Grammar

Ask Yourself

Does your writing meet readers' expectations of conventional grammar?


Wondering how to use the Grammar Guide?

Want help fixing a grammar issue? The answer is here. Take a look at the Table of Contents (below) to find the relevant entry.


Table of Contents

Introduction to Grammar

If style had an evil twin, its name would be grammar. Grammar includes the rules and customs of language which we should follow if we want to be taken seriously when we write. We tend to know many of these structures unconsciously, and follow them without thinking, and we can usually recognize grammatical errors. Thanks to the internet, for instance, we know that grammatically poor phrases such as "They is good" are only appropriate for communication among cats. We should instead content ourselves with saying, "They are good."

The way we speak and write is always changing, and we acknowledge that some of the "rules" might not always apply. But in most cases, and especially in formal writing, you will find that maintaining grammar is as important as spelling words correctly: it's the polite thing to do.;

While some elements of grammar are relatively straightforward, others are more abstract and may require reference from time to time. This handbook provides a substantial overview of grammar in the hopes of assisting all writers, regardless of how experienced they are with the English language.


Sentences

A sentence is a string of words describing an action and the people, objects, or ideas connected with that action. All sentences have both a subject and a verb. Without a subject and a verb, a string of words is a fragment, not a sentence. We can identify four types of sentences: simple sentences, compound sentences, complex sentences, and compound complex sentences.


Simple Sentences

A "simple sentence" is the most basic grammatical form that a sentence can take. Such sentences (which we also call independent clauses) have one subject and one verb.

EXAMPLE 1:

The students protested.

Explanation:
This is a simple sentence (an independent clause). It has a subject ("The students") and a verb ("protested").

In simple sentences, either the subject, the verb, or both may be compound — a compound subject or verb is composed of more than one entity or action.

EXAMPLE 2:

The students and the teachers both protested.

Explanation:
This sentence has a compound subject ("The students and the teachers"), but it is still a simple sentence.

Simple sentences do not include dependent clauses or other independent clauses. They can, however, include phrases. Because phrases can lengthen and convolute sentences, simple sentences are not always what we might intuitively think of as "simple."

EXAMPLE 3:

Outside in the pouring rain and inside in the damp foyer, the students protested peacefully and quite loudly for several days.

Explanation:
This is also a simple sentence. It is considerably longer than the sentence in Example 1. Yet, like all simple sentences, this sentence has one subject ("the students") and one verb ("protested"). Though grammatically correct, this sentence is unnecessarily wordy because of its phrases, adjectives, and adverbs.

We can divide simple sentences into three types, based on the type of verb being used. These types are copular, linking, and transitive.

Copular simple sentences depend on a linking verb to connect the subject noun to the predicate adjective or phrase.

EXAMPLE 4:

Emerson was a transcendentalist.

Explanation:
This sentence relies on the "to be" verb "was" to connect the subject noun "Emerson" to the predicate noun "transcendentalist."


EXAMPLE 5:

Individualism is important.

Explanation:
This sentence uses the copular verb "is" to connect the subject noun "individualism" with the predicate adjective "important."

Linking simple sentences depend on a linking verb to connect the subject noun to the predicate adjective or phrase.

EXAMPLE 6:

That color looks nice.

Explanation:
This sentence relies on the linking verb "looks" to connect the subject phrase "That color" with the predicate adjective "nice."


EXAMPLE 7:

Transcendentalism became a popular movement.

Explanation:
This sentence relies on the linking verb "became" to connect the subject noun "Transcendentalism" with the predicate phrase "a popular movement."

Transitive simple sentences depend on a transitive verb to connect the subject noun to the predicate object.

EXAMPLE 8:

Individualism promotes intuition.

Explanation:
This sentence relies on the transitive verb "promotes" to connect the subject "Individualism" with the object "intuition."


EXAMPLE 9:

Many people read Emerson.

Explanation:
This sentence relies on the transitive verb "read" to connect the subject phrase "Many people" with the object "Emerson."


Compound Sentences

A compound sentence consists of two or more independent clauses (that is, simple sentences).

EXAMPLE 1:

The students protested, and the rain fell.

Explanation:
This compound sentence combines two independent clauses ("The students protested" and "the rain fell"). We can tell that each of these clauses is independent because each can stand alone as a complete sentence (each has a subject — "students" and "the rain" — and each has a verb — "protested" and "fell").

Many writers overuse compound sentences. You may find it easier to write short, clear sentences if you treat each independent clause as a separate sentence. That said, a compound sentence can benefit from independent clauses if you imply a connection between the ideas of those clauses.

EXAMPLE 2:

The rain fell, but the students protested.

Explanation:
This complex sentence combines two independent clauses and implies a connection between them — we get the impression that it is remarkable the students are protesting despite the falling rain.

Bear in mind that coordinating conjunctions are not interchangeable in meaning, though they are interchangeable grammatically and logically. Replacing one coordinating conjunction with another will change the meaning of your sentence, even if the sentence remains grammatically correct.

EXAMPLE 3:

Original:
The rain fell, but the students protested.

Revised:
The rain fell, or the students protested.

Explanation:
Here, changing "but" to "or" changes the meaning of the sentence.

We can join independent clauses with a comma, a semicolon, or a coordinating conjunction. Commonly, we join two independent clauses with both a comma and a coordinating conjunction. We can link three or more independent clauses with commas, placing a comma and a coordinating conjunction before the last clause.


EXAMPLE 4:

Original:
The students protested, and the rain fell.

Revised:
The students protested and the rain fell.

Explanation:
This compound sentence combines two independent clauses ("The students protested" and "the rain fell"). The clauses are joined by a coordinating conjunction ("and"). Notice that the first version uses a comma, while the second doesn't. It is traditional to use a comma, but either version is acceptable.


EXAMPLE 5:

The students protested; the rain fell.

Explanation:
This sentence uses the same independent clauses as the sentences in the previous example, but they are joined by a semicolon rather than a coordinating conjunction.


EXAMPLE 6:

The students protested, the rain fell, and everyone drank lots of coffee.

Explanation:
This compound sentence includes three independent clauses. The first and second independent clauses in the list are separated by a comma, and the second and third are separated by a comma and a coordinating conjunction ("and").


Complex Sentences

We form complex sentences by combining an independent clause (a simple sentence) with one or more dependent clauses (a fragment).

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
The students protested while the rain fell.

Explanation:
This sentence combines the independent clause "The students protested" with the dependent clause "while the rain fell" to create a complex sentence.

We can link these independent and dependent clauses together with subordinators (words which prefix dependent clauses). These subordinators indicate that a dependent clause is beginning.

Common relative pronouns include: "that," "when," "who," "which."

Common subordinators include: "after," "although," "because," "since," and "when."

EXAMPLE 2:

Although the rain fell, the students protested while the days passed.

Explanation:
This sentence combines an independent clause ("the students protested") with two dependent clauses ("Although the rain fell" and "while the days passed").

When we work with dependent clauses, we must pay special attention to commas. When a dependent clause begins the sentence, we end the dependent clause with a comma.

EXAMPLE 3:

When the rain fell, the students protested.

Explanation:
This sentence combines a dependent clause ("When the rain fell") with an independent clause ("the students protested"). The dependent clause begins with a relative pronoun ("When") and ends with a comma.

When a dependent clause is in the midst of an independent clause, we position commas around it.

EXAMPLE 4:

The students, although the rain fell, protested for several days.

Explanation:
This sentence combines an independent clause ("The students … protested for several days") with a dependent clause ("although the rain fell"). The dependent clause begins with a subordinating conjunction ("although"). We frame the dependent clause with commas because it is in the middle of the sentence.

When a dependent clause ends the sentence, we needn't use a comma.

EXAMPLE 5:

The students protested while the rain fell.

Explanation:
This sentence combines an independent clause ("The students protested") with a dependent clause ("while the rain fell"). The dependent clause begins with a subordinating conjunction ("while"). Because the dependent clause ends the sentence, we don't need to use commas.

We can usually convey our meaning more precisely with complex sentences than with compound sentences, since the juxtaposition of dependent clauses with an independent clause allows us to indicate relationships between the parts of a sentence.

EXAMPLE 6:

Original:
The students protested and the rain fell.

Revised:
The students protested while the rain fell.

Explanation:
The first sentence is a compound sentence. The second is a complex sentence. Notice that the complex sentence indicates a relationship between the two parts (it tells us they occurred at the same time).


Compound-Complex Sentences

We form compound-complex sentences by combining elements of compound sentences with elements of complex sentences. A compound-complex sentence has at least two independent clauses and at least one dependent clause.

While these sentences can effectively present several related ideas, they can become convoluted. If you have several of these sentences in a row, your writing will likely sound both monotonous and confusing.

EXAMPLE 1:

The students protested while the rain fell, and some teachers joined the protest.

Explanation:
This sentence combines a dependent clause ("while the rain fell") with two independent clauses ("The students protested" and "some teachers joined the protest").


EXAMPLE 2:

The students protested while the rain fell and, when the rain stopped falling, they staged a march.

Explanation:
This sentence combines two dependent clauses ("while the rain fell" and "when the rain stopped falling") with two independent clauses ("The students protested" and "they staged a march").


Breaking Compound and Complex Sentences into Simple Sentences

To break a compound or complex sentence down into simple sentences, first identify all the clauses in that sentence, whether dependent or independent.

Separate these clauses by making them into separate sentences (by separating them with periods and getting rid of any other punctuation or conjunctions joining the clauses).

If you are dealing with a complex sentence or a compound complex sentence, you’ll need to identify and remove the subordinators that begin dependent clauses (otherwise one of your new simple sentences will be a fragment).

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
The students protested, and the rain fell.

Revised:
The students protested. The rain fell.

Explanation:
The original sentence is a compound sentences, made up of two independent clauses. To turn this sentence into two simple sentences, we can separate the two clauses and turn them into individual sentences.


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
The students protested while the rain fell.

Revised:
The students protested. The rain fell.

Explanation:
The original sentence is a complex sentence made up of one independent clause ("The students protested") and one dependent clause ("while the rain fell"). We can break it into simple sentences by deleting the subordinator "while" and separating the two clauses into individual sentences.


EXAMPLE 3:

Original: The students protested and, when the rain stopped, they staged a march.

Revised:
The students protested. The rain stopped. They staged a march.

Explanation:
The original sentence is a compound complex sentence, with two independent clauses and one dependent clause. We can break this sentence into separate sentences by removing the subordinator "when" from the dependent clause and then making each clause its own sentence.

Fragments

All sentences contain a subject and a verb. Fragments are incomplete sentences because they lack a subject or a verb. You can revise a fragment either by attaching it to a complete sentence, or by revising the fragment to make a new and complete sentence.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
Although the weather was warm.

Revised 1:
The weather was warm.

Revised 2:
Although the weather was warm, we didn't go outside.

Explanation:
The subordinating conjunction "Although" turns what could be a complete sentence ("The weather was warm") into a fragment. We can revise the fragment into a complete sentence by removing the subordinating conjunction, or by adding an independent clause ("we didn't go outside").


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
In the morning, after breakfast but before lunch.

Revised:
In the morning, after breakfast but before lunch, I had a snack.

Explanation:
This fragment is a prepositional phrase describing a time. A prepositional phrase is a dependent clause, not a sentence. In the second version, we have positioned the prepositional phrase in a complete sentence ("I had a snack").


EXAMPLE 3:

Original:
Writing a ten-page paper.

Revised 1:
I was writing a ten-page paper.

Revised 2:
Writing a ten-page paper, I spent most of my time making a new playlist.

Revised 3:
Writing a ten-page paper was difficult.

Explanation:
The first version is a verbal phrase ("Writing the ten-page paper"). A verbal phrase that stands alone is a fragment. In the second version, we positioned the verbal phrase as the object of the sentence and added a subject ("I") and verb ("was writing"). In the third version, we used the verbal phrase to modify the independent clause, "I spent most of my time making a new playlist." In the fourth version, we used the verbal phrase as the subject and added a verb ("was").


Subject and Predicate

A subject and predicate are essential to every sentence. Without them, we can't write complete thoughts or sentences.

The subject is the focal point of the sentence, what the rest of the sentence is about.

The predicate is everything that comes after the subject. It describes the subject.

Simple and Complex Subjects

There are two ways of thinking of subjects. The "simple subject" is the heart of the subject, usually just one or two words. The "complete subject" includes adjectives describing the subject and clauses embedded in the subject. When we mention the subject in the Guide, we are referring to the complete subject.

EXAMPLE 1:

The sun came out.

Explanation:
Here, the simple subject is "sun." The complete subject is "The sun." The subject ("the sun") is what the rest of the sentence tells us about.


EXAMPLE 2:

It is sunny out.

Explanation:
The subject of this sentence is "It." This subject is an empty word (an "expletive"). "It" adds a subject to a predicate that would otherwise be a fragment, helping us express a complete thought. "It" is a singular subject, so we match it with a singular verb ("is").


EXAMPLE 3:

The fact that the sun was shining was a surprise.

Explanation:
The simple subject is "fact" and the complete subject is "The fact that the sun was shining."


EXAMPLE 4:

Whatever the fog had covered is now covered in sunlight.

Explanation:
This subject is a relative clause. The simple subject is "Whatever" and the complete subject is "Whatever the fog had covered."


EXAMPLE 5:

To see the sun shining is a surprise.

Explanation:
This is an infinitive subject. The simple subject is "to see," and the complete subject is "to see the sun shining."


EXAMPLE 6:

I was surprised that the sun was shining, because fog had covered the city for days.

Explanation:
This sentence has three subjects. The main subject is "I." The other two subjects are embedded in dependent clauses. The second subject, "the sun," is embedded in the dependent relative clause "that … shining." We can find the third subject, "fog," in the dependent clause "because … days."


EXAMPLE 7:

Seeing the sun makes me happy.

Explanation:
The simple subject here is a gerund phrase, "Seeing the sun."


EXAMPLE 8:

Look at the sun!

Explanation:
The topic of this sentence ("the sun") is not its subject. The subject is implied, as are the subjects in many other imperative sentences. In this example, we can assume that the subject is the person commanded by the speaker to look at the sun.

Predicates

The subject acts or is acted upon by the verb (a part of the predicate). The subject and verb should agree in time (past, present, future, etc.) and number (singular or plural).


EXAMPLE 1:

My pen stopped working in the middle of the test.

Explanation:
The simple subject is "pen." The complete subject is "My pen." The subject is what the rest of the sentence (the predicate) tells us about. We learn what the pen did (it "stopped working") and when ("in the middle of the test").


Subject-Verb Disagreement

A verb should always agree with its subject in number (singular or plural) and in person (first person "I" or "we," second person "you," or third person "he," "she," "it," or "they").


EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
Peter wash dishes every day.

Revised:
Peter washes dishes every day.

Explanation:
In the first version, the subject ("Peter") is singular, but the verb ("wash") is plural. To revise, we made the verb singular.


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
I eats every day.

Revised:
I eat every day.

Explanation:
In the first version, the subject ("I") is singular, but the verb ("eats") doesn't match it.


EXAMPLE 3:

Original:
They buys food every day.

Revised:
They buy food every day.

Explanation:
The singular verb "buys" conflicts with the plural subject "They." In the second sentence, we changed "buys" to its plural form, "buy."


"It" with a Non-Third Person Singular Verb

"It" requires a third person singular verb. This means that you might need to change the form of the verb to its third person singular form.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
It eat plants.

Revised:
It eats plants.

Explanation:
"Eat" is first person singular, so we can change it to the third person singular "eats."


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
It growing fast.

Revised:
It grows fast.

Explanation:
We must change the verb "growing" to its third person singular form, "grows."


EXAMPLE 3:

Original:
It fallen down.

Revision:
It fell down.


Matching Third Person Pronouns with Third Person Verbs

When we use a third person pronoun, we must make sure we are using a verb that agrees with it. Third person pronouns should be accompanied by third person verbs.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
He see an opportunity.

Revised 1:
He sees an opportunity.

Revised 2:
He saw an opportunity.

Explanation:
The original pairs the third person pronoun "he" with the non-third person verb "see." To revise, we can change the verb to a third person verb, such as "sees" or "saw."


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
She thinks he eating too much.

Revised 1:
She thinks he eats too much.

Revised 2:
She thinks he ate too much.

Explanation:
"Eating" isn't a third person verb and so doesn't agree with the third person pronoun "he." To revise, we can change it to a verb that does agree with "he," such as "eats" or "ate."


EXAMPLE 3:

Original:
Have she eaten?

Revised:
Has she eaten?

Explanation:
In this case, the verb ("have") appears before the pronoun, but this doesn't alter the fact that they must agree. To revise, we can change the verb to its third person singular form, "has."


Matching "There" with Nouns

We should always match plural verbs with plural nouns and singular verbs with singular nouns.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
There is storms over the city.

Revised 1:
There are storms over the city.

Revised 2: There is a storm over the city.

Explanation:
The original pairs the singular verb "is" with the plural noun "storms." To revise, we can match the plural noun with a plural verb by replacing the singular "is" with its plural form, "are." Alternatively, we can match the singular verb with a singular noun by replacing the plural noun "storms" with its singular form, "storm," and adding an indirect article, "a."


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
There's apples in the fridge.

Revised 1:
There are apples in the fridge.

Revised 2:
There is an apple in the fridge.

Explanation:
Because "There's" is a contraction of "There is," this sentence suffers from the same problem as the previous example: a singular verb paired with a plural noun. To revise, we can replace the singular verb "is" with the plural verb "are," which matches the plural noun "apples." Alternatively, we can replace the plural noun "apples" with an indirect article and singular noun, "an apple."


EXAMPLE 3:

Original:
There are issue with the proposal.

Revised 1:
There is an issue with the proposal.

Revised 2: There are issues with the proposal.

Explanation:
In this case, a plural verb is paired with a singular noun. We can revise either by making the verb singular (Revision 1) or by making the noun plural (Revision 2).


Singular vs. Plural

Indefinite articles (a, an) and other words that require singular nouns cannot be paired with plural nouns.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
I fit the food on one tables.

Revised 1:
I fit the food on one table.

Revised 2: I fit the food on two tables.

Explanation:
The original pairs a singular pronoun ("one") with a plural noun ("tables"). In revising, we have two options. We can replace the plural noun with a singular noun (Revision 1), or we can replace the singular pronoun with a plural pronoun (Revision 2).


EXAMPLE 2: Original:
A bears lived in the woods.

Revised 1:
A bear lived in the woods.

Revised 2:
Bears lived in the woods.

Explanation:
This example pairs an indirect article ("A") with a plural noun ("bears"). To revise, we can either change the plural noun to its singular form ("bear," in Revision 1), or remove the indirect article (Revision 2).


EXAMPLE 3:

Original:
He had an apples in a basket.

Revised 1:
He had an apple in a basket.

Revised 2: He had apples in a basket.

Explanation:
The original pairs an indirect article with a plural noun. Again, we can either make the noun singular (Revision 1) or remove the indirect article (Revision 2).


Objects

We use objects to convey more nuanced information to the reader. Rather than discussing only an agent and an action, we can discuss what the agent and action affect.

Objects are acted on by verbs. A sentence might have several, one, or no objects. There are three common types of objects: direct objects, indirect objects, and prepositional objects (also called "objects of the preposition").

Direct Objects

The direct object is the person, place, thing, or concept that receives the action of the verb.


EXAMPLE 1:

The cat chased the ball.

Explanation:
To find the object, we can first identify the main verb, "chased." Then we ask what the verb acts on — this is the direct object ("ball").


EXAMPLE 2:

Regina asked a question.

Explanation:
The verb ("asked") acts on the direct object ("question").


Indirect Objects

An indirect object is not acted upon by the verb, but is nonetheless affected by the action.

EXAMPLE 1:

Regina asked her mother a question.

Explanation:
Identifying the indirect object is more complex than identifying the direct object. We begin by identifying the main verb ("asked") and the direct object it acts upon ("question"). The sentence needs "question" to receive the verb: "Regina asked … a question." The question (the direct object) is asked; the mother (the indirect object) receives the question. While the mother is not acted upon, she is indirectly affected by the action.


EXAMPLE 2:

Coach is giving us a break from basketball practice tomorrow.

Explanation:
We can begin by identifying the verb: "is giving." The direct object is what the coach (both agent and subject) gives: "a break." The "break" (direct object) is given to "us" (indirect object). We can tell that "us" is not the direct object because "Coach is giving us" begs the question: what is he giving? The direct object, "a break" satisfies this question.


Prepositional Objects

There is one last type of object: the prepositional object. Prepositional objects are introduced by prepositions and embedded in prepositional phrases. You may find it helpful to think of prepositional objects as more removed from the action than indirect objects: prepositions separate prepositional objects from the verb of a sentence.

EXAMPLE 1:

A child danced the waltz for the studio audience.

Explanation:
A prepositional object always follows a preposition (such as "for"). The prepositional object is the noun or phrase that receives the effect of the preposition. In this example, we can ask "For whom did the child dance?" The child danced for the object of the preposition: "the studio audience."


EXAMPLE 2:

The daring hikers climbed rapidly over the mountain.

Explanation:
To find the prepositional object, we first look for the preposition — here, "over." Then we ask what the preposition points to. What did the hikers climb "over"? The prepositional object in this sentence is "the mountain."


EXAMPLE 3:

We jumped on top of the mattress with our hands in the air.

Explanation:
This sentence features a string of prepositions (italicized) and their prepositional objects (bolded).


Clauses

A clause is a group of words describing a complete thought. A sentence, for instance, is a clause. Clauses always include a subject and a verb, although we can sometimes imply the subject or verb rather than state it explicitly.

EXAMPLE 1:

Jenny studied.

This sentence is a clause. It includes a subject ("Jenny") and a verb ("studied").

Every sentence is a clause, but not every clause is a sentence — some clauses are fragments. You'll find some clauses embedded within sentences (within other clauses).

When we embed a clause within another clause, we can (and, for clarity's sake, often should) separate that clause from the rest of the sentence with commas, dashes, or parentheses.


EXAMPLE 2:

While Jenny studied, she got a headache.

There are two clauses in this sentence. The two are separated by a comma.

Grammarians have created an excess of clause categories. Some categories overlap or have multiple names. An adverbial clause, for instance, can be a dependent clause serving as an introductory clause. Luckily, you don't need to know what an adverbial clause is in order to write one. In this section, we discuss a few basic types of clauses.


Independent and Dependent Clauses

All clauses are either independent or dependent. An independent clause is a sentence, complete with subject and verb.

EXAMPLE 1:

Jenny studied.

This sentence is an independent clause. It has a subject ("Jenny") and a verb ("studied").

EXAMPLE 2:

I brought an umbrella.

This is an independent clause. It features a subject ("I") and a verb ("brought").

A dependent clause is any clause that cannot stand alone — a dependent clause is a fragment if it is not attached to an independent clause. We sometimes call dependent clauses "subordinate clauses."


EXAMPLE 6:

While Jenny studied.

This is a dependent clause. Alone, it is a fragment, not a complete sentence.


EXAMPLE 7:

Because it was raining.

Because it was raining, I borrowed an umbrella.

Explanation:
"Because it was raining" is not a complete sentence. It features a subject ("it") and verb ("was"), but it begins with a subordinator ("because"), indicating that it is dependent. The first sentence begs the question, "so what?" The independent clause answers this question by telling us what happened because it was raining: "I borrowed an umbrella."


Introductory Clauses

Introductory clauses can give readers context, establish tone, or pack more information into a sentence. Introductory clauses cannot stand on their own: they are dependent clauses that introduce complete sentences. They can include a variety of other clause types.

EXAMPLE 8:

Having eaten the pie, I ate the ice cream.

Explanation:
This sentence begins with an introductory clause: "Having eaten the pie." This introductory clause establishes the context in which the speaker eats the ice cream.


EXAMPLE 9:

Because it was raining, I borrowed an umbrella.

Explanation: This sentence begins with an introductory clause: "Because it was raining…." The introductory clause tells the reader why the main action (borrowing an umbrella) is performed.


Relative (or Adjective) Clauses

Relative clauses give readers information about a person, place, thing, or idea mentioned in the same sentence. You may find it useful to think of relative clauses as extended adjectives: like adjectives, these clauses describe a noun, noun phrase, or pronoun.

EXAMPLE 10:

The thief, who was wearing a hat, broke into the store.

Explanation: This relative clause tells us more about the thief.

Like all clauses, relative clauses include both a subject and a verb, yet they're dependent — they are never complete sentences. This is because they begin with relative pronouns, a type of subordinator. Because relative clauses are always dependent, we must attach each to an independent clause (a sentence) — otherwise, we'll end up writing a fragment.

EXAMPLE 11:

Original:
Who was wearing the red hat.

Revised:
The thief, who was wearing the red hat, was optimistic.

Explanation:
Like all relative clauses, this one can't stand alone. In its first iteration above, it is a fragment. (Note that if we used a question mark rather than a period, we could turn this fragment into a question.) To make this into a complete sentence, we add an independent clause.


EXAMPLE 12:

The hat which the thief wore was red.

Explanation:
This relative clause describes "The hat." "The hat" is the antecedent of the relative clause.

Relative clauses are fairly easy to recognize because they begin with relative pronouns. The most common relative pronouns are: that, which, who, whom, whose, whoever, and whomever.

EXAMPLE 13:

The thief who had broken into the store ran past me.

Explanation:
Here, the antecedent (or "referent") of the relative clause is "The thief." The relative clause, beginning with the relative pronoun "who," describes this antecedent, telling us more about the thief. Without the relative clause, all we know is that the thief "ran past me."


EXAMPLE 14:

The umbrella that I had borrowed turned out to be useful.

Explanation:
Here, the antecedent is "The umbrella." The relative clause ("that … borrowed") gives readers further information about the umbrella, telling us that it was borrowed.

There are two types of relative clauses: restrictive and nonrestrictive. Restrictive relative clauses inform the meaning of a sentence. If we remove a restrictive relative clause, the sentence will lose its original meaning. Nonrestrictive relative clauses provide readers with supplementary information — we can remove a restrictive relative clause without changing the meaning of the sentence.

We don't separate restrictive clauses from the rest of the sentence, but we separate nonrestrictive relative clauses by framing them with commas (or other punctuation).

EXAMPLE 15:

Original:
Of all my umbrellas, only the umbrella that I borrowed last fall hasn't broken.

Revision:
Of all my umbrellas, only the umbrella hasn't broken.

Explanation:
The second sentence has a restrictive relative clause ("that … fall"). When we remove it, we change the meaning of the sentence.


EXAMPLE 16:

Original:
My only umbrella, which I bought last fall, hasn't broken.

Revision:
My only umbrella hasn't broken.

Explanation:
The second sentence has a nonrestrictive relative clause: the sentence still makes sense after we remove it.


Adverb Clauses

Like relative (adjective) clauses, adverb clauses are dependent clauses. An adverbial clause functions like an adverb: it describes a verb, adjective, or adverb. We use adverbial clauses to describe comparison, concession, condition, manner, place, purpose, reason, time, and results.

EXAMPLE 17:

The building was damaged, although it hadn't fallen down, in the earthquake.

Explanation:
This adverbial clause ("although … down") describes how the building reacted to the earthquake. It is an adverb clause because it describes the verb ("damaged"); it describes how the building was damaged.

We can recognize adverbial clauses because they are signified by a trigger word which sets the clause apart from the rest of the sentence. (We call these trigger words subordinating conjunctions.) Like all clauses, adverb clauses contain both a subject and a verb, yet, because of the subordinators, they never form complete sentences by themselves. To form a complete sentence with an adverbial clause, we must add an independent clause.

EXAMPLE 18:

The store sold as many books as it could.

Explanation:
The adverbial clause ("as … could") describes how the store sold its books. The trigger words are the phrase "as many … as."


Noun Clauses

Like relative (adjective) clauses and adverb clauses, noun clauses start with relative adverbs and relative pronouns. Instead of functioning as adjectives or adverbs, however, noun clauses function like nouns and can fulfill the roles of subject and object. We can replace a noun clause with a noun without disrupting the grammar of a sentence.

EXAMPLE 19:

Whoever has read through this whole guide is very brave.

Explanation:
This noun clause ("Whoever … entry") serves as the subject of this sentence. We can recognize this as a noun clause because we can replace it with a regular noun ("You are very brave"). The relative pronoun "Whoever" indicates the beginning of the clause.


EXAMPLE 20:

I dislike whoever disagrees with me.

Explanation:
The noun clause ("whoever … me") serves as the direct object of this sentence. We can replace it with a noun: "I dislike paperclips." This noun clause begins, as do all noun clauses, with a relative pronoun ("whoever").


EXAMPLE 21:

They think they are lucky.

Explanation:
This noun clause functions as a direct object. The signifier of the noun clause is implicit. If we included it, then the sentence would read "They think that they are lucky." Including "that" is never incorrect — but sometimes, including it will make your sentence sound clumsy; many writers leave it out in these instances.


Phrases

Phrases are groups of connected words. A phrase may include a subject or a verb, but not both. A group of words that contains both a subject and a verb is a clause, not a phrase. Phrases include words; clauses include phrases; sentences include clauses.

If the head word is an adverb, we're looking at an adverb phrase; if it's a verb, a verb phrase.


Prepositional Phrases

EXAMPLE 1:

1 During the boring class, half the students were asleep and the other half were eating.

Explanation:
The preposition ("During") signals (heads) the prepositional phrase "During class." The object of the preposition is the noun "class." The adjective "boring" describes the class.

However, prepositions can tell us little unless they are part of a prepositional phrase. Prepositional phrases give readers specific information about how words relate to each other. A prepositional phrase consists of a preposition and the object of the preposition, and includes any words modifying that object.


Noun Phrases

Noun phrases include a noun (the head word) and its modifiers. Noun phrases serve the same purpose as nouns: subjects, objects, and subject complements.

EXAMPLE 1:

The bright red apple fell off the tree.

Explanation:
The head word of this noun phrase is the noun "apple." This head word is described by a definite article ("The"), two adjectives ("red" and "bright"), and a conjunction that connects the adjectives ("and"). This noun phrase serves as the subject of the sentence.


EXAMPLE 2:

I preferred the blue couch.

Explanation:
The head word is the noun "couch." A definite article ("The") and an adjective ("blue") describe "couch." This noun phrase functions as the direct object of the sentence.


EXAMPLE 3:

The stack of books was heavier than I thought.

Explanation:
The head word of this noun phrase is "stack," which is modified by the prepositional phrase, "of books." This noun phrase serves as the subject of the sentence.


EXAMPLE 4:

The car is an old, decrepit monstrosity.

Explanation:
This noun phrase, headed by the noun "monstrosity," is a subject complement.


Verb Phrases

Verb phrases are among the most common phrases in the English language. When several words combine to describe one verb or action, they form a verb phrase. They include a main verb, often with a helping verb or a modal. Verb phrases function as the predicate of a sentence.

EXAMPLE 1:

The car may be slightly dented.

Explanation:
This verb phrase includes a modal ("may"), a helping verb ("be"), an adverb ("slightly"), and a main verb ("dented").


EXAMPLE 2:

At nine in the morning, I will be drinking tea and eating breakfast.

Explanation:
This sentence includes two main verbs, "drinking" and "eating." The helping verbs "will" and "be" modify each of these verbs to form two distinct verb phrases: "will be … drinking" and "will be … eating."


Adjective Phrases

Adjective phrases modify nouns and pronouns. An adjective phrase need not include an adjective, provided that the entire phrase functions like an adjective and describes a noun or pronoun.

EXAMPLE 1:

If the weather is especially foggy, we'll have to cancel our plans.

Explanation:
Here, the head word "foggy" (an adjective) signals an adjective phrase. The other word in this adjective phrase is an adverb, "especially," which modifies (describes) the adjective "foggy."


Adjective phrases begin with prepositions or a word with a verb form.

You do not need to surround an adjective phrase with commas when it is an essential part of the noun or pronoun it describes. Similarly, commas are unnecessary when deleting the adjective phrase would change the meaning of the sentence. When removing the adjective phrase would not change the meaning, you can use commas to set it off from the rest of the sentence.

EXAMPLE 2:

The buildings, shaking dangerously in the earthquake, scared people.

Explanation:
This adjective phrase does not include an adjective, yet it functions solely to describe the noun "buildings." It is non-restrictive — the meaning of the sentence will not change if we remove the adjective phrase.


EXAMPLE 3:

Those thinking themselves clever were quickly disillusioned.

Explanation:
This adjective phrase begins with a gerund, a word formed from a verb. We can tell that it is an adjective phrase because it describes a noun ("people"). It is restrictive: if we remove the phrase from the sentence, the sentence's meaning will change.


Adverb Phrases

Adverb phrases function like adverbs. Like adverbs, adverb phrases tell readers when, where, how, how often, how much, and to what extent the action of the sentence occurs. Like adverbs, they describe verbs, adjectives, other adverbs, prepositions, infinitives, participles, and both dependent and independent clauses.

EXAMPLE 1:

I ate the apple as quickly as I could.

Explanation:
Here, the adverb phrase describes how and when the speaker ate the apple.


Adverb phrases usually include adverbs Those that don't often contain prepositions (we can classify these as both adverb phrases and prepositional phrases.

EXAMPLE 2:

The debaters were speaking enthusiastically.

Explanation:
This adverb phrase is only one word (an adverb). It describes the action of the verb by explaining how the debaters spoke. The adverb "enthusiastically" heads this adverb phrase.


EXAMPLE 3:

If you try to cross the street in front of the bank, chances are you'll get run over.

Explanation:
This adverb phrase describes where we're crossing the street. This is also a prepositional phrase, introduced by the preposition "in."


Participial Phrases

Participles are verbs which function as adjectives to describe nouns and pronouns. As with adjectives, we place participle phrases next to the noun or pronoun they modify. Most participles end in "-ing" and "-ed," although some past participles have unique forms, such as "brought" and "driven."

EXAMPLE 1:

I eagerly entered the store having a sale.

Explanation:
Here, the present participle "having" signals the start of a participle clause. This participle clause describes "the store" (a noun), which it's adjacent to.

Participle phrases resemble gerund phrases, but function in different ways. Gerunds end in "-ing" and "-ed," but act as nouns rather than merely standing in for them.

EXAMPLE 2:

The seagull, flying over the beach, stole all our food.

Explanation:
This participle phrase starts with the past participle "flying" and describes the seagull. Please note that this participle includes a prepositional phrase ("over the beach) and takes an object ("the beach").


EXAMPLE 3:

Worried by the albatross, the sailors decided to shoot it.

Explanation:
The past participle "worried" heads a participle phrase which describes the sailors.


EXAMPLE 4:

Washing the dishes quickly, a glass broke.

Revised:
Washing the dishes quickly, I broke a glass.

Explanation:
It's easy to create ambiguous or nonsensical meanings by misplacing participle phrases. In the first version of this sentence, the participle phrase applies to the subject of the sentence, "a glass" — implying that the glass is washing the dishes. The revision implies that the speaker is washing the dishes.


Infinitive Phrases

Infinitive phrases function as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs. They can be subjects, objects, and modifiers of nouns, pronouns, and verbs.

Infinitives are two-word verbs: "to" precedes the base (infinitive) form of the verb. "To run" and "to dance" are examples of infinitive verbs. Infinitive phrases always include an infinitive. They can also include any subject, object, or modifiers of that infinitive.

EXAMPLE 1:

The protesters hoped to change the status quo.

Explanation:
The infinitive "to change" heads the infinitive phrase. This infinitive phrase has no modifiers, but does have an object ("the status quo").


EXAMPLE 2:

To get up early enough to eat breakfast has always seemed like a vain ambition.

Explanation:
Headed by the infinitive "To get," this infinitive phrase serves as the subject of the sentence.


EXAMPLE 3:

The builders expected the noise to disturb the tenants.

Explanation:
This infinitive phrase is headed by the infinitive "to disturb." It includes a subject ("the noise") and an object ("the tenants") of the infinitive. This infinitive phrase functions as an adjective, describing the noun "noise."


EXAMPLE 4:

They hoped to find better seats.

Explanation:
This infinitive phrase functions as an adverb.


EXAMPLE 5:

I helped teach my brother to drive.

Explanation:
The head for this infinitive phrase is not a full infinitive because we do not state "to" explicitly: "to teach" is implied. We often omit "to" in similar instances, although "I helped to teach" is also grammatically correct.


EXAMPLE 6:

I expected you to be able to buy textbooks cheaply this semester.

Explanation:
The infinitive verb "to be" heads this infinitive phrase. Please note that this infinitive phrase has a subject ("you"), a main verb ("able"), and ends with a second infinitive phrase. This second infinitive phrase begins with the infinitive "to buy," with an object ("textbooks") and several words describing the infinitive ("cheaply this semester").


Absolute Phrases

Absolute phrases are a type of adverb phrase. While other adverb phrases describe a verb, adjective, or adverb in a sentence, absolute phrases describe a whole sentence or clause. We call sentences that have an absolute phrase cumulative sentences because the absolute phrase often adds essential information to the main clause.

EXAMPLE 1:

The kites darted through the sky, their bright colors drawing everyone's attention.

Explanation:
This absolute phrase begins with its subject ("their bright colors") and a participle ("drawing"). Please note that the absolute phrase describes the whole main clause of the sentence rather than any specific aspect of it.

We can recognize absolute phrases because they begin with a subject followed by a participle. A few absolute phrases don't include a subject; these are dangling modifiers, which your writing will be clearer without. Some dangling modifiers, however, are idioms commonly accepted as grammatically correct (for instance, "generally speaking").

EXAMPLE 2:

The contest over, the winner was announced.

Explanation:
The absolute phrase begins with a subject ("The contest"), followed by an implicit participle (“over,” which implies the full participle, “being over”).


Gerund Phrases

A gerund is a verb ending in "-ing" that functions like a noun. Gerund phrases look like participial phrases, but where participle phrases function as adjectives, gerund phrases act as nouns. We can use gerund phrases just as we use nouns: as subjects, objects, subject complements, and objects of prepositions.

EXAMPLE 1:

Writing quickly often results in bad spelling and punctuation.

Explanation:
The gerund "Writing" heads the gerund phrase, which includes a modifier, the adverb "quickly". This short gerund phrase serves as the subject of the sentence.

Gerund phrases can include an object of the gerund and words describing it (complements and modifiers).

EXAMPLE 2:

Breaking my leg was unfortunate.

Explanation:
Here, the gerund phrase is headed by the gerund "breaking." This gerund phrase features an object, "my leg." The whole phrase serves as the subject of the sentence.


EXAMPLE 3:

I dislike swimming during the winter.

Explanation:
The gerund "swimming" heads this gerund phrase. This gerund phrase is modified by a prepositional phrase: "during the winter." This gerund phrase serves as the direct object of the sentence.


EXAMPLE 4:

My favorite activity is going to the beach.

Explanation:
This gerund phrase (headed by the gerund "going") acts as a subject complement. The phrase includes its own complement, a prepositional phrase ("to the beach").


Appositive Phrases

Appositive phrases are a type of noun phrase that tell us more about the noun or pronoun which they follow or precede. You may find it helpful to think of appositives as renaming, identifying, or rephrasing the noun or pronoun they follow.

EXAMPLE 1:

You, the most qualified candidate, were chosen.

Explanation:
This appositive phrase renames the pronoun "You."

Unless an appositive phrase presents essential, defining information, we separate appositive phrases from the rest of the sentence using commas, dashes or parentheses.

EXAMPLE 2:

The Great Depression, a period during which the economy suffered, lasted through the 1930s.

Explanation:
This appositive phrase describes the subject of the sentence ("The Great Depression").


EXAMPLE 3:

A devoted investigator, the journalist uncovered the truth.

Explanation:
Here, the appositive phrase precedes and provides information about a noun ("the journalist").


EXAMPLE 4:

Shakespeare's works were collected in "The First Folio," a book published in 1623.

Explanation:
This appositive phrase renames "The First Folio."


EXAMPLE 5:

Some people consider the works collected in "The First Folio," rather than the works published in quartos, to be the definitive versions of Shakespeare's texts.

Explanation:
This sentence features of a negative appositive phrase. Rather than renaming a noun (telling us more about what the noun is), it tells us what the noun is not.


EXAMPLE 6:

My brother Quentin robbed Tiffany's yesterday.

Explanation:
The appositive phrase, "Quentin," is restrictive because it identifies which brother robbed Tiffany's. If the speaker had several brothers and didn't specify which robbed Tiffany's, the meaning of the sentence would be vague.


Parts of Speech

When we discuss grammar, we divide words into categories based on their grammatical functions. Verbs, for instance, tell us about actions, while adjectives describe nouns. We call these categories parts of speech. Each part of speech serves a distinct grammatical purpose.

The English language contains eight parts of speech: nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections.


Nouns

A noun refers to a person, place, or thing. We use nouns as subjects and objects.

EXAMPLE 1:

Coffee is wonderful.

Explanation:
Here, the noun "Coffee" serves as the subject of the sentence.


EXAMPLE 2:

I like coffee.

Explanation:
This sentence has two nouns: "I" and "coffee." The first noun, "I," is the subject of the sentence. The second, "coffee," is the direct object, acted upon by the verb.

Proper nouns refer to a specific person, place, or thing — for example, "Katherine," "the Pacific Ocean," and "Pandora's Box" are nouns.

Common nouns refer to a general collection of people, places, or things, or to any individual person, place, or thing from that collection. "People," "oceans," and "boxes" are examples of common nouns, as are "person," "ocean," and "box."

EXAMPLE 3:

Coffee helps students stay awake.

Explanation:
There are two nouns in this sentence: "Coffee" (subject) and "students" (direct object). These are both common nouns: they don't name any specific cup of coffee or any particular student.


EXAMPLE 4:

Coffee helps Katherine stay awake.

Explanation:
There are two nouns in this sentence: "Coffee" and "Katherine." "Coffee" is a common noun, while "Katherine" is a proper noun because it refers to a particular person.

We can use countable nouns with all three articles, "the," "a," and "an." "Phone" is a countable noun which can also be written as: "the phone," "a phone," and "phones."

Uncountable nouns cannot use the indefinite articles, "a" and "an, nor can they take plural forms. Such nouns include many proper nouns (for instance, we can say "the Pacific Ocean" but not "a Pacific Ocean," and "Pacific Ocean" but not "Pacific Oceans").

EXAMPLE 1:

Morgan poured the coffee into a mug.

Explanation:
"Coffee" is an uncountable noun and cannot be paired with the indefinite article, "a." "Mug," on the other hand, is a countable noun and can be written with the indefinite article, "a."

Noun clauses include a noun and the words that describe that noun.


Pronouns

Like nouns, pronouns can function as subjects and objects. Like nouns, pronouns can be described by adjectives.

We use pronouns in place of nouns. Pronouns correspond to a person, place, or thing which has already been named by a noun, the "antecedent" of the pronoun. Pronouns allow writers to avoid repeating a noun several times in a sentence or a series of sentences. You can think of pronouns as shorthand for already identified people, places, and things.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
Anne was tired, so Anne took a nap.

Revised:
Anne was tired, so she took a nap.

Explanation:
The first of these sentences does not use a pronoun. By using a pronoun in the revised sentence, we avoid unnecessarily repeating "Anne."

Identical pronouns can have distinct purposes in a sentence. The pronoun "her," for instance, can be possessive or accusative. Pronoun cases often correspond to their context rather than their particular forms.

EXAMPLE 2:

Her handwriting was terrible.

Explanation:
In this sentence, the pronoun "her" is a possessive pronoun, indicating that the handwriting belongs to "her."


EXAMPLE 3:

The child stabbed her with a pen.

Explanation:
In this sentence, the pronoun "her" serves as an accusative pronoun because it is the direct object of the sentence.


Antecedent and Pronoun Agreement

Pronouns refer to their antecedents. Because of this, a pronoun should match its antecedent in number, gender, and person. Fortunately, only four types of pronouns distinguish between number, gender and person: personal pronouns, possessive pronouns, reflexive pronouns, and intensive pronouns. Remaining aware of number, gender, and person when you use these pronouns will help you deliver the conventional grammar your readers expect.

A singular antecedent requires a singular pronoun and a plural antecedent requires a plural pronoun.

Neutral antecedents should be paired with a neutral pronoun, such as "it" or "they," while female and male antecedents require their respective pronouns: "she" and "her" for female and "he" and "his" for male.

EXAMPLE 1:

Anne's brother stole her chocolate.

Explanation:
The pronoun "her" refers to the female antecedent, "Anne."


Using Gendered Pronouns

Writers often need to describe a generic individual — for instance, "a citizen" or "a construction worker." English has traditionally referred to these individuals with male pronouns, such as "he," "him," and "his." This is no longer acceptable.

EXAMPLE 1:

Each U.S. citizen should exercise his right to vote.

Explanation:
This sentence assumes and implies that all U.S. citizens are male.

Instead of defaulting to the male pronouns, you can use both male and female pronouns ("she or he," "him or her," and so forth).


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
A citizen can vote if he has registered.

Revised 1:
A citizen can vote if he or she has registered.

Revised 2:
A citizen can vote if she or he has registered.

Explanation:
The first version of this sentence uses "he" to describe a generic “citizen.” To revise, we can replace "he" with "she or he" or "he or she."

Alternatively, you can reference a generic mass of people rather than an individual and use a neutral plural pronoun, such as "they."

EXAMPLE 3:

Original:
Many large stores have designated places where the customer, if he is dissatisfied, can complain.

Revised:
Many large stores have designated places where customers, if they are dissatisfied, can complain.

Explanation:
The first sentence uses the male third person pronoun "he." We could revise by replacing "he" with "he or she." Alternatively, and more concisely, we can change the singular "customer" into its plural form, "customers," allowing us to use the neutral plural pronoun, "they."

In speech, many use "they" as a singular, genderless pronoun. While this serves its purpose in colloquial language, it also results in subject-verb disagreement. We recommend that you avoid this in formal writing.

EXAMPLE 4:

Original:
If a customer is dissatisfied, he can speak with the manager.

Revised:
If a customer is dissatisfied, they can speak with the manager.

Explanation:
This example replaces the singular "he" with the plural "they." The resulting sentence is colloquially acceptable but grammatically incorrect.

We can often rework sentences to avoid pronouns altogether.

EXAMPLE 5:

Original:
If a customer is dissatisfied, he can speak with the manager.

Revised:
A dissatisfied customer can speak with the manager.

Explanation:
The second version of the sentence eliminates the pronoun "he" by replacing the clause "If … dissatisfied" with the adjective, "dissatisfied."


Demonstrative Pronouns

"This" and "that" replace or refer to singular nouns, while "these" and "those" replace or refer to plural nouns.

The demonstrative pronouns are: "this," "that," "these," and "those."

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
"If this isn't nice, I don't know what is" (Vonnegut).

Revised:
If that isn't nice, I don't know what is.

Explanation:
In this sentence, the demonstrative pronoun "this" refers to the situation of the speaker. If we replace "this" with "that," the tone of the sentence changes: "that" creates physical or figurative distance between the speaker and the thing described as "nice."


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
That is Matt Damon's house.

Revised:
This is Matt Damon's house.

Explanation:
In the first sentence, the demonstrative pronoun "That" is the subject of the sentence. We use "That" to point out the house from a distance. In the second sentence, "This" suggests that we are much closer to Matt Damon's house than he would probably like.


EXAMPLE 3:

Original:
Those appetizers look tasty.

Revised:
These appetizers look tasty.

Explanation:
In the first sentence, the demonstrative pronoun "Those" modifies "appetizers," indicating that we are far from the appetizers. The appetizers become less distant if we refer to them with the demonstrative pronoun, "these."


EXAMPLE 4:

Original:
Those ping-pong players are crazy.

Revised:
These ping-pong players are crazy.

Explanation:
In both sentences, a demonstrative pronoun modifies "ping-pong players." Either pronoun could be used, depending on our physical distance from the ping-pong players. Additionally, we can use "those" if the ping-pong players are strangers and "these" if we know them personally.


indefinite Pronouns

Indefinite pronouns refer to an unspecified person, group of people, thing, or group of things. While most pronouns refer to nouns in surrounding words or sentences, indefinite pronouns do not require specific antecedents.

EXAMPLE 1:

Each will try to win.

Explanation:
The indefinite pronoun "each" is the subject of the sentence.


EXAMPLE 2:

Each of the contestants will try to win.

Explanation:
In this sentence, "each" does not directly modify the noun "contestants." "Contestants" is part of the prepositional phrase ("of the contestants") modifying "each." Once again, "each" functions as an indefinite pronoun.


EXAMPLE 3:

Some might say that you were rude.

Explanation:
The indefinite pronoun "some" does not require an antecedent because refers to an unspecified group of people rather than any named individuals.

Indefinite pronouns can also function as antecedents.


EXAMPLE 4:

Everyone eagerly awaits the end of the semester because they're tired of doing homework.

Explanation:
The indefinite pronoun "Everyone" is the antecedent of the personal pronoun "they."

Pronouns should agree with their antecedents in person, number, and gender. Most indefinite pronouns are singular, some are plural, and some can be singular or plural.

EXAMPLE 5:

Nobody was supposed to be in the office last night.

Explanation:
The indefinite pronoun "nobody" has no antecedent. In fact, because "nobody" refers to no one, it couldn't have an antecedent.


EXAMPLE 6:

Few have experience in tight-rope walking but many respect the occupation.

Explanation:
This sentence has two indefinite pronouns, both of which refer to an unspecified group of people. It would be redundant to say "Few humans." "Few people" is better, but still awkward.


EXAMPLE 7:

Neither of us can enter the basement alone.

Explanation:
Here, the indefinite pronoun "neither" serves as the subject of the sentence. It does not need an antecedent because the prepositional phrase "of us" tells readers everything they need to know.


EXAMPLE 8:

The chief of the rescue team sent one diver into the river to search for an antique necklace. Then she sent another into the lake.

Explanation:
Here, the indefinite pronoun "another" serves as the direct object of the second sentence. It has no antecedent because it does not refer to the same diver mentioned in the first sentence.


Neither … nor vs. Either … or

Match "neither" with "nor" and "either" with "or." The two combinations have different meanings; "neither … nor" is a negation of "either … or."

EXAMPLE 1: Original:
Neither rain or snow will stop.

Revised:
Neither rain nor snow will stop. Explanation: This sentence pairs "neither" with "or." To revise, we can change "or" to "nor."


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
Either you will nor you won't. Revised:
Either you will or you won't. Explanation:
This sentence pairs "either' with "nor." To revise, we change "nor" to "or."


EXAMPLE 3: Original:
Neither the orchid or the cactus lived out the month.

Revised:
Neither the orchid nor the cactus lived out the month.

Explanation:
"Neither" shouldn't accompany "or," so we revise by replacing "or" with "nor."


Less vs. Fewer

"Less" and "fewer" mean the same thing, but should be used in different contexts. Use "fewer" if you can count the things you are describing, and use "less" if you can't.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
There are less cookies than there were before.

Revision:
There are fewer cookies than there were before. Explanation: Cookies are countable, so we should use "fewer" rather than "less."


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
There is fewer sand on the floor because we started cleaning.

Revised:
There is less sand on the floor because we started cleaning.

Explanation:
Sand is not countable, so we should use "less" rather than "fewer."


Intensive Pronouns

We can think of intensive pronouns as a subcategory of reflexive pronouns because intensive and reflexive pronouns include the same words. While reflexive pronouns are acted upon by the subject they refer to, however, intensive pronouns serve only to emphasize their antecedents.

EXAMPLE 1:

I myself hate oranges.

Explanation:
The intensive pronoun "myself" emphasizes its antecedent, "I." Unlike other pronouns, intensive pronouns cannot replace their antecedents: "Myself hate oranges" is grammatically incorrect.


EXAMPLE 2:

He himself ate the pizza.

Explanation:
The intensive pronoun "himself" immediately follows its antecedent ("He").

We almost always find an intensive pronoun and its antecedent in the same sentence; often, the intensive pronoun immediately follows its antecedent.


EXAMPLE 3:

He himself contributed funds.

Explanation:
The intensive pronoun "himself" draws attention to the fact that the antecedent, not someone else, contributed funds.

The intensive pronouns are: "myself," "yourself," "herself," "himself," "itself," "oneself," "ourselves," "yourselves," and "themselves.


EXAMPLE 4:

She gave out the prizes herself.

Explanation:
In this instance, the body of the sentence separates the intensive pronoun ("herself") from the antecedent ("She") which it intensifies.


Interrogative Pronouns

We use interrogative pronouns to ask questions. Interrogative pronouns refer to whatever we are asking about rather than an antecedent.

The interrogative pronouns are: "what," "whatever," "which," "who," "whom," and "whose."


EXAMPLE 1:

Who are you?

Explanation:
The interrogative pronoun "Who" allows us to ask a question.


EXAMPLE 2:

What is his name?

Explanation:
In this sentence, the interrogative pronoun is "What."


EXAMPLE 3:

Which hat do you prefer?


EXAMPLE 4:

Whose drink is this?


Personal Pronouns

Most of the pronouns you come across will be personal pronouns. Personal pronouns indicate person (female, male, or neuter), number (singular or plural), and case (subject and object cases). There are two types of personal pronouns: subject (nominative) pronouns and object (accusative) pronouns. We use subject pronouns as subjects and object pronouns as objects.

The subject personal pronouns are: "I," "you," "he," "she," "it," "we," "you," and "they."

EXAMPLE 1:

Jo is an active resident of this city. She attends all of the town hall meetings.

Explanation:
We can use the third person singular pronoun "She" as the subject, referring back to the subject of the previous sentence, "Jo."


EXAMPLE 2:

Andie and Louisa jogged to the deli and bought avocado sandwiches. They ate them on the way home.

Explanation:
In the second sentence, the personal pronoun "They" refers to the subjects of the first sentence, "Andie and Louisa."


EXAMPLE 3:

Ask Brad if he wrote down the directions.

Explanation:
The second person singular subject case pronoun "he" refers to "Brad," the object, not the subject, of this imperative sentence. The pronoun "he" is the subject of the conditional statement, "if … directions."

The object pronouns are: "me," "you," "him," "her," "or," "it," "us," "you," and "them."

EXAMPLE 4:

Jo lit a match and dropped it into the newspapers on the floor.

Explanation:
The personal pronoun "it" refers to the antecedent "match."


EXAMPLE 5:

Brad was supposed to write down the directions. You should ask him if he did.

Explanation:
The personal pronoun "him" refers to the antecedent "the directions" (which is the object of the first sentence).


accusative pronouns after "than"

The conjunction "than" connects and compares two parts of a sentence.

The subject of a comparative clause and a pronoun that follows "than" should be in the nominative case. (The nominative case is the subject of the verb). When you place your subject and pronoun in the same case, you establish the balance needed to compare them. Not following this principle might confuse your readers and embarrass you.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
The computer understands the book better than her.

Revised 1:
The computer understands the book better than she does.

Revised 2:
The computer understands the book better than she.

Explanation:
The object pronoun "her" creates an awkward comparison because it receives action. The first version says the computer understands the book better than the computer understands her. If we remove the first object of the verb, "the book," the sentence will read: "The computer understands her."

We mean to say that the computer understands the book better than she understands the book. Because "she" is a subject (nominative) pronoun, it acts as a subject. We use the nominative case for pronouns after "than" when we want to compare two subjects and create a balanced sentence.


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
The dog ate more cake than him.

Revised:
The dog ate more cake than he did.

Revised:
The dog ate more cake than he.

Explanation:
The first version states that the dog ate "him." This creates a bizarre account of what happened. If we revise "him" to "he," we make "dog" and "he" equal actors in the sentence.


Object Pronouns as Subjects

The subject is the focal point of your sentence. When a pronoun acts as your subject, you should use its nominative form.

Objects are acted upon by verbs. Pronouns that appear as objects should be in the accusative case.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
Them went to the zoo.

Revised:
They went to the zoo.

Explanation:
We incorrectly use the accusative pronoun "them" as a subject. We can replace "them" with the nominative "they."


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
I saw we in the picture.

Revised:
I saw us in the picture.

Explanation:
"We" is a nominative pronoun, yet we have positioned it as an object. To revise, we can replace the nominative "we" with the accusative "us."


EXAMPLE 3:

Original:
Me saw us in the picture.

Revised:
I saw us in the picture.

Explanation:
We position the accusative "me" as the subject. To revise, we replace "me" with the subject pronoun "I."


Subject Pronouns as Objects

A nominative object is a subject pronoun positioned as an object in your sentence. This confusion occurs frequently in conversation. For example, "Sally gave the theater tickets to Betty and I" should be "Sally gave the theater tickets to Betty and me."

The nominative object usually appears in a plural object, such as "Anna texted John and I." You can check if your sentence has a nominative object by deleting part of the plural object: "Anna texted I." In this instance, the object should be changed to "me" — "Anna texted John and me."

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
The books fell on Meg and he.

Revised:
The books fell on Meg and him.

Explanation:
"He" is nominative, yet it is positioned as the object. To revise, we replaced "he" with the accusative "him."


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
They accused my friend and I of eating all the food.

Revised:
They accused my friend and me of eating all the food.

Explanation:
In the first sentence, we use the nominative "I" when the accusative ("me") is called for.


Possessive Pronouns

Possessive pronouns indicate ownership. Like all pronouns, possessive pronouns replace nouns.

The possessive pronouns are: "my," "mine," "your," "yours," "hers," "his," "its," "our," "ours," "your," "yours," "their," and "theirs."

EXAMPLE 1:

That car is mine.

Explanation:
The possessive pronoun "mine" functions as a noun.

Unlike most pronouns, possessive pronouns can also function as adjectives. As a general rule, possessive pronouns function as adjectives when they modify a noun.

EXAMPLE 2:

My car is green.

Explanation:
The possessive pronoun "my" is an adjective describing the car. To learn more about using possessive pronouns as adjectives, see Accusative Pronouns before Gerunds.

Sometimes, you will find an odd gender discrepancy. The pair of possessives is "hers" and "his." Logic suggests that we substitute "hers" for "his." These words are not, however, equivalent. We say "His working so hard inspires me," but not "Hers working so hard inspires me." Instead, we say, "Her working so hard inspires me."

EXAMPLE 3:

Original:
His working so hard inspires me. Hers working so hard also inspires me.

Revised:
His working so hard inspires me. Her working so hard also inspires me.

Explanation:
In this pair of sentences, "his" and "hers" are not equivalent. Instead, we use "his" and "her."


EXAMPLE 4:

Both cakes are good. His, however, is better.

Explanation:
The possessive pronoun "His" functions as the subject of the second sentence.


EXAMPLE 5:

That book is hers.

Explanation:
"Her" indicates to whom the book belongs. "Her" is a third person singular possessive pronoun.


EXAMPLE 6:

My computer broke.

Explanation:
Here, the possessive pronoun "My" functions as adjective modifying the noun (the simple subject of the sentence).


EXAMPLE 7:

I don't like his eating all the cookies.

Explanation:
In this sentence, the possessive pronoun "his" functions as an adjective and modifies the gerund phrase (a phrase that functions like a noun).


Possessive Pronouns Before Gerunds

A gerund is a verb ending in "-ing" that acts as a noun.

A gerund or gerund phrase acts as an individual unit of a sentence. Because gerunds function like nouns, you can position a gerund phrase as a subject, object, or subject complement.

We can modify gerund phrases with possessive pronouns: for instance, "my" and "our." In casual conversation, however, many of us tend to use the accusative rather than the possessive form, as in "me" and "us." For example, "I don't like him speaking out of turn" should be "I don't like his speaking out of turn."

There are exceptions to this rule: when the subject of a gerund phrase is abstract or inanimate, it may be possessive or non-possessive.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
They were disturbed by us shouting.

Revised:
They were disturbed by our shouting.

Explanation:
Because "shouting" is a gerund, it requires a possessive pronoun. "Our" replaces the accusative pronoun "us."

Think of it like this: we modify nouns and gerunds in the same way. If we replace "shouting" with a noun (for instance, "dog") the sentence would read: "They were disturbed by us [our] dog."


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
I don't like him eating all the ice cream.

Revised:
I don't like his eating all the ice cream.

Explanation:
"Him" is an accusative pronoun describing the gerund phrase "eating all the ice cream." To revise, we change "him" to the possessive "his."


Accusative vs. Possessive Pronouns

Accusative and possessive pronouns have different forms and are not interchangeable.

Words in the accusative case receive action. While most words do not take a unique form in the accusative, pronouns include exceptions to this rule.

Words in the possessive case indicate ownership. Pronouns assume unique forms in the possessive.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
Me parrot has been stolen.

Revised:
My parrot has been stolen.

Explanation:
The pronoun "me" is accusative — it receives action. "Me" is inappropriate here since it does not receive the action. Because "me" isn't possessive, we replace it with the possessive "my."


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
Them book was inspiring.

Revised:
Their book was inspiring.

Explanation:
The pronoun "them" is accusative. We should replace "them" with its possessive equivalent, "their," to signify to whom the book belongs.


Who vs. Whom

"Who" refers to subjects. In active sentences, the subject is the person or thing doing the acting. In passive sentences, the subject is the person or thing being acted upon.

"Whom" refers to objects. In active sentences, the object is the person or thing being acted upon.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
The students, seven of who were asleep, were obviously not interested.

Revised:
The students, seven of whom were asleep, were obviously not interested.


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
The professor, who I consider exemplary, isn't teaching this semester.

Revised:
The professor, whom I consider exemplary, isn't teaching this semester.


Reciprocal Pronouns

Like reflexive pronouns and intensive pronouns, reciprocal pronouns refer to antecedents within the same clause. While reflexive pronouns occur when a singular subject acts on itself , reciprocal pronouns occur when multiple subjects act on one another.

The reciprocal pronouns are: "one another" and "each other."

EXAMPLE 1:

They laughed at each other.

Explanation:
The reciprocal pronoun phrase "each other" indicates that two people (indicated with the plural pronoun "They") act on ("laughed at") each other.


EXAMPLE 2:

Jane and Harry are polite to each other.

Explanation:
This sentence has a plural subject ("Jane and Harry"). The action of the two actors in the subject is reciprocal: Jane is polite to Harry and Harry is polite to Jane. This reciprocity is concisely indicated by the reciprocal pronoun "each other."


EXAMPLE 3:

The three siblings argue with one another constantly.

Explanation:
Each of the agents in the plural subject ("The three siblings") argues with (acts on) the other agents. This reciprocity is indicated by the reciprocal pronoun "one another." Please note that, because there are three siblings, we say "one another" rather than "each other" (which would be appropriate if there were only two siblings).

Although reciprocal pronouns refer to plural subjects, we treat them as singular — it may help to remember this when using the possessive ("each other's" rather than "each others'").


EXAMPLE 4:

They borrowed each other's clothes.

Explanation:
"They" represents the plural subject of this sentence. "They" is a third person plural personal pronoun. Each agent (embedded in "They") borrows the other agent's clothes — a reciprocal action signified by the reciprocal pronoun "each other’s." "Each other’s" is possessive and singular.


EXAMPLE 5:

The students read one another's papers.

Explanation:
The reciprocal pronoun "one another" indicates that each student is reading the paper of another student. We treat "one another" as singular when we make it possessive.


Reflexive Pronouns

We use reflexive pronouns when the subject of the sentence acts on itself — when the subject and object are the same person, place, or thing.

EXAMPLE 1:

She blamed herself.

Explanation:
The reflexive pronoun "herself" is the object of the sentence. It refers back to the subject of the sentence (the personal pronoun "She"). "She" and the object pronoun "herself" refer to the same person.

Like all pronouns, reflexive pronouns refer to the word which they describe (the antecedent). Unlike other pronouns, reflexive pronouns always appear in the same clause as their antecedents.

EXAMPLE 2:

It destroyed itself.

Explanation:
The reflexive pronoun "itself" occurs in the same clause as its antecedent, the personal pronoun "It."

The reflexive pronouns are: "myself," ""yourself," "herself," "himself," "itself," "herself," "ourselves," "yourselves," and "themselves."

EXAMPLE 3:

The cat admires nothing as much as himself.

Explanation:
In this sentence, the reflexive pronoun "himself" serves as one of the objects, referring back to the subject ("The cat"). Because part of the structure of this sentence is implicit, the relationship between reflexive pronoun ("himself") and subject ("The cat") may not be clear: "The cat admires nothing as much as he admires himself."


EXAMPLE 4:

I often talk to myself.

Explanation:
The reflexive pronoun "myself" (the object) refers back to the personal pronoun "I" (which is the subject of the sentence and the antecedent of "myself"). "Myself" is the indirect object: "myself" is not being spoken, but being spoken "to."


Relative Pronouns

Relative pronouns begin relative clauses, which define or provide more explanation about an antecedent. Relative pronouns transition between the independent clause and the relative (dependent) clause. The relative pronoun functions as the subject of the relative clause, standing in for its antecedent.

EXAMPLE 1:

I like ice cream that hasn't melted.

Explanation:
The antecedent is "ice cream." The relative pronoun "that" begins the relative clause ("that hasn't melted").

Some relative pronouns do not refer to an explicit antecedent; we call such relative pronouns "Indefinite Relative Pronouns" or "Free Relative Pronouns."

EXAMPLE 2:

Whoever stole the cookies will be persecuted to the full extent of the law.

Explanation:
The relative pronoun ("Whoever") begins the relative clause ("Whoever stole the cookies"), which serves as the subject of the sentence. This is an indefinite relative pronoun: there is no antecedent because we do not know who stole the cookies.

In informal language, we sometimes omit relative pronouns in introducing relative clauses — for instance, instead of "the apple that I ate," we might say "the apple I ate." There is no rule that governs this practice. If a sentence sounds odd without a relative pronoun, add one. If a sentence sounds unnecessarily clunky with a relative pronoun, take it out.

EXAMPLE 3:

Original:
The apple that I ate tasted awful.

Revised:
The apple I ate tasted awful.

Explanation:
The first sentence of this example uses the relative pronoun "that." The second sentence says the same thing, but eliminates "that." "That" remains implicit — the phrase "I ate" is still a relative clause.

Non-defining relative clauses provide unessential information about an antecedent and are framed with commas, followed by the relative pronoun "which." Defining relative clauses do not require commas, as they provide important information about an antecedent using the relative pronoun "that."

EXAMPLE 4:

Restrictive:
The book that took the longest to read was the best.

Nonrestrictive:
This book, which took the longest to read, was the best.

Explanation:
The relative pronouns in these sentence are "that" and "which." The antecedents are "The book" and "This book." The first sentence is restrictive: the relative clause distinguishes the best book by defining it as "The book that took the longest to read." The second is nonrestrictive: the relative clause provides extraneous information about a book that has already been identified.

The relative pronouns are: "that," "which," "who," "whom," "whose," "whoever," "whomever."

These words sometimes function as relative pronouns: "what," "whatever," "when," "where."

EXAMPLE 5:

That is the person who stole our table.

Explanation:
The relative pronoun ("who") refers to an antecedent ("the person") and begins the relative clause ("who stole our table"). The relative pronoun serves as the subject of the relative clause. This relative pronoun is defining: "the person" is defined in terms of the information presented in the relative clause, meaning that the clause does not need to be framed with commas.


EXAMPLE 6:

The waiter, whose handwriting was not very good, brought us the wrong order.

Explanation:
The relative pronoun ("whose") introduces the relative clause ("whose recommendations were not very good"). This relative pronoun is possessive, indicating that the handwriting belongs to the waiter. It is also non-defining: we could remove the relative clause without harming the integrity of the sentence. We use commas to separate this nonessential information from the rest of the sentence.


EXAMPLE 7:

That's the person to whom the waiter gave my food.

Explanation:
The relative pronoun ("whom") combines with the preposition ("to") to introduce the relative clause ("to whom the waiter gave my food"). This relative pronoun serves as the indirect object of the relative clause.


EXAMPLE 8:

This is one restaurant in which I will never eat again.

Explanation:
The relative pronoun "which" combines with the preposition "in" to begin the relative clause: "in which I will never eat again."


Confused Pronoun Coreference

Pronouns stand in for nouns. They should match the persons or things they refer to in number, gender, and person.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
Alice fell down the rabbit hole and then it had adventures.

Revised:
Alice fell down the rabbit hole and then she had adventures.

Explanation:
The first version doesn't make sense unless we are implying that Alice is not a person (we should refer only to things, not people, as "it"). In revising, we changed "it" to "she," which readers can recognize as referring to Alice.


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
Anders said I would see me later.

Revised 1:
Anders said he would see me later.

Revised 2:
Anders said I would see him later.

Explanation:
In the first version, the pronouns "I" and "me" make the sentence nonsensical. We can revise by changing either pronoun depending what Anders meant to say.


EXAMPLE 3:

Original:
Matthew decided to go to the theater, and then they went to a restaurant.

Revised:
Matthew decided to go to the theatre, and then he went to a restaurant.

Explanation:
The singular subject "Matthew" is inconsistent with the undefined "they" in the second independent clause.


Singular and Plural Pronouns

We use pronouns to describe nouns. When we attach a pronoun to a noun, we must make sure that the pronoun and noun match in number. We should use singular pronouns with singular nouns, and plural pronouns with plural nouns.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
One trees were cut down.

Revised 1:
Two trees were cut down.

Revised 2:
One tree was cut down.

Explanation: The pronoun "one" is singular, yet the noun it describes, "trees," is plural. To revise, we can either make the pronoun plural (Revision 1) or make the noun and verb singular (Revision 2).


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
These log is on fire.

Revised:
This log is on fire.

Explanation:
The original pairs a plural pronoun ("these") with a singular noun and verb ("log" and "is"). To revise, we can replace "these" with the singular pronoun "this."


EXAMPLE 3:

Original:
This couches are cheap.

Revised:
These couches are cheap.

Explanation:
This sentence pairs singular pronoun "this" with a plural noun and verb ("couches" and "are"). To revise, we can replace the singular "this" with the plural "these."


EXAMPLE 4:

Original:
A lot of restaurant have outdoor seating areas.

Revised: A lot of restaurants have outdoor seating areas.

Explanation:
The pronoun phrase "a lot of" indicates a number greater than one, yet the noun it modifies, "restaurant," is singular. To revise, we can make the noun plural ("restaurants").


EXAMPLE 5:

Original:
Much children were waiting for the bus.

Revision:
Many children were waiting for the bus.

Explanation:
Use the pronoun "much" to describe nouns you can't count. Use "many" to describe countable nouns. In this instance, since "children" are countable, we should use "many" rather than "much."


EXAMPLE 6:

Original:
Few teacher like grading papers.

Revised:
Few teachers like grading papers.

Explanation:
The pronoun "few" must modify a number greater than one, so we change the singular "teacher" to the plural "teachers."


EXAMPLE 7:

Original:
Each tables are full.

Revised:
Each table is full.

Explanation:
The pronoun each is singular, yet the noun "tables" and verb "is" are plural. To revise, we can change the noun and verb to their singular forms.


EXAMPLE 8:

Original:
They ate many food. Revised:
They ate much food.

Explanation:
The pronoun "many" must modify a countable noun, yet "food" is singular. To revise, we can substitute "much" for "many," because "much" can describe uncountable nouns.


Adjectives and Adverbs

Adjectives describe only nouns or pronouns and can't describe verbs, adverbs or other adjectives. Adverbs, not adjectives, describe verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. Similarly, nouns can't describe verbs.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
The day started sleepy.

Revised:
The day started sleepily.

Explanation:
We use an adverb here ("sleepily") instead of an adjective ("sleepy") to describe how the day started, because "started" is a verb.


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
The brightly sun shines.

Revised 1:
The bright sun shines.

Revised 2:
The sun shines brightly.

Explanation:
We use an adjective here ("bright") instead of an adverb ("brightly") to describe the sun, because "sun" is a noun. Alternatively, we can keep the adverb form "brightly" if we use it to describe the verb "shines" instead of the noun "sun."


Adjectives

Adjectives describe (modify) nouns and pronouns.

EXAMPLE 1:

The blue sea sparkled in the sun.

Explanation:
The adjective "blue" modifies the noun "sea."


EXAMPLE 2:

The ones who hoped to be remembered were happy.

Explanation:
The adjective "happy" describes the indefinite pronoun "ones."


Adverbs

Adverbs are words that describe verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. They express qualities of time, place, manner, or circumstance.

EXAMPLE 1:

The bird flew swiftly.

Explanation:
The adverb "swiftly" modifies the verb by describing how the bird flew.

Adverbs can have noun and adjective forms. Adverbs, adjectives, and nouns are not, however, interchangeable.


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
The bird flew swift.

Revised:
The bird flew swiftly.

Explanation:
"Swift" is an adjective, but we can't use it to modify the verb "flew." The adverb "swiftly" can modify "flew."

While most adverbs end with "-ly," some do not. The best way to confirm if a word is an adverb is to look it up in a dictionary.


Distinguishing Adjectives from Nouns and Adverbs

Adjectives complement but can't replace nouns unless the nouns are removed ("elided") from the sentence . While absent from the sentence, an elided noun is implicit — readers know what it is. We call adjectives that function in this way nominal adjectives.

EXAMPLE 1:

They stole from the rich and gave to the poor.

Explanation:
"Rich" and "poor" are nominal adjectives which imply "rich people" and "poor people." In a different context, the same adjectives could refer to "rich ducks" and "poor ducks."


EXAMPLE 2:

I had two pieces of chocolate. I ate the first, and then I ate the second.

Explanation:
Although we don't specify what we eat in the second sentence, readers will understand because we mention chocolate in the first sentence.

Many words have both noun and adjective forms — and, to add insult to injury, these forms are sometimes identical.


EXAMPLE 3:

As adjective:
A green tree grows over there.

As noun:
Green is my favorite color.

Explanation:
Depending on how you use it, "green" may be either an adjective or a noun. In the first sentence, the adjective "green" describes the noun "tree." In the second sentence, "green" is a noun, not an adjective.

Some adjectives distinguish themselves clearly from their noun forms.

EXAMPLE 4:

Original:
The leaves are green.

Revised:
The tree is leafy.

Explanation:
"Leafy" is the adjective version of the noun "leaves."


Adjectives Describing Verbs

Adjectives describe nouns or pronouns, but not verbs, adverbs, or other adjectives.

Adverbs describe verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs, but not nouns.

We recommend that you use adverbs, not adjectives, to describe verbs.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
The bird flew swift.

Revised:
The bird flew swiftly.

Explanation:
"Flew" is a verb. "Swift" is an adjective. In the first version of this sentence, "swift" modifies "flew." To revise, we substitute the adverb "swiftly" to describe "flew."


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
Quick, the offense scored the touchdown.

Revised 1:
Quickly, the offense scored the touchdown.

Revised 2:
The offense scored the touchdown quickly.

Explanation:
The adjective "quick" describes the verb "scored," telling us how the offense scored the touchdown. To revise, we can replace "quick" with its adverbial counterpart, "quickly." We can write a clearer, stronger sentence by moving the adverb to the end of the sentence.


Adverbs Describing Nouns

Adverbs describe verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs.

Similarly, adjectives describe nouns and pronouns, but not verbs, adverbs, or other adjectives.

Adverbs are usually easy to recognize because most end in "-ly." In some cases, however, you may want to consult a dictionary to determine whether a word is an adverb or an adjective.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
The hopefully star of the basketball team scored quickly and often.

Revised:
The hopeful star of the basketball team scored quickly and often.

Explanation:
In the first version, the adverb "hopefully" describes the noun "star." Since adjectives, not adverbs, modify nouns, we can revise by substituting the adjective "hopeful" for the adverb "hopefully."


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
The fog lifted and the brightly sun shone.

Revised:
The fog lifted and the bright sun shone.

Explanation:
"Brightly" is an adverb, yet it modifies the noun "sun." To revise, we can replace "brightly" with its adjective counterpart, "bright."


Comparing Adjectives

Adjectives have three degrees of comparison: positive, comparative, and superlative. Positive adjectives don't compare anything: "great," "bookish," and "good" are positive adjectives. Comparative adjectives contrast things by degree: "greater," "more bookish," and "better" are comparative adjectives. Superlatives compare items by announcing which is best: "greatest," "most bookish," and "best."

EXAMPLE 1:

I think your screenplay is great.

Explanation:
The adjective "great" describes "screenplay." Since it does not compare "screenplay" to anything, "great" acts as a positive adjective.


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
It was foggy today.

Revised:
Today was less foggy than yesterday.

Explanation:
In the first sentence, "foggy" is a positive adjective because it describes "today" without comparing anything. When combined with "less" in the second sentence, however, it becomes a comparative adjective.


EXAMPLE 3:

Today was the sunniest day I've seen in a long time.

Explanation:
"Sunniest," is a superlative adjective. We add the suffix "-est" to the positive adjective "sunny" to indicate that "today" has the greatest degree of sunniness.

Absolute adjectives do not have comparative or superlative forms and cannot be combined with "more," "least," or other adjectives to attain comparative or superlative meaning. Absolute adjectives include words like "dead," "impossible," and "infinite."

EXAMPLE 4:

Today's weather made our picnic feel perfect.

Explanation:
The adjective "perfect" is absolute because it describes a definite state of being flawless. A picnic cannot be "more" or "less" perfect.

We can change many adjectives into comparatives by adding "-er" to the end of the word. Some common adjectives take unique forms in the comparative. Others do not have a unique form and cannot be modified with "-er." In these instances, we can prefix the adjective with "more" or "less." We cannot, however, use "more" with an adjective that is already in its comparative form.

EXAMPLE 5:

Original:
The sun is bright today.

Revised:
The sun is brighter today than it was yesterday.

Explanation:
This adjective ("bright") becomes comparative when we add "-er" to the end.


EXAMPLE 6:

Original:
The places we visited today were interesting.

Revised:
The places we visited today were more interesting than those we saw yesterday.

Explanation:
This adjective ("interesting") becomes comparative we pair it with "more."

We can make many adjectives into superlatives by adding "-est" to the end of the word. Like comparatives, some superlatives require unique forms or need to be prefixed by other words, such as "most" or "least."

EXAMPLE 7:

Original:
The sun is bright at noon.

Revised:
The sun is brightest at noon.

Explanation:
The adjective "bright" becomes superlative when we add "-est" to the end.


EXAMPLE 8:

Original:
The places we visited today were more interesting than those we saw yesterday.

Revised:
The places we visited today were the most interesting.

Explanation:
The comparative adjective "interesting" becomes superlative when we pair it with "most."


Double Comparatives and Double Superlatives

Adjectives and adverbs have three degrees of comparison: positive, comparative, and superlative.

Positive adjectives and adverbs don't compare anything. For instance, "great," "bookish," and "good" are positive adjectives. Comparative adjectives and adverbs contrast parts of a sentence but don't state which is best. "Greater," "more bookish," and "better" are comparative adjectives. Superlative adjectives and adverbs compare items by announcing which is best ("greatest," "most bookish," and "best").

Managing Double Comparatives

We can change many adjectives and adverbs into comparatives by adding "-er" to the end of the word. For example: "calm" becomes "calmer;" "quick" becomes "quicker."

Some adjectives and adverbs have unique comparative forms. For example, "good" becomes "better" and "bad" becomes "worse."

Other adjectives and adverbs lack unique forms and cannot be modified by adding "-er." In these instances, we can prefix the adjective or adverb with "more" or "less." For example: "difficult" becomes "more difficult;" "logical" and "less logical."

We cannot, however, use any two of these modifications on one adjective or adverb. This would result in a double comparative (for instance, "more happier"). Double comparatives are redundant, flout grammar conventions, and sound clumsy.

You also create a double comparative when you use two or more consecutive comparatives and don't separate them with a conjunction or comma (for instance, "happier funnier"). When you use three or more consecutive comparatives, separate them with commas and a conjunction (for instance, "happier and funnier").

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
The class I took last semester was more better than any other class I've taken.

Revised:
The class I took last semester was better than any other class I've taken.

Explanation:
"More" is redundant because "better" is already comparative. "Better" assumes a unique form in the comparative: its positive form is "good" and its superlative form is "best."


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
He was livelier happier today.

Revised:
He was livelier and happier today.

Explanation:
"Today" is modified by two adjectives that aren't separated by "and." This creates a double comparative. We revise by adding "and."

Managing Double Superlatives

We can make many adjectives and adverbs into superlatives by adding "-est" to the word. For example: "funny" becomes "funniest;" "sad" becomes "saddest."

Some common adjectives and adverbs take on unique forms in the superlative. For example: "good" becomes "best;" "bad" becomes "worst."

Other adjectives and adverbs do not have unique forms and cannot be modified by adding "-est." In these instances, we can prefix the adjective or adverb with "most" or "least." For example: "intimidating" becomes "least intimidating;" "often" becomes "most often."

Each adjective or adverb accommodates only one method of modification. Using more than one modifier results in a double superlative. For example: "most favorite" is a double superlative. Double superlatives are redundant, sound clumsy, and ignore conventional grammar.

Double superlatives also occur when you use two or more consecutive superlatives and don't separate them with a conjunction or comma (for instance, "happiest funniest"). When you use two consecutive superlatives, separate them with a conjunction or comma (for instance, "happiest and funniest"). When you use three or more, separate them with commas and the conjunction "and."

EXAMPLE 3:

Original:
She was the most bookishest person I have known.

Revised:
She was the most bookish person I have known.

Explanation:
The adjective "bookish" does not take a unique form in the superlative. The superlative modifier "-est" violates conventional grammar. It's also redundant, since we already modified "bookish" with "most." To revise, we can delete the "-est" ending of "bookish" and retain "most."


EXAMPLE 4:

Original:
In conversation, Todd behaves in the most divisivest ways.

Revised:
In conversation, Todd behaves in the most divisive ways.

Explanation:
The superlative "most divisivest" is redundant, and "divisivest" is not a word. We can communicate the same meaning more effectively by using "most" to modify the correct adjective, "divisive."


EXAMPLE 5:

Original:
That was the most greatest movie I've ever seen.

Revised:
That was the greatest movie I've ever seen.

Explanation:
In this example, the superlative, "greatest" makes the point clearly. We don't need "most."


EXAMPLE 6:

Original:
Janet is the happiest funniest silliest person I know.

Revised:
Janet is the happiest, funniest, and silliest person I know.


Predicative Adjectives

Predicative adjectives don't appear next to their modified noun or pronoun. Instead, a linking word connects them to the word they modify.

EXAMPLE 1:

The day is sunny.

Explanation:
The predicative adjective "sunny" modifies "day" through the linking verb "is." In a non-predicative (attributive) construction, the adjective instead appears next to the noun it modifies: "It is a sunny day."


using commas with restrictive and non-restrictive adjectives

Restrictive adjectives tell readers something integral to the meaning of the sentence. In doing so, they combine with the noun or pronoun they modify to create a noun phrase. If you remove a restrictive adjective, you'll change the meaning of your sentence. Non-restrictive adjectives describe something-essential to the sentence; removing them won't change the meaning of the sentence. Restrictive adjectives are also called attributive and defining adjectives.

We choose whether or not to use commas based on whether or not one of the adjectives is restrictive. Because they are practically (though not grammatically) part of the noun or pronoun they modify, restrictive adjectives sit immediately next to the noun or pronoun they modify — and no commas should separate them from other adjectives. We do use commas to separate non-restrictive adjectives from other adjectives.

EXAMPLE 1:

It was a beautiful sunny day.

Explanation:
This sentence uses two adjectives to describe "day" and presents them as if they're restrictive. The resulting sentence implies that the sunny day was beautiful (as opposed to a sunny day that was not beautiful). If we removed the restrictive noun phrase, the sentence would read "It was a beautiful," which is incomplete and does not make sense. The restrictive adjective here is crucial to the sentence's meaning.


EXAMPLE 2:

It was a beautiful, sunny day.

Explanation:
Here, the author uses two adjectives in a non-restrictive construction. The resulting sentence describes a day that was both beautiful and sunny. If you remove the non-restrictive adjectives, the sentence would read "It was a day."


ambiguous adverbs

When adverbs are positioned ambiguously, readers may have difficulty determining what the adverbs modify. You can clarify your meaning by moving your adverbs closer to the words you want them to modify, or by moving them away from the words you don't want them to modify.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
I only have one more book to read for this course.

Revised 1:
Only I have one more book to read for this course.

Revised 2:
I have only one more book to read for this course.

Explanation:
In the first version, we do not clarify whether the adverb "only" modifies "I" or "one more book." The second version assumes that we meant "I, and I alone, have one more book to read." The third iteration assumes that we meant "Of all the books I had to read, I have only one left to read."


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
When young children speak often they are insensitive to grammatical principles.

Revised 1:
When young children speak often, they are insensitive to grammatical principles.

Revised 2:
When young children speak, they are often insensitive to grammatical principles.

Explanation:
In the first version, we do not indicate whether the adverb "often" modifies "speak" or "they." Are we talking about children who speak often, or children who are often insensitive? In the second version, we clarify our meaning by placing a comma after often. In the third version, we hint at a different meaning by rephrasing the sentence.


EXAMPLE 3:

Original:
At the end of the exam, we were told promptly to hand in our greenbooks.

Revised 1:
At the end of the exam, we were told to hand in our greenbooks promptly.

Revised 2:
At the end of the exam, we were promptly told to hand in our greenbooks.

Explanation:
In the first version, we do not clarify whether the adverb "promptly" modifies "told" or "to hand in."


Adverbs Describing the Wrong Verbs

Adjectives describe nouns: "the bright sun shines." Adverbs describe verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs: "the sun shines brightly."

Writers sometimes position an adverb in a context that requires an adjective. If you place a modifier next to a noun, your readers will expect the modifier to be an adjective, not an adverb.

You should position an adverb near the verb, adjective, or adverb you want to modify.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
During midterms, students were going to class slowly.

Revised:
During midterms, students were slowly going to class.

Explanation:
To revise, we repositioned "slowly" to be closer to the verb it modifies.


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
The ending was inevitably.

Revised:
The ending was inevitable.

Explanation:
The adverb "inevitably" describes a noun, "ending." As an adverb, "inevitably" should describe a verb, adjective, or adverb. We can use the adjective form, "inevitable," to describe the same noun more clearly.


EXAMPLE 3:

Original:
The concert was unbelievably.

Revised:
The concert was unbelievable.


EXAMPLE 4:

Original:
The situation seemed to become ever more intricately as we attempted to untangle it.

Revised:
The situation seemed to become ever more intricate as we attempted to untangle it.


Verbs

A verb is the heartbeat of its sentence. It conveys action and binds the elements of a sentence together. Without verbs, sentences would consist of static and disconnected words.


Action Verbs and Linking Verbs

We can divide verbs into two categories: action verbs and linking verbs. Action verbs describe an action performed by an agent. Linking verbs, however, equate a subject and a predicate rather than describing an action. In a sentence, a subject can act on a direct object with an action verb, while a linking verb can only equate a subject with a subject complement.

EXAMPLE 1:

The apple is red.

Explanation:
"Is" serves as a linking verb in this sentence. It is a form of the verb "to be," which is the most common linking verb.


EXAMPLE 2:

They ate quickly.

Explanation:
"Ate" is an action verb: it describes an action (eating).


EXAMPLE 3:

They felt sick after eating so fast.

Explanation:
"Felt" is a linking verb: it describes a state of being ("They felt") but not an action (not what they did).


EXAMPLE 4:

They looked tired.

Explanation:
"Looked" is a linking verb because it describes a state of being, not an action: the subject ("They") does not act on the subject complement ("tired").


EXAMPLE 5:

They looked at the food.

Explanation:
In this sentence, "looked" is an action verb because it describes an action. The subject ("They") acts on the predicate (more specifically, it acts on the object of the preposition, "food").


Auxiliary (helping) verbs

Helping verbs combine with other verbs to convey nuances of time and mood that a single verb couldn't.

A helping verb always combines with another verb to form a verb phrase.

EXAMPLE 1:

I prefer not to talk when I am eating.

Explanation:
We convey action with the helping verb "am" (a form of the verb "to be") and the main verb "eating." The helping verb is in the present tense while the main verb is a participle. These different verb forms combine to convey the present progressive tense.


EXAMPLE 2:

I had eaten breakfast.

Explanation:
The helping verb "had" (a form of "to have") combines with the main verb to form the active past perfect tense, which conveys a time more removed from the present than the past tense "I ate."


EXAMPLE 3:

They have stolen all my food.

Explanation:
The helping verb "have" combines with the past participle "stolen" to convey the active present perfect tense (a time describing the present but more removed from it than the present tense).


EXAMPLE 4:

If I don't sleep soon, I will have stayed awake for twenty four hours.

Explanation:
This verb phrase uses two helping verbs ("will" and "have") and a past participle ("stayed") to describe a future time that defines itself by referring to the past (the future perfect tense).


EXAMPLE 5:

If I don't get to sleep soon, I will have been awake for twenty four hours.

Explanation:
In this sentence, we use the passive voice (the subject does not perform an action) with the future perfect tense. If you compare this sentence with example 10, you will see that the passive future perfect tense requires three helping verbs, while the active future perfect tense requires only two.

We always use helping verbs when using the passive voice.

EXAMPLE 6:

Lunch was eaten quickly.

Explanation:
The helping verb "was" combines with the participle "eaten" to create a passive verb phrase. All verb phrases in passive constructions include a helping verb and a main verb.


Wrong Helping Verb

Helping verbs combine with main verbs to create multi-word verbs. When pairing helping verbs with main verbs, it's important to use the right helping verb.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
He was been eating.

Revised:
He has been eating.

Explanation:
The helping verb "was" doesn't belong with "been eating," so, to revise, we replace it with "has."


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
They must to offer more.

Revised:
They have to offer more.

Explanation:
In this instance, "must" is incorrect. Instead, we can use the helping verb "have."


EXAMPLE 3:

Original:
Does he can eat that much?

Revised:
Can he eat that much?

Explanation:
Here, the helping verb "does" is unneeded while the helping verb "can" is misplaced.


Using Helping Verbs

When we create verb phrases, we combine a main verb with a helping verb. The helping verbs are essential; without them, our sentences wouldn’t make sense.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
I delighted to work with you.

Revised:
I am delighted to work with you.

Explanation:
Without the helping verb "am," this sentence doesn't make sense.


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
I don't worried by the storm.

Revised:
I am not worried by the storm.

Explanation:
The original sentence uses a helping verb, but it uses the wrong one. To revise, we can replace "do" with "am."


Modals

Modals are verbs that can only function as helping verbs. We can use modals to convey the nuances of potential actions. Unlike other helping verbs, modals do not have different forms for tense, person, or number.

EXAMPLE 1:

I would write my essay, but I don't have any ideas.

Explanation:
We use a modal ("would") to change the action described from the present ("I write") to a potential, hypothetical future ("I would write").


EXAMPLE 2:

He might have forgotten to proofread his essay.

Explanation:
This verb phrase combines a modal ("might") with another helping verb ("have") and a participle ("forgotten"). Without the modal, this sentence might read "He forgot to proofread his essay." With the modal and the additional helping verb, the sentence changes from a statement to a supposition.

We usually place helping verbs immediately before the main verb. When we ask a question, however, we generally begin with a helping verb, position the subject, and then place the main verb after the subject. Similarly, in negative clauses, we separate the helping verb from the main verb with "not."

EXAMPLE 3:

Have you seen that car?

Explanation:
This sentence begins with a helping verb ("Have"). The subject ("you") follows the helping verb but precedes the main verb (the participle "seen").


EXAMPLE 4:

I will not tolerate this.

Explanation:
In this sentence, the negative adverb "not" separates the helping verb ("will") from the main verb ("tolerate").

We can omit the main verb when it is implicit.

EXAMPLE 5:

I thought I had completed the assignment, but I had not.

Explanation:
The main verb "completed" is explicit in the first clause but implicit in the second.

While modals make no sense unless combined with another verb, other helping verbs can sometimes function as the main verb of a sentence. These verbs, which can serve as either helping verbs or main verbs, are usually not specific or powerful descriptors. When helping verbs function as main verbs, they are often empty.


EXAMPLE 6:

They have already seen that movie.

Explanation:
In this sentence, "have" functions as a helping verb, combining with the participle "seen" to create a complete verb phrase.


EXAMPLE 7:

They already have that movie.

Explanation:
"Have" functions as the main verb of the sentence and does not combine with another verb. It is also an empty verb. A more specific verb would clarify and strengthen the sentence (for instance, "They already own that movie").


EXAMPLE 8:

I have not seen that movie, but they have.

Explanation:
In this sentence, the second "have" may appear to be a main verb rather than a helping verb. This is not the case. The main verb is implied. If it were explicitly stated, the sentence would read: "I have not seen that movie, but they have seen it."

When you use the passive voice with the perfect tenses, you will find that you're using a lot of helping verbs. A long string of helping verbs can sound awkward and clunky. We recommend simplifying these descriptions when possible.

EXAMPLE 9:

Original:
The window would have been opened if it hadn't been stuck.

Revised 1:
I would have opened the window if it wasn’t stuck.

Explanation:
The first sentence is passive and in the past perfect tense. The verb phrase sounds awkward – and no wonder: it consists of a modal ("would"), two other helping verbs ("have" and "been"), and a past participle. In the first revision, we make the sentence active by adding an agent, "I." We can then simplify the verb phrases by eliminating some of the unneeded helping verbs.

Revised 2:
The window would have opened if it wasn’t stuck.

Explanation:
This revision makes the sentence active by giving the subject ("the window") agency. The resulting verb phrase is simpler, with only the modal ("would"), one other helping verb ("have"), and the main verb ("opened").


Modals with Non-Infinitive Verbs

Modal verbs are helping verbs. Common modals include "could," "would," "should," "can," and "must." The helping verb (modal) should agree in tense with the main verb. While modals don't have different tenses, we should always pair them with main verbs that are in their base infinitive form.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
I could saw for miles when I climbed the mountain.

Revised:
I could see for miles when I climbed the mountain.

Explanation:
In the first sentence, the main verb "saw" describes the past. To make it compatible with the modal "could," we have to change it to the infinitive form, "see." While we cannot specify time within the modal or its verb, we describe time afterwards with the preposition "when."


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
We ought to left now if we want to arrive on time.

Revised:
We ought to leave now if we want to arrive on time.

Explanation:
The modal "ought" should be paired with an infinitive, so we changed "left" to its full infinitive form, "to leave."


EXAMPLE 3:

Original:
I should had known that this would happen.

Revised:
I should have known that this would happen.

Explanation:
A modal ("should") is joined with another helping verb ("had") and the main verb ("known"). Although "had" is a helping verb, it is paired with the modal and as a result should be changed to its infinitive form ("have").


Wrong Verb Form

Some verbs don't take the progressive form. When we use such verbs in the progressive form, our writing loses meaning. The best solution to this is simply to use a non-progressive form.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
I am doubting it.

Revised:
I doubt it.

Explanation:
"Doubting" is a progressive, yet the verb "doubt" doesn't take the progressive. To revise, we can replace the progressive verb phrase "am doubting" with the non-progressive "doubt."


"Do" with Non-Infinitive Verbs

"Do" is a helping, or auxiliary, verb. It accentuates the main verb of a sentence.

When using "do," we should pair it with a main verb. The helping verb and the main verb combine to emphasize a point or to ask a question. For example, "I did steal all the paper clips." In this instance, the helping verb "did" underscores action of the main verb "steal."

A simple principle informs using helping verbs: "do" and its other forms require the basic (infinitive) form of the verb that follows.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
The panda does not wants to eat any more bamboo.

Revised:
The panda does not want to eat any more bamboo.

Explanation:
The helping verb "does" and the main verb "wants" do not agree in number. In revising, we changed "wants" to the basic infinitive form, "want."


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
Did you seeing the plane land?

Revised:
Did you see the plane land?

Explanation:
In this instance, the helping verb "did" pairs with the main verb "seeing." To make them agree, we change "seeing" to its infinitive form, "see."


"To Be" with Infinitive Verbs

The verb "to be" requires a verb form that describes the past (a past participle). Regardless of the time (past, present, or future) you're describing, the verb accompanying "to be" should be in the past tense. "To be," not the main verb, will indicate the time (past, present, or future). If the verb accompanying "to be" is in the infinitive (its base form), then you should change it to a past participle.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
He was chastise by his parents.

Revised:
He was chastised by his parents.

Explanation:
In the first sentence, the verb "to be" is in the past tense ("was"). The accompanying verb is in the infinitive ("chastise"). To revise, we leave "to be" in the past tense and make the accompanying verb a past participle ("chastised").


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
He is chastise by his parents.

Revised:
He is chastised by his parents.

Explanation:
In the first sentence, the verb "to be" is in the present tense ("is"). The accompanying verb is in the infinitive ("chastise"). In the second version, "to be" is still in the present tense, but we have changed "chastise" to the past participle "chastised." While "chastised" describes the past, the verb phrase as a whole ("is chastised") describes the present.


EXAMPLE 3:

Original:
He will be chastise by his parents.

Revised:
He will be chastised by his parents.

Explanation:
In both sentences, the verb "to be" is in the future tense ("will be"). The accompanying verb, "chastise," is an infinitive in the first sentence and a past participle in the second.


"To Be" without Past Participles

When the verb "to be" is accompanied by another verb, it requires that verb to describe the past. No matter what time you describe, any verb paired with "to be" should be a past participle. The verb "to be," not the main verb, takes different forms to indicate the time (past, present, or future).

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
The witnesses are shocks by what they see.

Revised:
The witnesses are shocked by what they see.

Explanation:
In the first version, "to be" and "shocks" are in the present tense. Because the verb "to be" requires a past participle, we changed "shocks" to the past participle, "shocked."


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
All the fortune left by the will was squandering away.

Revised:
All the fortune left by the will was squandered away.

Explanation:
We can revise by changing "squandering" to its past participle form, "squandered."


"To Have" without Past Participles

The helping verb "to have" requires that its main verb describe the past. Verbs accompanying "to have" should always be in the past tense, taking the past participle form. We can change the tense of "to have" to indicate the desired time (past, present, or future).

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
The windows have not open for years.

Revised:
The windows have not opened for years.

Explanation:
In this example, the verb "open" needs to be a past participle ("opened") for the sentence to make sense.


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
All the food has be eaten.

Revised:
All the food has been eaten.

Explanation:
The helping verb "to have" pairs with the verb "to be" (also a helping verb) to modify the main verb "to eat." "To be" is in its base form (its infinitive form: "be"). To work with "have," "be" should describe the past. We changed "be" to its past participle form, "been."


EXAMPLE 3:

Original:
I have reading that book many times.

Revised:
I have read that book many times.

Explanation:
"Reading" is in the present tense and conflicts with "have." We can change this to the past participle, "read," to resolve this problem.


"To" with Non-Infinitive Verbs

A verb preceded by "to" should always be in its infinitive form.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
It is important to determines what we can accomplish.

Revised:
It is important to determine what we can accomplish.

Explanation:
The infinitive "determine" is the form that must follow "to."


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
I like to reading mystery books more than fantasy books.

Revised:
I like to read mystery books more than fantasy books.

Explanation:
The infinitive form of "reading" is "read," and this is the form that should accompany "to."


Tense, Aspect, Mood, and Voice

Verbs always describe action in relation to time. To describe the nuances and subtleties of time, we use combinations of tense, aspect, and mood. Tense signifies a place in time. Aspect indicates the form the time takes, whether it is a continuous stretch of time, a single chunk of time, or repeating times. Mood refers to degrees of urgency with respect to time.

Tense, aspect, and mood are distinct but function in a variety of combinations. We informally refer to these combinations simply as "tenses." You may already use these tenses effectively without knowing the technical distinctions between tense, aspect, and mood. If this is the case, you may find it productive to skip ahead to our discussion of these combined "tenses."

Tense

There are two types of tenses: past and present. The past tense describes actions that have already occurred (in the past), while the present describes actions occurring now (in the present). These two tenses combine with different aspects and moods to describe actions in relation to time.

EXAMPLE 1:

I eat lots of bread.

Explanation:
This sentence is in the present tense.


EXAMPLE 2:

I ate too much bread.

Explanation:
This sentence is in the past tense.


Aspect

There are four aspects: simple, progressive, perfect, and perfect-progressive.

The simple aspect eludes the passage of time and only tells us that an action did or did not happen.

EXAMPLE 1:

I eat.

Explanation:
This sentence is in the simple aspect.

The progressive aspect describes an action that is continuously occurring. We sometimes call this aspect the "continuous aspect."


EXAMPLE 2:

I am eating bread all the time.

Explanation:
This sentence is in the progressive aspect.

The perfect aspect describes an action that has finished before the time the sentence is spoken or written.


EXAMPLE 3:

I have eaten so much bread.

Explanation:
This sentence is in the perfect aspect. It describes an action (eating) that has been completed before the time the sentence occurs in.

The perfect-progressive aspect describes an action that has been continuously occurring up to a point in time, before the time the sentence occurs in, at which it stops.

EXAMPLE 4:

I had been eating entire loaves of bread.

Explanation:
This sentence is in the perfect-progressive aspect. It describes an action (eating) that was occurring but has been completed before the sentence occurs.


Mood

Mood is the third tool we can use to describe the nuances of time and action. There are four moods: indicative, imperative, conditional, and subjunctive. The indicative, imperative, and subjunctive moods are represented by distinct verb forms, or inflections. The conditional mood does not have an inflected form: it is formed by combining modals with infinitive verbs.

We use the indicative mood to make statements and ask questions.

EXAMPLE 1:

I eat bread. I ate bread. I am eating bread. I have eaten bread. Do you eat bread?

Explanation:
All of these phrases are in the indicative mood. These examples are not exhaustive: there are many more combinations that form the indicative mood.

We use the imperative mood in commands or forceful requests.

EXAMPLE 2:

Eat your bread.

Explanation:
This sentence uses the imperative mood to convey a command.

We use the conditional mood to express actions that occur only conditionally.

EXAMPLE 3:

I would eat if I were hungry.

Explanation:
This sentence uses the conditional mood. It describes an action (eating) that will occur only under certain conditions (only if the speaker is hungry).

There are two types of conditionals: the present conditional and the past conditional. The present conditional describes a current conditional action and the past conditional describes a passed conditional action.

EXAMPLE 4:

I would eat if I were hungry.

Explanation:
This sentence describes a current conditional action. It is a present conditional.


EXAMPLE 5:

I would have eaten if I were hungry.

Explanation:
This sentence describes a past conditional action. It is a past conditional.

We can use the subjunctive mood to express wishes, demands, and counterfactual statements.

EXAMPLE 6:

I wish I were rich enough to buy more bread.

Explanation:
This sentence uses the subjunctive mood to express a desire for bread.


Voice

There are two voices: active and passive. When we use the active voice, the subject of the sentence does the action (the subject acts). When we use the passive voice, the subject receives the action (the subject is acted upon).

EXAMPLE 1:

I eat bread.

Explanation:
This sentence is active. The subject, "I," acts (eats bread).


EXAMPLE 2:

The bread is eaten by me.

Explanation:
This sentence is passive. The subject ("the bread") is acted upon (is eaten) by "me." To form the passive, we use a form of the verb "to be" and the passive participle form of the main verb.

Every combination of tense, aspect, and mood is in either the active or passive voice. While we discuss how to recognize and use the active and passive voices elsewhere, in this section we only examine them in relation to tense, aspect, and mood.

Now that we've established the distinctions between tense, aspect, mood, and voice, we'll examine how they work together. Tense, aspect, mood, and voice cannot function individually. Tense always combines with aspect or mood or both, and each combination of these three is in either the active or the passive voice.

We begin by examining aspects of the present tense in the indicative mood.

The simple present tense describes a general truth, state of being or a repetitive act. We form this tense by combining the present tense with the simple aspect. Less abstractly, we use the infinitive (basic) form of the verb (such as "eat") to describe an action that occurs in general (but may not be occurring as we speak).

EXAMPLE 1:

I eat lots of food.

Explanation:
This sentence describes an action (eating) that occurs regularly, but is not necessarily occurring right now (there is no implication that I am eating as I speak). Eating is an action typical of the speaker but not continuously occurring. This sentence uses the active voice.


EXAMPLE 2:

It snows in Moscow.

Explanation:
This sentence describes an action that occurs in a particular location, with the understanding that it is almost always true.

The present progressive tense describes an act that happens as we speak. We form this tense by combining the present tense with the progressive aspect. We combine a form of the helping verb "to be" with the infinitive form of the main verb, suffixed with "-ing." This suffix typically signals the progressive aspect.

EXAMPLE 1:

I am eating bread.

Explanation:
This sentence describes an action (eating) that is occurring while we describe it. The helping verb ("am") combines with the main verb ("eating").


EXAMPLE 2:

Moscow is being snowed on.

Explanation:
We use the present progressive to describe an ongoing action, "being snowed on," which is occurring now, in the moment the sentence is written.

We use the simple present perfect to describe an action that occurred in the past and is complete or continuing in the present. This tense combines a form of the helping verb "have" with a main verb. The helping verb is in the past tense and uses the simple aspect, while the main verb is a past participle and uses the perfect aspect.

EXAMPLE 1:

I have eaten twenty loaves of bread.

Explanation:
This sentence describes a finished action. The helping verb ("have") is in the present tense and combines with the main verb ("eaten") to describe an event that has ended: the speaker has eaten but is no longer eating.


EXAMPLE 2:

The hermit has waited on the hill for many years.

Explanation:
This sentence uses a helping verb ("has") in the present tense with the simple aspect to describe an event that began in the past and is, implicitly, continuing in the present.


EXAMPLE 3:

The hill has been sat on by the hermit for many years.

Explanation:
This sentence describes the same events as the previous example, but uses the passive voice. This sentence forms the passive by using "been" to indicate the perfect.

We use the present perfect progressive tense to describe an action that began in the past, occurred continuously, and continued until the time of speaking. This tense requires two helping verbs in addition to the main verb. Specifically, we use the present tense of the first helping verb ("have"), the past perfect tense of the second helping verb ("been"), and the present participle of the main verb.

EXAMPLE 1:

I have been eating bread for nearly an hour.

Explanation:
This sentence describes an action that occurred continuously in the past and continues up to the present. The first helping verb ("have") is in the present tense, the second ("been") is in the past perfect tense, and the main verb is a present participle ("eating").


EXAMPLE 2:

I have been thinking about bread.

Explanation:
We use the present perfect progressive to describe the action of "thinking" which has occurred up to the present moment.

In this section, we examine the aspects of the past tense in the indicative mood.

The simple past tense describes an action that occurred in the past. This tense combines the past tense with the simple aspect. Specifically, it uses the past participle of the main verb, which usually consists of the infinitive suffixed with "-ed."

EXAMPLE 1:

I disliked verb tenses.

Explanation:
This sentence describes an action that occurred in the past using the past participle "disliked."


EXAMPLE 2:

I ate bread.

Explanation:
This sentence describes an action that occurred in the past. Because this verb is irregular, it takes a unique form as a past participle rather than adhering to the usual infinitive-with-"ed" past participle form.


EXAMPLE 3:

Bread was eaten by me.

Explanation:
This sentence is the passive equivalent of the active sentence in the previous example.

The past progressive tense describes an action that occurred continuously in the past. We usually use this tense to describe an action that was occurring at a specific time or simultaneously with another action. It combines the past tense with the progressive aspect. Specifically, it combines a form of the helping verb "to be" in the simple past tense with a present participle.

EXAMPLE 1:

I was eating bread when they arrived.

Explanation:
This sentence describes a continuous action (eating) that was occurring when another action (they arrived) occurred. The helping verb "was" is in the simple past tense and the present participle "eating" describes a continuous action.


EXAMPLE 2:

Bread was being eaten by me when they arrived.

Explanation:
This sentence uses the passive voice to describe the same actions and times as the active sentence in the previous example. To form the passive voice, the sentence combines the simple past tense "was," the present participle "being," and the past participle of the main verb.

We use the simple past perfect tense to describe an action that occurred before another action or time in the past. We can also use this tense to emphatically approximate the simple past tense. This tense combines a past tense helping verb (a form of the verb "has") signifying the simple aspect with a past participle (the main verb) signifying the perfect aspect.

EXAMPLE 1:

I had won the grand prize for eating bread.

Explanation:
This sentence combines the simple past tense of the helping verb "have" ("had") with a past participle ("won") to describe an action completed by the time of speaking. We use this tense to emphasize the accomplishment of the action.


EXAMPLE 2:

I had won the grand prize before the city flooded.

Explanation:
In this sentence, we use the same verb phrase from the previous example, but in a different context. The simple past perfect tense describes an action ("had won") completed before another event (a flood) occurred. This second action is in the past tense.


EXAMPLE 3:

The food had been eaten by me when they arrived.

Explanation:
To form the passive, we replace the past participle "eaten" with the past participle "been," then add the past participle "eaten" to the end of the verb phrase.

We use the past perfect progressive tense to describe an action that began in the past and continued until another time or action in the past. This tense requires two helping verbs: the simple past tense of "have" ("had") and the perfect aspect of the verb "to be" ("been"). We combine these helping verbs with the main verb, a present participle that signifies the progressive aspect.

EXAMPLE 1:

I had been waiting for hours when they arrived.

Explanation:
This sentence describes an action ("waiting") that had been occurring but stopped occurring before the second action (the arrival) occurred. The helping verb "have" is in the simple past tense ("had"), but combines with the helping verb "to be" to form the simple past perfect tense ("had been"), which in turn combines with the present participle "waiting," the main verb, to form the past perfect progressive tense.


EXAMPLE 2:

The food had been being eaten by me when they arrived.

Explanation:
To change the verb phrase from active to passive voice, we simply replace the present participle "eating" with the present participle "being" and add the past participle "eaten" to the end of the verb phrase.

In this section, we examine aspects of the future tense in the indicative mood. English does not have distinct verb forms for the future tense. We use modals such as "will" in combination with other verbs to approximate the future tense.

We use the simple future tense to describe an event that has not yet occurred. We form this tense by combining a helping verb such as "will" or "going to" with the infinitive form of a main verb. Additionally, we can use a form of "to be" with the infinitive to indicate a future action.

EXAMPLE 1:

I will eat bread tomorrow.

Explanation:
In this sentence, the modal "will" combines with the main verb "eat" in its infinitive form to describe an event that will happen but has not happened yet.


EXAMPLE 2:

I am going to eat bread tomorrow.

Explanation:
In this sentence, the helping verb "to be," in its simple present form ("am"), combines with the other helping verb "go," in its present participle form ("going") and the main verb "eat," in its infinitive (basic) form, to describe an event that will occur but has not yet.


EXAMPLE 3:

I am to eat bread tomorrow.

Explanation:
This sentence combines a form of "to be" with the infinitive "eat" to convey the future tense. This construction also indicates a sense of certainty about the future action.


EXAMPLE 4:

Bread is going to be eaten by me tomorrow.

Explanation:
Compare this sentence, which uses the passive voice, with the sentence in Example 21, which uses the active voice.

We use the future progressive tense to describe actions that will occur continuously in the future. These actions may have already begun or will begin at a later time. We form this tense by combining the modal "will" or the present participle of "go" ("going") with a form of the helping verb "to be" and the main verb in its present participle form.

EXAMPLE 1:

I will be living in Jackson next year.

Explanation:
In this sentence, we use the modal "will" with the simple present form of the helping verb "to be" ("be") and the present participle of the main verb ("living").


EXAMPLE 2:

Food will be being eaten by me.

Explanation:
This sentence uses the passive voice.


EXAMPLE 3:

I am going to be solving crimes.

Explanation:
We use the simple present helping verb "am," the present participle "going," the infinitive "to be," and the present participle, "eating." While this is an example of the future progressive tense, it would be easier to say, "I will be solving crimes."


EXAMPLE 4:

Food is going to be being eaten by me.

Explanation:
This sentence uses the passive voice.


EXAMPLE 5:

I will be working for a few more hours.

Explanation:
This sentence suggests that the action to be continued in the future has already been occurring.

We use the simple future perfect tense to describe an action that will have occurred at a later time. This tense combines a modal ("will") with the infinitive "have" and the past participle of the main verb.

EXAMPLE 1:

Before the world ends, I will have walked the golden mile.

Explanation:
In this sentence, we form the simple future perfect tense by combining the modal "will" with the infinitive "have" and the past participle of the main verb ("walked"). This sentence describes an action ("walking") that has not yet occurred but which will take place before a specific point in the future.


EXAMPLE 2:

Food will have been eaten by me before class.

Explanation:
This passive sentence is longer and more awkward sounding than an active version would be ("I will have eaten food before class").

We use the future perfect progressive tense to describe an action that will occur in the future and continue until another future time. We form this tense with the modal "will" to indicate the future, the helping verbs "have" (an infinitive) and "been" (a form of "to be") to indicate the perfect aspect, and the present participle of the main verb to indicate the progressive aspect.

EXAMPLE 1:

I will have been eating bread for an hour when the movie ends.

Explanation:
This sentence combines the modal "will" with the helping verbs "have" and "been" to situate the continuous action implicit in the present participle "eating" in the future but before a specific time in the future. The continuous action will take place in the future (because of "will"), and will take place continuously (as indicated by "eating") for a period of time ("for an hour"), but will have stopped occurring by a specified time ("when the movie ends").


EXAMPLE 2:

Food will have been being eaten by me for an hour in twenty minutes.

Explanation:
This sentence is in the passive voice, resulting in a long and awkward verb phrase.

We conclude this section by examining aspects of the conditional mood.

We don't combine the conditional mood with any of the tenses. Doing so would be redundant, because the tenses describe actions happening in the past or present, while the future pseudo-tense describes actions that will happen in the future. As we've seen above, these tenses work well with the indicative mood, since the indicative mood describes events that occur with some degree of certainty. The conditional mood, however, is by its very nature antagonistic to certainty: it describes actions that may or may not occur — that is, actions that are conditional.

While we can't combine the conditional mood with the tenses, we can combine it with each of the aspects, creating four types of conditional tenses: conditional simple, conditional progressive, conditional perfect, and conditional perfect progressive.

We use the conditional simple tense to describe an action that might happen. When the conditional simple occurs in a sentence, the same sentence usually includes a contrasting statement that describes the situation that prevents the conditional action from occurring. This tense combines the conditional mood with the simple aspect; we form it using the modal "would" and the infinitive form of the main verb.

EXAMPLE 1:

I would eat food if I were hungry.

Explanation:
Here, we combine the modal "would" with the infinitive "eat" to create the conditional simple tense.


EXAMPLE 2:

Food would be eaten by me if I were hungry.

Explanation:
This sentence is the passive equivalent of the active sentence in Example 32. Notice that, to turn the active verb phrase passive, we simply replace the infinitive "eat" with the infinitive "be" and add the past participle "eaten" to the end of the verb phrase.

We use the conditional progressive to describe actions that might be happening continuously. This tense can describe either an action that might have been occurring in an alternative present or an action that might be occurring in the future. When the conditional progressive occurs in a sentence, the same sentence usually includes a contrasting statement that describes the situation that prevents the conditional action from occurring. This tense combines the conditional mood with the progressive aspect. We form it by combining the modal "would" with "be" and the present participle of the main verb.

EXAMPLE 1:

I would be eating food, but I have none.

Explanation:
This sentences combines the modal "would" with "be" and the present progressive of the main verb.


EXAMPLE 2:

Food would be being eaten by me, but I have none.

Explanation:
This passive sentence describes the same actions and times as the active sentence in the previous example, but it does so more awkwardly.

We use the conditional perfect to describe actions that might have occurred in the past. When the conditional perfect occurs in a sentence, the same sentence usually includes a contrasting statement that describes the situation that prevented the conditional action from occurring. This tense combines the conditional mood with the perfect aspect. We form this tense using the modal "would" with "have" and the past participle of the main verb.

EXAMPLE 1:

I would have eaten some food, but I wasn't hungry.

Explanation:
This sentence combines the modal "would" with "have" and the past participle "eaten" to describe an action (eating) that would have occurred in the past on the condition that the speaker were hungry.


EXAMPLE 2:

Some food would have been eaten by me, but I wasn't hungry.

Explanation:
This sentence is the passive equivalent of the active sentence in the previous example.

We use the conditional perfect progressive describe actions that would have been occurring in the past had certain conditions been met. Like the other conditional tenses, a sentence with the conditional perfect progressive usually elaborates on the conditions which prevented the conditional from occurring.

EXAMPLE 1:

I would have been eating food had I been hungry.

Explanation:
This sentence combines the modal "would" (to signify the conditional), "have" (to signify the perfect aspect), and "been" with the present participle "eating" (to signify the progressive aspect).


EXAMPLE 2:

Food would have been being eaten by me had I been hungry.

Explanation:
This passive sentence describes the same actions and time frame as the active sentence in the previous example, but does so more awkwardly.


Inconsistent Verb Tenses

Verb tense indicates the time of an action in relation to the time of speaking or writing about that action. Inconsistent verb tenses will confuse readers.

You will often find that you need to describe multiple time frames within a single sentence. In such instances, we recommend that you use verb tenses that are compatible.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
She tore up the notebook and throws it away.

Revised 1:
She tore up the notebook and threw it away.

Revised 2:
She tears up the notebook and throws it away.

Explanation:
In the first version, "tore" is in the past tense, while "throws" is in the present. To make these verb tenses compatible, we changed "throws" to the past tense "threw." Alternatively, we can change "tore" to the present tense "tears" to match "throws." Both revisions manage their verbs effectively by placing them in the same tense.


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
After they finish shopping, they eat lunch.

Revised:
After they finish shopping, they will eat lunch.

Explanation:
Because this sentence describes a time sequence, we revised the verb tenses to make them consistent with the time they describe. Because they will eat lunch after they finish shopping, in the future, we changed the present tense "eat" to the future tense "will eat."


Faulty Counterfactuals

Conditional statements describe a hypothetical or possible condition and the consequences of that condition. Some conditional statements speculate about a false or unlikely condition. We call these statements counterfactuals.

Like most conditional statements, counterfactuals follow an "If …, then …" pattern. The second verb occurs farther into the future than the first verb. If you do not ensure that the second verb is in the correct tense, you may confuse readers about the time sequence of a conditional or counterfactual statement.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
If the cat catches a mouse, then she eats it.

Revised:
If the cat catches a mouse, then she will eat it.

Explanation:
In the original sentence, the verb "catches" is in the present tense. We revise the second verb "eats" to the future tense "will eat" to reflect the fact that the conclusion occurs after the hypothesis of the conditional statement.


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
If the cat had caught a mouse, then she will eat it.

Revised:
If the cat had caught a mouse, then she would have eaten it.

Explanation:
The second verb "will eat" is in the future tense. In revising, we have changed "will eat" to the perfect tense "would have eaten." This ensures that the second verb occurs after the first.


Faulty Predictives

Conditional statements describe a hypothetical or possible condition and the consequences of that condition. Predictives are conditional statements describing a possibility which does or is likely to exist. When a sentence contains a predictive statement, the verb tenses should express the same time frame.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
Whenever there is a parade, people hurried out to see it.

Revised:
Whenever there is a parade, people hurry out to see it.

Explanation:
The first verb of the conditional statement is in the present tense, "is," while the second verb is in the past tense: "hurried." We can revise by changing either verb to match the tense of the other so that both actions occur at the same time.


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
When that group returns to the bay area, I always saw them perform.

Revised:
When that group returns to the bay area, I always see them perform.

Explanation:
The main verb of first clause is in the present tense; the main verb of the second is in the past. To ensure that the times described in this sentence make sense, we can change the second main verb to the future present tense to match the first main verb.


Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Transitive verbs require objects, while intransitive verbs do not have objects. Many verbs can be either transitive or intransitive depending on whether or not the writer uses them with an object. Most verbs take objects (that is, most are transitive). There are, however, some verbs which are always transitive. We can distinguish transitive from intransitive verbs by looking for the object. If there is an object, the verb is transitive. If there is no object, the verb is intransitive.

EXAMPLE 1:

I left a note.

Explanation:
The verb "left" functions as a transitive verb, taking the object "a note."


EXAMPLE 2:

I left.

Explanation:
The verb "left" functions as an intransitive verb because it does not take an object. We do not leave anything specific: we simply "leave," or depart.


EXAMPLE 3:

Original:
I recognize.

Revised:
I recognize him.

Explanation:
The verb "recognize" is always transitive when used as an active verb. It cannot function without an object (notice that the first sentence makes little sense).


EXAMPLE 4:

Quite a lot of people are sneezing.

Explanation:
"Sneezing" is always an intransitive verb. It cannot take an object and, if we were to add an object, the sentence would sound odd and nonsensical.

Active transitive verbs can become passive, but active intransitive verbs cannot. Let's unpack this: If you turn the active transitive verb in a sentence to a passive transitive verb, the object becomes the subject. When you turn an active sentence passive, you use the object of the active sentence as the subject of the passive sentence. Because of this, transitive verbs (which do take objects) can become passive, but intransitive verbs (which don't take objects) can't become passive.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
I left a note.

Revised:
A note was left by me.

Explanation:
The first version of this sentence is active. The transitive verb "left" takes the object "a note." The second version is passive. The object of the previous version becomes the subject ("A note") and the transitive "left" becomes intransitive — it doesn't take an object. The subject of the first version ("I") becomes a prepositional phrase ("by me") in the second.


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
A falling tree hit my car.

Revised:
My car was hit by a falling tree.

Explanation:
In the first, active version of this sentence, the verb "hit" is transitive, acting on the object "my car." In the second, passive version of this sentence, the verb "hit" is intransitive, the object of the previous sentence becomes the subject of the second, and the subject of the first sentence ("A falling tree") becomes a prepositional phrase ("by a falling tree") in the second.


Transitive Verbs without Objects

Transitive verbs are verbs that require an object to receive the action they describe.

In active constructions, a transitive verb conveys the action of the subject to the direct object. Clauses with transitive verbs may not make sense if we don't specify an object.

In passive constructions, transitive verbs convey action performed by an agent, who may be unspecified, to the subject. Practice suggests that we cannot write a passive phrase with a transitive verb that does not have an object.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
I tossed.

Revised:
I tossed the ball.

Explanation:
The sentence "I tossed" does not make sense unless we view it as intransitive, as in the expression, "I tossed and turned." Outside of this meaning, however, "tossed" requires an object. What did we toss? In the revision, "ball" is the object of the transitive verb "tossed."


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
Susan rode to save money.

Revised:
Susan rode her bicycle to save money.

Explanation:
The first sentence does not specify what Susan rode. She might be riding a motorcycle, a horse, or a train. Adding a direct object, "bicycle," tells us what Susan was riding and clarifies the meaning of the sentence.


Verbals

Verbals are words formed from verbs. But verbals aren't verbs: they function as nouns, adjectives, and adverbs. Like nouns, verbals can serve as subjects or objects. Verbals include gerunds, infinitives, and participles. While gerunds function like nouns, participles function like adjectives. Infinitives function as nouns, adjectives, and adverbs.


Gerunds

A gerund is a verbal ending in "-ing." A gerund or gerund phrase acts as a noun or noun phrase in a sentence.

EXAMPLE 1:

Reading is fun.

Explanation:
"Reading" is a gerund.

Because gerunds function like nouns, you can position a gerund phrase as the subject or object of your sentence.

EXAMPLE 2:

Eating healthy food is a good idea.

Explanation:
In this sentence, the gerund "Eating" begins the gerund phrase "Eating healthy food." This gerund phrase also serves as the subject of the sentence.


EXAMPLE 3:

I enjoy eating candy.

Explanation:
The gerund phrase ("eating candy") serves as the direct object of the sentence.


EXAMPLE 4:

I tried to recover by drinking lots of tea.

Explanation:
The gerund "drinking" begins the gerund phrase "drinking lots of tea." The gerund phrase is itself part of a prepositional phrase ("by drinking lots of tea"). It serves as the object of the preposition.

We can modify gerund and gerund phrases, like nouns, with possessive pronouns.

EXAMPLE 5:

His skipping breakfast made him irritable.

Explanation:
We use a possessive pronoun, "His," to modify the gerund phrase "skipping breakfast."


Gerund Used When Infinitive Needed

Gerunds are verbs that act as nouns. Infinitives can also act as nouns, but are not always interchangeable with gerunds, which cannot act as adjectives or adverbs.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
I reminded them eating an apple every day.

Revised:
I reminded them to eat an apple every day.

Explanation:
"Eating" is a gerund. This sentence requires the infinitive "to eat."

EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
They told us staying calm.

Revised:
They told us to stay calm.

Explanation:
"Staying" is a gerund, but the sentence needs an infinitive. We can revise with the infinitive "to stay."


Infinitives

A full infinitive is composed of "to" and the verb's base form, or bare infinitive.

EXAMPLE 1:

It is a good idea to remember friends' birthdays.

Explanation:
In this sentence, "to remember" is an infinitive phrase.

Occasionally, we can omit "to" from an infinitive. In such instances, however, it is important to remember that "to" remains implicit.

EXAMPLE 2:

I saw the car crash into a wall.

Explanation:
This sentence features an infinitive without "to." The infinitive is "crash," the main verb is "saw," and the direct object is "the car." Like all infinitives, "crash" does not function as a verb.

Infinitives are the most versatile of verbals because they can function as nouns, adjectives, and adverbs.

EXAMPLE 3:

To err is human. (Alexander Pope)

Explanation:
The infinitive phrase "To err" functions as a noun and is the subject of the sentence.


EXAMPLE 4:

I like to swim.

Explanation:
In this sentence, the infinitive "to swim" is a noun and serves as the direct object of the sentence.


EXAMPLE 5:

There is lots of paperwork to complete.

Explanation:
The infinitive ("to complete") functions as an adjective. It modifies the noun, "paperwork."


EXAMPLE 6:

We went to the restaurant to eat food.

Explanation:
The infinitive "to eat" functions as an adverb here. It describes the main verb "went." The infinitive "to eat" begins an infinitive phrase ("to eat food").

Infinitives can begin infinitive phrases and clauses.

EXAMPLE 7:

I like to drink tea.

Explanation:
The infinitive "to drink" begins the infinitive phrase "to drink tea." This phrase serves as the direct object of the sentence.


Infinitive Used When Gerund Needed

Gerunds are verbs that act as nouns. Infinitives can also act as nouns, but are not always interchangeable with gerunds, which cannot act as adjectives or adverbs.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
I enjoy to eat.

Revised:
I enjoy eating.

Explanation:
Because the infinitive "to eat" is a verb, it can't serve as the object of this sentence. To revise, we can use the gerund "eating" as the object.

EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
I look forward to see you.

Revised:
I look forward to seeing you.

Explanation:
The infinitive "see" can't serve as the object of the preposition ("to"), so we must use the gerund "seeing" instead.


Confused Infinitive

The infinitive, or base form of a verb, is sometimes necessary.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
I was shocked to sees it.

Revised:
I was shocked to see it. Explanation: This sentence requires the infinitive, so we can revise by changing "sees" to its infinitive form, "see."


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
They were delighted to hears the news.

Revised:
They were delighted to hear the news.

Explanation:
We revise by replacing "hears" with the infinitive "hear."


Splitting Infinitives

An infinitive is the base form of a verb. It is composed of two parts: "to" and the verb, as in "to compose." A split infinitive occurs when a writer inserts words between "to" and the verb. This makes the infinitive sound awkward and inelegant. In most instances, we can position the word(s) splitting the infinitive somewhere else in the sentence without undermining the effectiveness of the sentence.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
It is important to always remember to look for oncoming traffic before crossing the street.

Revised 1:
It is important always to remember to look for oncoming traffic before crossing the street.
Explanation:
In the first version, the adverb "always" splits the infinitive verb "to remember." The revision is hardly better: "always" is awkwardly placed.

Revised 2:
It is always important to remember to look for oncoming traffic before crossing the street.
Explanation:
This revision improves the sentence, although it subtly alters its meaning. Alternatively, we can delete "always."

Revised 3:
It is important to remember to look for oncoming traffic before crossing the street.
Explanation:
This revision reduces the emphasis on "always." If we decide that we cannot afford to delete "always," then we can leave the original sentence unchanged. Even the best writers split infinitives when they can't say what they want in any other way.


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
While I wanted to promptly be there on time, I knew it was hopeless.

Revised:
While I wanted to be there on time, I knew it was hopeless.

Explanation:
In this instance, the adverb "promptly" sounds awkward. Other words in the sentence ("on time") convey the same meaning more efficiently.


Full Infinitive Required

"Ought" should be followed by the full infinitive.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
You ought eat at least one hot meal a day.

Revised:
You ought to eat at least one hot meal a day.

Explanation:
This sentence requires the full infinitive "to eat" rather than "eat."


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
They ought leave.

Revised:
They ought to leave.

Explanation:
We can revise by replacing "leave" with the full infinitive "to leave."


Participles

Participles are verbals which function as adjectives.

EXAMPLE 1:

The dissatisfied customer didn't think his complaints were heard.

Explanation:
A past participle ("dissatisfied") functions as an adjective, describing a noun ("customer").

Sometimes, participles combine with helping verbs to describe action. It may help to think of participles as incomplete verbs: they need helping verbs in order to describe complete actions.

EXAMPLE 2:

The customer's complaints were ignored.

Explanation:
The participle "ignored" combines with the verb "to be" to form the passive past tense construction of the verb "ignore." This participle functions as an adjective, describing the subject of the sentence, "The customer's complaints."

There are two types of participles: present and past tense. Present tense participles end in "-ing," while past tense participles end in "-ed," "-en," "-d," "-t," "-n," and "-ne." Please note that present participles look identical to gerunds: we can distinguish them only by function. Participles serve as adjectives and gerunds serve as nouns.

EXAMPLE 3:

The customer's complaints ignored, the store continued to sell the product.

Explanation:
This participle describes the past: "ignored" is a past participle. It ends a participial phrase ("The … ignored").


EXAMPLE 4:

Ignoring the customer's complaints, the store continued to sell the product.

Explanation:
The participle "Ignoring" describes the present: it is a present participle. It begins a participial phrase ("Ignoring the customer's complaints") which functions like an adjective: it describes the noun phrase "the store."

Because they describe nouns and pronouns, we can use participles and participial phrases as free modifiers.


Lay vs. Lie

"Lay" requires something to act upon. Something — an object, person, idea — must be "laid" down. Lay is a transitive verb in need of a direct object. As such, we often use "lay" with the passive voice.

"Lie" has two meanings: to say something that isn't true, or to assume a horizontal position. We will focus on the latter of these, as it is more often confused with "lay." Unlike "lay," "lie" does not require a direct object.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
Did you lay down in the park?

Revised:
Did you lie down in the park?

Explanation:
The first sentence leaves readers wondering what was laid down in the park. To revise, we can replace "lay" with "lie" to convey the meaning that we intended.


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
He lay the book on the table.

Revised:
He laid the book on the table.

Explanation:
"Lay" is the past tense of "lie," rather than the past tense of "lay" (which is what we intended to use). To revise, we use "laid."


Prepositions

Prepositions help speakers and writers describe the time or place in which a noun or pronoun is situated.

EXAMPLE 1:

The dog was by the lake during the afternoon.

Explanation:
The proposition "by" tells us where the dog was. The preposition "during" tells us when (in what time) the dog was.

In addition to describing temporal and spatial relations, prepositions help us describe agency. Prepositions express a relationship between words. They convey the relative position of words, the source of actions, and the timing of events.

EXAMPLE 2:

The dog was in the water.

Explanation:
The preposition "in" helps us describe both the location of the dog and the relationship between the dog and the water. You might find it helpful to think of prepositional phrases as adjectives: they describe a noun or pronoun. The prepositional phrase "in the water" describes the dog.

A preposition signals the beginning of a prepositional phrase. We position prepositional phrases before the space or time they describe. Prepositional phrases consist of a preposition, the noun or pronoun that serves as the object of the preposition, and any other words modifying that object.

EXAMPLE 3:

They are in the garden.

Explanation:
In the prepositional phrase "in the garden," "in" is the preposition and the noun "garden" is the object of the preposition. The object of the preposition is not the same as the object of the clause or sentence.

Many readers will expect you to avoid ending sentences with prepositions.

EXAMPLE 4:

Original:
Who did you give it to?

Revised:
To whom did you give it?

Explanation:
The first version of this sentence ends with a preposition. The second version moves the preposition to the beginning.


Here is a list of common prepositions:
  • about
  • above
  • after
  • against
  • among
  • around
  • as
  • at
  • before
  • behind
  • below
  • between
  • by
  • during
  • except
  • from
  • for
  • in
  • inside
  • into
  • like
  • of
  • off
  • on
  • over
  • out
  • through
  • to
  • under
  • until
  • up
  • with
  • without

EXAMPLE 5:

The bestselling novel was written by a first-time author.

Explanation:
Using the preposition "by," we can describe the author of the bestselling novel. The object of the preposition is "a first-time author." The complete prepositional phrase is "by a first-time author."


EXAMPLE 6:

We shaped the clay like Patrick did.

Explanation:
The preposition "like" establishes a comparison between the subject of the sentence ("We") and the subject of the prepositional phrase ("Patrick"). The prepositional phrase is "like Patrick did."


EXAMPLE 7:

Our bicycle troupe traveled through the West tunnel.

Explanation:
Prepositions such as "to," "toward," "against," or, in this instance, "through," describe direction and movement. The prepositional phrase, "through the West tunnel" tells us where the bicycle troupe traveled.


EXAMPLE 8:

Under the table by the fountain, you will find my untied shoelaces and my bookbag.

Explanation:
Prepositions such as "on," "in," "around," "between," or, as here, "under" and "by" specify placement in space. In this example, "under the table" and "by the fountain" are two separate prepositional phrases. Both describe the position of "shoelaces" and "bookbag." The preposition "by" can indicate placement, as it does in this example, in addition to indicating agency when used in a different context.

EXAMPLE 9:

Michelle ran a marathon for her favorite charity.

Explanation:
The preposition "for" can communicate purpose and reason for an action in a sentence. In this example, the preposition "for" tells us about Michelle's motivation for running the marathon.


EXAMPLE 10:

The jewels and gold came from a pirate's treasure chest.

Explanation:
The preposition "from" indicates the source of "The jewels and gold" (the subject of the sentence). The prepositional phrase "from the pirate's treasure chest" connects the subjects with their source.


EXAMPLE 11:

After the introduction, our adviser suggested that we take our seats before the movie started at 3:00pm, and that we should eat popcorn during the movie.

Explanation:
It is difficult to write a sentence without using a preposition; many sentences have several prepositions. Prepositions such as "after," "before," "at," and "during" establish temporal relationships between the elements of a sentence. For instance, the adviser's suggestion takes place after the introduction but before the suggestion. We can't clarify this time structure without using the preposition "after."


Repeating Prepositions

If you use the same preposition multiple times in one sentence, it may sound cluttered, repetitive, or awkward.

In most instances, you can minimize repetition. Sometimes, you will find it difficult to rephrase your sentence without altering your meaning or making the sentence more confusing. If this happens, don't worry about changing it.

Repetition is not always awkward. It may be intentional. For example, in the sentence "Beyond the mountain, there was another mountain, and beyond that, another," the repeated preposition "beyond" mimics the repetitiveness of the mountains.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
Besides, that's beside the point.

Revised 1:
Anyway, that's beside the point.

Revised 2:
That's beside the point.

Explanation:
The first sentence repeats the preposition, "beside." To revise, we replace the first instance of "beside" with a synonym. We can also simply delete "besides," as we do in the second revision.


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
I replaced my old coat with a new coat with a similar design.

Revised:
I replaced my old coat with a new coat that looks similar.

Explanation:
In the first sentence, we repeat the preposition "with." We revise the structure of the sentence to avoid this repetition.


EXAMPLE 3:

Original:
I never know when I buy fruit when it will go bad.

Revised:
When I buy fruit, I never know how soon it will go bad.


Conjunctions

Conjunctions connect words, phrases, or clauses.

EXAMPLE 1:

Sam and Mary went to class.

Explanation:
The coordinating conjunction "and" connects two words. The resulting phrase ("Sam and Mary") serves as the subject of the sentence.

We can use conjunctions to combine several short ideas into a larger whole. At the same time, we should ensure that the resulting longer sentences are clear and readily understandable to readers. While consecutive short sentences can sound awkward, a series of long and convoluted sentences can be confusing.

EXAMPLE 2:

Shakespeare wrote several plays in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, and those plays are still read today.

Explanation:
This sentence uses the conjunction "and" to combine two independent clauses.


Combining Coordinating and Subordinating Conjunctions

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
Even though the window was open, but the room was stuffy.

Revised 1:
Even though the window was open, the room was stuffy.

Revised 2:
The window was open, but the room was stuffy.

Explanation:
The first version of this sentence uses a subordinating conjunction ("even though") to make the first clause dependent on the second. The second clause, however, begins with a coordinating conjunction, which conflicts with the subordinating conjunction. We can revise by deleting either conjunction so that the other can function normally.


Conjunctive Adverbs

Conjunctive adverbs are not full conjunctions. By themselves, they are insufficient to hold a sentence together. Yet, like full conjunctions, they do provide a sense of coherence, enabling readers to connect elements of a sentence and helping sentences form logical units.

EXAMPLE 1:

I studied constantly; nevertheless, I only got a B.

Explanation:
The conjunctive adverb "nevertheless" combines two independent clauses.

To use a conjunctive adverb effectively, we can combine it with a semicolon or make the two clauses into two separate sentences, the second of which begins with the conjunctive adverb. Alternatively, we can revise by using a coordinating, correlative, or subordinating conjunction instead of the conjunctive adverb.

EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
An open window is an excellent source of fresh air, however, many people prefer closed windows when it's raining.

Revised:
An open window is an excellent source of fresh air. However, many people prefer closed windows when it's raining.

Explanation:
To revise the first sentence, we can make it into two sentences.


EXAMPLE 3:

Original:
An open window is an excellent source of fresh air, however, many people prefer closed windows when it's raining.

Revised:
An open window is an excellent source of fresh air; however, many people prefer closed windows when it's raining.

Explanation:
To revise, we can join the two clauses with a semicolon rather than a comma.


EXAMPLE 4:

Original:
An open window is an excellent source of fresh air, however, many people prefer closed windows when it's raining.

Revised:
An open window is an excellent source of fresh air, yet many people prefer closed windows when it's raining.

Explanation:
We revise by using a coordinating conjunction instead of a conjunctive adverb.


EXAMPLE 5:

Original:
An open window is an excellent source of fresh air, however, many people prefer closed windows when it's raining.

Revised:
An open window is not only an excellent source of fresh air, but also best kept closed when it's raining.

Explanation:
We can use a pair of correlative conjunctions in place of the conjunctive adverb. Please note that correlative conjunctions are not especially suited to this sentence.


EXAMPLE 6:

Original:
An open window is an excellent source of fresh air, however, many people prefer closed windows when it's raining.

Revised:
While an open window is an excellent source of fresh air, many people prefer closed windows when it's raining.

Explanation:
We use the subordinating conjunction "while" rather than the conjunctive adverb.


Conjunctive adverbs include:
  • Accordingly
  • Also
  • Anyway
  • As a result
  • Besides
  • Certainly
  • Consequently
  • Finally
  • Furthermore
  • Hence
  • However
  • Incidentally
  • Indeed
  • Instead
  • Likewise
  • Meanwhile
  • Moreover
  • Nevertheless
  • Next
  • Nonetheless
  • Now
  • Otherwise
  • Similarly
  • Specifically
  • Still
  • Subsequently
  • Suddenly
  • Then
  • Therefore
  • Thus

Coordinating Conjunctions

Coordinating conjunctions combine elements of a sentence when those elements are grammatically equivalent. Coordinating conjunctions are essential when listing two or more items.

EXAMPLE 1:

I bought a blue notebook and a yellow binder.

Explanation:
Here, the coordinative conjunction "and" connects the noun phrase "a blue notebook" to the other, grammatically equivalent noun phrase "a yellow binder."

When we use coordinating conjunctions to combine two words or phrases, we don't need to use a comma. However, when we use coordinating conjunctions to combine two independent clauses, we place a comma after the first independent clause (before the coordinating conjunction). Some writers think this comma is unnecessary and omit it altogether. The choice is yours.

EXAMPLE 2:

I bought some pencils, and I borrowed a pen.

Explanation:
This sentence features two independent clauses joined by the coordinating conjunction "and." Because we are dealing with independent clauses (as opposed to words or phrases), we insert a comma at the end of the first independent clause.

Writers sometimes begin sentences with coordinating conjunctions. This highlights the conjunction and can be useful when constructing a narrative. We recommend that you employ this device sparingly, however, as it can make your writing sound overly informal or insufficiently thought out.

EXAMPLE 3:

I worked all morning and all afternoon. And then I worked all evening.

Explanation:
The second of these sentences begins with the conjunction "And." We use "And" for rhetorical effect. The first sentence expects a transition to a new evening activity. But we overturn this expectation by beginning the next sentence with "And," continuing the chain of events supposedly completed in the previous sentence.


Coordinating conjunctions include:
  • And
  • But
  • For
  • Nor
  • Or
  • So
  • Yet

Correlative Conjunctions

Like coordinating conjunctions, correlative conjunctions combine grammatically equal elements. These conjunctions, however, consist of two or more words.

EXAMPLE 1:

According to the calendar, it is not only autumn, but also October.

Explanation:
The correlative conjunction "not only … but also" combines the equivalent elements "autumn" and "October."


EXAMPLE 2:

Whether or not I get any sleep, I'll pass the test.

Explanation:
The correlative conjunction "Whether or" implicitly compares two elements of the sentence. The sentence could read: "Whether I get any sleep or I don't get any sleep, I'll pass the test.


EXAMPLE 3:

Neither a borrower nor a lender be (Shakespeare).

Explanation:
The correlative conjunction "neither … nor" combines the two grammatically equivalent elements of the sentence "a borrower" and "a lender," allowing the writer to compare them.


Subordinating Conjunctions

Unlike coordinating and correlative conjunctions, subordinating conjunctions link elements that are not grammatically equivalent. By attaching a subordinating conjunction to a word, phrase, or clause, we can make that element describe the corresponding main word, phrase, or clause. When we attach a subordinating conjunction to a clause, we turn that clause into a dependent clause.

EXAMPLE 1:

After we cut up the fruit, we ate it.

Explanation:
The subordinating conjunction "After" begins the subordinate phrase "After we cut up the fruit." If we remove "After," the clause "We cut up the fruit" could stand alone as a sentence.

When we use subordinating conjunctions, we should take care not to subordinate our more important idea. In fact, by subordinating less important information, we can help readers see our main idea more clearly.

EXAMPLE 2:

Even if we get the tickets, we'll need to think of how to get there.

Explanation:
"Even if" subordinates the less important clause, leaving the second, more important clause to take precedence.

When we use subordinating conjunctions, we should use a comma to separate the word, phrase, or clause which the conjunction modifies from the rest of the sentence.

EXAMPLE 3:

After cutting up the fruit, we ate it.

Explanation:
The subordinating conjunction "After" begins the subordinate phrase "After cutting up the fruit." A comma separates the subordinate phrase from the rest of the sentence.

Many subordinating conjunctions are a single word. Some, however, consist of several words. We call these "subordinating phrases." They serve precisely the same function as, and are often interchangeable with, one-word subordinating conjunctions. Subordinating conjunctions include:

  • After
  • Although
  • As
  • As if
  • As long as
  • As soon as
  • As though
  • Because
  • Before
  • Even if
  • Even though
  • Even when
  • For as much as
  • If
  • In order that
  • In order to
  • In that
  • Once
  • Provided that
  • Rather than
  • Since
  • Sooner than
  • So that
  • Than
  • That
  • Though
  • Till
  • Unless
  • Until
  • When
  • Whenever
  • Where
  • Wherever
  • While
  • Why

Some subordinate clauses begin with relative pronouns instead of subordinating conjunctions.

The relative pronouns are:
  • Who
  • Whom
  • Which
  • That

Interjections

When written, interjections are fragments that take the form of complete sentences. This practice is acceptable in informal contexts. In some cases, we can avoid this problem by attaching an interjection to the beginning or end of a sentence. We recommend that you avoid interjections in formal writing.

EXAMPLE 1:

Yes, I would love to skip class.

Explanation:
We use the interjection "Yes" to express agreement. "Yes" is attached to the beginning of a sentence rather than left to stand alone.


EXAMPLE 2:

I heard about your award. Congratulations!

Explanation:
The interjection "Congratulations" allows us to colloquially convey a sentiment that could be said with equal accuracy but less enthusiasm as "I congratulate you."


EXAMPLE 3:

Darn!

Explanation:
We express frustration with the interjection "Darn."


Articles


Indefinite Articles

English often requires that articles precede and describe nouns. The definite article "the" refers to a specific, often previously mentioned nouns, while the indefinite articles "a" and "an" refer to unspecified nouns. The indefinite articles are singular and cannot be applied to plural nouns.

We traditionally use "an" before words that begin with a vowel ( "an eagle" or "an idea") or a silent "h" ( "an hour" or "an honor"). We use the word "a" before words beginning with a consonant ( "a sandwich" or "a cookie"). When in doubt, read the sentence aloud and then decide whether "an" or "a" sounds better.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
I need a egg for my cookie recipe.

Revised:
I need an egg for my cookie recipe.

Explanation:
In the first example, the noun "egg" begins with a vowel. We revise by replacing "a" with "an.


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
After a hour, I completed my homework.

Revised:
After an hour, I completed my homework.


EXAMPLE 3:

Original:
I picked up an pen and began writing things down.

Revised:
I picked up a pen and began writing things down.


Unnecessary Articles

We use articles to describe singular, countable nouns. We can't use articles to describe nouns that are plural or uncountable.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
A plants died while we were on vacation.

Revised:
A plant died while we were on vacation.

Explanation:
The noun "plants" is plural, so we can revise by making it singular ("plant").


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
An accommodation isn't available tonight.

Revised:
Accommodation isn't available tonight.

Explanation:
The noun "accommodation" isn't countable, so it shouldn't be preceded by an article such as "an." To revise, we remove the article.


EXAMPLE 3:

Original:
I had cheesecake for a breakfast.

Revised:
I had cheesecake for breakfast.

Explanation:
This is an odd case. "Breakfast" is both countable and singular, yet we don't usually prefix it with an article. Doing so is not incorrect, but may sound odd.


Missing Articles

We use articles before singular, countable nouns. Without articles before these nouns, your prose may sound odd.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
He is friend.

Revised:
He is a friend.

Explanation:
Because "friend" is a countable, singular noun, it requires an article.


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
He is good friend.

Revised:
He is a good friend.

Explanation:
This rule applies even if an adjective prefixes the noun. In this case, add the article before the adjective "good."


EXAMPLE 3:

Original:
Orchid is my favorite flower.

Revised:
The orchid is my favorite flower.

Explanation:
We revise this sentence by adding the definite article "the" before the singular, countable noun "orchid."


Mixed Constructions

Mixed constructions appear when writers don't align the elements of a sentence.

When we're writing, it's easy to forget how a sentence started. The result can be a mixed construction, a sentence where the conclusion doesn't match the beginning.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
Early detection of drug abuse is often treatable.

Revised:
Drug abuse is often treatable when detected early.

Explanation:
The first sentence says that the "detection" is "treatable." However, we don't want to treat the "detection." We want to treat what is detected — drug abuse. The second sentence clarifies this point.


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
The reason I can't turn my homework in is because I didn't complete it.

Revised:
I can't turn my homework in because I didn't complete it.

Explanation:
The first sentence says that "The reason … is because." Using both "reason" and "because" is redundant.


EXAMPLE 3:

Original:
By the time I finished the book was dawn.

Revised 1:
It was dawn by the time I finished the book.

Revised 2:
By the time I finished the book, it was dawn.

Explanation:
The first version starts with an introductory clause. Halfway through, we seem to forget this and finish the sentence as if the introductory clause were the subject. We can revise by adding another subject, "it," which we can position either before or after the dependent clause, "by the time … book."


Wrong Part of Speech

Adjectives modify nouns. They cannot serve as the subject of a sentence, although they can be part of the subject if they're describing it. Adjectives cannot replace nouns and, similarly, nouns cannot replace adjectives.

An infinitive is the basic or root form of a verb. As verbs, infinitives cannot directly take the place of nouns or adjective forms: for instance, we can't substitute the adjective "dry" for the infinitive "to dry" without damaging the grammar of a sentence. Your writing will be clearer if you don't use adjectives, infinitives, verbs, and nouns interchangeably.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
The bookish was over a hundred years old.

Revised:
The book was over a hundred years old.

Explanation:
In the first sentence, we use the adjective "bookish" instead of a noun. We replace "bookish" with its noun equivalent, "book."


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
Think is the foundation of writing.

Revised:
Thinking is the foundation of writing.

Explanation:
The verb "Think" is in its infinitive or base form. To revise, we replaced "think" with its gerund counterpart, "Thinking."


EXAMPLE 3:

Original:
A think paper can be easy to write.

Revised:
A thoughtful paper can be easy to write.

Explanation:
In the first version, we use the infinitive or base form of the verb "think." We revise by replacing "think" with the adjective "thoughtful."


EXAMPLE 4:

Original:
The beauty tree fell down.

Revised:
The beautiful tree fell down.

Explanation:
We use the noun "beauty" when an adjective is required. To revise, we replace "beauty" with the adjective "beautiful."


Parallel Structure

When we list two or more items, we should list them in parallel forms. Readers will more easily comprehend our meaning if we follow this principle, which applies to compared items even if they are not part of a list. Many rhetoricians use this device because it helps them write balanced and understandable sentences.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
Most successful basketball players should be excellent at running and jumping, able to dribble, and good at shooting.

Revised:
Most successful basketball players should be excellent at running, jumping, dribbling, and shooting.

Explanation:
In the first version, we list the qualities of successful basketball players in various forms. In the revision, we have listed them all in the same form.


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
Mary likes hiking, swimming, and to ride a bike.

Revised:
Mary likes hiking, swimming, and biking.

Explanation:
In the first sentence, the things Mary likes are listed as two gerunds ("hiking" and "swimming") and one infinitive ("to ride"). The revision lists all the things Mary likes as gerunds ("hiking," "swimming," and "biking").


EXAMPLE 3:

Original:
Common sense suggests that it is dangerous to be reading and to cross the street at the same time.

Revised:
Common sense suggests that it is dangerous to read and to cross the street as the same time.

Explanation:
The first version lists two items separated by a conjunction ("and"), but doesn't list them in the same format. The revision lists both as infinitives.


EXAMPLE 4:

Original:
Fog was covering either the bay or fog is covering the city.

Revised:
Fog was covering either the bay or the city.

Explanation:
The first version misuses the correlative conjunction, "either … or." We can make it easier for readers to understand correlative conjunctions when their content is parallel. The first version equates and then compares "the bay" with "fog is covering the city." Using parallel structure, the revision compares "the bay" with "the city."


EXAMPLE 5:

Original:
In matters of principle, stand like a rock; swim with the current in matters of taste.

Revised:
"In matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of taste, swim with the current" (Jefferson).

Explanation:
The first sentence is divided into two parts by a semi-colon. The first part begins with a prepositional phrase and ends with an independent clause, while the second part begins with an independent clause and ends with a prepositional phrase (you could think of this structure as a-b-b-a). The original quotation balances these parts by using parallel structure.


EXAMPLE 6:

"This is my answer: not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more" (Shakespeare).


Confused Comparison

There are a lot of ways to compare things, and a lot of words to do it with. It's easy to confuse them.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
The new house is as badly built than the last.

Revised 1:
The new house is as badly built as the last.

Revised 2:
The new house is more badly built than the last.

Explanation:
The original sentence confuses two ways to compare things: "as _ as _" and "more _ than _." To revise, we can pick the more appropriate comparison.


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
I like apples equally as much as oranges.

Revised 1:
I like apples as much as oranges.

Revised 2:
I like apples and oranges equally.

Explanation:
Both "equally" and "as" work as methods of comparison, but not together. We can revise by using one or the other.


EXAMPLE 3:

Original:
They are happy than they were before.

Revised:
They are happier than they were before.

Explanation:
We can use "than" to compare two things. But when comparing adjectives (such as "happy"), we must convert them into their comparative form.


Negatives

Negatives are words that express negation. Common negations are "no," "not," and "none."

Double Negative

Double negatives occur when we use two negatives instead of one. When we use double negatives, we can end up saying the opposite of what we intend.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
They hardly never eat healthy food.

Revision 1:
They hardly ever eat healthy food.

Revision 2:
They never eat healthy food.

Explanation:
Here, the original uses two negatives, "hardly" and "never." Combined, they give the sentence a meaning very different from what the writer intended. We can revise by using only one, rather than both, of these negatives.


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
Nobody told me nothing about it.

Revised:
Nobody told me anything about it.

Explanation:
This isn't exactly a double negative, but it is a common mistake made when the writer accidentally types "nothing" in place of the intended "anything."


Changing to Negative

Adding negation to a sentence can be challenging, as can removing it. A good guideline is to remember that adding negation doesn't always mean simply adding a word; sometimes, you need to remove a word or use a different one altogether.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
I don't will eat bread.

Revised 1:
I don't eat bread.

Revised 2:
I will eat bread.

Explanation:
The original sentence is a mishmash of a negated and a non-negated sentence. To revise, we can remove the unneeded word.


Wrong Negative

Adding negatives doesn't mean you need to repeat verbs. In fact, repeated verbs can make your sentence convoluted.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
Let's don't eat at that restaurant.

Revised:
Let's not eat at that restaurant.

Explanation:
Because "let" is a verb, this sentence doesn't require the verb "do." We can revise by writing out the contraction "don't" as "do not," and then removing "do."


Numbers and Numerals

You can treat numbers and numerals much as you would pronouns or nouns: make sure the number agrees with the rest of the sentence.


Unneeded Plural Numeral

Treat numbers and numerals as you would nouns and pronouns. Use articles with singular, countable numbers and don't use articles with plural, uncountable numbers. As with all words, though, there are some exceptions.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
The recipe calls for two dozens eggs.

Revised:
The recipe calls for two dozen eggs. Explanation:
While it would seem that numbers greater than one would require the plural tense, not all do. "Dozen," though prefixed with "two," does not require the plural form.


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
A hundreds people saw the accident. Revised:
A hundred people saw the accident.

Explanation:
Although "hundred" involves more than one person, it shouldn't be plural here.


EXAMPLE 3: Original:
Hundred people saw the accident.

Revised 1:
A hundred people saw the accident.

Revised 2:
Two hundred people saw the accident.

Explanation:
Numerals such as "hundred" must be preceded by an article (such as "a") or by other numbers (such as "one" or "two").


Invalid Date or Time

Did you check that the day matches the date?

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
It was Monday, October 17, 2014.

Revision:
It was Friday, October 17, 2014.

Explanation:
October 17, 2014 wasn't a Monday, it was a Friday.


Typos, Misspelled Words, and Misused Words


Typos

Before you declare your paper ready-to-be-read, it's a good idea to make sure you've caught and removed any typos that might have made their way into your work while you were drafting and revising.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
Did you eat hte cake?

Revised:
Did you eat the cake?

Explanation:
"Hte" isn't a word, and it's a common typo of "the," so we've flagged this as a typo.


Combining and Separating Words

When two words are used together often enough, they sometimes can be written as one word. This doesn't apply to all words, however.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
Other wise, I'd go.

Revised:
Otherwise, I'd go.

Explanation:
We can combine the words "other" and "wise" to create the word "otherwise."


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
Allot of people went.

Revised:
A lot of people went.

Explanation:
The words "a" and "lot" aren't usually combined. Instead of writing "allot," we can revise using these words separately.


Homophones

Homophones are words that sound alike but have different meanings. Because of their identical sound, it's easy to confuse homophones and end up using the wrong word.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
Sense it was cloudy, I took an umbrella.

Revised:
Since it was cloudy, I took an umbrella.

Explanation:
"Sense" and "since" sound identical but differ in meaning. "Sense" means ways in which you perceive the world, while "since" is an adverb used to describe time.


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
The construction sight blocked the road.

Revised:
The construction site blocked the road.

Explanation:
"Sight" is what you see with, while "site" is a place or location. They sound the same, but mean different things.


Not the Word You Meant?

Many word have similar meanings, but often there's a particular word that suits the context you describe better than any other. When you use a word that doesn't seem quite right, WriteLab will point it out so you can make sure it's the word you intended to use.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
They said me to do it.

Revised:
They told me to do it.

Explanation:
"Said" and "told" have similar meanings, but they aren't interchangeable.


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
Let's begin without further adieu.

Revision:
Let's begin without further ado.

Explanation:
"Adieu" is an expression of farewell; "ado" means difficulty or confusion.


EXAMPLE 3:

Original:
It's obvious for me.

Revised:
It's obvious to me.

Explanation:
"To" and "for" are both prepositions, but have distinct meanings.


Word Used Incorrectly: Replace with Different Form

There are many words that recur in different forms, according to how we use them. "Economy," for instance, is a noun, but its verb form is "economize" and its adjective form "economical." These different forms are connected; they share the same root, sound similar, and have similar meanings. They are not, however, interchangeable. We can't use "economy" as a verb, nor can we use "economize" as a noun.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
They are know as frequent fliers.

Revised:
They are known as frequent fliers.

Explanation:
"Know" is the correct word within this context, but it's the incorrect form. We can revise with "known."


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
Humans can't breath underwater.

Revised:
Humans can't breathe underwater.

Explanation:
"Breath" is a noun, while "breathe" is its verb form. Because we're using the word as a verb here, it's important to use its verb form.


Word Used Incorrectly: Delete

Sometimes we use a word that we don't need. When this is the case, we can simply delete the word.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
It's an another day.

Revised:
It's another day.

Explanation:
The word "an" is unnecessary here, so we can remove it.


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
Most of people eat three meals a day.

Revised:
Most people eat three meals a day.

Explanation:
The word "of" isn't needed.


Missing Words

When you're writing quickly, it's easy to forget to type a word or two. This is no problem in your drafts, but, when you're polishing your paper, it's a good time to make sure your sentences have all the words you originally intended them to have.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
I quickly the room.

Revised:
I quickly left the room.

Explanation:
A verb is missing from the original sentence. To revise, we can add a verb, such as "left."


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
I quickly left the.

Revised:
I quickly left the room.

Explanation:
Here, the sentence ends abruptly at "the." To revise, we can add a noun such as "room" to the end.


EXAMPLE 3:

Original:
This is an expensive.

Revision:
This is an expensive lunch.

Explanation:
This sentence is missing a noun at the end. To revise, we can add "lunch."


Eggcorns

Sometimes when we hear a common word or phrase, we mishear a word or mistake it for a similar sounding word. These words often sound right, even when they're not, so they can be difficult to spot, especially in your own writing.


Original:
If you could of seen it, you'd agree.

Revised:
If you could have seen it, you'd agree.

Explanation:
The correct word here is "have," not "of," yet "of" might not sound glaringly incorrect.


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
Every once and awhile, I skip breakfast.

Revised:
Every once in awhile, I skip breakfast.

Explanation:
This phrase demands a preposition ("in") rather than the conjunction "and."


EXAMPLE 3:

Original:
They were to the manor born.

Revision:
They were to the manner born.

Explanation:
This phrase uses the word "manner," not "manor."


Non-Standard Phrase

It's easy to forget or misremember common phrases. You might even create our own version of the phrase – which is fine, so long as you're aware of what you're doing.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
They cook as well or better than I.

Revised
They cook as well as or better than I. Explanation: If you say this phrase quickly, you might not notice that it's missing an "as."


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
You reap what you sew.

Revised:
You reap what you sow.

Explanation:
The original phrase includes "sow," not "sew," but these words are commonly confused because they sound much the same and "sew" is more common than the archaic "sow."


Punctuation

Punctuation is composed of marks and signs that indicate how to read and distinguish sentences and their parts. Good punctuation can enhance or even add to a sentence's meaning.


Missing Comma

Commas tell readers when to pause. We can use them to indicate when a clause or phrase begins or ends, which can make complicated sentences simpler.


EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
The orchid is a delicate plant; i.e. it dies easily.

Revised:
The orchid is a delicate plant; i.e., it dies easily.

Explanation: We need to use a comma after phrases such as i.e. or e.g.


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
In addition there were large bats.

Revised:
In addition, there were large bats.

Explanation: Because "in addition" is an opening phrase, it should be followed by a comma.


EXAMPLE 3:

Original:
They ate the cookie which was the last one left.

Revised:
They ate the cookie, which was the last one left.

Explanation:
Because "which" starts a restrictive phrase, we need to use a comma before it begins.


Extra Comma

While commas are often necessary, there are times when they're unneeded, and even times when they shouldn't be used.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
It happened in October, 1915.

Revised:
It happened in October 1915.

Explanation:
"October 2015" acts as one phrase, so you don't need a comma between the words.


Oxford Commas

Oxford (or serial) commas are used when you have a series of three or more items. Place the comma after the word preceding "and."

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
There were apples, pears and oranges.

Revised:
There were apples, pears, and oranges.

Explanation:
To revise, we added a comma after "pears."


Apostrophes

Apostrophes are essential, but they're easy to misuse. Here are a few common ways apostrophes are used and misused.

One way to use an apostrophe is in place of missing words. For instance, when you use a contraction, you're (you are) combining two words with an apostrophe. When you do this, there's no need to write the second word after the contraction because it's already present within the contraction.

This is tricky, though, because you're sure to come across words that look like contractions but are not. For instance, the word "let's" (as in "Let's get lunch") is a contraction of "let" and "us" and so needs an apostrophe. So writing "Lets get lunch" is wrong. Yet while the contraction "let's" always needs an apostrophe, the present tense form of the verb "let," "lets," doesn't. Writing "It let's me save money" is wrong.

Another way to use an apostrophe is to indicate possession.

There is one case where a contraction overlaps with the possessive. Use "its" to indicate possession (this is the only "-s" possessive not requiring an apostrophe) and use "it's" to indicate the words "it is."

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
You're are annoying.

Revised 1:
You're annoying.

Revised 2:
You are annoying.

Explanation:
Because "are" is already present in the contraction "you're," there's no need to use it after "you're."


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
I havent seen him.

Revised:
I haven't seen him.

Explanation:
Because "haven't" is a contraction of "have not," we need to use an apostrophe in place of the missing words.


EXAMPLE 3:

Original:
Its hot outside.

Revised:
It's hot outside.

Explanation:
Because we're using the contraction of "it is," we should spell "its" with an apostrophe here: "it's."


EXAMPLE 4:

Original:
It's name is Maurice.

Revised:
Its name is Maurice.

Explanation:
Because we're using the possessive form of "it," we shouldn't use an apostrophe.


Unnecessary Punctuation

We use periods to end sentences and commas to indicate pauses. You need use only one of each; you'll never need to use two consecutive periods or two consecutive commas.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
They ate quickly..

Revised:
They ate quickly.

Explanation:
We should use only one period at the end of sentences.


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
They ate apples, pears,, and oranges.

Revised:
They ate apples, pears, and oranges.

Explanation:
We should use only one comma after "pears" rather than two consecutive ones.


Formatting

Formatting gives your writing a clean, uniform look – and it helps readers understand what you mean, too.


Unfinished Formatting

Some punctuation comes in pairs. If you use one quotation mark, you must use another. The same goes for parentheses and brackets.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
"I'm hungry, he said.

Revised:
"I'm hungry," he said.

Explanation:
Use quotations marks in pairs.


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
There was (or so I'm told no reason to do that. Revised:
There was (or so I'm told) no reason to do that.

Explanation:
Parentheses should also be used in pairs.


Extra Spaces

Some writers use two whitespaces between sentences. This is optional, however, and in all other cases, you need only one whitespace.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
I bought.apples.

Revised:
I bought apples.

Explanation:
We need only one whitespace between words, not two.


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
I bought apples, oranges., and pears.

Revised:
I bought apples, oranges, and pears.

Explanation:
We shouldn't use whitespaces before commas.


EXAMPLE 3:

Original:
I bought fruit (i..e., healthy food).

Revised:
I bought fruit (i.e., healthy food).

Explanation:
You don't need whitespace between the letters of an abbreviation.


Missing Spaces

Remember to use spaces between sentences and words.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
"I love oranges!"he said.

Revised:
"I love oranges!".he said.

Explanation:
We should use spaces between words.


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
I love oranges.I also love apples.

Revised:
I love oranges..I also love apples.

Explanation:
Use spaces between sentences.


Capitalization

We capitalize the opening letter of a sentence. We also capitalize the word "I."

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
they went for a walk.

Revised:
They went for a walk.

Explanation:
Always capitalize the first letter of a sentence.


EXAMPLE 2:

Original:
It was, i noticed, quite windy.

Revised:
It was, I noticed, quite windy.

Explanation:
Always capitalize the word "I."


Numerals Starting Sentences

When you start a sentence with a number, write out the number.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
10 days later, I got the email.

Revised:
Ten days later, I got the email.

Explanation:
Because "10" starts the sentence, it should be written out as "ten."


Positioning $

Place the dollar sign before, not after, the number it describes.

EXAMPLE 1:

Original:
I demanded 100$.

Revision:
I demanded $100.

Explanation:
The dollar sign should precede the number, not follow it.