept

They slept

You (plural) slept

 

TO SPEAK (in the past tense):

I spoke

You spoke

He spoke

She spoke

It spoke

We spoke

They spoke

You (plural) spoke

 

TO TAKE (in the past tense):

I took

You took

He took

She took

It took

We took

They took

You (plural) took

 

TO THROW (in the past tense):

I threw

You threw

He threw

She threw

It threw

We threw

They threw

You (plural) threw

 

TO WRITE (in the past tense):

I wrote

You wrote

He wrote

She wrote

It wrote

We wrote

They wrote

You (plural) wrote

 

To Lie vs. To Lay

Now is a good place as any to discuss the difference between to lie and to lay.

I would like to emphasize that this is a difference that most native speakers and writers of English have not yet mastered.  If you are a multilingual speaker and writer and have a hard time understanding the difference between these two words, do not feel ashamed.  You are not alone, I can assure you.

To lie means “to lie down.”  It means “to recline,” “to be in a lying position,” “to be situated.”

To lay means “to put something down.”

The two words are often confused because the past tense of to lie is lay!

To lie is an intransitive verb.  This means that to lie does not have a direct object.  Nothing is done to anything or anyone.

To lay is a transitive verb.  This means that to lay has a direct object.  Something is done to something or someone.

Here are the past tense forms of to lie and to lay:

 

TO LIE (“to lie down”)—in the present tense:

I lie

You lie

He lies

She lies

It lies

We lie

They lie

You (plural) lie

 

TO LIE (“to lie down”)—in the past tense:

I lay

You lay

He lay

She lay

It lay

We lay

They lay

You (plural) lay

 

TO LAY (to put down)—in the present tense:

I lay

You lay

He lays

She lays

It lays

We lay

They lay

You (plural) lay

 

TO LAY (to put down)—in the past tense:

I laid

You laid

He laid

She laid

It laid

We laid

They laid

You (plural) laid

 

Subject-Verb Agreement

How do we know if a verb should be singular or plural?

The answer: The verb always takes the number of the subject.

If the subject is singular, the verb must be singular, too.  If the subject is plural, the verb must also be plural.

 

EXAMPLES:

Violent crimes are on the rise.

The subject (crimes) is plural.  For this reason, a plural form of the verb to be is used (are).

 

Violent crime is on the rise.

The subject (crime) is singular.  For this reason, a singular form of the verb to be is used (is).

 

Tutors have many responsibilities.

The subject (tutors) is plural.  Therefore, the verb is plural, as well (have).

 

A tutor has many responsibilities.

The subject (tutor) is singular.  Therefore, the verb is singular, as well (has).

 

 

Subject-verb agreement is something that we all have to be on the watch for.  Here are some examples of subject-verb disagreement:

 

Peace and happiness is important to me.

This should read: Peace and happiness are important to me.

There are two subjects in the sentence (peace and happiness), and therefore the verb should be plural.

 

Linda see three octopuses in the aquarium.

This should read: Linda sees three octopuses in the aquarium.

Because Linda is a singular subject, the verb must be singular, as well—and this means that you add an “-s” to the verb see.

 

Studies shows that humans and cats have similar traits.

This should read: Studies show that humans and cats have similar traits.

Because the subject (Studies) is plural, the verb must be plural, as well.  This means that NO “-s” should be added to the base form of the verb (show).

 

The child each receive a cup of oats to feed to the goats at the petting zoo.

This should read: Each child receives a cup of oats to feed to the goats at the petting zoo.

Even though it is implied that there is more than one child, each child is singular.  Therefore, the verb must also be singular.  An “-s” must be added to the base form of the verb receive.

 

I know mid terms approaches, and that makes me very anxious.

This should read: I know that mid-terms approach, and that makes me very anxious.

Even better: I know that mid-terms are approaching, and that makes me very anxious.

Mid-terms is a plural subject; the verb to approach must also be in the plural form.

 

Everyone at the wedding are dancing.

Everyone is an indefinite pronoun (see “Pronouns”).  These indefinite pronouns are always singular: anybody, somebody, nobody, no one, everything, everybody.

The sentence should read: Everyone at the wedding is dancing.

 

Don’t Be Confused by the Words that Come after the Subject

 

The student, accompanied by his parents, visits the art museum.

The subject, in this case, is the student.  The verb is singular (visits) because the subject is singular (the student).  Don’t be fooled by the prepositional phrase accompanied by his parents—it has no effect on the number of the verb.

 

The student and his parents visit the art museum.

In this case, there is a compound subject—a plural subject: The student and his parents.  Therefore, the verb is plural, as well (visit).

 

The tree with its many branches sways in the wind.

The subject of the sentence is tree, which is singular.  With its many branches is a prepositional phrase.  The verb must also be singular (sways).

 

The tree and its many branches sway in the wind.

This is a plural subject—tree and many branches are both part of the subject.  For this reason, the verb should be plural: sway.

 

A flock of flamingos flies over the river.

The subject is flock, even though the object of the preposition (of) is plural (flamingos).  Flock is singular.  For this reason, the singular form of the verb to fly is needed: flies.

 

The flamingos fly over the river.

In this example, the subject (the flamingos) is plural, as is the verb (fly).

 

A shiver of sharks swims in the ocean.

The noun shiver is not often used, but it is a real English word.  The noun shiver is used to designate a group of sharks.

In the example above, the verb swims refers back to shiver, not to sharks.

 

The sharks swim in the ocean.

This is a more straightforward example.  The plural verb swim refers back to sharks, which is a plural noun.

 

Possessive Adjectives and Antecedents

Always make sure that possessive adjectives (such as its, their, her, his, etc.) and the nouns they refer to (their “antecedents”) agree with one another.

 

EXAMPLES:

The tree and its many branches sway in the wind.

The tree sways its many branches in the wind.

The tree with its many branches sways in the wind.

 

In the examples above, the possessive adjective its agrees with the antecedent tree, which is an “it.”

 

EXAMPLE:

Erika and Thomas sold their DVD collection.

In this example, their refers back to Erika and Thomas.

 

What Are the Differences between There, They’re, and Their?

 

There is a demonstrative pronoun.  It is used to point at something that is distant from the speaker, writer, or narrator.

They’re is a contraction.  They + are = they’re.

Their is a possessive adjective.  It indicates belonging.  It means “belonging to them.”  If you’re not sure if their is the correct choice, substitute my, his, or her for their and see if the sentence makes any sense.

 

EXAMPLES:

There he goes again.

They’re very happy together.

Their dog is eating the grass from my lawn.

 

What is the Difference between Its and It’s?

 

Most human beings learn language phonetically—that is, from listening and talking.  Because its and it’s sound identical, they are often confused.

Its is a possessive adjective.  It means “belonging to it.”

It’s is a contraction.  It + is = it’s.

 

EXAMPLES:

The dog opens and closes its mouth.

It’s time to feed the dog.

 

 

What are the Differences between Your, You’re, and Yore?

 

Your is a possessive adjective.  It means “belonging to you.”

You’re is a contraction.  You + are = you’re.

Yore is a noun that means “a very long time ago.”

Most would not mistake yore for your or you’re, but I’ve included it here for the sake of completeness.

 

EXAMPLES:

Your dog is eating the grass from my lawn.

You’re absolutely correct.

I wish that I had read of the knights of yore.

 

Even When the Subject Comes after the Verb, the Subject and the Verb Should Have the Same Number

 

The rule never changes: If the subject is plural, the verb must be plural.  If the subject is singular, the verb must be singular.

The verb always takes the number of the subject.

 

This sentence is correct:

Behind the curtain are artificial bamboo trees.

 

The sentence is admittedly confusing because the subject comes after the verb.

The curtain is not the subject of the sentence.  The curtain is the object of the preposition behind.

The subject of the sentence is artificial bamboo trees.  This is a plural subject, and therefore the verb must be plural, as well.

To clarify things, turn the sentence upside down:

Artificial bamboo trees are behind the curtain.

You wouldn’t want to say/write, “Artificial bamboo trees is behind the curtain,” would you?

 

Adjectives

Adjectives are words that describe nouns.  Adjectives come after verbs such as to be or to become.  Adjectives also come before nouns.

 

EXAMPLE A:

The strawberries are delicious.

The adjective delicious describes the noun strawberries.

 

EXAMPLE B:

Delicious strawberries are sold at the farmers’ market.

Again, the adjective delicious describes the noun strawberries.

 

EXAMPLE C:

This class is great.

The adjective great describes the noun class.

 

EXAMPLE D:

The weather is hot.

Hot (adjective) describes how the weather (subject) is (verb).

 

Adjectives have base forms, comparative forms, and superlative forms.

Comparative means “more than.”  You will use the word more before the comparative adjective OR add the letters “-er” after the adjective.

Superlative means “the most.”  You will use the words the most before the superlative adjective OR add the letters “-est” after the adjective.

 

 

BASE FORM: The strawberries are delicious.

COMPARATIVE FORM: The strawberries are more delicious than the oranges.

SUPERLATIVE FORM: Those strawberries are the most delicious I have ever eaten.

 

BASE FORM: This class is great.

COMPARATIVE FORM: This class is greater than I had imagined.

SUPERLATIVE FORM: This class is the greatest.

 

 

Irregular Forms of Adjectives 

Some adjectives have irregular—that is, unusual—forms.

 

BASE FORM: The dinner was good.

COMPARATIVE FORM: Today’s dinner was better than it was yesterday.

SUPERLATIVE FORM: The dinner was the best I ever had.

 

BASE FORM: The weather is bad.

COMPARATIVE FORM: The weather is worse today than it was yesterday.

SUPERLATIVE FORM: The weather is the worst I have ever experienced.

 

BASE FORM: She has many books.

COMPARATIVE FORM: I have more books than she.

SUPERLATIVE FORM: She has the most books.

 

NOTE A: “I have more books than she” might sound awkward, but it is correct English.  If you completed the sentence, it would read: “I have more books than she has.”

However, if you were to write/say, “I have more books than her,” the complete form would be: “I have more books than her has.”  Of course, that would be wrong.

She is the subject complement.

 

NOTE B: Avoid the expression a lot in formal speech and writing.  Use many instead.

 

Here is another example of a subject complement: “The person you need to talk to is he.”

I know this sounds strange, but it really is correct English.  To know if such a construction is correct English, turn the sentence upside down:

“He is the person you need to talk to.”

There is nothing wrong with that sentence.  If you were to write, “The person you need to talk to is him,” that would be incorrect English.

Turn the sentence upside down: “Him is the person you need to talk to.”

That is incorrect English.

 

NOTE: I wrote above that you should use an adjective that ends in “-er” OR the word more before the adjective to indicate a comparative.  I also wrote that you should use an adjective that ends in “-est” OR the words the most before the adjective to indicate a superlative.

Whatever you do, never use BOTH more and an “-er”-word.

Whatever you do, never use BOTH the most and an “-est”-word.

 

NEVER SAY OR WRITE: He is more better at football than me.

SAY OR WRITE INSTEAD: He is better at football than I.

 

NEVER SAY OR WRITE: He is more faster than me.

SAY OR WRITE INSTEAD: He is faster than I.

NEVER SAY OR WRITE, “more better” or “more faster.”  Similarly, you would never want to use than me in a sentence.  I discuss this matter at greater length in the section of this guide called “When Do You Use I, and When Do You Use Me?”

 

NEVER SAY OR WRITE: He is the most fastest.

SAY OR WRITE INSTEAD: He is the fastest.

 

NEVER SAY OR WRITE: He is the most biggest guy on the team.

SAY OR WRITE INSTEAD: He is the biggest guy on the team.

 

NEVER SAY OR WRITE: This is the most funniest movie I’ve ever seen.

SAY OR WRITE INSTEAD: This is the funniest movie I’ve ever seen.

 

Adverbs

Most adverbs end in “-ly” and usually (there is an adverb right there!) describe verbs.  Adverbs also can describe adjectives and other adverbs.

 

EXAMPLES:

He walked quickly.

The adverb quickly describes how he (subject) walked (verb).

 

We speak slowly.

The adverb slowly describes how we (subject) speak (verb).

 

It is especially hard to talk to Walter.

The adverb especially describes how hard (adjective) it is to talk to Walter (subject).

 

Think carefully.

The adverb carefully describes how you (implied subject) should think (verb), according to whoever said or wrote this sentence.

 

I accidentally knocked over the vase.

Sometimes (there is another adverb!), the adverb comes before the verb.  Here (another adverb!) is such a case.

Accidentally is an adverb that describes how I (subject) knocked (verb) over the vase.

 

Recently, she applied for the job.

Recently is an adverb that describes the verb applied.

 

They never speak rudely.

Rudely describes how they (subject) never speak (verb).

 

Many adverbs do not have “-ly” endings or do not need “-ly” endings.

 

Come here.

The implied subject is you.

 

We ran home.

Home is an adverb of place and describes how we (subject) ran (verb).

 

You always say that.

This is another case of an adverb (always) coming before the verb (say).

 

The shark opened its mouth wide.

The adverb wide describes how the mouth (subject) of the shark opened (verb).

 

I couldn’t think straight.

Straight (adverb) describes how I (subject) couldn’t think (verb).

 

The swimmers dive deep.

Deep (adverb) describes the verb dive.

 

I am very happy with your work.

Very is an adverb that describes the adjective happy.

 

Soon, we will arrive.

Soon is an adverb of time that describes how we (subject) will arrive (verb).

 

The hammer hits the nail hard.

Hard is an adverb that describes hits (verb).

 

They run fast.

They is the subject.  Run is the verb.  Fast is the adverb.

 

You, too.

Too modifies a verb.  The subject is you.  What the verb is depends on the context.

 

Always look on the bright side of life.

Always is an adverb that describes look (verb).  The subject is you.

 

Prepositions

 

We have discussed nouns and verbs and adjectives and adverbs.  Now, let us discuss how to describe the relationships between these words and how to connect these words.

A preposition describes the relationships between words in a sentence.

Below are examples of prepositions.  Many of the examples below were taken from the writings of Malcolm X.

 

about

They talk about how much progress we’re making.

 

above

My mother was, above everything else, a proud woman.

 

against

Don’t let anyone tell you that the odds are against you.

 

at

They’re beginning to see what they only used to look at.

[Some teachers do not want you to end a sentence with a preposition.  Ask your instructor on the first day of class if this is acceptable.]

 

before

You can take it before the General Assembly.

 

behind

I would sit goggle-eyed at my father jumping and shouting as he preached, with the congregation jumping and shouting behind him.

 

below

From down below, the sound of music had begun floating up.

 

beneath

I looked beneath the table.

 

between

The only difference between us and outside people is that we had been caught.

 

in

I began a correspondence course in English.

 

of

If you don’t take this kind of stand, your little children will grow up and look at you and think, “Shame.”

 

since

It has been that way ever since the Civil War.

 

toward

He should be focusing his every effort toward building his own businesses and decent homes for himself.

 

under

This comes under the jurisdiction of Uncle Sam.

 

until

He’d just wait until the sun went down.

 

with

Human rights are something you are born with.

[Again, ask your instructor if you may end a sentence with a preposition.]

 

without

You just can’t belong to that Party without analyzing it.

[To is also a preposition.  The object of the preposition to is Party.]

 

Some other prepositions include:

aboard

across

after

along

alongside

amid

among

around

as

beside

besides

beyond

by

concerning

despite

down

during

except

for (not as a conjunction)

from

inside

into

near

nearer

nearest

next

off

on

onto (or on to)

out

outside

over

past (not as a noun)

regarding

round (not as an adjective)

through

throughout

underneath

unto

up

upon

within

 

 

Amid vs. Among

Use amid with singular nouns and among with plural nouns.

Remember that amid is a shortening of “in the middle of.”

 

EXAMPLES: We danced amid the cornfield.

We danced among the stalks of corn.

The ship is among the waves.

The ship is amid the ocean.

 

Conjunctions

Prepositions describe relationships between words.  Conjunctions create relationships between words.

Conjunctions are word-connectors.

Most of the examples below were taken from the writings of Malcolm X.

 

Coordinating Conjunctions

Coordinating conjunctions link words that have the same value.  One is not ‘better’ than the other.

All of the coordinating conjunctions spell out the acronym FANBOYS: For And Nor But Or Yet So.

 

for

We waited inside for the taxi, for it was raining.

The first for is used as a preposition.  The second for is a conjunction.  The conjunction for means “because.”

 

and

The only thing that puts you and me at a disadvantage is our lack of knowledge of history.

 

nor

We have to keep in mind at all times that we are not fighting for integration, nor are we fighting for separation.  We are fighting for recognition—for the right to live as free humans in society.

 

but

The wolf doesn’t like the person who opens the door of the cage, but the wolf doesn’t care who opens the door to let the wolf out.

 

or

Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or who says it.

 

yet

Malcolm X is one of my favorite writers, yet I have never read this speech before.

 

so

I would like to point out something, so we can understand one another better.

 

When a coordinating conjunction joins two independent clauses (this will be discussed below), always put a comma before the coordinating conjunction.

 

 

Subordinating Conjunctions

Coordinating conjunctions link parts of a sentence that are EQUAL.

Subordinating conjunctions link parts of a sentence that are NOT EQUAL.

Subordinating conjunctions connect one part of a sentence to another part of a sentence.  One of these parts is more important than the other.

Subordinating conjunctions introduce subordinate clauses.  Usually, a subordinate clause expresses a relationship of time or a cause-effect relationship.

Below is a list of common subordinating conjunctions.

 

after

After we had cleaned the house, we went to the party.

The clause that begins with after indicates the past.  There is a relationship between the past (“After we had cleaned the house”) and something that happened afterward (“we went to the party”).

 

although

Although I agree with you on most points, I don’t agree with everything that you said.

There is a conflict between one clause and another.  The clause that begins with although conflicts with the clause that begins with I don’t.

 

as

As I said earlier, we need to compromise.

In the above example, as is a subordinating conjunction.  Be careful, because sometimes as functions as a preposition.  For instance:

I worked as a video-store clerk throughout my twenties.

In the above example, as is a preposition.  The object of the preposition as is a video-store clerk.

As may also be used as an adverb.

 

because

Because I haven’t read the book in a long time, I don’t remember all of the details.

 

before

Before we go out to lunch, do you mind if I make a quick telephone call?

 

if

The drought will only end if the rain comes down.

 

since

Since we met, we’ve been talking every day.

 

unless

Unless they fix my internet connection, I won’t be able to work on this project.

 

until

Until he arrived, we didn’t know what to do.

 

when

I don’t know when she’ll be back.

 

where

That is where I played as a child.

 

while

While we were watching television, we heard a loud crashing noise.

 

Articles

The word a (or an) is known as the indefinite article.

An indefinite article must come before a singular noun, not a plural noun.

A (or an) means “one among many.”  There is more than one thing that the indefinite article names.

 

EXAMPLE:

A plane is flying over our heads.

The word a implies that there is more than one plane in the world.

 

The word the is known as the definite article.

The names something that is very specific.  It can refer to more than one thing—not just a singular noun, but also a plural noun.

 

EXAMPLE:

The plane is flying over our heads.

The word the implies that this is a specific plane.  The reader knows which plane you are writing about.

 

Here is another example:

I saw my teacher on the plane.

We have to assume that whoever is reading or listening to these words knows what plane the writer is writing about.

 

 

Phrases 

A phrase is a collection of words, that is all.  A phrase either has no subject or no predicate OR lacks a subject and a predicate.

All of the examples below were taken from the writings of Malcolm X (with some modification).

 

Noun phrases

A noun phrase is made up of a noun and its modifiers.

EXAMPLE:

They were typical small-town dances.

Typical small-town dances is a noun phrase.  It contains two adjectives (typical and small-town) and a plural noun (dances).

 

Verb phrases

A verb phrase is a predicate.  It is composed of a helping verb and a verb.

EXAMPLE:

In the second semester of the seventh grade, I was elected class president.

Was elected is a verb phrase.  It is composed of a helping verb (was) and a past participle (elected).  Incidentally, this sentence is written in the passive voice, which we will discuss below.

 

Prepositional phrases

A prepositional phrase begins with a preposition and contains a noun/pronoun.

EXAMPLE:

Mr. Ostrowski looked surprised, I remember, and leaned back in his chair and clasped his hands behind his head.

This is a good example because it contains two prepositional phrases: in his chair and behind his headIn and behind are prepositions.  Chair and head are nouns and are the objects of the respective prepositions.

 

Participial phrases

We haven’t discussed participles very much in this guide, but let us do so now: A present participle ends in “-ing,” and a past participle ends in “-ed.”  All verbs have a present participle and a past participle.

A participial phrase begins with a present participle or a past participle.

EXAMPLE:

Surrounding the house, brandishing their shotguns and rifles, they shouted for my father to come out.

Surrounding and brandishing are both present participles.  They both describe what was happening to Malcolm X and his family.

Surrounding the house and brandishing their shotguns and rifles are both present-participial phrases.

Here is an example of a past-participial phrase (in italics):

Confused by his words, he left the office.

Confused is (here) a past participle.

 

Gerund phrases

Speaking of being confused, gerunds are often confused with present-participial phrases.  Both, after all, end in “-ing.”

A gerund is a word that ends in “-ing,” but is a noun, not the participle of a verb.

A gerund phrase, accordingly, begins with a gerund.

EXAMPLE:

Each was committed to doing his or her part.

 

Infinitive phrases

An infinitive is the to-form of a verb, such as to dream, to be, to swim.  An infinitive phrase begins with an infinitive.

EXAMPLE:

The film Malcolm X shows him learning how to read the dictionary, as if he didn’t already know how.

In the example above, to read the dictionary is an infinitive phrase.  It begins with an infinitive (to read) and contains a definite article (the) and an object (dictionary).

 

Independent Clauses vs. Dependent Clauses

As we discussed above, phrases do not contain subjects and/or predicates.  Clauses, on the other hand, MUST contain subjects AND predicates.

An independent clause is a group of words that may be considered a full sentence in its own right.

A dependent clause could never be considered a full sentence in its own right.

It is possible to connect independent clauses with a comma and a conjunction.

For example:

He paused reflectively, and he warmly paid tribute to my father.

He paused reflectively is an independent clause.

He warmly paid tribute to my father is also an independent clause.

Both independent clauses may be connected, as they are in the example above, with a comma and a coordinating conjunction (and).

 

Here is an example of an independent clause joined to a dependent clause:

He paused reflectively and warmly paid tribute to my father.

He paused reflectively, as I stated above, is an independent clause, but warmly paid tribute to my father is not.  It is a dependent clause.  It does not contain its own subject.

For this reason, do not place a comma anywhere in the sentence.

 

 

Comma Splices, and How to Avoid Them

A comma should NEVER be used conjunctionally.  That is: A comma should NEVER be used to link two independent clauses.

A comma is not a connector.  It indicates a pause in a sentence.  If you read a sentence aloud and you breathe in or breathe out, that is a good indicator of where the comma should be.

An independent clause (this is discussed above) is a part of a sentence that COULD BE a full sentence in its own right.

An independent clause has a subject and a predicate, a noun and a verb.

A dependent clause either has no subject or no predicate OR has neither a subject nor a predicate.

Here are some negative examples (and their corrections):

 

She spent all afternoon looking for her brother, when she found him he was amid the toy cars.

This should read: She spent all afternoon looking for her brother.  When she found him, he was among the toy cars.

She spent all afternoon looking for her brother is an independent clause: It has a subject and a predicate.

The subject is she.  The predicate is spent all afternoon looking for her brother.

He was among the toy cars is also an independent clause.

He is the subject.  The predicate is was among the toy cars.

Never join two independent clauses with a comma.  Use a coordinating conjunction, a period, a semicolon (;), a colon (:), or an em-dash (—) instead.

 

I was looking through old photos of when I was in fifth grade back then I was only four feet tall.

This should read: I was looking through old photos of myself when I was in fifth grade; back then, I was only four feet tall.

OR:

I was looking through old photos of myself when I was in fifth grade.  Back then, I was only four feet tall.

I was looking through old photos of myself when I was in fifth grade is an independent clause.  It could be a full sentence in its own right.

Back then, I was only four feet tall is also an independent clause.  It could also be a full sentence in its own right.

It is perfectly acceptable to join both independent clauses with a semicolon (;).  However, you would not want to join these clauses with a comma.

Again, a comma is not a joiner.

 

At first his expulsion left him feeling like a man without a home, however, it gave him the freedom he needed.

This sentence should read: At first, his expulsion left him feeling like a man without a home; however, it gave him the freedom he needed.

A semicolon (;) is needed before however.  After however, put a comma.

Why?  For this reason: His expulsion left him feeling like a man without a home is an independent clause.  It gave him the freedom he needed is also an independent clause.

 

She’s a bit hard headed at times, she doesn’t like to ask anyone for help.

Here we have two independent clauses fused together—spliced together—by a comma.  There are at least three ways to correct this sentence:

 

  • She’s a bit hard-headed, at times. She doesn’t like to ask anyone for help.

 

In other words, break up the long “sentence” into two shorter sentences.  Place a period after the first independent clause: She’s a bit hard-headed, at times.  Capitalize the second she.

 

  • She’s a bit hard-headed, at times, and she doesn’t like to ask anyone for help.

 

Bring both independent clauses together with a comma (after the first independent clause) and a conjunction (and).

 

  • She’s a bit hard-headed, at times; she doesn’t like to ask anyone for help.

 

Use a semicolon instead of a comma to link both independent clauses.

In the next section, we will discuss semicolons.

 

On Semicolons

A comma is used to pause a sentence.  A semicolon is used to interrupt a sentence without actually stopping it.

A comma indicates a breathing-in or a breathing-out.  As was mentioned above: If you breathe in or breathe out while reading a sentence aloud, this might be an indication that a comma is needed.

Do not use semicolons as if they were commas.  Commas should be used to separate dependent clauses from independent clauses.

Only use semicolons to connect independent clauses.

Do not use conjunctions or adjectives after semicolons.

 

Here are negative examples (and their corrections):

 

We took the test; which was really hard.

This should read: We took the test, which was really hard.

OR: We took the test; it was really hard.

 

My sister wanted my help; but I could do nothing.

This should read: My sister wanted my help; I could do nothing.

OR: My sister wanted my help.  I could do nothing.

OR: My sister wanted my help, but I could do nothing.

 

 

Noun Clauses and Adjective Clauses

 

Noun clauses

Noun clauses are parts of sentences.  They are not sentences themselves.

Most noun clauses begin with subordinating conjunctions.

EXAMPLE:

He was from Reynolds, Georgia, where he had left school after the third or maybe fourth grade.

Where he had left school after the third or maybe fourth grade is a noun clause.  It begins with the subordinating conjunction where.

 

Adjective clauses

An adjective clause begins with an adjective such as which or that.  An adjective clause is used to describe a noun or a pronoun.

EXAMPLES (the adjective clauses are italicized):

He sometimes took me with him to the meetings, which he held quietly in different people’s homes.

He sometimes took me with him to the meetings that he held quietly in different people’s homes.

 

What Is the Difference between Which and That?

Both of these sentences are perfectly acceptable, but they don’t mean exactly the same thing:

 

  • He sometimes took me with him to the meetings, which he held quietly in different people’s homes.

 

  • He sometimes took me with him to the meetings that he held quietly in different people’s homes.

 

In the first sentence, which he held quietly in different people’s homes is not necessary information.  We know this because the word which is used.

In the second sentence, that he held quietly in different people’s homes IS necessary information.  We know this because the word that is used.

Use that when what comes after that is NECESSARY.

Use which when what comes after which is NOT NECESSARY.

 

Who, Which, That, and the Verbs that Accompany Them

The relative pronouns who, which, and that take verbs that agree with the nouns or pronouns to which the relative pronouns refer.

This might be difficult to understand, but consider the following examples:

 

I have three daughters who motivate me to become a better person.

The relative pronoun here is whoWho refers to daughters.

Daughters is plural; therefore, motivate is plural.

 

Happiness is something that comes easily.

The relative pronoun is thatThat refers to something, which is singular.  For this reason, comes is the proper form of the verb.  Comes is singular.

 

When Do You Use Who, and When Do You Use That or Which?

Use who to refer to people.  Use that or which to refer to things.

There is some controversy about whether or not to use who to refer to animals.

EXAMPLES:

That is Flipper, who flips in the air and plunges back into the water!

That is the dolphin that flips in the air and plunges back into the water!

 

If animals have names, who is commonly used.  If animals do not have names, that is more commonly used.

However, I think this is a matter of style.  Use your own discretion.

 

Types of Sentences

 

Simple sentences

Simple sentences are just independent clauses, and that is that.

EXAMPLE:

My mother was crying.

This sentence, which was written by Malcolm X, is so very powerful because the author hardly ever wrote simple sentences.

 

Complex sentences

Complex sentences are composed of independent clauses and dependent clauses.

EXAMPLES:

I had long known of the individual and cultural values that others placed on my father’s life.

This sentence, which was also written by Malcolm X, has a dependent clause: that others placed on my father’s life.  Malcolm X, as I stated above, hardly ever wrote a simple sentence.  Most of his published sentences contain dependent clauses.

 

I learned early that crying out in protest could accomplish things.

That crying out in protest could accomplish things is a dependent clause.  The independent clause is I learned early.

 

As bad as I was, as much trouble and worry as I caused my mother, I loved her.

As bad as I was and as much trouble and worry as I caused my mother are both dependent clauses.  I loved her is an independent clause.

 

Voice

 

Did you know that every sentence has a voice?  Every sentence has an active voice or a passive voice.

Use the active voice when the subject is acting.

Use the passive voice when the subject is being acted upon.

 

EXAMPLES OF THE ACTIVE VOICE:

He throws the baseball.

The German armies invaded Lithuania.

 

EXAMPLES OF THE PASSIVE VOICE:

The baseball is thrown by him.

Lithuania was invaded by the German armies.

 

In the examples of the active voice, a subject (he, the German armies) is acting upon an object (the baseball, Lithuania).  In the examples of the passive voice, the object is being acted upon by the subject.

 

Mood

Every sentence has a mood: an indicative mood, an imperative mood, or a subjunctive mood.

The indicative mood tells what is happening.

The imperative mood gives commands.

The subjunctive mood expresses what might have or could have happened.

 

THE INDICATIVE MOOD: I cut my son’s hair.

THE IMPERATIVE MOOD: Cut your hair!

THE SUBJUNCTIVE MOOD: I wish I had cut my hair.

 

THE INDICATIVE MOOD: He is older, and now he knows better.

THE IMPERATIVE MOOD: Grow up!

THE SUBJUNCTIVE MOOD: If he were older, he would know better.

 

Like is Not a Conjunction

Never use like conjunctively.  That is: Never use like to connect two parts of a sentence.

 

NEVER SAY OR WRITE: He danced like no one was watching.

SAY OR WRITE INSTEAD: He danced as if no one were watching.

 

NEVER SAY OR WRITE: It’s like she never came to work.

SAY OR WRITE INSTEAD: It’s as if she never came to work.

 

Like is overused, and as is underused.  I would recommend using as more often.

 

When Do You Use I, and When Do You Use Me?

Use I when I is the subject of a sentence or a phrase.

Use me when I is the object of a sentence or a phrase.

 

EXAMPLES:

Have dinner with me.

Now, here me is the only choice.  Me is the object of the preposition with.

 

You are a better player than I.

This might sound stilted, but it is correct English.  Than is a conjunction, not a preposition, and I is not the object of anything in this sentence.

 

NEVER SAY OR WRITE: Me and my sister went shopping.

SAY OR WRITE INSTEAD: My sister and I went shopping.

Why?  My sister and I is a compound subject.

 

NEVER SAY OR WRITE: The boy talked to my sister and I.

SAY OR WRITE INSTEAD: The boy talked to my sister and me.

Me is the only choice in this sentence.  Reverse the order of the words in the prepositional phrase: The boy talked to I and my sister makes no sense.  Me is the object of to.

 

Me is underused.  Use it proudly, when it is right to do so.

 

“The reason is because…”

Use either The reason is that or because.  Do not say/write, “The reason is because…”  The reason already means “because.”  If you say/write, “The reason is because…,” you are repeating yourself.

Don’t say/write, for instance, “The reason he was pulled over by the police is because he was driving too fast.”

Say/write instead, “The reason he was pulled over by the police is that he was driving too fast.”

Or: “He was pulled over by the police because he was driving too fast.”

The second option is better than the first in formal writing.  The first correct example is a little awkward.

 

INCORRECT: The reason that I run along Lake Shore Drive is because I like to exercise.

CORRECT: I run along Lake Shore Drive because I like to exercise.

 

Misplaced Modifiers

A misplaced modifier or “dangler” is a word or group of words that are in the wrong place.  This sentence is incorrect:

Running downstairs, my father was burning the bacon.

This sentence means, literally, that the narrator’s father is running down the stairs and burning bacon as he is doing so.

My mother drove me to the airport with the windows rolled down.

This sentence—the first in the novel Twilight by Stephenie Meyer—literally means that the windows of the airport are rolled down.

 

Ambiguous References 

This is more a matter of style than it is a matter of grammar, but try to avoid ambiguous references.  If you have a pronoun that refers to an antecedent, make sure that the reference is clear.

Here are some negative examples:

In Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach, he creates a fascinating story.

To whom does he refer?  Perhaps he refers to Roald Dahl.  Perhaps he refers to James, the main character.

The sentence would be better if it read:

In James and the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl creates a fascinating story.

 

While his father yells at him, James is washing his car.

To whom does the car belong?  The possessive adjective his is ambiguous (unclear).

Here is a clearer (though awkward) revision of the sentence:

While his father yells at him, James is washing his father’s car.

 

I went to the Financial Aid office and they were telling me that I got approved.

Who are they?

An improvement of the sentence: I went to the Financial Aid office, and I was told that I had been approved.

Even though the referent is not named (who is doing the telling, exactly?), the sentence, at least, eliminates the ambiguous pronoun they.

 

Whom vs. Who 

When should you use whom, and when should you use who?

Who and whoever are used with subjects.

Whom and whomever are used with objects.

 

Whom is often used incorrectly.  For instance:

I would like to speak to whomever pays your salary.

Don’t let the to fool you.  This sentence is ungrammatical—“whoever pays your salary” would be correct.  Only the subjective pronoun whoever makes sense.  The person the speaker/writer would like to speak to is a subject, not an object.

 

My parents whom are immigrants taught me to work hard.

This sentence ought to read: My parents, who are immigrants, taught me to work hard.  My parents is a plural subject, not an object.

 

They are the people who I love the most.

The sentence should read: They are the people whom I love the most.  The people is objective, not subjective.  The people are the object of love.

 

With who am I speaking?

This question should read: With whom am I speaking?  Whom is the object of the preposition with.

 

Whom left the refrigerator door open all night?

This should read: Who left the refrigerator door open all night?

Who is the subject of the verb left.

This becomes clearer if you transform the question into a statement:

S/he left the refrigerator door open all night.

 

Who do you love?

This should read: Whom do you love?

Whom is the direct object of the verb do love.

Again, this becomes clearer if you transform the question into a statement:

S/he loves him/her.

 

Absolute Concepts

Either something is unique, or it isn’t.  There are no degrees of uniqueness.  Unique means “the one and the only,” “one of a kind,” “singular.”

Here are some negative examples:

He is a very unique individual.

He is the most unique individual I have ever met.

He is somewhat unique.

 

We should avoid such expressions in speaking and in writing.  If something is unique, there is no other.  The word is derived from the Latin unus, which means “one.”

Simply write/say: He is unique.

 

Another absolute concept—a concept that is never relative—is perfect.

Never write or say:

That is the most perfect song for our wedding.

Something is either perfect, or it is not.  There are no degrees of perfection.

 

Double Negatives 

Double negatives are not acceptable in Standard Written American English.  It is fine to say/write, “They are not unpleasant people to work with.”  However, you would never want to use two terms of negation—such as not, no, never, neither, no one, nothing, nobody—together.

 

Here are some negative examples of double negatives:

He doesn’t know nothing about my life.

This should read: He doesn’t know anything about my life.

Doesn’t is a term of negation; nothing is also a term of negation.

 

I can’t hardly stand it.

Hardly is a term of negation.  Simply say/write: I can’t stand it.

 

Nobody said nothing to me.

Nobody and nothing are both terms of negation.  It should read instead: Nobody said anything to me.

 

Then vs. Than 

Generally speaking, then is an adverb of time.  It is also an adverb that expresses a relationship of cause and effect.  It indicates “what comes after something else” or “what comes about because of something else.”

EXAMPLE:

If we buy this house, then we won’t have enough money for retirement.

 

Than is a conjunction.  It is used to compare one thing or person to another.

EXAMPLE:

He is taller than you.

 

Don’t Confuse Adjectives with Adverbs 

Always remember that an adjective describes a noun and an adverb describes a verb or an adjective.

Be careful not to confuse adjectives with adverbs.

Some negative examples:

 

Everything is looking well.

Well is an adverb (or an adjective that means “healthy.”)  You would say/write instead: Everything is looking good.  Good is an adjective and refers back to the indefinite pronoun everything.

 

The river smells pungently.

Pungently is an adverb.  The sentence literally means that the river has a sense of smell (an olfactory sense).  The sentence ought to read: The river smells pungent.

 

May, Might, Could 

May should be used to ask/state permission.

Might should be used to indicate a possible world.

Could should be used to refer to the power of someone or something.

You wouldn’t want to say/write, “The woman in the YouTube video could be suggesting that she wants a divorce from her husband.”  Of course, she could be suggesting that.  She could also be suggesting that there is an aardvark in her basement.

The correct formulation would be: The woman in the YouTube video might be suggesting that she wants a divorce from her husband.

It would be correct to ask a waiter or waitress: “May I have the linguine with clam sauce?”

“Might I have the linguine with clam sauce?” would also be correct.  However, it does sound rather stilted.

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Uncategorized

What Is the Difference between Which and That?

What is the Difference between Which and That?

 

Both of these sentences are perfectly acceptable, but they don’t mean exactly the same thing:

 

1.)   He sometimes took me with him to the meetings, which he held quietly in different people’s homes.

 

2.)  He sometimes took me with him to the meetings that he held quietly in different people’s homes.

 

In the first sentence, which he held quietly in different people’s homes is not necessary information.  We know this because the word which is used.

In the second sentence, that he held quietly in different people’s homes IS necessary information.  We know this because the word that is used.

Use that when what comes after that is NECESSARY.

Use which when what comes after which is NOT NECESSARY.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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commas, semicolon vs comma, Uncategorized

On Commas and How to Use Them

Comma Splices, and How to Avoid Them

A comma should NEVER be used conjunctionally. That is: A comma should NEVER be used to link two independent clauses.

A comma is not a connector. It indicates a pause in a sentence. If you read a sentence aloud and you breathe in or breathe out, that is a good indicator of where the comma should be.

An independent clause (this is discussed above) is a part of a sentence that COULD BE a full sentence in its own right.

An independent clause has a subject and a predicate, a noun and a verb.

A dependent clause either has no subject or no predicate OR has neither a subject nor a predicate.

Here are some negative examples (and their corrections):

She spent all afternoon looking for her brother, when she found him he was amid the toy cars.

This should read: She spent all afternoon looking for her brother. When she found him, he was among the toy cars.

She spent all afternoon looking for her brother is an independent clause: It has a subject and a predicate.

The subject is she. The predicate is spent all afternoon looking for her brother.

He was among the toy cars is also an independent clause.

He is the subject. The predicate is was among the toy cars.

Never join two independent clauses with a comma. Use a coordinating conjunction, a period, a semicolon (;), a colon (:), or an em-dash (—) instead.

I was looking through old photos of when I was in fifth grade back then I was only four feet tall.

This should read: I was looking through old photos of myself when I was in fifth grade; back then, I was only four feet tall.

OR:

I was looking through old photos of myself when I was in fifth grade. Back then, I was only four feet tall.

I was looking through old photos of myself when I was in fifth grade is an independent clause. It could be a full sentence in its own right.

Back then, I was only four feet tall is also an independent clause. It could also be a full sentence in its own right.

It is perfectly acceptable to join both independent clauses with a semicolon (;). However, you would not want to join these clauses with a comma.

Again, a comma is not a joiner.

At first his expulsion left him feeling like a man without a home, however, it gave him the freedom he needed.

This sentence should read: At first, his expulsion left him feeling like a man without a home; however, it gave him the freedom he needed.

A semicolon (;) is needed before however. After however, put a comma.

Why? For this reason: His expulsion left him feeling like a man without a home is an independent clause. It gave him the freedom he needed is also an independent clause.

She’s a bit hard headed at times, she doesn’t like to ask anyone for help.

Here we have two independent clauses fused together—spliced together—by a comma. There are at least three ways to correct this sentence:

a.) She’s a bit hard-headed, at times. She doesn’t like to ask anyone for help.

In other words, break up the long “sentence” into two shorter sentences. Place a period after the first independent clause: She’s a bit hard-headed, at times. Capitalize the second she.

b.) She’s a bit hard-headed, at times, and she doesn’t like to ask anyone for help.

Bring both independent clauses together with a comma (after the first independent clause) and a conjunction (and).

c.) She’s a bit hard-headed, at times; she doesn’t like to ask anyone for help.

Use a semicolon instead of a comma to link both independent clauses.

In the next section, we will discuss semicolons.

*
On Semicolons

A comma is used to pause a sentence. A semicolon is used to interrupt a sentence without actually stopping it.

A comma indicates a breathing-in or a breathing-out. As was mentioned above: If you breathe in or breathe out while reading a sentence aloud, this might be an indication that a comma is needed.

Do not use semicolons as if they were commas. Commas should be used to separate dependent clauses from independent clauses.

Only use semicolons to connect independent clauses.

Do not use conjunctions or adjectives after semicolons.

Here are negative examples (and their corrections):

We took the test; which was really hard.

This should read: We took the test, which was really hard.

OR: We took the test; it was really hard.

My sister wanted my help; but I could do nothing.

This should read: My sister wanted my help; I could do nothing.

OR: My sister wanted my help. I could do nothing.

OR: My sister wanted my help, but I could do nothing.

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gratuitous usage, the use of the word tone, tone english usage, tone usage, Uncategorized

“I find your tone very gratuitous”

“It is very nice to meet you, and I hope to see you again soon,” Cheyenne said with the most gratuitous tone she could muster into the phone.

And did I not have something of the same gratuitous tone where my wage-earning was concerned?

While the article is written in a somewhat gratuitous tone, I think that it is meant to be informative.

The three sentences above have two things in common:

a.) They are three of the most invasively galling and aggressively grating sentences that I have ever read in my life.

b.) They couple the words gratuitous and tone.

gratuitous

Despite what descriptivist dictionaries might tell us, gratuitous should not signify “unnecessary” or “unwarranted.”  Gratuitous is derived from gratus and originally meant “what is freely given,” “what is given without the expectation of compensation.”

Thus, it makes no sense to write, “Abel Ferrara’s Body Snatchers (1993) contains a gratuitous scene of violence,” unless you are suggesting that the scene is given to audiences without the expectation of compensation.

Use supererogatory or superfluous instead.

tone

Whenever someone says/writes the word tone, I usually do not understand what that person means.  “You have to establish a tone in your writing”: In order to establish a tone, I must first know what the word tone signifies.

Tone is the vaguest, slipperiest word in the English language, and I wish that it would go extinct.

The color of her writing, the atmospherics, the mood of Daphne du Maurier’s novels — these terms, at least, are clear.  Color, atmospherics, mood.  I understand what prose style is.

Tone is more general than any of these words and refers to everything and nothing with equal acuity or vacuity.

Tone is used these days as a surrogate for the refutation of an argument: “I agree with what you are saying, but I don’t like your tone.”  Instead of a reasoned disagreement, there is the accusation of a “bad tone,” and this accusation is supposed to shut down one’s argument.

There is no defense or recourse against such an accusation.  Tone is irreducibly subjective.

When pressed, the accuser will say, “Well, I just don’t like the way that you said that.”  This leads me to believe that tone is a camouflage word.  It disguises the bluntness of “I don’t like the way that you said that.”

The German correlative of tone is der Ton and has a clearer meaning.  For a contemporary use of this, consult Haneke’s film Funny Games (1997).  Friedrich Hölderlin knew what he meant by the word when he employed it in his theory of tonal modulation (Wechsel der Töne).

My advice?  Never use the English word tone, ever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bare / Bear

I cannot bear the misuse of the verb bare.  I find it unbearable that the verb bare, which properly means “to denude” or “to undress,” is substituted for bear, which means “to tolerate” or “to carry.”

He is barely there, barely existing.  He is bare existingness, pure existentiality.

The bear bears a clutch of robins on its back.

The bear has been bearing a clutch of robins on its back.

The bear has borne a clutch of robins on its back.

The bear bore a clutch of robins on its back.

 

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birthday anniversary usage, english usage, english usage guide, happy birthday bad english, happy birthday incorrect english, happy birthday misuse, happy birthday or happy birth anniversary, happy birthday poor usage, happy birthday usage, is it correct to wish someone a "happy birthday"?, is it right to say happy birthday, Uncategorized

“Happy Birthday to Infants!”

Please never say or write, “Happy Birthday!” (notice the capitalization and the exclamation mark), unless you are wishing happiness to a neonate who is coming into the world on the day on which you utter or inscribe these words.

If someone is seventy-eight years old, why wish that person a “Happy Birthday,” since s/he was born long ago?  After all, she or he was not born today.

“Happy Birthday!” implies the giving of happiness on the day of someone’s nativity.

Instead say / write, “Happy Birth Anniversary!”  I admit that it would be cumbersome / stilted / artificial to say or write, “I wish you happiness on the anniversary of the day of your birth” or “Happy Anniversary of the Day of Your Birth!”

Please note the punctuation and capitalization:

They shouted, “Happy Birth Anniversary!”

They wished her a “happy birth anniversary.”

 

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