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.
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St. Martin's Griffin
June 30, 2011
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Excerpt from Grammar Girl Presents the Ultimate Writing Guide for Students by Mignon Fogarty
Grammar Girl Presents the Ultimate Writing Guide for Students
Parts of Speech
IN THESE NEXT few 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 like antecedents, future progressive tense, and subjunctive 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.
A noun is 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 name specific people, places, or things, such as Grammar Girl, Mississippi River, and Golden Gate Bridge. They are names. On the other hand, common nouns name general people, places, or things. The words girl, river, and bridge aren'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.
1-2 PLURALS: NOUNS, NOUNS EVERYWHERE
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 add s.
When the word ends in ch, s, sh, x, or z, add es.
When the word ends in y, look at the letter before y.
If it's a vowel, add s.
If the letter before y is a consonant, change the y to i and then add es.
Words that end in o don't follow specific rules; some words take an s to become plural and other words take an es to 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 as mice (for mouse), teeth (for tooth), deer (for deer), knives (for knife), children (for child), and oxen (for ox). 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 include appendices(plural of appendix), phenomena (plural of phenomenon), and bases (plural of basis).
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 either mice or mouses, and although most people who work with plants prefer the plural cacti, most dictionaries say either cacti or cactuses is fine. Index becomes indices when you're writing about math or science, but in other cases it is usually made plural as indexes; and although buses is the preferred plural of bus, you can also go with busses. When in doubt, check a dictionary. The first plural form listed is the one that is most common.
1-3 VERBS: READY, CAMERA, ACTION
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.
1-4 TRANSITIVE AND INTRANSITIVE VERBS
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 lay the book on the table.
(Lay is the verb; the book is the necessary object.)
She gave the pearl to the wizard.
(Gave is the verb; the pearl is the necessary object.)
Intransitive verbs don't need an object; they can take action all by themselves. No object is necessary in these sentences:
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. Both transitive and transfer start with the prefix trans.
Some verbs can be transitive or intransitive depending on how they are used.
They cheered. (intransitive)
They cheered the team. (transitive)
1-5 ACTION VERBS AND LINKING VERBS
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 as run, jump, and swim are 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 verb to be is the basic linking verb. The word is is a form of the verb to be. If I say, "Squiggly is yellow," the main purpose of is is to link the word Squiggly with the word yellow.
Other linking verbs include seem, appear, look, become, and verbs that describe senses, such as feel and smell. 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 of to 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, smells is a linking verb because if you replace smells with the word is, the sentence still makes sense. Bad describes the noun he, not the verb smells or is.
Now see what happens when smells is an action verb.
He smells badly. (His nose isn't working.)
He is badly. (This doesn't make sense.)
Replacing smells with is doesn't work, so you know you have an action verb. Badly describes the verb smells, not the noun he.
1-6 VERB TENSES: LIVE FOR TODAY
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, and future. 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.
Since we're talking about tenses, what's up with past tense verbs like drew, went, and flung? They're called irregular verbs. Why aren't the past tense forms drawed, goed, and flinged? 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 adding d or ed.
Irregular verbs don't follow that pattern; they are holdovers from the past. Believe it or not, rules for conjugation (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.
1-7 SUBJUNCTIVE VERBS: IF I WERE A RICH GIRL
Most people don't realize it, but verbs can be as moody as cats. Verbs can be commanding (imperative mood), matter-of-fact (indicative mood), or doubtful or wishful (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 verb to be, when you use the phrase I were, is called the subjunctive mood.
Let's talk a bit more about the subjunctive mood, since it's the most confusing mood. A subjunctive verb is used to communicate such feelings as wishfulness, hopefulness, and imagination--things that aren't real or true. For example, when the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz sings "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--so if I were is the correct statement. I were often follows the word if, because if often means you are wishing or imagining.
In a subjunctive sentence, the verb is often also accompanied by a statement using wishful words like would or could.
If Aardvark were famous, his face would be on the one-dollar bill.
Verbals may seem to have been designed to confuse you. Verbals feel like verbs, but they act like something else in a sentence. There are three types of verbals: gerunds, participles, and infinitives. Gerunds act like nouns, participles act like adjectives, and infinitives can act like nouns, adjectives, or adverbs.
If you add ing to the end of a verb and use that word as a noun, it's called a gerund. For example, take the verb act and add ing to get acting. You can use it as the name of a profession--a noun:
Acting isn't as easy as it looks.
Acting is a gerund in that sentence; it functions like a noun. Here are two more sentences with gerunds:
Aardvark's singing almost deafened Squiggly.
After you finish this book, you will want everyone to read your writing.
If you add ing to the end of a verb and use that word as an adjective (see section 1-24), then it's called a participle. Let's use acting again.
Acting lessons helped Aardvark land the lead role in the school play.
Acting is a participle in that sentence; it functions like an adjective by describing the noun lessons.
Adding ing to regular verbs makes present participles, and adding d, ed, n, en, or t to regular verbs makes past participles.
The fallen leaves made a striking pattern.
An infinitive is a combination of the word to and a bare form of a verb: to go, to run, to split, and so on.
To act was his secret desire. (infinitive as noun)
It is his time to shine. (infinitive as adjective: to shine modifies time)
He sprinted the last 10 yards to secure the win. (infinitive as adverb: to secure modifies sprinted)
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 word quickly splits the infinitive to remove: to quickly remove.
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 pronouns stand in for nouns. They're like stuntmen. When nouns feel overworked, they call for pronouns--words like he, it, she, we, they, and so on. The noun to which a pronoun refers is called its antecedent. 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. He forgot to set an alarm.
The tree fell because it had been attacked by bugs.
Grammar Girl is happy that she remembered 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?
1-13 PRONOUNS AND THEIR CASES
Pronouns are bunched together into three cases. (I don't know why the word case is used. Categories would 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
She ate fifty hot dogs.
(She did 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 gave her the prize.
(Her received the prize and is the receiver of the action--giving.)
Possessive Case--shows ownership
Her dog threw up on my shoes.
(Her indicates the dog belongs to a previously mentioned female.)
First person tells 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 person directs 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 person observes 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, I is exclusively a subject pronoun, whereas me is exclusively an object pronoun.
I threw the beach ball.
(I is the subject taking the action.)
Squiggly threw me.
(Me is the object getting thrown.)
On the other hand, you has to stand in for everyone! You gets called to the set whether the scene needs a subject or an object.
You threw the beach ball.
(You is the subject taking the action.)
Squiggly threw you.
(You is the object getting thrown.)
You also 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. You could be standing in for Squiggly alone or Squiggly, Aardvark, and their families.
1-14 POSSESSIVE PRONOUNS: YOURS, MINE, AND OURS
Whether you've seen the remake from 2005 or the original from 1968, you know what the title of the movie Yours, Mine, and Ours means. Ownership. It means all those kids belong to one another and to both parents.
Grammarians like the word possessive (which seems more selfish than the word belonging, but I am not here to judge).
Some possessive pronouns can stand alone, such as mine, yours, his, hers, ours, and theirs. Some people call these strong possessive pronouns.
The cat is hers.
Some possessive pronouns (such as my, your, his, her, our, and their) need a noun. Some people call these weak possessive pronouns , and other people call them possessive adjectives.
That is her cat.
If you go back and look at the last chart, you'll notice that his is on both lists. His is both the strong and weak possessive form of he, meaning you can write both The cat is his and That is his cat. The same is true of its, although it would be rare to write a sentence using its as a strong possessive pronoun.
The most astute readers will also have realized that sentences can be made in which her doesn't need a noun, such as He went with her. Again, if you look at the chart, you'll see that her is both an object pronoun and a weak possessive pronoun. In the sentence That is her cat, it's being used as a possessive pronoun and needs a noun. In the sentence He 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 an ing. 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 pronoun my, 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 pronoun me, 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.
1-15 INDEFINITE PRONOUNS
Indefinite pronouns, such as everyone and anybody, represent an indefinite number of nouns. They often sound like a lot of people but are usually treated as singular.
Everyone is wondering what Squiggly is doing here.
Anybody can see that the skating rink is closed.
1-16 DEMONSTRATIVE PRONOUNS
The words this, that, these, and those are called demonstrative pronouns when they are acting like nouns and you can imagine pointing at something when you use them.
That is the ticket I lost.
Those are my favorite shoes.
These words can also be adjectives when they come right before a noun.
That ticket had been lost for days!
1-17 RECIPROCAL PRONOUNS
The reciprocal pronouns are each other and one another. They refer to the members of a larger group.
Squiggly and Aardvark gave each other coffee mugs.
The chess team gave one another high-fives for winning the tournament.
1-18 COMBINING PRONOUNS: THREE DOESN'T HAVE TO BE A CROWD.
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 Squiggly is wrong for the same reason that Me love Squiggly is 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.