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English Grammar

Introduction
This is just a crash course. Im not going to
attempt to teach you everything about grammar.
If youve probably been in school for 10 to 14
years, so hopefully you have a decent
foundation in the English language and its
usage. So, todays lesson will focus only on the
grammar issues.
Why study grammar?
Correctness. Poor grammar turns off
readers.

Consistency that requires rules.

Writing should be clear. You know what


you mean, but do others?
O RLY?
Brushing up on grammar is particularly
important for professionals. If you were
born after 1985, you probably spend a lot
of time communicating online.
Consequently, you may have developed
some bad writing habits. Writing that is
acceptable in e-mails to your friends or on
Facebook Wall posts is not suitable for this
english class. SRSLY, dood.
One more reason:
You wont be tested on this class, but you
will lose points on your tests if you make
grammatical mistakes.
Overview of todays lesson:

1) Three tips that will instantly improve


your writing skills.

2) 20 common grammatical mistakes.


So, lets begin

First, a few
writing tips
1. Mix up sentence length
Experienced professionals use a variety of
sentences to make their writing interesting
and lively. Too many simple sentences, for
example, will sound choppy and immature
while too many long sentences will be
difficult to read and hard to understand.
Simple sentences
A simple sentence, also called an independent
clause, contains a subject and a verb, and it
expresses a complete thought. In the examples
below, the subjects are underlined and the verbs
are italicized.

Examples:
a) Some students like to study in the mornings.
b) Juan and Arturo play football every afternoon.
c) Alicia goes to the library and studies every
day.
Note:
The three previous examples are all
simple sentences. Note that sentence B
contains a compound subject, and
sentence C contains a compound
verb. Simple sentences, therefore,
contain a subject and verb and express a
complete thought, but they can also
contain a compound subjects or verbs.
Compound sentences
A compound sentence contains two independent clauses
joined by a coordinator. The coordinators are as follows:
for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. (Helpful hint: The first letter
of each of the coordinators spells FANBOYS.) Except for
very short sentences, coordinators are always preceded
by a comma. In the examples below, the coordinators
are underlined.

Examples:
a) I tried to speak Spanish, and my friend tried to speak
English.
b) Alejandro played football, so Maria went shopping.
c) Alejandro played football, for Maria went shopping.
Note:
The previous three sentences are
compound sentences. Each sentence
contains two independent clauses, and
they are joined by a coordinator with a
comma preceding it.
Compound sentence
A complex sentence has an independent clause joined
by one or more dependent clauses. A complex sentence
always has a subordinator such as because, since, after,
although, or when or a relative pronoun such as that,
who, or which.

Examples:
a) When he handed in his homework, he forgot to give
the teacher the last page.
b) The teacher returned the homework after she noticed
the error.
c) The students are studying because they have a test
tomorrow.
d) After they finished studying, Juan and Maria went to
the movies.
e) Juan and Maria went to the movies after they finished
studying.
Note:
When a complex sentence begins with a
subordinator such as sentences A and D,
a comma is required at the end of the
dependent clause. When the independent
clause begins the sentence with
subordinators in the middle as in
sentences B, C, and E, no comma is
required. If a comma is placed before the
subordinators in sentences B, C, and E, it
is wrong.
2. Use pronouns
Basic definition of a pronoun: it takes the
place of a noun.

Nouns are pretty basic parts of speech,


and we like them (because they're easy to
identify), so why do we need pronouns at
all?
Heres why. Below is a sentence that does
NOT replace nouns with pronouns:

Because Dr. Carter's mother faints at the sight of


medical instruments, Dr. Carter has to drug Dr. Carter's
mother secretly every time Dr. Carter takes Dr. Carter's
mother's temperature.

Obviously, this sentence is WAY too long and


cumbersome and could use some help with pronouns.
How would you fix it? Heres how:

Because Dr. Carter's mother faints at the sight of


medical instruments, he has to drug her secretly every
time he takes her temperature.
Different kinds of pronouns
Personal (stands in for a person or thing)
ex.: He is a fabulous specimen of the
modern-day iconoclast.

Possessive (shows possession) ex.: His


hair is bright purple.

Intensive (emphasizes using a "self" word)


ex.: He has made a pact with himself
never to wear natural fibers.
Reflexive (refers to self as an object;
bouncing back) ex.: He pierced his nose
himself.

Relative (relates to antecedent, introduces


clause) ex.: This is what he told his boss,
who has implemented a restrictive dress
code.

Demonstrative (points out) ex.: These are


the issues of their disagreement.
Indefinite (noncommittal; refers to no one
in particular) ex.: No one wants to step in
to settle it.

Reciprocal (involves an exchange) ex.:


Their respect for each other has kept them
from becoming violent.

Interrogative (poses questions) ex.: What


will happen now?
Pronoun agreement
In addition to bringing benefits, pronouns
also bring some potential pitfalls. When
we're using pronouns, we have to be sure
they "agree" with what they stand in for; in
other words, they have to represent
accurately what it is they have replaced.
Pronoun agreement
A plural antecedent (that's the word the
pronoun is replacing) requires a plural
pronoun. A singular antecedent requires a
singular pronoun. A singular subject
requires a singular verb. A plural subject
requires a plural verb. Confusion results
when singular and plural nouns are used
interchangeably: "Springfield is having a
good baseball season." But "The Isotopes
are having a good baseball season."
Two confusing cases
1. Collective nouns such as team or committee can
take either singular or plural verbs and pronouns.
Generally, these should be treated as singular,
requiring singular pronouns and verbs. The
exception should be if the members of the
collective unit aren't acting as a unit.

For example: "The couple were fighting regularly


before their separation." This is again a time when
you should consider rewriting because it doesn't
sound right: Instead, write: "Tony and Carmella
were fighting regularly before their separation.
Two confusing cases
2. Some compound subjects might appear
plural but actually be singular because the
two elements become a single unit:

"Peanut butter and jelly is Bart's favorite


sandwich."
Who and Whom
A general rule is to use who as the subject
of a verb. Otherwise, use whom. (Same
with whoever and whomever).
Who vs. Whom
Two ways to help you determine which to use:

1) Find the verb or verbs. If the pronoun does the


action of a verb, it's who or whoever.

2) Rewrite the sentence, using he or him in place


of who or whom, and rephrasing the sentence
appropriately. For instance, "Who do you trust?"
may not sound wrong to you. But "Do you trust
he?" certainly does. You can see that it would be
"Do you trust him?" so you know it should be
"Whom do you trust?"
Possessive Pronouns
The rule here is simple: Possessive
pronouns don't use apostrophes. His,
hers, whose, yours, theirs, ours, its. If it's a
possessive, it's spelled without an
apostrophe.
Possessive Pronouns
The confusion here results because some contractions,
which do use apostrophes, are spelled the same as some
possessives, except for the apostrophe. Whose and theirs
sometimes end up with incorrect apostrophes, but the
worst offender is its.
Take the last sentence in the previous paragraph. Spelled
out, it would be: If it is a possessive, it is spelled without
an apostrophe. In both instances, it's is a contraction, so
both need apostrophes.
To decide whether you should use the apostrophe, ask
whether you can substitute it is or it has. For instance, "It's
really important to write clearly" is the same as "It is really
important to write clearly." But "I have trouble matching a
pronoun with it's antecedent" looks really silly when you
substitute it is or it has. So it should be "I have trouble
matching a pronoun with its antecedent."
3. Writing in active voice
In journalism and in most nonscientific writing
situations active voice is preferable to passive
for your sentences. Even in scientific writing,
overuse of passive voice or use of passive voice
in long and complicated sentences can cause
readers to lose interest or to become confused.
Sentences in active voice are generally though
not always clearer and more direct than those
in passive voice. Some examples follow
Passive (indirect):

Active (direct):
Passive (indirect):

Active (direct):
Passive (indirect):

Active (direct):
Another reason writers should
use active voice:
Sentences in active voice are also
more concise than those in
passive voice because fewer
words are required to express
action in active voice than in
passive. For example
Passive (indirect):

Active (direct):
Passive (indirect):

Active (direct):
Changing passive to active
If you want to change a passive-voice
sentence to active voice, find the agent in
a "by the..." phrase, or consider carefully
who or what is performing the action
expressed in the verb. Make that agent the
subject of the sentence, and change the
verb accordingly. Sometimes you will need
to infer the agent from the surrounding
sentences which provide context. Some
examples follow
Passive (indirect):

Agent:
most of the class

Active (direct):
Passive (indirect):

Agent:
agent not specified; most likely
agents such as "the researchers"

Active (direct):
Passive (indirect):

Agent:
the CIA director and
his close advisors

Active (direct):
Passive (indirect):

Agent:
agent not specified; most
likely agents such as "we"

Active (direct):
Some exceptions
Active voice is usually, but not always, the
way to go. In each of these following
examples, the passive voice is useful for
highlighting the action and what is acted
upon instead of the agent.
Passive (indirect):

Agent:
The presiding officer

Active (direct):
Passive (indirect):

Agent:

The leaders

Active (direct):
Passive (indirect):

Agent:

The scientists

Active (direct):
Some Suggestions
1. Avoid starting a sentence in active voice
and then shifting to passive. For example:

Unnecessary shift in voice Revised

Many customers in the


Many customers in the restaurant
restaurant found the coffee
found the coffee too bitter to drink,
too bitter to drink, but it
but they still ordered it frequently.
was still ordered frequently.

He tried to act cool when he


He tried to act cool when he slipped
slipped in the puddle, but
in the puddle, but the other students
he was still laughed at by
still laughed at him.
the other students.
Some Suggestions
2. Avoid dangling modifiers caused by the use of passive voice. A
dangling modifier is a word or phrase that modifies a word not clearly
stated in the sentence. Well discuss this in more detail later.

Dangling modifier with passive voice Revised

To save time, the paper was written on a


To save time, Kristin wrote the
computer. (Who was saving time?
paper on a computer.
The paper?)

Seeking to lay off workers without


Seeking to lay off workers
taking the blame, consultants were
without taking the blame,
hired to break the bad news. Who was
the CEO hired consultants
seeking to lay off workers? The
to break the bad news.
consultants?)
Now on to Part 2

Common grammatical
mistakes
Most Commonly Occurring Errors

Would grammar be as daunting as we tell


ourselves if we knew this:

One study revealed that 20 different


mistakes constitute 91.5 percent of all
errors in written work done by students.

So, if you can master these 20 errors, then


you are nearly there.
Most of these errors you can spot.
It requires you to proofread your
articles and to

F CUS
1. Missing comma after
introductory phrases.

For example: After the devastation of


the siege of Leningrad the Soviets
were left with the task of rebuilding
their population as well as their city.

A comma should be placed after


"Leningrad."
2. Vague pronoun reference

For example: The boy and his


father knew that he was in
trouble.

Who is in trouble? The boy? His


Father? Some other person?
3. Missing comma in
compound sentence.

For example: Wordsworth spent a


good deal of time in the Lake
District with his sister Dorothy and
the two of them were rarely apart.

Comma should be placed before


the "and."
4. Wrong word.

Beware of homonyms. These are common


words that sound alike, but mean different
things. For example:

For example: After he laid the money on


the table, you could see the affect on there
demeanor.
4. Wrong word.
Accept, Except error:
Accept is a verb meaning to receive.
Except is usually a preposition meaning
excluding. I will accept all the packages
except that one. Except is also a verb
meaning to exclude. Please except that
item from the list.
4. Wrong word.
Affect, Effect:
Affect is usually a verb meaning to
influence. Effect is usually a noun
meaning result. The drug did not affect the
disease, and it had several adverse side
effects. Effect can also be a verb meaning
to bring about. Only the president can
effect such a dramatic change.
4. Wrong word.
Allusion, Illusion:
An Allusion is an indirect reference. An
illusion is a misconception or false
impression. Did you catch my allusion to
Shakespeare? Mirrors give the room an
illusion of depth.
4. Wrong word.
Capital, Capitol:
Capital refers to a city, capitol to a building
where lawmakers meet. Capital also refers
to wealth or resources. The capitol has
undergone extensive renovations. The
residents of the state capital protested the
development plans.
4. Wrong word.
Principle, Principal:
Principal is a noun meaning the head of a
school or an organization or a sum of
money. Principle is a noun meaning a
basic truth or law. The principal taught us
many important life principles.
4. Wrong word.
Lie, Lay:
Lie is an intransitive verb meaning to
recline or rest on a surface. Its principal
parts are lie, lay, lain. Lay is a transitive
verb meaning to put or place. Its principal
parts are lay, laid.
4. Wrong word.
To, Too, Two:
To is a preposition; too is an adverb; two is
a number.

For example:
Too many of your shots slice to the left,
but the last two were right on the mark.
4. Wrong word.

its, its error

"Its" is a possessive pronoun.

"It's" is a contraction for "it is."


4. Wrong word.
There, Their, Theyre error

There is an adverb specifying place; it is also an


expletive. Adverb: Sylvia is lying there
unconscious. Expletive: There are two plums
left.

Their is a possessive pronoun. They're is a


contraction of they are. For example: Fred and
Jane finally washed their car. They're later than
usual today.
4. Wrong word
Than, Then error

Than is a conjunction used in comparisons; then


is an adverb denoting time. That pizza is more
than I can eat. Tom laughed, and then we
recognized him.

Hints:
1) Than is used to compare; both words have
the letter a in them.
2) Then tells when; both are spelled the same,
except for the first letter
4. Wrong word.
Your/Youre error

Your is a possessive pronoun; you're is a


contraction of you are. For example:

You're going to catch a cold if you don't wear


your coat.

Hint: Sound out you are in the sentence. If it


works in the sentence it can be written as
you're. If it sounds awkward, it is probably
supposed to be Your.
5. No comma in nonrestrictive
relative clauses.
Here you need to distinguish between a
restrictive (essential) clause and a
nonrestrictive (non-essential) clause.
Consider the sentence, "My brother in the
red shirt likes ice cream."
If you have TWO brothers, then the
information about the shirt is restrictive
(essential), in that it is necessary to
defining WHICH brother likes ice cream.
5. No comma in nonrestrictive
relative clauses.
Restrictive clauses, because they are
essential to identifying the noun, use no
commas.
However, if you have ONE brother, then
the information about the shirt is not
necessary to identifying your brother.
It is non-restrictive (non-essential) and,
therefore, requires commas: "My brother,
in the red shirt, likes ice cream."
6. Wrong/missing inflected ends.
"Inflected ends" refers to a category of
grammatical errors that you might know
individually by other names - subject-verb
agreement, who/whom confusion, and so
on.
The term "inflected endings" refers to
something you already understand: adding
a letter or syllable to the end of a word
changes its grammatical function in the
sentence.
6. Wrong/missing inflected ends.
For example, adding "ed" to a verb shifts that
verb from present to past tense. Adding an "s" to
a noun makes that noun plural. A common
mistake involving wrong or missing inflected
ends is in the usage of who/whom.
"Who" is a pronoun with a subjective case;
"whom" is a pronoun with an objective case. We
say "Who is the speaker of the day?" because
"who" in this case refers to the subject of the
sentence.
But we say, "To whom am I speaking?"
because, here, the pronoun is an object of the
preposition "to."
7. Wrong/missing preposition
Occasionally prepositions will throw
you. Consider, for example which is
better: "different from," or "different
than?

Though both are used widely,


"different from" is considered
grammatically correct.
7. Wrong/missing preposition

The same debate surrounds the


words "toward" and "towards."
Though both are used, "toward" is
preferred in writing.
7. Wrong/missing preposition
Another example: He was arrested for
robbing the bank and killing the teller.

When in doubt, check a handbook


in this case the AP Stylebook.
8. Comma splice
A comma splice occurs when two
independent clauses are joined only
with a comma.

For example: "Picasso was


profoundly affected by the war in
Spain, it led to the painting of great
masterpieces like Guernica."
8. Comma splice
A comma splice also occurs when a
comma is used to divide a subject from its
verb.

For example: "The young Picasso felt


stifled in art school in Spain, and wanted
to leave."

(The subject "Picasso" is separated from


one of its verbs
9. Possessive apostrophe error
Sometimes apostrophes are incorrectly left
out; other times, they are incorrectly put in
(her's, their's, etc.)

For example, can you spot the error here:


Its about time you showed up for class.
10. Tense shift
Be careful to stay in a consistent
tense.

Too often writers move from past to


present tense without good reason.
The reader will find this annoying. For
example
10. Tense shift
While Jones was taking a bath, the
thief had entered through the
bedroom window.

While Jones was taking a bath, the


thief was entering through the
bedroom window.
11. Unnecessary shift in person

Don't shift from "I" to "we" or from


"one" to "you" unless you have a
rationale for doing so.

For example
11. Unnecessary shift in person
WRONG: In doing chemistry experiments,
one should read the directions carefully.
Otherwise you may have an explosion.

RIGHT: In doing chemistry experiments,


one should read the directions carefully.
Otherwise one may have an explosion.
12. Sentence Fragments
Silly things, to be avoided. Unless,
like here, you are using them to
achieve a certain effect.

Remember: sentences traditionally


have both subjects and verbs. Don't
violate this convention carelessly.
13. Wrong tense or verb form
Though many people generally understand how
to build tenses, sometimes they use the wrong
tense, saying, for example, "In the evenings, I
like to lay on the couch and watch TV"

"Lay" in this instance is the past tense of the


verb, "to lie.

The sentence should read: "In the evenings, I


like to lie on the couch and watch TV."
14. Subject-verb agreement
This gets tricky when you are using
collective nouns or pronouns and you
think of them as plural nouns. For
example:

"The committee wants [not want] a


resolution to the problem."
14. Subject-verb agreement

Mistakes like this also occur when


your verb is far from your subject.

For example, "The media, who has all


the power in this nation and abuses it
consistently, uses its influence for ill
more often than good."
15. Missing comma in a series
Whenever you list things, use a comma.

You'll find a difference of opinion as to


whether the next-to-last noun (the noun
before the "and") requires a comma.
("Apples, oranges, pears, and
bananas...") AP Stylebook says no!
15. Missing comma in a series
WRONG: For breakfast this morning, I had
toast, milk, fruit and bacon and eggs.

RIGHT: For breakfast this morning, I had


toast, milk, fruit, bacon and eggs.
16. Pronoun agreement error
Many people have a problem with pronoun
agreement.

They will write a sentence like "Everyone


is entitled to their opinion.

The problem is, "everyone" is a singular


pronoun. You will have to use "his" or
"her."
17. Unnecessary commas with
restrictive clauses
Study the explanation for number 5.
18. Run-on, fused sentence
Run-on sentences are sentences that
run on forever, they are sentences
that ought to have been two or even
three sentences but the writer didn't
stop to sort them out, leaving the
reader feeling exhausted by the
sentence's end which is too long in
coming. (Get the picture?)
18. Run-on, fused sentence
For example:

Joe was a lead guitarist for a band it was


an emo band as you know emo describes
a subgenre of hardcore punk that
originated in the Washington, D.C.
18. Run-on, fused sentence
Handy rule: If your sentence is over 20
words long, consider rewriting it more
succinctly or breaking it up into two
sentences.
18. Run-on, fused sentence
Fused sentences occur when two
independent clauses are put together
without a comma, semi-colon, or
conjunction.

For example: "Researchers investigated


several possible vaccines for the virus
then they settled on one"
19. Dangling, misplaced modifier
Modifiers are any adjectives, adverbs, phrases,
or clauses that a writer uses to elaborate on
something.

Modifiers, when used wisely, enhance your


writing.

But if they are not well-considered - or if they are


put in the wrong places in your sentences - the
results can be less than eloquent.
19. Dangling, misplaced modifier
Consider, for example, this sentence:
"The professor wrote a paper on sexual
harassment in his office."

Is the sexual harassment going on in the


professor's office? Or is his office the
place where the professor is writing?
19. Dangling, misplaced modifier
One hopes that the latter is true. If it is,
then the original sentence contains a
misplaced modifier and should be re-
written accordingly:

"In his office, the professor wrote a paper


on sexual harassment.

Always put your modifiers next to the


nouns they modify.
19. Dangling, misplaced modifier
Dangling modifiers are a different kind of
problem.

They intend to modify something that isn't


in the sentence.

Consider this: "As a young girl, my father


baked bread and gardened."
19. Dangling, misplaced modifier
The writer means to say, "When I was a
young girl, my father baked bread and
gardened."

The modifying phrase "as a young girl"


refers to some noun not in the sentence.

It is, therefore, a dangling modifier.


19. Dangling, misplaced modifier
Other dangling modifiers are more difficult
to spot, however.
Consider this sentence: "Walking through
the woods, my heart ached."
Is it your heart that is walking through the
woods?
It is more accurate (and more
grammatical) to say, "Walking through the
woods, I felt an ache in my heart."
Here you avoid the dangling modifier.
19. Dangling, misplaced modifier
Can you spot the errors below?

Having been thrown in the air, the dog caught


the stick.
Smashed flat by a passing truck, Big Dog sniffed
at what was left of a half-eaten hamburger.
Although nearly finished, we left the play early
because we were worried about our sick cat.
Walking to college on a subzero morning, my left
ear became frozen.
19.1 Squinting Modifiers
A squinting modifier, also called a two-way
modifier, is an ambiguously placed modifier that
can modify either the word before it or the word
after it.
In other words, it is "squinting" in both directions
at the same time:
[WRONG] Defining your terms clearly
strengthens your argument. (does defining
"clearly strengthen" or does "defining clearly"
strengthen?)
[RIGHT] Defining your terms will clearly
strengthen your argument. OR A clear
definition of your terms strengthens your
argument.
19.1 Squinting Modifiers
Can you spot the errors below?

Students who miss classes frequently fail the


course.

The victims who swallowed the antidote rapidly


recovered.

He said tonight he'd call me.

Kevin's mom asked him when he finished his


homework to take out the trash.
20. Who, Which, That
Do not use which to refer to persons. Use
who instead. That, though generally used
to refer to things, may be used to refer to a
group or class of people.

For example:
I just saw a boy who was wearing a yellow
banana costume. I have to go to math
next, which is my hardest class. Where is
the book that I was reading?
The end.

Remember, this was just a crash course in


grammar. If you want to master grammar,
you must work at it on a regular basis.
There is no way to acquire grammatical
skills without practice. Practice, practice,
practice!
Thank You
Sources

Online Writing Lab at Purdue University and Purdue


University
Dartmouth Writing Program
Ronald Rodgers, journalism professor at University of
Florida
Steve Buttry, editor of the Cedar Rapids Gazette
The Emory University Writing Center
Erlyn Baack, director of ESLbee.com
Bob Baker, author of Newsthinking and former Los
Angeles Times editor
A Writers Reference by Diana Hacker
Random House Unabridged Dictionary
John E. Mcintyre, copy desk chief, The Baltimore Sun