Grammar Girl Presents the Ultimate Writing Guide for Students

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  • Edition: 1st
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  • Copyright: 2011-07-05
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

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Here is a complete and comprehensive guide to all things grammar from Grammar Girl, a.k.a. Mignon Fogarty, whose popular podcasts have been downloaded over twenty million times and whose first book, Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing,was a New York Times bestseller. For beginners to more advanced students, this guide covers it all: the parts of speech, sentences, and punctuation are all explained clearly and concisely with the warmth, wit, and accessibility Grammar Girl is known for. Pop quizzes are scattered throughout to reinforce the explanations, as well as Grammar Girl's trademark Quick and Dirty Tips--easy and fun memory tricks to help with those challenging rules. Complete with a writing style chapter and a guide to the different kinds of writing--everything from school papers to letter writing to e-mails--this guide is sure to become the one-stop, essential book on every student's desk.

Author Biography

Mignon Fogarty is the creator of Grammar Girl and the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network. Her popular podcasts have been downloaded over 20 million times. She is also the author of the bestselling Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing and The Grammar Devotional. She lives in Reno, Nevada.

Table of Contents

Introduction Grammar Schmammarp. 1
Parts of Speechp. 3
Sentenced for Lifep. 55
Punch Up Your Punctuationp. 91
Quick and Dirty Tipsp. 157
Your Right to Writep. 209
Appendixp. 255
Quick and Dirty Grammar at a Glancep. 275
Glossaryp. 279
Bibliographyp. 283
Acknowledgmentsp. 285
Indexp. 287
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.


Grammar Girl Presents the Ultimate Writing Guide for Students
Chapter One
Parts of Speech
IN THESE NEXTfew chapters, think of me as your grammar guide, intent on demystifying grammar. I'm a practical person--I've given people batteries and socks as birthday presents. That is what I want to give you, the things everyone will use--the batteries and socks of writing.
In order to do that, we need a common language between the professionals and us. If I quickly spewed out terms likeantecedents,future progressive tense, andsubjunctive verbs, you'd probably run away screaming, but you do need to know some of these terms and what they mean. I promise to explain these words (and their usefulness) and, if I can, give you other words to use in their place.
To begin, you need to know the parts of speech, the function of different groups of words. In Chapter Two, you'll use this knowledge to put together sentences. After that, punctuation. Then the world is your oyster.
Or your pizza.
I prefer pizza.
Anounis a person, place, or thing. Things can be concrete, like rocks, or abstract ideas, like courage or purpose. Nouns are divided into two types: proper nouns and common nouns.
Proper nouns namespecificpeople, places, or things, such asGrammar Girl,Mississippi River, andGolden Gate Bridge. They are names. On the other hand, common nouns namegeneralpeople, places, or things. The wordsgirl,river, andbridgearen't capitalized because they are common nouns that don't name any one individual person, place, or thing.
To learn how these general capitalization rules apply to specific words, such as nicknames, planets, seasons, directions, and dog breeds, see Appendix section A-1.
You have one computer, but you'd love another one. Easy--at least on paper. Add an s. Ta-da! You have two computers (or more). Magic!
It's fairly easy to make nouns plural. The last letter or letters of the word determine what you need to do.
Usually, you just adds.
When the word ends inch,s,sh,x, orz, addes.
When the word ends iny, look at the letter beforey.
If it's a vowel, add s.
If the letter beforeyis a consonant, change theytoiand then addes.
Words that end inodon't follow specific rules; some words take an s to become plural and other words take anesto become plural. You have to memorize the spellings.
Making Abbreviations Plural
Add s to make abbreviations plural, but make sure it's a small s, not a capitalized one (and don't use an apostrophe). The rule is the same regardless of whether the abbreviation has periods.
See section 3-34 for how to make single letters plural.
Tricky Nouns: Mouse? Mice? Meese?
With some nouns, you just have to know what the plural is, such asmice(formouse),teeth(fortooth),deer(fordeer),knives(forknife),children(forchild), andoxen(forox). Some of our words retain qualities of Latin or other languages they came from, so their plurals aren't formed in a standard way. Examples includeappendices(plural ofappendix),phenomena(plural ofphenomenon), andbases(plural ofbasis).
If you're not sure what the plural form of a word is, go to the dictionary. The dictionary is your friend--honest. It will give you the plural of the word if the plural isn't standard.
Check It Out
Rarely, language experts will say you can choose between two acceptable plural forms of a noun. For example, when you're talking about a computer mouse, the plural can be eithermiceormouses, and although most people who work with plants prefer the pluralcacti, most dictionaries say eithercactiorcactusesis fine.Indexbecomesindiceswhen you're writing about math or science, but in other cases it is usually made plural asindexes; and althoughbusesis the preferred plural ofbus, you can also go withbusses. When in doubt, check a dictionary. The first plural form listed is the one that is most common.
We have our people, places, and things--nouns--established, but they're not doing anything. We have to get those things, people, and ideas moving. Enter the verb! Verbs add movement to your writing. Like nouns, verbs come in different categories.
The first way you can put verbs in groups is to separate them into transitive and intransitive piles. There's an easy way to remember those names, which I'll get to in a minute.
Transitive verbs take their action on something--the object. If you remove the object from these sentences, they don't make sense:
He will laythe bookon the table.
(Layis the verb;the bookis the necessary object.)
She gavethe pearlto the wizard.
(Gaveis the verb;the pearlis the necessary object.)
Intransitive verbs don't need an object; they can take action all by themselves. No object is necessary in these sentences:
He ran.
She sits.
The Quick and Dirty Tip to remember what these names mean is to think of a transitive verb as transferring its action to the object. Bothtransitiveandtransferstart with the prefixtrans.
Some verbs can be transitive or intransitive depending on how they are used.
They cheered.(intransitive)
They cheered the team.(transitive)
The next way you can put verbs into groups is to sort them into action verbs and linking verbs. Action verbs are exactly what they sound like: they describe actions. Verbs such asrun,jump,andswimare action verbs.
Linking verbs describe a state of being. The action isn't so rugged, but more thoughtful, connective, or complicated. Linking verbs aren't about actions as much as they are about connecting other words together.
The verbto beis the basic linking verb. The wordisis a form of the verbto be. If I say, "Squiggly is yellow," the main purpose ofisis to link the wordSquigglywith the wordyellow.
Other linking verbs includeseem,appear,look,become, and verbs that describe senses, such asfeelandsmell.There are at least sixty linking verbs in the English language.
Of course, it can't be as simple as action versus linking verbs. You wouldn't need me if it were.
The complication is that some verbs--such as the sensing verbs--can be both linking verbs and action verbs. A Quick and Dirty Tip to help you figure out whether you're dealing with a linking or an action verb is to see if you can replace the verb with a form ofto be. If so, then it's probably a linking verb.
He smells bad.(He has a bad odor.)
He is bad.(He is ill-behaved.)
In the above sentence,smellsis a linking verb because if you replacesmellswith the wordis, the sentence still makes sense.Baddescribes the nounhe, not the verbsmellsoris.
Now see what happens whensmellsis an action verb.
He smells badly.(His nose isn't working.)
He is badly.(This doesn't make sense.)
Replacingsmellswithisdoesn't work, so you know you have an action verb.Badlydescribes the verbsmells,not the nounhe.
People say, "Live for today, forget about yesterday, and ignore tomorrow." But if everyone did live in the now, I wouldn't get to invite you to explore the exciting world of verb tenses.
Fortunately, people dwell on the past and plan for the future; history, for example, by definition, happened in the past. Verbs reflect time, which is why we need tenses.
Verbs come in three varieties--present,past, andfuture. Today, yesterday, and tomorrow.
Kilroy is here.
Kilroy was here.
Kilroy will be here.
But that's not all. Each verb tense can then be spliced into more categories.
Simple--the end of the action is unknown or unimportant. Things are simple when time isn't important.
The captain swims.(simple present)
Perfect--the action has ended or will end; it is complete or will be completed. It starts. It ends. It's known. It's completed. Things are perfect when you know everything about them.
The captain has swum.(present perfect)
Progressive--the action is ongoing, progressing, or will be ongoing; it is continuous. We have no idea when it will end; it's incomplete.
The captain is swimming.(present progressive)
Perfect Progressive--the action progressed for a while before it ended or before it will end.
The captain has been swimming.(present perfect progressive)
For your reading pleasure, here's a handy chart with all the major verb tenses:
These three sentences are all in the simple present tense, but if you consider them, you may notice that they seem different:
I want chocolate.(state present)
Put the chocolate in the bowl.(instantaneous present)
She eats chocolate.(habitual present)
People who describe language, such as the British linguistRandolph Quirk, also noticed that these sentences are different and gave them categories--the names you see next to the sentences.
Simple present tense verbs can describe a state (wanting, thinking, feeling), an instantaneous action (an instruction, a brief action), or a habit--an ongoing or repeated action (sneezing, editing, reading).
Do you need to know the category names to write well? No. But it's fascinating, and being aware of the different categories can keep you from getting confused when you see a simple present tense verb doing something besides its simplest "Jack walks" job.
Irregular Verbs
Since we're talking about tenses, what's up with past tense verbs likedrew,went, andflung? They're calledirregular verbs. Why aren't the past tense formsdrawed,goed, andflinged? Your two-year-old cousin probably thinks they are! That's because kids absorb the rules for forming regular verbs first because regular verbs are the most common verb form.
Regular verbs follow a pattern: you make them past tense by addingdored.
Irregular verbs don't follow that pattern; they are holdovers from the past. Believe it or not, rules forconjugation(a fancy word for "working the verb") were even more complicated in the olden days. Let's not even talk about it.
Over time, conjugation rules got simpler and most verbs were regularized. Today, English has fewer than two hundred irregular verbs, but they are some of the most common ones you use.
See Common Irregular Verbs in Appendix section A-4 for more examples.
Most people don't realize it, but verbs can be as moody as cats. Verbs can becommanding(imperative mood),matter-of-fact(indicative mood), ordoubtfulorwishful(subjunctive mood).
Don't talk to me!(imperative)
Squiggly ate too much.(indicative)
I wish I were a rock star.(subjunctive)
The mood of the verbto be, when you use the phraseI were, is called the subjunctive mood.
Let's talk a bit more about the subjunctive mood, since it's the most confusing mood. Asubjunctive verbis used to communicate such feelings as wishfulness, hopefulness, and imagination--things that aren't real or true. For example, when the Cowardly Lion inThe Wizard of Ozsings "If I were king of the forest," he is fantasizing about all the things he would do if he were brave. He's not courageous--he's just imagining--soif I wereis the correct statement.I wereoften follows the wordif, becauseifoften means you are wishing or imagining.
In a subjunctive sentence, the verb is often also accompanied by a statement using wishful words likewouldorcould.
If Aardvark were famous, his face would be on the one-dollar bill.
Verbals may seem to have been designed to confuse you.Verbalsfeel like verbs, but they act like something else in a sentence. There are three types of verbals:gerunds,participles, andinfinitives. Gerunds act like nouns, participles act like adjectives, and infinitives can act like nouns, adjectives, or adverbs.
If you addingto the end of a verb and use that word as a noun, it's called agerund. For example, take the verbactand addingto getacting. You can use it as the name of a profession--a noun:
Actingisn't as easy as it looks.
Actingis a gerund in that sentence; it functions like a noun. Here are two more sentences with gerunds:
Aardvark'ssingingalmost deafened Squiggly.
After you finish this book, you will want everyone to read yourwriting.
If you addingto the end of a verb and use that word as an adjective (see section 1-24), then it's called aparticiple. Let's useactingagain.
Actinglessons helped Aardvark land the lead role in the school play.
Actingis a participle in that sentence; it functions like an adjective by describing the nounlessons.
Addingingto regular verbs makes present participles, and addingd,ed,n,en, ortto regular verbs makes past participles.
Thefallenleaves made a striking pattern.
Aninfinitiveis a combination of the wordtoand a bare form of a verb:to go,to run,to split, and so on.
To actwas his secret desire.(infinitive as noun)
It is his timeto shine.(infinitive as adjective:to shinemodifiestime)
He sprinted the last 10 yardsto securethe win.(infinitive as adverb:to securemodifiessprinted)
Splitting Infinitives: Splitsville
I know it may come as a surprise, but I, Grammar Girl, am not that adventurous. My idea of fun? Splitting infinitives. Sometimes I split them when I don't have to just because I can. Yeah, that's my idea of fun!
To understand my thrill, you have to know that some people believe it's against the "rules" to split an infinitive. I consider it my calling to dispel that myth.
Blame Latin for the logic behind the 19th-century rule about not splitting infinitives. In Latin there are no two-word infinitives, so it's impossible to split one. Early on, many English teachers decided that because infinitives couldn't be split in Latin, they shouldn't be split in English either.
But notions change over time, and today almost everyoneagrees that it is OK to split infinitives, especially when you would have to change the meaning of the sentence or go through writing gymnastics to avoid the split.
Here's an example of a sentence with a split infinitive:
Squiggly decided to quickly remove Aardvark's cats.
In this case, the wordquicklysplits the infinitiveto remove:toquicklyremove.
If you try to unsplit the verb, you might actually change the meaning. For example, you might say
Squiggly decided quickly to remove Aardvark's cats.
Now you've left the infinitive intact, but instead of saying that Squiggly quickly removed Aardvark's cats (zip zip) while Aardvark stepped out for a minute, you're saying Squiggly made a decision quickly.
You could rewrite the sentence without the split infinitive and not lose the original meaning.
Squiggly decided to remove Aardvark's cats quickly.
That could be an even better sentence, but from a grammatical standpoint, rewriting isn't necessary.
Bottom line? You can usually avoid splitting infinitives if you want to, but the only reason to do so is that there are a few holdouts who think it's wrong. If you're worried about being judged by a stickler, you can avoid split infinitives, but if you have a chance to defend yourself, talk to the sticklers about the silly Latin origin of the rule, and don't let them tell you that splitting infinitives is forbidden.
Personal pronounsstand in for nouns. They're like stuntmen. When nouns feel overworked, they call for pronouns--words likehe,it,she,we,they, and so on. The noun to which a pronoun refers is called itsantecedent. Because pronouns don't get the same recognition as the big stars, they're a little temperamental. It's their way of getting even.
Squiggly was late.Heforgot to set an alarm.
The tree fell becauseithad been attacked by bugs.
Grammar Girl is happy thatsheremembered to bring an eraser.
Pronouns are vital. Try not using one for an hour, and you'll see. I use them constantly, as you can tell by these sentences.
Because pronouns come in different "shapes" and are used for different reasons, some official grammar language is necessary. Ready?
Pronouns are bunched together into three cases. (I don't know why the wordcaseis used.Categorieswould work just as well, but officially they're called cases.) Think of each case as a suitcase; it packs all the similar pronouns together.
Subjective Case--the doer of the action; the one who acts
Sheate fifty hot dogs.
(Shedid the eating, so she's taking the action.)
Objective Case--the receiver of the action; the one who sits back and lets it all happen to her (or him)
The judge gaveherthe prize.
(Herreceived the prize and is the receiver of the action--giving.)
Possessive Case--shows ownership
Herdog threw up on my shoes.
(Herindicates the dog belongs to a previously mentioned female.)
First persontells the story from the point of view of the person who is talking. You're being told the story by one person, and you're in that person's mind.
I often wonder what my dog is thinking.
Second persondirects the text to you, the reader. It's usually used in nonfiction, such as this book.
Try not using a pronoun for an hour. See if you can.
Third personobserves the story from the outside. The narrator can let you know what is happening in different people's thoughts and can follow different characters.
Sarah hates cats, so she was surprised to find one in her room.
Authors often write novels in first person or third person; they rarely use second person.
You and I Are Going to the Beach
Some pronouns will work only when they are in charge (subjective case), and other pronouns will work only when they can be lazy and just receive the action (objective case). Subjects are the ones initiating action in a sentence, and objects are the ones having action taken on them. For example,Iis exclusively a subject pronoun, whereasmeis exclusively an object pronoun.
Ithrew the beach ball.
(Iis the subject taking the action.)
Squiggly threwme.
(Meis the object getting thrown.)
On the other hand,youhas to stand in for everyone!Yougets called to the set whether the scene needs a subject or an object.
Youthrew the beach ball.
(Youis the subject taking the action.)
Squiggly threwyou.
(Youis the object getting thrown.)
Youalso fills in for one person or many people (i.e., it's a singular and a plural pronoun). If I say "You should go to Disneyland," I could be talking to one person or a group of people.Youcould be standing in for Squiggly alone or Squiggly, Aardvark, and their families.
Whether you've seen the remake from 2005 or the original from 1968, you know what the title of the movieYours,Mine,and Oursmeans. Ownership. It means all those kids belong to one another and to both parents.
Grammarians like the wordpossessive(which seems more selfish than the wordbelonging, but I am not here to judge).
Some possessive pronouns can stand alone, such asmine,yours,his,hers,ours, andtheirs. Some people call thesestrong possessive pronouns.
The cat is hers.
Some possessive pronouns (such asmy,your,his,her,our, andtheir) need a noun. Some people call theseweak possessive pronouns, and other people call thempossessive adjectives.
That ishercat.
If you go back and look at the last chart, you'll notice thathisis on both lists.Hisis both the strong and weak possessive form ofhe, meaning you can write bothThe cat is hisandThat is his cat.The same is true ofits, although it would be rare to write a sentence usingitsas a strong possessive pronoun.
The most astute readers will also have realized that sentences can be made in whichherdoesn't need a noun, such asHe went with her. Again, if you look at the chart, you'll see thatheris both an object pronoun and a weak possessive pronoun. In the sentenceThat is her cat, it's being used as a possessive pronoun and needs a noun. In the sentenceHe went with her, it's being used as an object pronoun and doesn't need a noun.
Gerunds and Possessive Pronouns
You remember gerunds, right? They are those verbs we talkedabout in section 1-9 that become nouns by adding aning. Gerunds usually need a possessive pronoun.
Aardvark thought him singing was atrocious.(nope)
Aardvark thought his singing was atrocious.(yup)
The first sentence sounds wrong, but there are situations when choosing between a possessive pronoun and an objective pronoun changes the sentence.
We didn't know that was his singing.
That sentence means we couldn't tell if what he was doing was singing or making some other kind of noise.
When we use an objective pronoun, the sentence means something different.
We didn't know that was him singing.
Now the writer is saying it could have been someone else singing. It was definitely singing; the writer just didn't know who was doing it.
Here's one last set of examples.
Do you mind my leaving?
Do you mind me leaving?
In the first example, with the possessive pronounmy, you want to know if the reader is bothered by your action of leaving. Leaving is the thing you're asking about.
In the second example, with the objective pronounme, you want to know if the reader is bothered by you when you are leaving. That's why gerunds usually take possessive pronouns: when you use a gerund, it's usually the action you want to know about, not the person or thing.
Indefinite pronouns, such aseveryoneandanybody, represent an indefinite number of nouns. They often sound like a lot of people but are usually treated as singular.
Everyoneis wondering what Squiggly is doing here.
Anybodycan see that the skating rink is closed.
The wordsthis,that,these, andthoseare calleddemonstrative pronounswhen they are acting like nouns and you can imagine pointing at something when you use them.
Thatis the ticket I lost.
Thoseare my favorite shoes.
These words can also be adjectives when they come right before a noun.
Thatticket had been lost for days!
Thereciprocal pronounsareeach otherandone another. They refer to the members of a larger group.
Squiggly and Aardvark gaveeach othercoffee mugs.
The chess team gaveone anotherhigh-fives for winning the tournament.
For some reason, people who know how to behave when they are alone get flustered when other people show up in their sentences. Don't let company in your sentences make you go all atwitter.
I know none of you would ever say "Me love Squiggly" instead of "I love Squiggly."
Yet throw in a third party, and I bet some of you would say "My brother and me love Squiggly."
My brother and me love Squigglyis wrong for the same reason thatMe love Squigglyis wrong: you're putting an object pronoun(me)in the subject position. The correct sentence uses the subject pronoun in the active (or subject) position.
My brother and I love Squiggly.
Writers can have the same problem when two or more people become the object in a sentence. Would any of you really say "Father loves he"? I hope not! You'd correctly say "Father loves him." But again, you get a little sister, and suddenly everyone forgets how to construct a sentence. It's notFather loves she and Squiggly. Remember: object pronouns go in the object position.Father loves her and Squigglyis correct.
Just Between You and Me, You and I Know How to Have FunSometimes even people who can deal with crowds in their sentences get confused whenyoushows up.
The reason it gets a little tricky when you combine other pronouns withyouis thatyouis both a subject and an object pronoun.You love Squiggly, andSquiggly loves you.You and he should go scuba diving, andI went scuba diving with you and her. They are all correct.
So now that we've gotyoustraight, we can move on tobetween you and Iand figure out why it's wrong.
I'm going to have to talk aboutprepositionsbefore we've officially covered them. If this makes you uncomfortable, hum loudly or cover your ears while you read this next short section. Then, once you've read about prepositions later (see section 1-30), you can reread this section (without the humming) and be assured that you are one with prepositions and pronouns.
Betweenis a preposition, just asat,above,over, andincludingare prepositions. Because prepositions usually either describe a relationship or show possession, they don't act alone; they often answer questions likeWhere?andWhen?For example, if I say "Keep that secret between you and me,"betweendescribes where the secret isto be kept. If I say "I'll tell you the secret at dinnertime,"atdescribes when the secret will be revealed.
So, instead of acting alone, prepositions are part of prepositional phrases. In those example sentences,between you and meandat dinnertimeare prepositional phrases. And it's just a rule that pronouns following prepositions in those phrases are always in the objective case. You have to memorize it. When you're using the objective case, the correct pronoun isme, so the correct prepositional phrase isbetween you and me. (If it helps, you can remember that the Jessica Simpson song "Between You and I" is wrong, so wrong.)
Most grammarians are often sympathetic to people who say "between you and I" because it's considered a hypercorrection. You might feel funny writingbetween you and me, but be brave; be strong. Between you and me, we know we're right!
Some people seem afraid to use the wordme. Another hypercorrection that avoidsme(like incorrectly sayingbetween you and I) is throwingmyselfinto a sentence when you are unsure or want to sound refined.
Let's dissect what's wrong with this sentence:Please call Aardvark or myself with questions. Once more, you've run into the problem of having multiple people in the sentence.
Step back and consider how you would say the sentence without Aardvark. Obviously, you would say "Please call me with questions," not "Please call myself with questions."
You usemebecause the objective case (me) receives the action of being called.
Adding Aardvark doesn't change anything. It's still correct to say "Please call Aardvark or me with questions."
Myselfis what's called areflexive pronoun. Just think about looking into a mirror and seeing your reflection. You'd say "I see myself in the mirror." You see your reflection, andmyselfis called a reflexive pronoun.
Other reflexive pronouns arehimself,herself,yourself,itself,ourselves, andthemselves. A reflexive pronoun can only be the object of a sentence; it can never be the subject. You would never say "Myself stepped on Squiggly," so you would also never say "Aardvark and myself stepped on Squiggly."
The reflexive pronoun is the right choice when the subject is mentioned again in the sentence. For example, you can usemyselfwhen you are both the subject and the object of a sentence:I see myself playing maracasorI'm going to treat myself to a mud bath. In both cases, you are the object of your own action, somyselfis the right word to use.
Reflexive pronouns can also be used to add emphasis to a sentence. (In case you care, they are then calledintensive pronouns.) For example, if you saw a stuntman crash on the set, you could say"I myself saw the horrible crash." Sure, it's a tad dramatic, but it's grammatically correct. If you want to emphasize how proud you are of a song you wrote, you could say "I wrote the song myself." Again,myselfjust adds emphasis. The meaning of the sentence doesn't change if you take out the wordmyself; it just has a different feeling because it lacks the added emphasis.
Let's say you're writing a sentence that startsWhen a student succeeds...
At that point you're probably confused about how you should finish the sentence when you're talking about one unknown person.
Which of the following would you use?
heshould thankhisteacher.
sheshould thankherteacher.
he or sheshould thankhis or herteacher.
theyshould thanktheirteacher.
It's either an awkward sentence or an incorrect use of plurals with singulars--it's a "tear your hair out" situation!
Honestly, I don't think there is a perfect solution, and I would like to avoid the question because I know that no matter what I say, I'm going to make someone angry. Many grammarians have a hard time agreeing on this as well.
I will state for the record that I am a firm believer that somedaytheywill be the acceptable choice for this situation. English currently lacks an appropriate word, and many people are already either mistakenly or purposely usingtheyas a singular gender-neutral pronoun. It seems logical that rules will eventually move in that direction.
Some grammarians, including me, already allow people to usetheyandthemas a singular pronoun when the sex of the subject is unknown.
But not everyone agrees. At this point, since Grammar Girl isn't especially brave, I usually ask myself if there is any way to avoid the problem. Most of the time it's easy to simply make the original noun plural. You could sayWhen students [plural] succeed,they shouldthank theirteachers. Sometimes more extensive rewriting is required, and if necessary, I'll do it. I would rewrite a whole paragraph if it meant I could avoid the problem.
Rewriting is almost always possible, but if it isn't, then you have to make a choice. If I'm writing a formal document, I'll usehe or she. For example,When a person wins an election,he or she should thank his or her volunteers. Admittedly, it's a little awkward, but if you're already using formal language, I don't think it's too distracting.
It takes a bold, confident, and possibly reckless person to usetheywith a singular pronoun today. If you do it, you'll be in the company of such revered authors as Jane Austen, Lewis Carroll, and Shakespeare. But if there's a chance that one of your teachers would think you are careless or ignorant of the "rule," then don't.
The Quick and Dirty Tip is to rewrite your sentences to avoid the problem. If that's not possible, ask your teacher if they (look at me being brave!) have a preference.
If not, useheor sheif you want to play it safe, or usetheyif you feel bold and prepared to defend yourself.
How should you respond to the question "Who is there?"
It's proper to respond, "It is I."
When people call me and ask, "May I speak to Grammar Girl?" I properly respond, "This is she."
The traditional grammar rule states that when a pronoun follows a linking verb such asisit should be in the subjective case. That means it is correct to say "It is I" and "It was he who dropped the phone in shock when I answered 'This is she.'"
When pronouns follow these non-action verbs, you use subject pronouns, such asI,she,he,they, andwe.
Here are some additional correct examples:
Who called Squiggly? It was he.
Who told you about it? It was I.
Who had the phone conversation? It must have been they.
Now, the problem is that 90 percent of you are almost certainly thinking, "That all sounds really weird. Is she serious?" Well, yes, I'm serious. That is the traditional rule, but fortunately, most grammarians forgive you for not following the rule because it sounds stilted and fussy, even to us.
So if you're the kind of person who prefers to be proper (or you want to mess with people), it's fine to say "It is I," and if you prefer to be more casual, it's fine to say "It is me."
If you have a teacher who demands the correct use of a subjective pronoun after a linking verb, then that is what you should use.
Finally, there are two more classes of pronouns:
Relative pronouns(that,which,who,whom,whose) introduce subordinate clauses, which you will learn about in chapter two.
Here is a treethatfell on my car.
She is the girlwhowon the spelling bee.
Interrogative pronouns(what,which,who,whom,whose) introduce questions:
Whowent to the party?
Whichcar did you take?
You have your nouns, verbs, and pronouns, but how do you add color and texture to those words? With modifiers, of course! They describe or make something specific.
Adjectives and adverbs aremodifiers--the parts of speech that describe nouns, verbs, pronouns, and in some cases one another.
An adjective describes a noun (or a pronoun) by telling you which one, what kind, or how many. The words can be as vagueasthis,huge, andsome, or they can be as specific assoft,twelve, andwet.
Aardvark threwsomepillows at Squiggly.
Aardvark threw asquarepillow at Squiggly.
The adverb works harder than the adjective. It can describe verbs, adjectives, other adverbs, clauses, and whole sentences. You can easily remember the connection between adverbs and verbs because the wordverbis inside the wordadverb. Then note that adverbs are busy like verbs because they modify a bunch of other things too. Something that is active (like an adverb) can cover a lot of ground (other parts of speech).
Squigglydeftlydodged the pillows.
(The adverbdeftlymodifies the verbdodged.)
Squigglyquitedeftly dodged the pillows.
(The adverbquitemodifies the adverbdeftly, which itself modifies the verbdodged.)
Squiggly dodged theunusuallyhard pillow.
(The adverbunusuallymodifies the adjectivehard, which modifies the nounpillow.)
The adverb tells youwhere,when, andhow(how often and how much). An adverb can be as vague asnow,then,sometimes, andhardly, or it can be as precise asinside,today,coldly, orhourly.
Adverbs often end inly, but not always.
Just to make things a little confusing, there are some words that can be adverbs or adjectives depending on how they are used in a sentence. You can always tell the difference by noting what the word ismodifying. If it's modifying a noun, then the word is an adjective; if it's modifying something else, such as a verb, then the word is an adverb.
Remember linking verbs from section 1-5? When you're dealing with sensing verbs, such astaste,smell,look, orfeel, you have to take a minute to decide whether you're describing the noun or the verb.
Consider the different meanings of these two sentences:
I feel bad.
I feel badly.
It's correct to say "I feel bad" when expressing an emotion. You just hurt your friend's feelings, so you feel bad about it.Baddescribes your state of mind. It's an adjective describing the pronounI. Remember to test the sentence by replacing the verb with a form ofto be.I am badworks, so you knowfeelsis a linking verb in the sentence.
When you say "I feelbadly," the adverbbadlydescribes the action verbfeel. Since the action verbfeelcan imply "to touchthings,"feeling badlycan imply that something is wrong with your sense of touch.
I know that people think they need to describe how they feel, so they use an adverb by mistake. It's those pesky linking verbs that cause such confusion. Don't fall into the sinking linking-verb quicksand.
Use adverbs with action verbs. For example, if you gave a horrible speech, you could say, "I spoke badly," becausespokeis an action verb. You can tell that because speaking is an action, and the test sentenceI am badlydoesn't work.
With sense verbs, first test whether they are linking verbs or action verbs. Then use my adjective-adverb Quick and Dirty Tip:
A simple question can send people into a panic: How are you?
Do you say "I'm well" or "I'm good"?
Isn't it safer to shrug?
You needn't panic any longer.
"I'm good" is what you're likely to hear, but some grammar nitpickers will tell you thatwellis an adverb (and therefore modifies verbs) and thatgoodis an adjective (and therefore modifies nouns), but the situation isn't that simple (and people think brain surgery is complicated!).
The wonderful news is that it's perfectly acceptable to say "I'm good."
The nitpickers don't understand that the linking verb is the key, but you do.
Adjectives describe nouns and pronouns.Iis a pronoun.Amis a linking verb. Adjectives follow linking verbs.Goodis an adjective.
I am goodis good!
(Adjectives actually have a special name when they follow linking verbs in this way; they're called predicate adjectives. See section 2-2.)
I can hear some of you insisting that you were taught to usewell, as in "I am well."
Wellcan be both an adverb and a predicate adjective. When you say "I am well," you're usingwellas a predicate adjective. But it's better to usewellwhen you're talking about your health. So if you are recovering from an illness and someone is inquiring about your health, it's appropriate to say "I am well." If you're describing yourself on a generally good day and nobody's asking specifically about your health, a more appropriate response is "I am good." But watch out! This is something a lot of people don't understand, but they think they do and get all upset about it. Be prepared to be corrected no matter what you say. And then you can impress people with your knowledge of linking verbs and action verbs.
Sometimes you need to compare one noun to another noun or one verb to another verb. Comparing is the job of adjectives and adverbs.
You already know how to use an adjective for one noun and an adverb for one verb.
It was apeculiarchoice.
Squiggly chose thetalltree.
Aardvark ranfast.
When you're comparing items, you need to notice whether you're comparing two things or more than two things.
When you compare two items, you use what's called acomparative.
You can remember that comparatives are for two things becausecomparativehas the soundpairin it, and a pair is always two things. It's not spelled likepair, but it sounds likepair.
For comparatives, usemorebefore the adjective or adverb, or the suffixeron the end of it.
more peculiar(It was the more peculiar choice, given the limited options.)
taller(Aardvark chose the taller tree of the remaining pair.)
faster(Squiggly ran faster than Aardvark.)
When you compare three or more items, you're using asuperlative. You can remember that superlatives are for more than two things becausesuperlativehas the wordsuperin it, and when you want a whole bunch of something, you supersize it.
With superlatives, usemostbefore the adjective or adverb, or the suffixeston the end of the adjective or adverb.
most peculiar(It was the most peculiar choice of the day.)
tallest(Someone else had already chosen the tallest tree.)
fastest(Bob ran fastest.)
But how do you know whether to useerormore?estormost? Generally, the way you choose depends on how many syllables the word has.
Comparisons involving words with one syllable or three or more syllables follow clear rules. We'll get to tricky two-syllable words in a moment.
One-Syllable Words
One-syllable words use the suffixeseroreston the end. For example,smarthas one syllable, so you might say "I am smarter than my sister, but I'm not the smartest in the family." It would sound odd to say "I am more smart than my sister, but I'm not the most smart in the family."
Sometimes people ask aboutfun. Technically, it's not an adjective, so you shouldn't use "funner" or "funnest." See the Grammar Girl website for a full explanation.
Three-Syllable Words
Words with three or more syllables usemoreormostin front of them. For example, with the four-syllable adjectivespectacular, you usemoreormost, as in "That is the most spectacular painting I've ever seen!"Spectacularerwould be wrong (and difficult to pronounce).
Two-Syllable Words
The adjectivestrickyandcarefulhave two syllables, so do you saytrickierormore tricky?Carefulestormost careful? (Answer:trickierandmost careful.)
With two-syllable words, sometimes you use the suffixes, other times you usemoreormost, and in some cases you can use either one. The box on the next page has one rule you can follow.
If you have a two-syllable adjective that doesn't end iny,ow, orle(if it's not yowlier), you'll need to rely on your ear or your dictionary.
The comparisons so far have all involved a greater amount of something. When you're talking about not as much, you uselessandleastin front of adjectives or adverbs, no matter how many syllables the words have.
For example, you might admit, "I am less athletic than my best friend," or, if you're using an adverb, you could lament, "My sister is the least grammatically oriented person I know."
Less Is More
When comparing, choose the simplest way to say something. Sure, writing "The students on the track team run least slow" is correct. But the clearer way to write this is "The students on the track team run fastest."
Know When to Stop
Some adjectives can't be topped. You can't be the most last, the bestest student, the onliest person left on the planet (although if you are, no one will know, so you can make up your own grammar rules). Here are some adjectives that shouldn't be made comparative or superlative:
Sometimes you will hear these words used "improperly" in idioms such asdeader than a doornail.
Articles--a,an, andthe--appear in front of nouns, making the noun specific or nonspecific. They are a type of adjective.
Aandanare calledindefinite articles.
Theis called adefinite article.
The difference is thataandandon't say anything special about the word that follows.
For example, think about the sentenceI need a bike. This means you need any bike, not a specific one.
On the other hand, if you say "I needthebike," you want a specific bike, or perhaps you want the only bike that is available. (Still, it's a specific bike.) That's whytheis called a definite article--you want something definite. That's how I remember the name.
Whether you useaorandepends on the word that comes next. You useabefore words that start with a consonantsoundandanbefore words that start with a vowelsound.
Squiggly wantedabike.
Aardvark wantedanowl.
Remember it's the first sound of the next word that determines whether you chooseaoran, not the first letter of the next word.
Squiggly waited foranhour.
Aardvark was onahistoric expedition.
An houris correct becausehourstarts with a vowel sound. People seem to most commonly get tripped up by words that begin with the lettersh,u, ando, because sometimes these start with vowel sounds and sometimes they start with consonant sounds. For example, it isa historic expeditionbecausehistoricstarts with anhsound, but it isan honorable fellowbecausehonorablestarts with anosound.
Squiggly hadaUtopian idea.
(Utopianstarts with a consonantysound.)
Aardvark reminded him it'sanunfair world.
(Unfairstarts with a vowelusound.)
Usually you putanbefore words that start witho, but sometimes you usea. For example, you would useain the following sentence:
She has a one-track mind.
(One-trackstarts with awsound.)
Initialisms beginning with consonants that sound like vowels also requirean.
an FM radio
an LSAT study guide
an MBA
an NFL football team
Other letters can also be pronounced either way. Just remember it is thesoundthat governs whether you useaoran, not the first letter of the word.
Remember the example from section 1-18 when I told you that I'd explain prepositions later? It's later now! Prepositions. You've heard of them. You've used them. Maybe you've even misused them. But what are they?
Prepositionscreate a relationship between words. They're usually short words liketo,from, andunder; but they can also be longer words such asthrough,during, andbetween. It's been said that prepositions often deal with space and time (which always makes me think ofStar Trek). For example, the prepositionsabove,by, andoverall say something about a position in space; the prepositionsbefore,after, and since all say something about time. There are a whole slew of prepositions, too many to name one by one, so let's just clap for them at the end of this section.
Have you ever felt that no one understood you? That others had a label for you that didn't fit? That you knew where you belonged, but people kept insisting on placing you elsewhere?
Welcome to the world of the preposition--a part of speech that often wants to be at the end of the sentence but has to deal with people who were taught that prepositions aren't allowed there.
Those people are perpetuating a myth because nearly allgrammarians agree that it's fine to end sentences with prepositions, at least in some cases.
Here's an example of a sentence that can end with a preposition:
What did you step on?
You can't say "What did you step?" You need to say "What did you stepon?" to make a proper sentence. If you leave off theon, the sentence doesn't make sense.
I can hear some of you thinking, "What about saying, 'On what did you step?'"
Now, I'm all for rewriting, but have you ever heard anyone talk that way? No!
Yes, you could say "On what did you step?" but not even grammarians think you should. It sounds awkward.
On the other hand, some sentences that end in a preposition can be rewritten so that they make sense, say what you want, don't sound convoluted, and don't end in a preposition. Go for it!
The bottom line is that many people think it's wrong to end a sentence with a preposition, so I wouldn't advise doing it in critical situations. Let's say you have a teacher who hates prepositions at the end of the sentence. Try your hardest not to use a preposition there. Rewriting is your friend.
What is ice cream made of?(acceptable)
What are the ingredients in ice cream?(better)
Sometimes you just want to get a good grade rather than fight against silly grammar myths. (But a teacher may also be impressed that you've thought about grammar and writing enough to know a grammar myth.)
Even though it's sometimes allowed, don't get carried away; you can'talwaysend sentences with prepositions. When you can leave off the preposition and it won't change the meaning, leave it off. Here's an example of a sentence you have probably heard:
Where is she at?(wrong)
Oh, the horror! That is one of the instances where it's not OK to end a sentence with a preposition! The problem is thatWhere is she at? doesn't need the preposition.Where is she?means the same thing, so theatis unnecessary.
You won't find unnecessary prepositions only at the ends of sentences. People often throw an extraneous preposition into the middle of a sentence, and they shouldn't. Instead of saying "Squiggly jumpedoffofthedock," it's better to say "Squiggly jumpedoffdock," it's better to say"Squiggly jumped offthe dock." See? You don't need to sayoffofthe dock;off the docksays the same thing without the extra word. (An exception isacoupleof.That's the right way to say it; it's considered an idiom.)
Here's another situation where you can end a sentence with a preposition:
I hope he cheers up.
Upis a preposition, and there it is at the end of the sentence. Why is that OK?
I hope he cheershas a different meaning fromI hope he cheers up.
I hope he cheers whom? The football team? His grandmother?
It's difficult to rewrite the sentence:
Up cheers he I hope.(I hope not!)
So why is the original sentence correct? Because it has a specific meaning.Cheer upis what's called aphrasal verb--a set of words (a phrase) that acts as a single verb unit. A phrasal verb can have a different meaning from the way the words are used individually. For example, the verbcheer upspecifically means to become happier, not to shout upward. Given thatcheer upis a unit--a phrasal verb--some people don't believe you've ended a sentence with a preposition when you say "I hope he cheers up." They'd say you've ended the sentence with a phrasal verb.
And you'd say, modestly, "Yes, thank you, I know."
When a phrasal verb is transitive (it does its action to something or someone), you can often split the two parts of the verb, but you usually can't when the verb is intransitive (it doesn't act on anything):
The chicken on the fieldheld upthe game.
The chicken on the fieldheldthe gameup.
(The phrasal verb is split, but the sentence is still OK.)
Hedropped outof school.
(You can't split this intransitive phrasal verb and still make sense.Of schoolis a prepositional phrase, not an object.)
Prepositions often answer questions likeWhere?andWhen?They usually either describe a relationship or show possession. They don't act alone--no solo careers for prepositions. Prepositions act as part of prepositional phrases.
Keep that secretbetween you and me.
Betweendescribes where the secret is to be kept. If I said "I'll tell you the secret at dinnertime,"at dinnertimeis the prepositional phrase, andatdescribes when the secret will be revealed.
Sometimes you have so much to say that you can just go on and on. What connects your thoughts? Conjunctions.
Aconjunctionconnects words, phrases, and parts of sentences. Common conjunctions areand,but, andor.
There is more to conjunctions than what we'll deal with here. We'll save the more complicated uses for later when we talk about creating sentences and using punctuation. For now, let's focus on the simple conjunctions.
I like to think ofcoordinating conjunctionsas organizing (or coordinating) the sentence or phrase--sort of like a fashion stylist choosing pieces to coordinate the right outfit, or a coach with a whistle coordinating team members for a play.
Coordinating conjunctions are the FANBOYS of language. They all have fewer than four letters.
Putting Coordinating Conjunctions to Work
To help build a sentence, conjunctions join other words, phrases, or clauses that have the same construction. You'll get what I mean by "the same construction" in the examples below.
Squiggly was often distracted bythisorthat.
(Thisandthatare both single pronouns.)
Squigglywent to the storeandbought some chocolate.
(Went to the storeandbought some chocolateare both verb phrases.)
Squiggly went to the store, andAardvark wondered when he would return.
(Squiggly went to the storeandAardvark wondered when he would returnare both clauses or sentences that could stand on their own. You'll learn more about clauses in section 2-4.)
Note that an entire clause (including a verb) can follow a conjunction.
Parallel Construction and Conjunctions
In every example above, a coordinating conjunction properly joined similar parts of a sentence. This is calledparallel construction. Parallel construction is even used in simple lists.
Aardvark bought a tie, shirt, and a hat for Squiggly.
(wrong because the list items are different.)
Aardvark boughtatie,ashirt, andahat for Squiggly.
(right because each list item is a noun with an article.)
Squiggly wishes for a bicycle, the tent, and for a kite.
(so wrong!)
Squiggly wishesfor abicycle,for atent, andfor akite.
Squiggly wishes forabicycle,atent, andakite.
Squiggly wishes for a bicycle, tent, and kite.
Certain conjunctions are codependent; they don't like being alone, so they combine with other words to formcorrelative conjunctionssuch as the following:
both ... and either ... or neither ... nor not only ... but also
"Eitherbe friends with Aardvarkor
I'm not playing," Grammar Girl insisted.
NowneitherGrammar GirlnorAardvark
is on Squiggly's team.
Aardvark isnot onlya great player
but alsoa great negotiator.
At a job, your subordinates are the people who work for you, the people who are under you on the organizational chart. In grammar,subordinate clauseswork for the main clause in a sentence. They can't stand alone. Subordinate clauses are headed by subordinating conjunctions such asbecause,before,if,since,though,when,whenever, andwhile.
Aardvark left the roomwheneverSquiggly turned on polka music.
Squiggly warned Aardvarkbeforehe turned on the music.
You'll learn more about how to use subordinating conjunctions in the Phrases and Clauses section of the next chapter (section 2-4).
Yo! Do you know what an interjection is?
Um, not really.
Yes, you have a problem with that?
Well, how can you say you don't know what an interjection is?
As you can see, interjections (the underlined words above) are short words or phrases that reveal emotions, offer reactions, insert pauses, and demand attention. They are also sometimes calledexclamations.
Sometimes they are at the beginning of a sentence. Sometimes they stand alone as a one-word sentence.
Text copyright © 2011 by Mignon Fogarty Illustrations copyright © 2011 by Erwin Haya

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