Grammar

Grammar

Grammar is a set of rules that govern the use of words and sentence composition. Grammar includes rules for punctuation, sentence structure, and spelling.

Clearly, without a standardized way of using words and putting sentences together, there would be great difficulty in communicating. People learn grammar as they learn language. It becomes so natural that people often do not realize they are using words according to a specific pattern or organization. For example, in English, a noun – verb – object/indirect object sentence structure is used. Adjectives are placed before the nouns they modify. Verbs, in all languages, change tense to indicate when an action has been taken, is taking place, or will take place. 

Grammar, when used correctly, makes clear communication possible. For example, a period indicates the end of a sentence, and an apostrophe shows possession and contraction. Additionally, words must be spelled consistently to clearly define their meaning.

Punctuation

Punctuation

Using punctuation is similar to giving route directions.  Punctuation tells the reader how to read the sentence to understand the meaning.  

A period tells the reader where the sentence ends. A comma separates the sentence into meaningful parts such as separating an introductory word or words from the main clause and marking off items in a series. A comma also tells the reader what information is incidental and not necessary to the main idea. They are used to separate a signal phrase from a sentence quote.

An apostrophe tells the reader that something belongs to someone or something. They also indicate if a letter or letters were omitted from a word. Quotation marks tell the reader the words were spoken or written by someone else.  

These are just some examples of why punctuation is so important. However, to use grammar to communicate more effectively, we must learn the rules. 

Learning grammar is a skills acquisition, which means practice is required to learn and improve.

Commas

Commas

A comma is a punctuation mark (,) indicating a pause between parts of a sentence. It is also used to separate items in a list and to mark the place of thousands in a large numeral.

Commas Before Coordinating Conjunctions (FANBOYS)

Use a comma before a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so - FANBOYS) when it separates two word groups that can stand alone as sentences (independent clauses).

Here is an example of a FANBOYS word (coordinating conjunction) separating two word groups that can stand alone as sentences (independent clauses):

The mother went to the store, but the child went to school.

The mother went to the store is a word group which can stand alone as a sentence (independent clause). The child went to school is a word group which can stand alone as a sentence (independent clause).

Therefore, there should be a comma before the word but.

Here is an example of a FANBOYS word (coordinating conjunction) separating two word groups where one is not a word group that can stand alone as a sentence (independent clause).

The mother went to the store but not the child.

There is no comma here because the word group not the child cannot stand alone as a sentence.

Items/Adjectives in a Series

Items in a Series - Use a comma after each item when there are more than two items in a series.

Here is an example of two items in a series:

I like apples and bananas.

No comma.  There are only two items.

Here is another example of two items in a series:

I like apples baked with walnuts and bananas topped with chocolate and whipped cream.

No commas.  It does not make any difference if there is more than one word in the item.

Here is an example of more than two items in a series:

I like apples, bananas, and peaches.

There must be a comma before the word and. The standard rule is that when there are more than two items in a series, put a comma after each item except the last item. This is true when another word such as 'or' is joining the last word.

(Note:  Some publications and teachers do not require use of the comma before the word and when there are more than two items in a series. This comma is called the Oxford comma. However, many instructors and standardized tests do require the comma before the word and when there are more than two items in a series. 

Adjectives in a Series - Separate two or more adjectives in a series with a comma if not awkward when order is changed.

Here is an example where changing the order of adjectives would not be awkward:

He had a long, bushy beard.

He had a bushy, long beard.

A comma is required in the above sentences because the adjectives can be switched around.

Here is an example where changing the order of adjectives would be awkward:

The juggler used three yellow balls.

The juggler used yellow three balls.

There should not be a comma since the order of the adjectives cannot be reversed.

After Introductory Words

Use a comma after introductory words (words that introduce [come before] a main clause).

Here is an example of a sentence with introductory words:

After the dance, they went home. 

They went home is the main clause.

Here is another example of a sentence with introductory words;

Because the rain started, she rolled up the windows.

She rolled up the windows is the main clause.

Here is the same sentence rephrased:

She rolled up the windows because the rain started.

Now, the main clause is first, so there are no introductory words and, therefore, no comma. Note that there is no rule that says to put a comma before the word because.

Identifying introductory words:

Introductory words are not part of a main clause. They are only words that come before (introduce) a main clause:

  • The story “Young Goodman Brown” uses symbolism. Here, there are no introductory words.  The words The story are part of the main clause. They are part of the subject phrase:  The story “Young Goodman Brown.”
  • In the story “Young Goodman Brown,” symbolism is used. Here, the words story “Young Goodman Brown” are part of an introductory phrase: In the story “Young Goodman Brown.” These words come before the main clause: symbolism is used.

Notice how the comma goes before the end quotation mark: Brown,” not Brown”, – when there is a period or comma next to an end quotation mark, the period or comma must go before the end quotation mark.

(Note:  Some publications and instructors say that the comma after introductory words may be dropped if there are only one or two words used to introduce the main idea such as in the following sentence: Today, we will play golf.  However, since many instructors require the traditional use, it is safer to put the comma after all introductory words.

To Separate Unnecessary Words

Use a comma to separate words that are not necessary to the meaning of the sentence.

Here is an example of a sentence with a word that is not necessary for meaning.

She, however, stayed home.

Commas are used because the sentence does not need however for the meaning of the sentence.

Here is another example of the use of the word however:

He went to the store; however, she stayed home.

Now the however is starting a new sentence, so there must be a semi-colon in front of it and not a comma.

Here is an example of a sentence with a necessary word:

Her sister Catherine went with her.

This indicates the word Catherine is necessary to the meaning, presumably, since she has other sisters.

Her sister, Catherine, went with her.

Here the word Catherine is incidental and not intended as necessary for the meaning of the sentence. This indicates that she has only one sister who does not need to be precisely identified by name.

Other Rules for Using Commas

In addition to the four rules for using commas to separate parts of a sentence, there are other rules for using commas in numbers, addresses, dates, and to separate a signal phrase from a quote. Of course, if a number, address, dates, or signal phrase introducing a quote are used in a sentence, commas should be used.

Numbers

To separate out thousands: 1,000; 300,000; 1,000,000

Remember that specific style systems have specific rules for whether to spell out or use numerals when expressing quantities.

Addresses

25 Forest Lane, Hudson, Florida. Note that there should be a comma on both sides of a larger geographical entity following a location in that larger geographical entity: She lived in Jacksonville, Florida, for a short time. (Note: In MLA style, avoid abbreviations. Spell out names of states.) The rules for whether to spell out or use numerals for quantities in different style systems does not apply to addresses.

Dates

January 12, 2008

The rules for whether to spell out or use numerals for quantities in different style systems does not apply to dates expressed in month, day, and year regardless of order of this information.

Separating signal phrases from sentence quotes

Separate a signal phrase (words that say who says the quote) from a quote:

“There will be an earthquake along the Santa Barbara fault within the next ten years,” according to Morelli.

(Note that the comma is before the end quotation mark. When a rule calls for a period or comma to be next to an end quotation mark, the period or comma goes before the end quotation mark.)

A signal phrase may be at the beginning or in the middle of a sentence:

  • According to Morelli, “There will be an earthquake along the Santa Barbara fault within the next ten years.”
  • “There will be an earthquake,” according to Morelli, “along the Santa Barbara fault line within the next ten years.”

Hints for Remembering When to Use a Comma

If you are not sure whether to use a comma and there are no quotation marks or standard usages, then ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is there a FANBOYS situation?
  • Is there an items-in-a-series situation?
  • Are there introductory words (words that come before the main idea of the sentence)?
  • Are there unnecessary words (words that are not necessary to the main idea of the sentence)?
  • Is there another use such as numbers, addresses, dates, or to separate a signal phrase from a quote?

If not, don’t put a comma there.

Commas - Overview

Commas - Overview

Basic Rules for Using Commas to Separate Parts of a Sentence

There are four basic rules for using commas to separate parts of a sentence. Just as with any punctuation mark, if there is not a rule to put one somewhere, you shouldn’t. There is no pause rule for commas.

  1. Use a comma before a coordinating conjunction (but, or, yet, for, and, nor, so – BOYFANS) when it separates two word groups that can stand alone as sentences (independent clauses).
  2. Items in a Series - Use a comma after each item when there are more than two items in a series. When there is more than one adjective in a series, separate the adjectives with a comma if the order can be changed and not be awkward.
  3. Use a comma after introductory words (words that introduce [come before] a main clause).
  4. Use a comma to separate words that are not necessary to the meaning of the sentence.

Commas are also used in numbers, addresses, dates, and to separate a signal phrase from a sentence quote.

Before Coordinating Conjunctions (FANBOYS)

Before Coordinating Conjunctions (FANBOYS)

Use a comma before a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so - FANBOYS) when it separates two word groups that can stand alone as sentences (independent clauses).

Here is an example of a FANBOYS word (coordinating conjunction) separating two word groups that can stand alone as sentences (independent clauses):

The mother went to the store, but the child went to school.

The mother went to the store is a word group that can stand alone as a sentence (independent clause). The child went to school is a word group that can stand alone as a sentence (independent clause).

Therefore, there should be a comma before the word but.

Here is an example of a FANBOYS word (coordinating conjunction) separating two word groups where one is not a word group that can stand alone as a sentence (independent clause).

The mother went to the store but not the child.

There is no comma here because the word group not the child cannot stand alone as a sentence.

Items/Adjectives in a Series

Items/Adjectives in a Series

Items in a Series - Use a comma after each item when there are more than two items in a series.

Here is an example of two items in a series:

I like apples and bananas.

No comma.  There are only two items.

Here is another example of two items in a series:

I like apples baked with walnuts and bananas topped with chocolate and whipped cream.

No commas.  It does not make any difference if there is more than one word in the item.

Here is an example of more than two items in a series:

I like apples, bananas, and peaches.

There must be a comma before the word and. The standard rule is that when there are more than two items in a series, put a comma after each item except the last item.  This is true for when another word such as or is joining the last word.

(Note:  Some publications and teachers do not require the use the comma before the word and when there are more than two items in a series. This comma is called the Oxford comma. However, since many instructors and standardized tests do require the comma before the word and when there are more than two items in a series. 

Adjectives in a Series - Separate two or more adjectives in a series with a comma if not awkward when order is changed.

Here is an example where changing the order of adjectives would not be awkward:

He had a long, bushy beard.

He had a bushy, long beard.

A comma is required in the above sentences because the adjectives can be switched around.

Here is an example where changing the order of adjectives would be awkward:

The juggler used three yellow balls..

The juggler used yellow three balls.

There should not be a comma since the order of the adjectives cannot be reversed.

After Introductory Words

After Introductory Words

Use a comma after introductory words (words that introduce [come before] a main clause).

Here is an example of a sentence with introductory words:

After the dance, they went home. 

They went home is the main clause.

Here is another example of a sentence with introductory words;

Because the rain started, she rolled up the windows.

She rolled up the windows is the main clause.

Here is the same sentence rephrased:

She rolled up the windows because the rain started.

Now, the main clause is first, so there are no introductory words and, therefore, no comma.  Note that there is no rule that says to put a comma before the word because.

Identifying introductory words

Introductory words are not part of a main clause. They are only words that come before (introduce) a main clause:

  • The story “Young Goodman Brown” uses symbolism.  Here, there are no introductory words.  The words The story are part of the main clause.  They are part of the subject phrase:  The story “Young Goodman Brown.”
  • In the story “Young Goodman Brown,” symbolism is used.  Here, the words story “Young Goodman Brown” are part of an introductory phrase: In the story “Young Goodman Brown.”  These words come before the main clause: symbolism is used.

See how the comma goes before the end quotation mark: Brown,” not Brown”, – when there is a period or comma next to an end quotation mark, the period or comma must go before the end quotation mark.

(Note:  Some publications and instructors say that the comma after introductory words may be dropped if there are only one or two words used to introduce the main idea such as in the following sentence: Today, we will play golf.  However, since many instructors require the traditional use, it is safer to put the comma after all introductory words.

To Separate Unnecessary Words

To Separate Unnecessary Words

Use a comma to separate words that are not necessary to the meaning of the sentence.

Here is an example of a sentence with a word that is not necessary for meaning.

She, however, stayed home.

Commas are used because the sentence does not need however for the meaning of the sentence.

Here is another example of the use of the word however:

He went to the store; however, she stayed home.

Now the however is starting a new sentence, so there must be a semi-colon in front of it and not a comma.

Here is an example of a sentence with a necessary word:

Her sister Catherine went with her.

This indicates the word Catherine is necessary to the meaning, presumably, since she has other sisters.

Her sister, Catherine, went with her.

Here the word Catherine is incidental and not intended as necessary for the meaning of the sentence. This indicates that she has only one sister who does not need to be precisely identified by name.

Other Uses of Commas

Other Uses of Commas

Overview

In addition to the four rules for using commas to separate parts of a sentence, there are other rules for using commas in numbers, addresses, dates, and to separate a signal phrase from a quote.  Of course, if a number, address, dates, or signal phrase introducing a quote are used in a sentence, commas should be used.

Numbers

To separate out thousands: 1,000; 300,000; 1,000,000

Remember that specific style systems have specific rules for whether to spell out or use numerals when expressing quantities.

Addresses

25 Forest Lane, Hudson, Florida. Note that there should be a comma on both sides of a larger geographical entity following a location in that larger geographical entity: She lived in Jacksonville, Florida, for a short time. (Note: In MLA style, avoid abbreviations. Spell out names of states.).  The rules for whether to spell out or use numerals for quantities in different style systems does not apply to addresses.

Dates

January 12, 2008

The rules for whether to spell out or use numerals for quantities in different style systems does not apply to dates expressed in month, day, and year regardless of order of this information.

Separating signal phrases from sentence quotes

Separate a signal phrase (words that say who says the quote) from a quote:

“There will be an earthquake along the Santa Barbara fault within the next ten years,” according to Morelli.

(Note that the comma is before the end quotation mark.  When a rule calls for a period or comma to be next to an end quotation mark, the period or comma goes before the end quotation mark.)

A signal phrase may be at the beginning or in the middle of a sentence:

  • According to Morelli, “There will be an earthquake along the Santa Barbara fault within the next ten years.”
  • “There will be an earthquake,” according to Morelli, “along the Santa Barbara fault line within the next ten years.”

Hints for Determining When to Use a Comma

Hints for Determining When to Use a Comma

Overview

If you are not sure whether to use a comma and there are no quotation marks or standard usages, then ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is there a FANBOYS situation?
  • Is there an items-in-a-series situation?
  • Are there introductory words (words that come before the main idea of the sentence)?
  • Are there unnecessary words (words that are not necessary to the main idea of the sentence)?
  • Is there another use such as numbers, addresses, dates, or to separate a signal phrase from a quote?

If not, don’t put a comma there.

Semicolons and Colons

Semicolons and Colons

Semicolons

General Use of Semicolons

Semicolons are end stop punctuation marks: they are used to mark the end of a sentence. Semicolons are primarily used instead of a period to separate two closely related independent clauses (word groups which can stand as sentence).  A semicolon should be used only when the independent clauses are so closely related, they seem to belong in one sentence.  A semicolon should only be used if both clauses have a subject and a verb; that is, the clause on each side of the semicolon can stand alone as a sentence.

Here is an example of a sentence with a semicolon:

A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.

Semicolon still needed when second clause begins with introductory word(s):

Often, two independent clauses have introductory words beginning the second clause such as also, for example, however, consequentlythen, and therefore. A semicolon is still required to join the two clauses, and an additional comma is also needed after the introductory words.

Here is an example of a sentence with two independent clauses where the second clause begins with an introductory word or words.

Blue jeans have become fashionable all over the world; however, the American originators still wear more jeans than anyone else.

Note that in this sentence the word however begins a new sentence.  Sometimes, the word however is in the middle of a sentence:

Americans, however, still wear more blue jeans than anyone else.

Here, there are not two independent clauses on both sides. There is only one, and the however is just inserted in the middle and does not start a new clause. Therefore, it should have a comma on both sides, not a semicolon.

Items in a series containing commas:

While not a common occurrence, semicolons are also used to separate more than two items in a series when there is a comma in one or more of the items.  Remember that when there are more than two items in a series, there must be a comma after each item except the last item.  The requirement to use semicolons when there is a comma in one or more of those items clarifies and separates the items.

Here is an example where semicolons are used to separate items in a series instead of commas since one or more has a a comma.

She went to Sparta, Georgia; Troy, New York; and Paris, North Carolina.

In the above example, she went to three cities.

Without the semicolons, the sentence would read as follows:

She went to Sparta, Georgia, TroyNew York, and Paris, North Carolina.

That would mean she went to five different places!

Colons

A colon is used after a word group that can stand alone as a sentence (independent clause) which introduces a word, words, or a list that further explain.

Here are examples of sentences using a colon:

All humans have one need in common: food.

There are many colors in the rainbow: blue, green, yellow, pink.

Many people have given their lives for one belief: They believed in freedom.

Do not use a colon after an incomplete statement or after the words such asfor example, or including.

Incorrect:

I bought: eggs, milk, and cheese.

Corrected:

I bought eggs, milk, and cheese.

I bought three things: eggs, milk, and cheese.

Incorrect:

I am allergic to such foods such as: eggs, milk, and cheese.

Corrected:

I am allergic to many foods such as eggs, milk, and cheese.

I am allergic to many foods: eggs, milk, and cheese.

A colon also is used after a sentence that introduces a quote.

She was quite surprised at the decision: “I can’t believe it,” she muttered.

Semicolons

Semicolons

General Use of Semicolons

Semicolons are end stop punctuation marks: they are used to mark the end of a sentence. Semicolons are primarily used instead of a period to separate two closely related independent clauses (word groups which can stand as sentence).  A semicolon should be used only when the independent clauses are so closely related, they seem to belong in one sentence.  A semicolon should only be used if both clauses have a subject and a verb; that is, the clause on each side of the semicolon can stand alone as a sentence.

Here is an example of a sentence with a semicolon:

A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.

Semicolon still needed when second clause begins with introductory word(s):

Often, two independent clauses have introductory words beginning the second clause such as also, for example, however, consequentlythen, and therefore. A semicolon is still required to join the two clauses, and an additional comma is also needed after the introductory words.

Here is an example of a sentence with two independent clauses where the second clause begins with an introductory word or words.

Blue jeans have become fashionable all over the world; however, the American originators still wear more jeans than anyone else.

Note that in this sentence the word however begins a new sentence.  Sometimes, the word however is in the middle of a sentence:

Americans, however, still wear more blue jeans than anyone else.

Here, there are not two independent clauses on both sides. There is only one, and the however is just inserted in the middle and does not start a new clause. Therefore, it should have a comma on both sides, not a semicolon.

Items in a series containing commas:

While not a common occurrence, semicolons are also used to separate more than two items in a series when there is a comma in one or more of the items.  Remember that when there are more than two items in a series, there must be a comma after each item except the last item.  The requirement to use semicolons when there is a comma in one or more of those items clarifies and separates the items.

Here is an example where semicolons are used to separate items in a series instead of commas since one or more has a a comma.

She went to Sparta, Georgia; Troy, New York; and Paris, North Carolina.

In the above example, she went to three cities.

Without the semicolons, the sentence would read as follows:

She went to Sparta, Georgia, TroyNew York, and Paris, North Carolina.

That would mean she went to five different places!

Colons

Colons

Use of Colons

A colon is used after a word group that can stand alone as a sentence (independent clause) which introduces a word, words, or a list that further explain.

Here are examples of sentences using a colon:

All humans have one need in common: food.

There are many colors in the rainbow: blue, green, yellow, pink.

Many people have given their lives for one belief: They believed in freedom.

Do not use a colon after an incomplete statement or after the words such asfor example, or including.

Incorrect:

I bought: eggs, milk, and cheese.

Corrected:

I bought eggs, milk, and cheese.

I bought three things: eggs, milk, and cheese.

Incorrect:

I am allergic to such foods such as: eggs, milk, and cheese.

Corrected:

I am allergic to many foods such as eggs, milk, and cheese.

I am allergic to many foods: eggs, milk, and cheese.

A colon also is used after a sentence that introduces a quote.

She was quite surprised at the decision: “I can’t believe it,” she muttered.

Apostrophes

Apostrophes

Overview

Apostrophes are used to show omissions in contractions and for possession. An apostrophe is also used to form the plural of letters used as letters.

Contractions

A contraction is used when two words are joined, leaving out one or two letters.  We put an apostrophe in the place of the missing letter(s):

  • did not – didn’t
  • should have – should‘ve
  • it is - it's

Possession

Singular nouns: To show possession, we add 's

  • The coat belonging to the girl – the girl‘s coat
  • The shoes belonging to Kelly – Kelly‘s shoes
  • This is true even when the singular form ends in s.
  • The car belonging to Charles – Charles‘s car
  • The car belongs to Bill Jones – Bill Jones‘s house

(Note:  Some instructors say you may drop the possessive s when a singular word happens to end in an s.  However, in some contexts dropping the possessive s when the word in singular would be considered wrong.  The safer option is to keep the possessive s when a singular noun happens to end in an s.)

Plural nouns that do not end in an s: add ’s.

  • The rights of women- women‘s rights
  • The department for children – children‘s department

Plural nouns ending in an s: add only an apostrophe to show possession.

  • The coat belongs to the girls – the girls  coats
  • The house belongs to the Joneses- the Joneses‘  house

Plural of letters used as letters 

Use an apostrophe to form the plural of letters used as letters.

  • Watch your p’s and q’s.  
  • The students were happy with the number of A’s in the class.

Problems with apostrophes

There are some uses of the apostrophe which can be troublesome and confusing.

Do not use an apostrophe to make a noun plural (more than one).

No Apostrophe for Plurals of Nouns
Incorrect   Correct
The dog's ran in the yard.       

The dogs ran in the yard.          

These book's are on sale. These books are on sale.

Do not use apostrophes to form the plural of an abbreviation or number.

No Apostrophe for Plurals of Abbrev. of Numbers

Incorrect       

Correct     

MA's MAs
in the 1800's                       in the 1800s                     

Note: If you are using the years in a century as an adjective, the apostrophe for possession is appropriate, but the rule for possession with plurals ending in s is applied:  the 1960s’ Civil Rights Movement.

Do not confuse contractions with similar sounding words.

Its and It’s:

It’s is the contraction for it is or it has.

It is - contracted
No Contraction          Contraction
It is a beautiful day.                        It's a beautiful day.                         
It has been nice to know you. It's been nice to know you.

Use its to show possession: his, hers, theirs, yours, ours, its.

  • My car needs to have its brakes checked.
  • Its wheel just came off.

Who’s and Whose:

Who’s is is the contraction for who is.

Who is - contracted
No Contraction          Contraction
Who is coming to the party?                  Who's coming to the party?                   
Who is your favorite singer? Who's your favorite singer?

Use Whose to show possession: his, hers, theirs, yours, ours, its.

  • Whose car alarm keeps going off?  It is his alarm.
  • Whose music do you like best?  I like yours the best.

They’re, Their, and There:

They’re is the contraction for they are.       

They are - contracted
No Contraction          Contraction
They are on the shelf.                    They're on the shelf.                        
They are not invited. They're not invited.

Use their to show possession: his, hers, theirs, yours, ours, its.

  • They forgot their keys.
  • Their keys are on the table.

There is a location word. Notice how the word here is in there.

  • She was always there for me.
  • Put them over there.

Would’ve, Could’ve,  Should’ve:

These are contractions with the word  have. Because the ‘ve sounds like of, many people the mistake of writing would of instead of would’ve.

Would have, Could have, Should have - contracted
Incorrect        Correct
I would of asked.                  I would've asked.  (I would have asked.)                     
He should of gone He should've gone. (He should have gone.)
Should could of called. She could've called. (She could have called.)

 

Contractions

Contractions

Contractions

A contraction is used when we join two words, leaving out one or two letters.  We put an apostrophe in the place of the missing letter(s):

did not – didn’t

should have – should‘ve

it is - it's

Possession

Possession

Singular nouns: To show possession, we add ‘s

  • The coat belonging to the girl – the girl‘s coat
  • The shoes belonging to Kelly – Kelly‘s shoes
  • This is true even when the singular form ends in s.
  • The car belonging to Charles – Charles‘s car
  • The car belongs to Bill Jones – Bill Jones‘s house

(Note:  Some instructors say you may drop the possessive s when a singular word happens to end in an s.  However, in some contexts dropping the possessive s when the word in singular would be considered wrong.  The safer option is to keep the possessive s when a singular noun happens to end in an s.)

Plural nouns that do not end in an s: add ’s.

  • The rights of women- women‘s rights
  • The department for children – children‘s department

Plural nouns ending in an s: add only an apostrophe to show possession.

  • The coat belongs to the girls – the girls  coats
  • The house belongs to the Joneses- the Joneses‘  house

Plural of letters used as letters

Plural of letters used as letters

Use an apostrophe to form the plural of letters used as letters.

  • Watch your p’s and q’s.  
  • The students were happy with the number of A’s in the class.

Problems with apostrophes

Problems with apostrophes

Overview

There are some uses of the apostrophe which can be troublesome and confusing.

Do not use an apostrophe to make a noun plural (more than one).

No Apostrophe for Plurals of Nouns
Incorrect   Correct
The dog's ran in the yard.

The dogs ran in the yard.

These book's are on sale. These books are on sale.

Do not use apostrophes to form the plural of an abbreviation or number.

No Apostrophe for Plurals of Abbrev. of Numbers

Incorrect       

Correct     

MA's MAs
in the 1800's                       in the 1800s                     

Note: If you are using the years in a century as an adjective, the apostrophe for possession is appropriate, but the rule for possession with plurals ending in s is applied:  the 1960s’ Civil Rights Movement.

Do not confuse contractions with similar sounding words

Its and It’s:

It’s is the contraction for it is or it has.

It is - contracted
No Contraction          Contraction
It is a beautiful day.                        It's a beautiful day.                         
It has been nice to know you. It's been nice to know you.

Use its to show possession: his, hers, theirs, yours, ours, its.

  • My car needs to have its brakes checked.
  • Its wheel just came off.

Who’s and Whose:

Who’s is is the contraction for who is.

Who is - contracted
No Contraction          Contraction
Who is coming to the party?                  Who's coming to the party?                   
Who is your favorite singer? Who's your favorite singer?

Use Whose to show possession: his, hers, theirs, yours, ours, its.

  • Whose car alarm keeps going off?  It is his alarm.
  • Whose music do you like best?  I like yours the best.

They’re, Their, and There:

They’re is the contraction for they are.       

They are - contracted
No Contraction          Contraction
They are on the shelf.                    They're on the shelf.                        
They are not invited. They're not invited.

Use their to show possession: his, hers, theirs, yours, ours, its.

  • They forgot their keys.
  • Their keys are on the table.
  •  

There is a location word. Notice how the word here is in there.

  • She was always there for me.
  • Put them over there.

Would’ve, Could’ve,  Should’ve:

These are contractions with the word  have. Because the ‘ve sounds like of, many people the mistake of writing would of instead of would’ve.

Would have, Could have, Should have - contracted
Incorrect        Correct
I would of asked.                  I would've asked.  (I would have asked.)                     
He should of gone He should've gone. (He should have gone.)
Should could of called. She could've called. (She could have called.)

End Punctuation

End Punctuation

Periods

People generally know that they have to put a period at the end of a sentence. However, that requires knowing what a sentence is and being able to identify one.

A sentence is a word group that has a subject and proper verb (predicate) and completes a thought.  Otherwise, the word group is not a sentence. 

Also, sometimes, it’s hard to tell where the sentence ends.

Errors with Comma Splices

Incorrect:   In order to strengthen a sprained ankle, the girl exercised in the gym daily, however, her ankle remained weak.

These are actually two sentences and should have a period between them.  As is, this is a comma splice run-on: two sentences spliced together with a sentence.

Corrected:  In order to strengthen a sprained ankle, the girl exercised in the gym daily. However, her ankle remained weak.

In short, closely related sentences such as these, a semi-colon could also be used between the sentences.

Also Correct:  In order to strengthen a sprained ankle, the girl exercised in the gym daily; however, her ankle remained weak.

Although semi-colons separate words group that can stand alone as sentences (independent clauses), semicolons are not considered end punctuation since they are used within a sentence, not to end a sentence.

Errors with Fused Run-Ons

Similarly, sometimes there is no punctuation to end the sentence resulting in a fused run-on.

Incorrect:  In order to strengthen a sprained ankle, the girl exercised in the gym daily however, her ankle remained weak.

There must be a period or a semi-colon separating the sentences.

Errors with Extra Periods

Sometimes, periods are inserted into the middle of a sentence where they don’t belong.

Incorrect: In order to strengthen a sprained ankle, the girl exercised daily.  But the ankle remained weak.

The period does not belong there since the words following the period are not a sentence and are part of the previous sentence.

Corrected: In order to strengthen a sprained ankle, the girl exercised daily, but the ankle remained weak.

Here’s another example how determining the end of a sentence can sometimes be confusing.

Incorrect: She went to the store, then, she went to the gym.

These are two sentences separated by a comma just as with the previous example.

Words such as however, then, and now are sometimes in the middle of a sentence and sometimes at the beginning of a sentence.

Corrected: She went to the store, then to the gym.

Now, since these are no longer two sentences, there is no need for a period.

Periods with Abbreviations

Periods are also used in some abbreviations. When an abbreviation which has a period is used at the end of a sentence, don’t use a period to end the sentence.  There should not be a double period at the end of a sentence.

I asked her to come at 10 a.m.

Periods with Quotation Marks

When there is a period next to an end quotation mark, the period goes before the end quotation mark, not after it.

“The explorers were stranded in the most unbearable conditions.”  See how the period is before the end quotation mark.

Periods with Parenthetical Documentation

Parenthetical documentation is documentation or citing or the source in parentheses.  When there is parenthetical documentation at the end of the sentence, the period goes only after the parentheses.  The parenthetical documentation is part of the sentence.

“The explorers were stranded in the most unbearable conditions” (Chu). See how the period goes only after the parentheses.

Question Marks

Question marks are used at the end of questions.  When there is a question mark, there should not also be a period since the question mark is the end punctuation.

Sometimes, a sentence that is a question has some quoted words.  The question mark still goes at the end of the sentence:

Does anyone really know whether "the earth will be impacted by a meteor in the near future"?

If there is a quoted question in a sentence, then the question mark goes inside the quotation marks:

He asked, “Who is going?”

Sometimes, there is a question about whether a sentence contains a direct question.

He asked about who is going.

With this phrasing, there is no direct question.  It is an indirect question.  Question marks should not be used.

Question marks can also be used for rhetorical questions – questions used for persuasion.

The earth has been gradually warming since the end of the last Ice Age.  Are humans really speeding up this warming trend or is it just part of the natural process?

Exclamation Points

An exclamation point is used to show strong emphasis or importance.

“Put down the box!” the woman yelled.

Ordinarily, we would use a comma to separate out the words that say who says a quote (a signal tag).  However, a comma is not used next to an exclamation point.

Exclamation points are rarely used in research writing.  When it is used in a direct quote, only one exclamation point is used.  Don’t add additional exclamation points to be more emphatic.

Incorrect:

Stop!!

Correct:

Stop!

Periods

Periods

Periods

People generally know that they have to put a period at the end of a sentence. However, that requires knowing what a sentence is and being able to identify one.

A sentence is a word group that has a subject and proper verb (predicate) and completes a thought.  Otherwise, the word group is not a sentence. 

Also, sometimes, it’s hard to tell where the sentence ends.

Errors with Comma Splices

Incorrect:   In order to strengthen a sprained ankle, the girl exercised in the gym daily, however, her ankle remained weak.

These are actually two sentences and should have a period between them.  As is, this is a comma splice run-on: two sentences spliced together with a sentence.

Corrected:  In order to strengthen a sprained ankle, the girl exercised in the gym daily. However, her ankle remained weak.

In short, closely related sentences such as these, a semi-colon could also be used between the sentences.

Also Correct:  In order to strengthen a sprained ankle, the girl exercised in the gym daily; however, her ankle remained weak.

Although semi-colons separate words group that can stand alone as sentences (independent clauses), semicolons are not considered end punctuation since they are used within a sentence, not to end a sentence.

Errors with Fused Run-Ons

Similarly, sometimes there is no punctuation to end the sentence resulting in a fused run-on.

Incorrect:  In order to strengthen a sprained ankle, the girl exercised in the gym daily however, her ankle remained weak.

There must be a period or a semi-colon separating the sentences.

Errors with Extra Periods

Sometimes, periods are inserted into the middle of a sentence where they don’t belong.

Incorrect: In order to strengthen a sprained ankle, the girl exercised daily.  But the ankle remained weak.

The period does not belong there since the words following the period are not a sentence and are part of the previous sentence.

Corrected: In order to strengthen a sprained ankle, the girl exercised daily, but the ankle remained weak.

Here’s another example how determining the end of a sentence can sometimes be confusing.

Incorrect: She went to the store, then, she went to the gym.

These are two sentences separated by a comma just as with the previous example.

Words such as however, then, and now are sometimes in the middle of a sentence and sometimes at the beginning of a sentence.

Corrected: She went to the store, then to the gym.

Now, since these are no longer two sentences, there is no need for a period.

Periods with Abbreviations

Periods are also used in some abbreviations. When an abbreviation which has a period is used at the end of a sentence, don’t use a period to end the sentence.  There should not be a double period at the end of a sentence.

I asked her to come at 10 a.m.

Periods with Quotation Marks

When there is a period next to an end quotation mark, the period goes before the end quotation mark, not after it.

“The explorers were stranded in the most unbearable conditions.”  See how the period is before the end quotation mark.

Periods with Parenthetical Documentation

Parenthetical documentation is documentation or citing or the source in parentheses.  When there is parenthetical documentation at the end of the sentence, the period goes only after the parentheses.  The parenthetical documentation is part of the sentence.

“The explorers were stranded in the most unbearable conditions” (Chu). See how the period goes only after the parentheses.

Question Marks

Question Marks

Question Marks

Question marks are used at the end of questions.  When there is a question mark, there should not also be a period since the question mark is the end punctuation.

Sometimes, a sentence that is a question has some quoted words.  The question mark still goes at the end of the sentence:

Does anyone really know whether "the earth will be impacted by a meteor in the near future"?

If there is a quoted question in a sentence, then the question mark goes inside the quotation marks:

He asked, “Who is going?”

Sometimes, there is a question about whether a sentence contains a direct question.

He asked about who is going.

With this phrasing, there is no direct question.  It is an indirect question.  Question marks should not be used.

Question marks can also be used for rhetorical questions – questions used for persuasion.

The earth has been gradually warming since the end of the last Ice Age.  Are humans really speeding up this warming trend or is it just part of the natural process?

Exclamation Points

Exclamation Points

Exclamation Points

An exclamation point is used to show strong emphasis or importance.

“Put down the box!” the woman yelled.

Ordinarily, we would use a comma to separate out the words that say who says a quote (a signal tag).  However, a comma is not used next to an exclamation point.

Exclamation points are rarely used in research writing.  When it is used in a direct quote, only one exclamation point is used.  Don’t add additional exclamation points to be more emphatic.

Incorrect:

Stop!!

Correct:

Stop!

Quotation Marks

Quotation Marks

Quotation Marks

There are three rules for using quotation marks:

  1. around exact words (quotes)
  2. around titles of short, published works
  3. around words used in a special way.

Here is an example of each:

“It will rain today,” he said. (Quote)

The students had a choice of two articles to read: “The American Economy in 2012” or “The Effect of Sunspots on Earth’s Weather.”  (Title of short, published work)

He “relaxed” by climbing mountains and running marathons.  (Words used in a special way)

Quoted Words

Use quotation marks around exact words (quotes) from someone else.

Use a comma or commas to separate a signal phrase from a full sentence quote. 

full sentence quote just means that the quote is a sentence.  It doesn’t have to be the entire sentence from the source.

signal phrase is also called an identifying tag or identifying words. They are words that say who says the quote.  A signal phrase consists only of words that say who says the quote.

Note that there is a rule that says to use a comma or a period next to an end quotation mark, put the period or comma before, not after, the end quotation mark:

A signal phrase can go at the end of a sentence:

“It will rain today,” he said.

The words he said are the signal tag.

A signal phrase can go the middle of a sentence:

“It will,” he said, “rain today.”

See how two commas are used to separate the signal tag from the quote.

A signal phrase can also go at the beginning of a sentence.

He said, “It will rain today.”

Identifying a signal phrase

He said, "If will rain today."

See how the signal phrase (He said) is limited to words that say who says the quote.

When more words are added to a signal phrase before the quote, the quote becomes fragmentary – a partial sentence quote.  

One example is the use of the word that before a quote. Then, the quoted words would be part of a sentence started outside the quote.

He said that “it would rain today.”

The word that changes words that would have been a signal phrase into words that are just part of a sentence.  What is inside the quote is a continuation of a sentence.  See how there is no comma and the first letter is not capitalized since the quoted words are no longer considered a sentence.

Quotation marks and fragmentary quotes

With a fragmentary quotation (not a complete sentence), do not use a comma before the quote nor a capital to start the quote.

He referred to his opponent as a “lily-livered coward of the highest degree.”

No commas next to question marks and exclamation points

Don't use a comma next to question marks or exclamation points, not even to separate out signal tags.

“It will rain today!” he exclaimed.

He exclaimed, “It will rain today!”

“Will it rain today?” he asked.

He asked , “Will it rain today?”

Placement of periods, question marks, and exclamation points with quotation marks

When a period or comma is next to an end quotation mark, the period or comma must go before the end quotation mark:

He said, "It will rain today."  Not today".

When a quote is a question or an exclamation, the question mark or the exclamation point is part of the quote and belongs before the end quotation mark:

She asked, “Will it rain today?”

The student shouted, “I passed the final test.  I’m graduating!”

When there is a quote in a sentence which is a question or an exclamation, the question mark or the exclamation point belongs at the end of the sentence, not the end of the quote.

Is there a specific reason for the “feelings of unhappiness” you describe?

She twirled with “unbridled joy” around the room!

This is true even if the quoted words are at the end of the sentence:

Is there a reason for these “feelings of unhappiness“?

She twirled with “unbridled joy“!

Omission within quotation marks – use of ellipsis (...)

Use an ellipsis to show omitted words from within a quote:

Jim Carrey said, “I got a lot of support from my parents when I was pursuing my career in comedy.  They didn’t tell me I was being stupid; they told me I was being funny.”

Quote with omission:  Jim Carrey said, “I got a lot of support from my parents .… They didn’t tell me I was being stupid; they told me I was being funny.”

See how the ellipsis is inserted where the words when I was pursuing my career in comedy were omitted. Note that there are four periods: the ellipsis consisting of three periods and a period to end the sentence since this ellipsis happens to be at the end of a sentence.

Ellipsis at beginning or end of quoted words

Don’t use an ellipsis at the beginning of a quote.  Only use an ellipsis at the end when the quote does not complete a sentence (an unusual situation).

Incorrect: 

A tsunami does give brief warning since “…the water recedes from the shore.”

Correct:  

A tsunami does give brief warning since “the water recedes from the shore.”

Example of situation where ellipsis would be used at the of quote:

The terrified man began to describe the disaster: “The wind was howling and the rain beating furiously when….”

Note that this use of ellipsis only applies when a sentence is not finished in the quote, not when you don’t use a whole sentence from the source.  If you use part of a sentence from a quote which is still a sentence, don’t use the ellipsis.

Use brackets to show changes to quotes

You may change or add words to a quote for grammar or clarity as long as the meaning of the sentence is not changed.  Use square brackets around the change.

"In anticipation of an attack, he [Julius Caesar] ordered his men to guard the city gates."

The words Julius Caesar were added to clarify to whom the word he is referring.

However, don't use brackets around an ellipsis. Brackets are used in quotes to show changes made by the author of the writing who is using the quoted material.  The ellipsis itself indicates that a change was made by omitting some words.  Brackets around an ellipsis are only used when the quote itself has brackets to distinguish between what was omitted by the writer of the quote and the writer using the quote. Here is an example.

Jim Carrey said, “I got a lot of support from my parents .… They didn’t tell me I was being stupid; they told me I was being funny.”

No quotation marks with long indented quotes

If you are quoting more than four lines (not sentences), you need to set the quote off from the text.  Indent the quote one inch from the left margin, and do not use quotation marks. The quote should be double spaced as with the rest of the paper.

Helen Keller, though born both deaf and blind, was no coward. This can be seen in her views on the worth of life:

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature,

nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding

danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure.

Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.

Quotation marks for the titles of short, published works

Short, published works are items that are usually published in a larger work or collection such as articles from periodicals (journals, newspapers, and magazines), songs, poems, and pages from Web sites.

"Empathetic Approach to Nursing" - journal

"Bad to the Bone" - song

"A Supermarket in California" - poem

"Jurassic Undertakers" - page in a website

Use italics for longer works such as books, plays, periodicals (journals, magazines, and newspapers), entire Web sites, and online databases.

Moby Dick - book

Fences - play

CNN.com - website

Natural History - magazine

Note:

Specific information for using quotes for in-text citations can be found in either the MLA or APA section. These examples use the MLA format of capitalizing the first letter of the title and all important words. Unimportant words which do not need to be capitalized are articles (a, an, the), coordinating conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so), and prepositions including in, on, at, and of.  In APA, only the first letter of the title and any proper nouns are capitalized.

Quotation marks with words used in a special way

Words used in a special way

When a word or words are used in a different way than the dictionary definition or the common usage, they are considered words used in a special way. These are words you could use the term so-called in front of.  Here are two sets of examples.

His so-called retirement consisted of volunteering for two different charities and the homeowners’ association.

His “retirement” consisted of volunteering for two different charities and the homeowners’ association.

Her so-called ordinary morning routine consisted of jogging two miles, feeding the dogs, putting in a load of laundry, and checking e-mail.

Her “ordinary” morning routine consisted of jogging two miles, feeding the dogs, putting in a load of laundry, and checking e-mail.

Note that the term so-called and quotation marks are not used together. Use one or the other.

Irony and sarcasm are not considered words used in a special way

Words used for irony or sarcasm should not be in quotation marks. Ironic use of words is meant to convey the opposite of the literal definition. Words used in a special way are when a different- than-usual meaning of the word is intended to be conveyed.

Here’s an example of irony:

After hearing the vulgar outburst from the unhappy constituent, the councilwoman said, “Thank you for your civil comments.”

She didn’t literally mean civil. She meant the opposite of civil.

Here’s an example of the word used in a special way.

In civil society, a verbal assault is not considered criminal unless it amounts to disorderly conduct.

The thought that is conveyed might be ironic, but the use of the word in this sentence is in a special way and not the opposite of what it literally means.

Single Quotation Marks

Single quotation marks are only used when you have to put quotation marks inside quotation marks.  Here is an example:

The professor said, “Read the article entitled ‘How to Grow Hydroponic Tomatoes.'”  Notice how the period at the end goes before both the single quotation mark and the regular (double) quotation mark.

Here is an example of a title of an article which contains the title of a short, published work:

"Irony in the 'The Cask of Amontillado.'"

Sometimes, you are quoting words which are quoted in a source. Here is an example from an article written by Carolyn Vachani.  

According to biologist John Hollingsworth, “Genes also play a role in the repair of damaged cells and tissues.”

If you wanted to use this indirect quote in your research paper, here is how to incorporate using a quote within a quote.

"According to biologist John Hollingsworth, 'Genes also play a role in the repair of damaged cells and tissues'" (qtd. in Vachani).   - the abbreviation qtd. in means quoted in.

See how there are regular double quotation marks around the entire quoted sentence and single quotation marks around Hollingsworth's words.  Also, see MLA In-Text Citations in the Research section for more information on incorporating indirect quotes in a paper.

 

 

Quotation Marks - Overview

Quotation Marks - Overview

Overview

There are three rules for using quotation marks:

  1. around exact words (quotes)
  2. around titles of short, published works
  3. around words used in a special way.

Here is an example of each:

“It will rain today,” he said. (Quote)

The students had a choice of two articles to read: “The American Economy in 2012” or “The Effect of Sunspots on Earth’s Weather.”  (Title of short, published work)

He “relaxed” by climbing mountains and running marathons.  (Words used in a special way)

Quoted Words

Quoted Words

Quoted Words

Use quotation marks around exact words (quotes) from someone else.

Use a comma or commas to separate a signal phrase from a full sentence quote. 

full sentence quote just means that the quote is a sentence.  It doesn’t have to be the entire sentence from the source.

signal phrase is also called an identifying tag or identifying words. They are words that say who says the quote.  A signal phrase consists only of words that say who says the quote.

Note that there is a rule that says to use a comma or a period next to an end quotation mark, put the period or comma before, not after, the end quotation mark:

A signal phrase can go at the end of a sentence:

“It will rain today,” he said.

The words he said are the signal tag.

A signal phrase can go the middle of a sentence:

“It will,” he said, “rain today.”

See how two commas are used to separate the signal tag from the quote.

A signal phrase can also go at the beginning of a sentence.

He said, “It will rain today.”

Identifying a signal phrase

He said, "If will rain today."

See how the signal phrase (He said) is limited to words that say who says the quote.

When more words are added to a signal phrase before the quote, the quote becomes fragmentary – a partial sentence quote.  

One example is the use of the word that before a quote. Then, the quoted words would be part of a sentence started outside the quote.

He said that “it would rain today.”

The word that changes words that would have been a signal phrase into words that are just part of a sentence.  What is inside the quote is a continuation of a sentence.  See how there is no comma and the first letter is not capitalized since the quoted words are no longer considered a sentence.

Quotation marks and fragmentary quotes

With a fragmentary quotation (not a complete sentence), do not use a comma before the quote nor a capital to start the quote.

He referred to his opponent as a “lily-livered coward of the highest degree.”

No commas next to question marks and exclamation points

Don't use a comma next to question marks or exclamation points, not even to separate out signal tags.

“It will rain today!” he exclaimed.

He exclaimed, “It will rain today!”

“Will it rain today?” he asked.

He asked , “Will it rain today?”

Placement of periods, question marks, and exclamation points with quotation marks

When a period or comma is next to an end quotation mark, the period or comma must go before the end quotation mark:

He said, "It will rain today."  Not today".

When a quote is a question or an exclamation, the question mark or the exclamation point is part of the quote and belongs before the end quotation mark:

She asked, “Will it rain today?”

The student shouted, “I passed the final test.  I’m graduating!”

When there is a quote in a sentence which is a question or an exclamation, the question mark or the exclamation point belongs at the end of the sentence, not the end of the quote.

Is there a specific reason for the “feelings of unhappiness” you describe?

She twirled with “unbridled joy” around the room!

This is true even if the quoted words are at the end of the sentence:

Is there a reason for these “feelings of unhappiness“?

She twirled with “unbridled joy“!

Omission within quotation marks – use of ellipsis (...)

Use an ellipsis to show omitted words from within a quote:

Jim Carrey said, “I got a lot of support from my parents when I was pursuing my career in comedy.  They didn’t tell me I was being stupid; they told me I was being funny.”

Quote with omission:  Jim Carrey said, “I got a lot of support from my parents .… They didn’t tell me I was being stupid; they told me I was being funny.”

See how the ellipsis is inserted where the words when I was pursuing my career in comedy were omitted. Note that there are four periods: the ellipsis consisting of three periods and a period to end the sentence since this ellipsis happens to be at the end of a sentence.

Ellipsis at beginning or end of quoted words

Don’t use an ellipsis at the beginning of a quote.  Only use an ellipsis at the end when the quote does not complete a sentence (an unusual situation).

Incorrect: 

A tsunami does give brief warning since “…the water recedes from the shore.”

Correct:  

A tsunami does give brief warning since “the water recedes from the shore.”

Example of situation where ellipsis would be used at the of quote:

The terrified man began to describe the disaster: “The wind was howling and the rain beating furiously when….”

Note that this use of ellipsis only applies when a sentence is not finished in the quote, not when you don’t use a whole sentence from the source.  If you use part of a sentence from a quote which is still a sentence, don’t use the ellipsis.

Use brackets to show changes to quotes

You may change or add words to a quote for grammar or clarity as long as the meaning of the sentence is not changed.  Use square brackets around the change.

"In anticipation of an attack, he [Julius Caesar] ordered his men to guard the city gates."

The words Julius Caesar were added to clarify to whom the word he is referring.

However, don't use brackets around an ellipsis. Brackets are used in quotes to show changes made by the author of the writing who is using the quoted material.  The ellipsis itself indicates that a change was made by omitting some words.  Brackets around an ellipsis are only used when the quote itself has brackets to distinguish between what was omitted by the writer of the quote and the writer using the quote. Here is an example.

Jim Carrey said, “I got a lot of support from my parents .… They didn’t tell me I was being stupid; they told me I was being funny.”

No quotation marks with long indented quotes

If you are quoting more than four lines (not sentences), you need to set the quote off from the text.  Indent the quote one inch from the left margin, and do not use quotation marks. The quote should be double spaced as with the rest of the paper.

Helen Keller, though born both deaf and blind, was no coward. This can be seen in her views on the worth of life:

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature,

nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding

danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure.

Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.

Titles of Short, Published Works

Titles of Short, Published Works

Quotation marks for the titles of short, published works

Short, published works are items that are usually published in a larger work or collection such as articles from periodicals (journals, newspapers, and magazines), songs, poems, and pages from Web sites.

"Empathetic Approach to Nursing" - journal

"Bad to the Bone" - song

"A Supermarket in California" - poem

"Jurassic Undertakers" - page in a website

Use italics for longer works such as books, plays, periodicals (journals, magazines, and newspapers), entire Web sites, and online databases.

Moby Dick - book

Fences - play

CNN.com - website

Natural History - magazine

Note:

Specific information for using quotes for in-text citations can be found in either the MLA or APA section. These examples use the MLA format of capitalizing the first letter of the title and all important words. Unimportant words which do not need to be capitalized are articles (a, an, the), coordinating conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so), and prepositions including in, on, at, and of.  In APA, only the first letter of the title and any proper nouns are capitalized.

Words Used in a Special Way

Words Used in a Special Way

Words used in a special way

When a word or words are used in a different way than the dictionary definition or the common usage, they are considered words used in a special way. These are words you could use the term so-called in front of.  Here are two sets of examples.

His so-called retirement consisted of volunteering for two different charities and the homeowners’ association.

His “retirement” consisted of volunteering for two different charities and the homeowners’ association.

Her so-called ordinary morning routine consisted of jogging two miles, feeding the dogs, putting in a load of laundry, and checking e-mail.

Her “ordinary” morning routine consisted of jogging two miles, feeding the dogs, putting in a load of laundry, and checking e-mail.

Note that the term so-called and quotation marks are not used together. Use one or the other.

Irony and sarcasm are not considered words used in a special way

Words used for irony or sarcasm should not be in quotation marks. Ironic use of words is meant to convey the opposite of the literal definition. Words used in a special way are when a different- than-usual meaning of the word is intended to be conveyed.

Here’s an example of irony:

After hearing the vulgar outburst from the unhappy constituent, the councilwoman said, “Thank you for your civil comments.”

She didn’t literally mean civil. She meant the opposite of civil. We don't use quotation marks because it is sarcastic or ironic.

 

Single Quotation Marks

Single Quotation Marks

Use of Single Quotation Marks

Single quotation marks are only used when you have to put quotation marks inside quotation marks.  Here is an example:

The professor said, “Read the article entitled ‘How to Grow Hydroponic Tomatoes.'”  Notice how the period at the end goes before both the single quotation mark and the regular (double) quotation mark.

Here is an example of a title of an article which contains the title of a short, published work:

"Irony in the 'The Cask of Amontillado.'"

Other Marks

Other Marks

Dashes

A dash is used to separate out words that are not necessary to the meaning of the sentence just as commas are used. 

However, we use a dash to bring the reader’s attention to those unnecessary words. A dash is formed with two hyphens (–) with no space before, between, or after. Your word processor may combine these into one line as in the examples below.

The children – in spite of the intensive training – failed the reading test.

A dash can also be used to separate out a list at the beginning of the sentence:

Roses, violets, and periwinkles – her garden was full of color.

A dash may be used instead of a colon:

There are many colors in the rainbow – blue, green, pink, purple.

Parentheses

Parentheses are another way, in addition to commas and dashes, to separate out information that is not necessary to meaning of the sentence.

While commas are used to separate out incidental unnecessary words and dashes are used to separate out words that the writer wants to bring the reader’s attention to, parentheses are used to separate other types of incidental information such as the years of birth to death of a person being discussed:

Georgia Hamilton (1903–2001) who was born on a rural farm witnessed tremendous technological changes over her lifetime.

Parentheses are also used at the end of a sentence to give credit to a source:

“Whenever people are more concerned about their own personal agendas than what is best for their community, there are always conflicts” (Waylon 23).

This means this quote comes from the source written by Waylon on page 23.

Square Brackets

Square brackets are used when a writer has to use parentheses inside parentheses.

The members of the Koreshan Unity (established by Cyrus Teed [1839-1908] as a utopian community) believed that the Earth was surrounded by a giant, hollow sphere.

Square brackets are also used to indicate a change to the author’s quote:

“Whenever she [Queen Mary] walked into a room, people bowed in respect.”

When quoting a sentence with an error or questionable information, add [sic].

“He went to New Jersy [sic] on vacation.”

Here [sic] is used to tell the reader that Jersey is misspelled in the original.

Slashes

Slashes are used to put two words together when either isn’t enough to convey the meaning.

She was either/or on the issue of relocation.

Slashes are also used to separate quoted lines of poetry:

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. / I love thee with the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach…”  Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Hyphens

Hyphens are used to create compound nouns and to create compound adjectives before a noun. 

Some compound nouns are created using a hyphen:

mother-in-law

runners-up

break-in

Hyphens are used to join compound adjectives before a noun.  Compound adjectives are words that form a new idea when put together:

He is a first-class singer.

I found a fifty-dollar bill in the street!

Use a hyphen to join coequal nouns:

He is an author-poet.

She is a scholar-athlete.

Hyphens are traditionally used between syllables to break a word at the end of a sentence. However, in MLA format, we should not use hyphens to break words at the end of the sentence.

Italics

Just as with other punctuation marks, there are specific rules for the use of italics.  However, years ago, when all we had were typewriters for the everyday person to create a typed paper, there was no way to create italics.  We could use a typewriter to create underlining, and underlining became the substitute for italics.  This tradition continues to this day.  Some publishers are requiring one as opposed to the other, but in many cases they are interchangeable except that the choice should be used consistently within a document. MLA has changed the rule.  Underlining is no longer used at all.  Do not underline in MLA style.

Italics are used for names of long, published works such as magazines, journals, newspapers, and websites:

  • Science
  • Academic Search Complete
  • Tampa Bay Times
  • Ask.com

Italics are also used for names of artwork or for names of ships and aircraft

  • Mona Lisa
  • U.S.S. Enterprise
  • Enola Gay

Italics are used for words and letters used as words and letters:

She learned her ABCs.

There are too many fours in that address.

  • Italicize a word when referring to that word, especially when introducing or defining terms.

The term organic was coined in 1939.

The word Nazi is often overused.

Italics are used for foreign words and phrases.  Since so many foreign words have been incorporated into English and many are now considered Standard English words, it is hard to tell what words are considered foreign.  A standard dictionary will indicate if you are in doubt.

Use italics for foreign words; use quotation marks around the translation.

The Russian word krasnaya can mean either “red” or “beautiful.”

Mano-a-mano is a Spanish construction meaning “hand to hand.”

Very rarely, italics are used for emphasis. Avoid this in research writing.

Ellipsis

An ellipsis (...) is used to show omission within a quote.

Full quote:   Jim Carrey said, “I got a lot of support from my parents when I was pursuing my career in comedy.  They didn’t tell me I was being stupid; they told me I was being funny.”

Quote with omission:  Jim Carrey said, “I got a lot of support from my parents .… They didn’t tell me I was being stupid; they told me I was being funny.”

See how the ellipsis is inserted where the words when I was pursuing my career in comedy were omitted.

Note that there are four periods: the ellipsis consisting of three periods and a period to end the sentence since this ellipsis happens to be at the end of a sentence.

Note that there are not brackets around the ellipsis.  Brackets are used in quotes to show changes made by the author of the writing who is using the quoted material.  The ellipsis itself indicates that a change was made by omitting some words.  Brackets around an ellipsis is only used when the quote itself has brackets to distinguish between what was omitted by the writer of the quote and the writer using the quote.

Don’t use an ellipsis at the beginning of a quote. 

Only use an ellipsis at the end when the quote does not complete a sentence (an unusual situation).

Incorrect: 

A tsunami does give brief warning since “…the water recedes from the shore.”

Correct:   

A tsunami does give brief warning since “the water recedes from the shore.”

Example of situation where ellipsis would be used at the end of a quote:

The terrified man began to describe the disaster: “The wind was howling and the rain beating furiously when….”

Note that this use of ellipsis only applies when a sentence is not finished in the quote, not when you don’t use a whole sentence from the source.  If you use part of a sentence from a quote which is still a sentence, don’t use the ellipsis.

Dashes

Dashes

Dashes

A dash is used to separate out words that are not necessary to the meaning of the sentence just as commas are used. 

However, we use a dash to bring the reader’s attention to those unnecessary words. A dash is formed with two hyphens (–) with no space before, between, or after. Your word processor may combine these into one line as in the examples below.

The children – in spite of the intensive training – failed the reading test.

A dash can also be used to separate out a list at the beginning of the sentence:

Roses, violets, and periwinkles – her garden was full of color.

A dash may be used instead of a colon:

There are many colors in the rainbow – blue, green, pink, purple.

Parentheses

Parentheses

Parentheses

Parentheses are another way, in addition to commas and dashes, to separate out information that is not necessary to meaning of the sentence.

While commas are used to separate out incidental unnecessary words and dashes are used to separate out words that the writer wants to bring the reader’s attention to, parentheses are used to separate other types of incidental information such as the years of birth to death of a person being discussed:

Georgia Hamilton (1903–2001) who was born on a rural farm witnessed tremendous technological changes over her lifetime.

Parentheses are also used at the end of a sentence to give credit to a source:

“Whenever people are more concerned about their own personal agendas than what is best for their community, there are always conflicts” (Waylon 23).

This means this quote comes from the source written by Waylon on page 23.

Square Brackets

Square Brackets

Square Brackets

Square brackets are used when a writer has to use parentheses inside parentheses.

The members of the Koreshan Unity (established by Cyrus Teed [1839-1908] as a utopian community) believed that the Earth was surrounded by a giant, hollow sphere.

Square brackets are also used to indicate a change to the author’s quote:

“Whenever she [Queen Mary] walked into a room, people bowed in respect.”

When quoting a sentence with an error or questionable information, add [sic].

“He went to New Jersy [sic] on vacation.”

Here [sic] is used to tell the reader that Jersey is misspelled in the original.

Slashes

Slashes

Slashes

Slashes are used to put two words together when either isn’t enough to convey the meaning.

She was either/or on the issue of relocation.

Slashes are also used to separate quoted lines of poetry:

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. / I love thee with the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach…”  Elizabeth Barrett Browning

 

Hyphens

Hyphens

Hyphens

Hyphens are used to create compound nouns and to create compound adjectives before a noun. 

Some compound nouns are created using a hyphen:

mother-in-law

runners-up

break-in

Hyphens are used to join compound adjectives before a noun.  Compound adjectives are words that form a new idea when put together:

He is a first-class singer.

I found a fifty-dollar bill in the street!

Use a hyphen to join coequal nouns:

He is an author-poet.

She is a scholar-athlete.

Hyphens are traditionally used between syllables to break a word at the end of a sentence. However, in MLA format, we should not use hyphens to break words at the end of the sentence.

Italics

Italics

Italics

Just as with other punctuation marks, there are specific rules for the use of italics. However, years ago, when all we had were typewriters for the everyday person to create a typed paper, there was no way to create italics. We could use a typewriter to create underlining, and underlining became the substitute for italics. This tradition continues to this day. Some publishers are requiring one as opposed to the other, but in many cases they are interchangeable except that the choice should be used consistently within a document. MLA has changed the rule. Underlining is no longer used at all. Do not underline in MLA style.

Italics are used for names of long, published works such as magazines, journals, newspapers, and websites:

  • Science
  • Academic Search Complete
  • St. Petersburg Times
  • Ask.com

Italics are also used for names of artwork or for names of ships and aircraft

  • Mona Lisa
  • U.S.S. Enterprise
  • Enola Gay

Italics are used for words and letters used as words and letters:

She learned her ABCs.

There are too many fours in that address.

  • Italicize a word when referring to that word, especially when introducing or defining terms.

The term organic was coined in 1939.

The word Nazi is often overused.

Italics are used for foreign words and phrases. Since so many foreign words have been incorporated into English and many are now considered Standard English words, it is hard to tell what words are considered foreign. A standard dictionary will indicate if you are in doubt.

Use italics for foreign words; use quotation marks around the translation.

The Russian word krasnaya can mean either “red” or “beautiful.”

Mano-a-mano is a Spanish construction meaning “hand to hand.”

Very rarely, italics are used for emphasis. Avoid this in research writing.

 

Ellipsis

Ellipsis

Ellipsis

An ellipsis (...) is used to show omission within a quote.

Full quote:   Jim Carrey said, “I got a lot of support from my parents when I was pursuing my career in comedy.  They didn’t tell me I was being stupid; they told me I was being funny.”

Quote with omission:  Jim Carrey said, “I got a lot of support from my parents .… They didn’t tell me I was being stupid; they told me I was being funny.”

See how the ellipsis is inserted where the words when I was pursuing my career in comedy were omitted.

Note that there are four periods: the ellipsis consisting of three periods and a period to end the sentence since this ellipsis happens to be at the end of a sentence.

Note that there are not brackets around the ellipsis.  Brackets are used in quotes to show changes made by the author of the writing who is using the quoted material.  The ellipsis itself indicates that a change was made by omitting some words.  Brackets around an ellipsis is only used when the quote itself has brackets to distinguish between what was omitted by the writer of the quote and the writer using the quote.

Don’t use an ellipsis at the beginning of a quote. 

Only use an ellipsis at the end when the quote does not complete a sentence (an unusual situation).

Incorrect: 

A tsunami does give brief warning since “…the water recedes from the shore.”

Correct:   

A tsunami does give brief warning since “the water recedes from the shore.”

Example of situation where ellipsis would be used at the end of a quote:

The terrified man began to describe the disaster: “The wind was howling and the rain beating furiously when….”

Note that this use of ellipsis only applies when a sentence is not finished in the quote, not when you don’t use a whole sentence from the source.  If you use part of a sentence from a quote which is still a sentence, don’t use the ellipsis.

Sentence Structure

Sentence Structure

People generally take very little notice of how they put words together to form sentences when they speak. In verbal communication, there are cues other than words to help the listening understand meaning such as vocal inflection, tone, and even body language.  However, in written language, there are none of these to help get the meaning across.  The words we use and the position of the words in sentences is extremely important.  

Part of effective written communication is keeping the reader's attention and convincing the reader that what you have to convey is accurate.  It is not just what you have to say that is important.  It is how you say it.  Developing a style that is interesting is also essential to persuasive writing. 

This section on sentences will show the various types of grammatical sentences along with common problems to avoid.

Sentences

Sentences

In order to use language to communicate effectively, it is important to understand how the various aspects work together.

Language is categorized into parts according to the function they serve. The parts of speech are nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections. 

In addition, words are categorized according to how they function in sentences including subject, predicate (verb), object, complement, phrases, and clauses. 

This section covers the parts of speech and the parts of a sentence.

Parts of Speech

Parts of Speech

What are parts of speech?

Parts of speech are categories of words or types of words that serve different functions in language. 

In order to discuss how parts of a sentence work, we need to understand the different categories of words (parts of speech).

Here is a list the parts of speech

nouns

pronouns

verbs

adjectives 

adverbs

prepositions 

conjunctions

interjections

Details and examples of the parts of speech

Nouns

Nouns are words that refer to people, places, things, or ideas as dog, student, pencil, supermarket, love, and freedom.

Proper nouns

Proper nouns are names of people, places, works of art, buildings, geographic locations, and more which must have the first letter capitalized such as Mona Lisa, Empire State Building, USS Enterprise, Georgia, and the South

Note: Names of works of art, buildings, and ships (even starships) also go in italics. See Italics in Related Pages for more information.

Some words that are not proper nouns can become proper nouns when part of a name.
high school - but Gulf High School

See Capitalization in Related Paged for more information.

Plural nouns

Plural nouns refer to more than one. Usually, we make nouns plural by adding an s or es.  Some examples are trees, pencils, boxes, and heroes. 

Irregular Nouns

Nouns with Irregular Plurals
Singular Plural
crisis crises
furniture furniture
ox oxen
memorandum

memoranda

child children

Hyphenated nouns

Hyphenated nouns make their plural by adding –s or –es to the the main word such as fathers-in-law, mothers-to-be. secretaries-of-state, and runners-up.

See Plurals in Related Pages for more information.

Pronouns

Pronouns can be either definite or indefinite. Definite pronouns are generally what we mean when we use the term pronouns. They are words that take the place of or refer to specific nouns, other pronouns, or phrases. The other category of pronouns is called indefinite pronouns such as anybody or both and refer to non-specific people, places, or things. 

In this discussion, we will use the terms pronouns and indefinite pronouns.

Here are three examples of definite pronouns:

Ms. Poland broke her shoe when she twisted her ankle. The pronoun her refers to Ms. Poland

Florida is a state which has the majority of residents living along its coastline. The pronoun itsrefers to Florida.

Anyone who studies will pass his or her tests. Anyone is singular and must have a singular pronoun referring back to it.

Pronoun Case

Pronouns are organized into three categories called cases: nominative (for subjects), objective (for objects), and possessive (for possessives)

Examples of Pronoun Case
noun used pronoun used case of pronoun
The man chased the cat. He chased the cat. subject
The cat chased the man The cat chased him. object
The cat is hiding from the man. The cat is hiding from him.  object
The pen is Sylvia's. The pen is hers. possessive
The books belong to Jack and Hector. The books are theirs. possessive

Problem areas:

1. Compound Constructions

My mother and I went to the store. (not My mother and me - I went to the store.)

She asked my brother and me to be quiet. She asked me to be quiet.

She bought a chocolate bar for my brother and me. She bought it for me.

2. Comparisons

My brother is taller than I. My brother is taller than I am.
The movie scared my brother more than me. The movie scared me.
His house is more expensive than mine. His house is more expensive than mine is.

3. Who vs. Whom

Who knows the answer? (Subject) knows the answer.

Whom do you love? Do you love (object)?

The doctor helps whoever needs treatment. The doctor helps (subject) needs treatment.

The doctor helps whomever he treats. The doctor treats (object).

Pronouns with Collective Nouns

Collective nouns are words that describe a group of several people or things but are generally treated as a singular noun. This means that the pronoun referring back to the noun must be singular.

Here are examples of sentences which use collective nouns which are treated as singular nouns.

The class turned in its work. (The class acted as a group [one thing] and not individually.)
The jury made its decision. (The jury acted as a group [one thing] and not as individual members.)
The government should provide help to its people.  (The government acted as one entity.)
Our team placed first in its division.  (The team acted as a group [one thing] and not as individual team members.)

Sometimes, a sentence using a collective noun is describing how each of the members acted individually in which case they are considered plural.  Here are two examples:

The class turned in their homework. (The class members acted as individual members.)

The team arrived at different times. (The team members acted individually.)

Some collective nouns are always plural.  Here is a list:

people

cattle

children

Indefinite pronouns

Indefinite pronouns are a group of pronouns where some are always singular., some are always plural, and some depend on the noun to which they are referring.

Singular Indefinite  Pronouns
   Always  Singular
one           each
either nothing
anybody nobody
each anything
neither another
everybody much
everyone  

Plural Indefinite Pronouns

Always Plural
both
many
two
most
Singular and Plural
Depend on the Noun*
some
few
several
lots
none
all

*These pronouns are used to refer to both singular and plural nouns.

See Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement and Pronoun Reference in Related Links for more information. 

Verbs

There are two types of verbs: action verbs and linking verbs which are also called state of being verbs.

An action verb tells what the subject is doing. Examples of action verbs are run, play, and dance.

A linking verb describes or renames the subject.  Here is an example of a sentence with a linking verb: is.  He is tall.

Verb have tenses, the simple tenses being past, present, and future.  There are other also progressive and perfect tenses. 

Verbs have various forms including the -ing and -ed form along with the infinitive form which uses the word to: to dance, to sing.

See Parts of the Sentence and Verb Tense/Verb Form in Related Links for more information.

Adjectives

Adjectives only describe nouns or pronouns. They tell number (such as five) and what kind (such as cute).

I liked the five, cute kittens.

Use:

Usually, adjectives go before the nouns or pronouns they describe.

She is a good cook.

Sometimes, they follow a sensing verb like to be, feel, look, seem, smell, taste, or feel.

He looks sad.

Sometimes, an indefinite pronoun can be an adjective:

I visit my mother each year. (The word year is singular.)

I love both children. (The word children is plural.)

Pete answered every question correctly

Adverbs

Adverbs are words (or groups of words) that describe an verb, and adjective, or another adverb. Adverbs tell something about how.

Here are examples of sentences using adverbs to describe verbs:

She spoke quietly. - The adverb quietly describes how she spoke.

The river ran swiftly. - The adverb swiftly describes how the river ran.

Adverbs can also describe adjectives.

Those dogs are really big. The adverb really is describing how big those dogs are.

The tree is very tall. 

Adverbs also describe other adverbs.

She spoke extremely quickly.

Making Adjectives into Adverbs:

Often adverbs are formed by adding –ly to an adjective.
loud/loudly

quick/quickly

Exceptions:

Not all adverbs end in –ly. She sings very well. (The word very is an adverb.)
Some adjectives end in –ly. That dog is quite friendly. (The word quite is an adverb.)

Well vs. Good:

Usually the word well is the adverb form of the adjective good.

He is a good athlete. He swims well.

Sometimes the word well is used to mean “healthy.”

He does not look like a well child.

Comparisons:

Usually –er and –est are added to adjectives to show they are more or the most of something. Sometimes we have to say more and the most.

Words that are one-syllable long use –er and –est: small, smaller, smallest.

Words that are most than one-syllable long, usually use more and most: intelligent, more intelligent, most intelligent. 

Comparison to another is called comparative. Comparison to all of the same group is called superlative.

Formation of Comparisons
One syllable More than one syllable form of comparison
small intelligent  
smaller more intelligent comparative
smallest most intelligent superlative

Irregular Comparisons:

The comparison forms of good, well, bad, and badly are irregular. You must memorize them.

Comparison Forms of Good, Well, and Bad
  comparative superlative
good better best
bad worse worst

Conjunctive Adverbs – Fact, I’m Thin

There are many, many different conjunctive adverbs. However, these are some of the most common:

Conjunctive (connecting) adverbs
Fact I'm Thin
furthermore indeed then
also moreover however
consequently   in fact
therefore   nevertheless

Rules for using conjunctive adverbs:

1. The comma always goes immediately after the conjunctive adverb.  It is considered an introductory word.

2. When used, conjunctive adverbs belong at the beginning of the sentence. 

You can use a period before it. Moreover, there is another way.
The other way is to use a semicolon; in fact, this is a very sophisticated method.

*Be careful about the word “however” in the middle of a sentence. Sometimes it is a conjunctive adverb needing a period or semicolon before it and a comma after it, and sometimes it an interjection which only needs commas. If you have two complete sentences joined, it is a conjunctive adverb. If there is only one complete sentence, it is just an adverb.

I was late for class; however, the teacher didn’t notice. (conjunctive adverb)
She usually, however, notices everything. (adverb)

Prepositions

A preposition is a word that shows position or direction such as up, down, in, out, around, over, among, and so on. 

Prepositions begin word groups (phrases)  that tell about the position:  The cat went under the table. These are called prepositional phrases.

Conjunctions

A conjunction is a word that joins parts of a sentence.

Coordinating conjunctions - words that join parts of equal importance:  

forand, nor, butoryetso  (FANBOYS)

Subordinating conjunctions - words which subordinate or make dependent:

since, although after, because before, when while (ITS AA BB WW).  There are many more subordinate conjunctions.

Relative pronoun conjunctions - words that show a relationship:

whose that which whichever, who whoever, whom whomever, what whatever (WTWW WW WW WW)

See Coordination and Subordination and Parts of a Sentence in Related Links. 

Articles

Articles consist of the following words: a, an, the.  Articles are used before nouns to add meaning.

The book means This book – a specific book.

A book means any book.

An is the form of A which is used before words beginning with vowels (a, e, i, o, u) and words beginning with the letter h which sound the h: an historical era, a huge mistake.

Interjections

Interjections are words or expressions that are interjected into a grammatical sentence such as yes, not, aha, phooey, thanks, and so on.

Overview - Parts of Speech

Overview - Parts of Speech

What are parts of speech?

Parts of speech are categories of words or types of words that serve different functions.  In order to discuss how parts of a sentence work, we need to understand the different categories of words.

Here is a list the parts of speech

nouns

pronouns

verbs

adjectives 

adverbs

prepositions 

conjunctions

interjections

Nouns and Pronouns

Nouns and Pronouns

Nouns

Nouns are words that refer to people, places, things, or ideas as dog, student, pencil, supermarket, love, and freedom.

Proper nouns

Proper nouns are names of people, places, works of art, buildings, geographic locations, and more which must have the first letter capitalized such as Mona Lisa, Empire State Building, USS Enterprise, Georgia, and the South

Note: Names of works of art, buildings, and ships (even starships) also go in italics. See Italics in Related Paged for more information.

Some words that are not proper nouns can become proper nouns when part of a name.
high school - but Gulf High School

See Capitalization in Related Pages for more information.

Plural nouns

Plural nouns refer to more than one. Usually, we make nouns plural by adding an s or es.  Some examples are trees, pencils, boxes, and heroes. 

Irregular Nouns

Nouns with Irregular Plurals
Singular Plural
crisis crises
furniture furniture
ox oxen
memorandum

memoranda

child children

Singular words tell whether a singular or plural noun follows.

I visit my mother each year. (The word year is singular.)

I love both children. (The word children is plural.)

Pete answered every question correctly

Singular Pronouns
   Always  Singular
one           each
either nothing
anybody nobody
each anything
neither another
everybody much
everyone  

Plural Pronouns

Always Plural
both
many
two
most
Singular and Plural
Depend on the Noun*
some
few
several
lots
none
all

*These nouns are used to refer to both singular and plural nouns.

Hyphenated nouns

Hyphenated nouns make their plural by adding –s or –es to the the main word such as fathers-in-law, mothers-to-be. secretaries-of-state, and runners-up.

See Plurals in Relate Pages for more information.

Pronouns

Pronouns are words that take the place of or refer to nouns, other pronouns, or phrases. Here are three examples:

Ms. Poland broke her shoe when she twisted her ankle. The pronoun her refers to Ms. Poland

Florida is a state which has the majority of residents living along its coastline. The pronoun itsrefers to Florida.

Anyone who studies will pass his or her tests. Anyone is singular and must have a singular pronoun referring back to it.

Case

Pronouns are organized into three categories called cases: nominative (for subjects), objective (for objects), and possessive (for possessives)

Examples of Pronoun Case
noun used pronoun used case of pronoun
The man chased the cat. He chased the cat. subject
The cat chased the man The cat chased him. object
The cat is hiding from the man. The cat is hiding from him.  object
The pen is Sylvia's. The pen is hers. possessive
The books belong to Jack and Hector. The books are theirs. possessive

Problem areas

1. Compound Constructions

My mother and I went to the store. I went to the store.

She asked my brother and me to be quiet. She asked me to be quiet.

She bought a chocolate bar for my brother and me. She bought it for me.

2. Comparisons

My brother is taller than I. My brother is taller than I am.
The movie scared my brother more than me. The movie scared me.
His house is more expensive than mine. His house is more expensive than mine is.

3. Who vs. Whom

Who knows the answer? (Subject) knows the answer.

Whom do you love? Do you love (object)?

The doctor helps whoever needs treatment. The doctor helps (subject) needs treatment.

The doctor helps whomever he treats. The doctor treats (object).

Pronouns with Collective Nouns

Collective nouns are words that describe a group of several people or things but are treated as a singular noun.

Here are examples of sentences which use collective nouns.

The class turned in its work. (The class acted as a group [one thing] and not individually.)
The jury made its decision. (The jury acted as a group [one thing] and not as individual members.)
The government should provide help to its people.  (The government acted as one entity.)
Our team placed first in its division.  (The team acted as a group [one thing] and not as individual team members.)

See Pronoun-Antecedent and Pronoun Reference in Related Links for more information. 

Case

Case

There are three cases: nominative (for subjects), objective (for objects), and possessive (for possessives)

The man chased the cat.                    subject      He chased the cat.
The cat chased the man.                   object        The cat chased him.
The cat is hiding from the man.          object       The cat is hiding from him.

That is my pen.                 possessive (adjective)
That is mine.                    possessive (pronoun)

Problem areas:
1. Compound Constructions

• My mother and I went to the store. I went to the store.
• She asked my brother and me to be quiet. She asked me to be quiet.
• She bought a chocolate bar for my brother and me. She bought it for me.

2. Comparisons

• My brother is taller than I. My brother is taller than I am.
• The movie scared my brother more than me. The movie scared me.
• His house is more expensive than mine. His house is more expensive than mine is.

3. Who vs. Whom

• Who knows the answer? (Subject) knows the answer.
• Whom do you love? Do you love (object)?
• The doctor helps whoever needs treatment. The doctor helps (subject) needs treatment.
• The doctor helps whomever he treats. The doctor treats (object).

Pronouns with Collective Nouns

Pronouns with Collective Nouns

Collective nouns are a group of several people or things, but are treated as a singular noun.

• The class turned in its work.
• The jury made its decision.
• The government should provide help to its people.
• Our team placed first in its division.

See  Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement and Pronoun Reference

Verbs, Adjectives, and Adverbs

Verbs, Adjectives, and Adverbs

Verbs

A verb is a word that is used to show action or state of being.

See Parts of the Sentence in Related Links for more information.

Adjectives

Adjectives only describe nouns or pronouns. They tell number (such as five) and what kind (such as cute).

I liked the five, cute kittens.

Use:

Usually, adjectives go before the nouns or pronouns they describe.

She is a good cook.

Sometimes, they follow a sensing verb like to be, feel, look, seem, smell, taste, or feel.

He looks sad.

Adverbs

Adverbs are words (or groups of words) that describe an verb, and adjective, or another adverb. Adverbs tell something about how.

Here are examples of sentences using adverbs to describe verbs:

She spoke quietly. - The adverb quietly describes how she spoke.

The river ran swiftly. - The adverb swiftly describes how the river ran.

Adverbs can also describe adjectives.

Those dogs are really big. The adverb really is describing how big those dogs are.

The tree is very tall. 

Adverbs also describe other adverbs.

She spoke extremely quickly.

Making Adjectives into Adverbs:

Often adverbs are formed by adding –ly to an adjective.
loud/loudly

quick/quickly

Exceptions:

Not all adverbs end in –ly. She sings very well. (The word very is an adverb.)
Some adjectives end in –ly. That dog is quite friendly. (The word quite is an adverb.)

Well vs. Good:

Usually the word well is the adverb form of the adjective good.

He is a good athlete. He swims well.

Sometimes the word well is used to mean “healthy.”

He does not look like a well child.

Comparisons:

Usually –er and –est are added to adjectives to show they are more or the most of something. Sometimes we have to say more and the most.

Words that are one-syllable long use –er and –est: small, smaller, smallest.

Words that are most than one-syllable long, usually use more and most: intelligent, more intelligent, most intelligent. 

Comparison to another is called comparative. Comparison to all of the same group is called superlative.

Formation of Comparisons
One syllable More than one syllable form of comparison
small intelligent  
smaller more intelligent comparative
smallest most intelligent superlative

Irregular Comparisons:

The comparison forms of good, well, bad, and badly are irregular. You must memorize them.

Comparison Forms of Good, Well, and Bad
  comparative superlative
good better best
bad worse worst

Conjunctive Adverbs – Fact, I’m Thin

There are many, many different conjunctive adverbs. However, these are some of the most common:

Conjunctive (connecting) adverbs
Fact I'm Thin
furthermore indeed then
also moreover however
consequently   in fact
therefore   nevertheless

Rules for using conjunctive adverbs:

1. The comma always goes immediately after the conjunctive adverb.  It is considered an introductory word.

2. When used, conjunctive adverbs belong at the beginning of the sentence. 

You can use a period before it. Moreover, there is another way.
The other way is to use a semicolon; in fact, this is a very sophisticated method.

*Be careful about the word “however” in the middle of a sentence. Sometimes it is a conjunctive adverb needing a period or semicolon before it and a comma after it, and sometimes it an interjection which only needs commas. If you have two complete sentences joined, it is a conjunctive adverb. If there is only one complete sentence, it is just an adverb.

I was late for class; however, the teacher didn’t notice. (conjunctive adverb)
She usually, however, notices everything. (adverb)

Prepositions, Conjunctions, Articles, and Interjections

Prepositions, Conjunctions, Articles, and Interjections

Prepositions

A preposition is a word that shows position or direction such as up, down, in, out, around, over, among, and so on. 

Prepositions begin word groups (phrases)  that tell about the position:  The cat went under the table. These are called prepositional phrases.

Conjunctions

A conjunction is a word that joins parts of a sentence.

Coordinating conjunctions - words that join parts of equal importance:  

forand, nor, butoryetso  (FANBOYS)

Subordinating conjunctions - words which subordinate or make dependent:

since, although after, because before, when while (ITS AA BB WW).  There are many more subordinate conjunctions.

Relative pronoun conjunctions - words that show a relationship:

whose that which whichever, who whoever, whom whomever, what whatever (WTWW WW WW WW)

See Coordination and Subordination and Parts of a Sentence in Related Links. 

Articles

Articles consist of the following words: a, an, the.  Articles are used before nouns to add meaning.

The book means This book – a specific book.

A book means any book.

An is the form of A which is used before words beginning with vowels (a, e, i, o, u) and words beginning with the letter h which sound the h: an historical era, a huge mistake.

Interjections

Interjections are words or expressions that are interjected into a grammatical sentence such as yes, not, aha, phooey, thanks, and so on.

Parts of a Sentence

Parts of a Sentence

Sentences

A sentence is a group of words that has a subject and verb (also called a predicate) and completes a thought. All sentences have to have at least a subject and a verb, but most have more.  These other possible parts of a sentence include objects (direct and indirect), complements, phrases, and clauses.

See Parts of Speech in Related Pages for more information on types of words.

See Sentence Structure in Related Pages for more information on how to create grammatical sentences.

See Sentence Variety in Related Pages for more information on creating lively, informative, and robust sentences.

Subjects

A complete sentence has both a subject and verb

Many people have seen the movie Titanic.

subject - people

verb - have seen

A subject tells who or what is doing or being something and can be either a noun or pronoun

A noun is a person, place, or thing such as house, Brittany Spears, or war.

A pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun such as he, she, it, or they.

A subject can be singular or plural

Singular means one such as girl and country. 

Plural means more than one such as girls and countries.

A subject can be more than one noun or pronoun 

Here is an example:

Dogs and cats are popular pets.  The subject of the sentence is Dogs and cats

A subject can end in  –ing 

These are called gerunds: verbs ending in –ing that function as nouns. 

Here are two examples.

Running is good exercise

Dancing can be fun.

A subject can be an infinitive phrase

An infinitive phrase is a group of words beginning with an infinitive.

To fly to a vacation location gives more time to enjoy the destination.

To dive in the coral reefs of Australia is a great experience.

Things that are NOT subjects

Prepositional phrases cannot be the subject of a sentence.

They contain a preposition such as the word in and a noun.

Here are three examples:

in the corner

around the curve

among the flowers

Crossing out any prepositional phrases will allow you to more clearly see the real subject and verb of a sentence.

Here is an example of a sentence beginning with a prepositional phrase. 

In the corner of the classroom, the printers for writing class quietly hum.

By crossing out the prepositional phrases In the corner of the classroom and for writing class, you can more easily see the subject and verb which is printers hum.

Introductory phrases are not subjects.

Here is an example:

Walking to school, I saw a horrible car crash.

The words Walking to school are introductory and cannot contain a subject.

Verbs

Types of Verbs

There are action verbs and linking verbs which are also called state of being verbs.

An action verb tells what the subject is doing.

Examples of action verbs are run, play, and dance.

A linking verb describes or renames the subject.

Here is an example of a sentence with a linking verb: is.  He is tall.

Sometimes the verb in a sentence is more than one word

Here is an example of a sentence with more than one verb: He jogs and swims for exercise.  

Things that are NOT verbs:

Infinitives cannot be the verb of a sentence

to go, to play, and to study cannot be the verb in a sentence since they are infinitives 

–ing words cannot be the verb of a sentence

leaving, going, and jumping are not verbs by themselves. These are called participles. You have to add a helping verb such as the following: is leaving, are going, were jumping

Past participles cannot be the verb of a sentence

Past participles such as gone, drunk, and rung are not verbs unless you add a helping verb such as have or had.  Here is an example.

I never drunk vodka before.

Adding the helping verb have corrects the problem.  I have never drunk vodka before.

When a question is asked, don’t forget the helping verb!

Here is an example:

Does the file contain anything useful? The word does is the helping verb.

Adverbs cannot be the verb of a sentence

slowly, not, and always are not verbs.  They are adverbs, words which describe verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. 

Here is an example:

She does not always go to school.

The words not and always describe the verb does.

Objects

An object is word that receives the action of a verb

Direct Object

– a word or words that receive the direct action of a verb.

He threw the ball.  Ball is the direct object.

Indirect Objects

– a word or words that receive the indirect action of a verb.

He threw the ball to her.  To her is the indirect object.

Complements

A complement is a word or words that describes or defines the subject.

The young boy was tall for his age.  Tall is the complement.

Phrases

A phrase is a group of words that does not have a subject and verb.  They are used to further describe nouns, adjectives, or adverbs. While there are different types of phrases, it is not important to identify which type of phrase it is.  It is, however, important to be able to identify that a word group is a phrase and not the subject or verb.

The most common phrases are prepositional, -ing phrases, infinitive phrases, and appositives.

-ing Phrases

are groups of words that do not have a subject and a verb and that further describe or define.

The student walking as fast as she could crossed the campus more quickly than she expected.

Walking as fast as she could is a phrase describing the student.

Prepositional phrases

start with prepositions and need a comma before finishing the rest of the sentence.

In the mornings, she walks the dog.

By forgetting his homework and failing all the tests, the student failed the course.

Infinitive phrases

begin with an infinitive (the to form of the verb).

She wanted to see the world.

He worked to buy his car.

Caution:  An infinitive phrase can be a subject.

To see the world is an exciting experience.

To enjoy good food is a favorite pastime.

Appositives

are word groups which are not necessary to the meaning of the sentence and merely rename or further describe something else in the sentence. Since they are not necessary to the meaning of the sentence, such they should be separated by commas:

My teacher, Mrs. Jones, is in the front of the classroom.

Teacher is the subject; is is the verb. Mrs. Jones is just part of the appositive phrase.

Clauses

A clause is a group of words that has a subject and a verb.

She closed the windows.

He completed the work.

Subordinate clauses

Subordinate conjunctions include words such as because, although, while, though, even though, when, until, unless.    For further information, see Subordination and Coordination in Related Pages.

Because it was raining.

 Although he took his time.

Here are examples where the dependent clause follows the independent clause.

Note that there is no comma when the independent clause is before the dependent clause.

Here are examples where the dependent clause precedes the independent clause.

Because it was raining, she closed the window

Although he took his time, he completed the work.

Note that when the dependent clause is stated before the independent clause, it becomes introductory and must be followed by a comma.

Relative clauses

are a type of dependent or subordinate clause which begins with a relative pronoun that show a relative relationship with the independent clause and begin with words such as that, which, who, whom, whose.

Note that in the above sentences, there are commas around words that are not necessary to the meaning of the sentence.  See Commas in Related Pages. 

Independent clause

An independent clause is a group of words that has a subject and a verb and can stand alone as a sentence.

Dependent clause

A dependent clause is a group of words that has a subject and a verb and cannot stand alone as a sentence.  They are called dependent because they depend upon an independent clause to form a sentence.  Dependent clauses (also called subordinate clauses) begin with subordinate conjunctions or relative pronouns. Here are examples of sentences with dependent clauses.

She closed the windows because it was raining.

He completed the work although he took his time.

The woman struggled to open the door which was stuck.

The dog who was running down the block had escaped from the yard.

Oranges which are green should not be eaten.

Oranges, which are high in vitamin C, are good for a snack.

Sentence Variety

Sentence Variety

Sentence Types

Good writing involves using a variety of sentence types depending upon context and thoughts to be expressed.  Such variety is a key element in creating unity and coherence and making the writing interesting and lively.

Simple Sentences

A simple sentence requires only a subject and a verb:

Bunnies hop.

Simple sentences can have prepositional or other phrases:

Bunnies hop in the meadow.

After it rains, bunnies hop in the meadow.    Two prepositional phrases.

Simple sentences can have adjectives: words which describe a noun.

Pink bunnies hop.  Pink describes the noun bunnies.

Simple sentences can have adverbs: words which describe a verb, an adjective, or another adverb.

Bunnies hop quickly.  Quickly describes the verb hop.

Very pink bunnies hop.  Very pink bunnies hop.

Bunnies hop very quickly. Very is an adverb describing quickly.

Simple sentences can have compound subjects.

Bunnies and kangaroos hop.

Simple sentences can have compound verbs.

Bunnies and kangaroos hop and play.

Simple sentences can have direct and indirect objects.

Kangaroos kick attackers.  Attackers is a word that receives the direct action of the verb: a direct object.

Kangaroos kick in defense.  In defense is a phrase that receives the indirect action of the verb: an indirect object. (It also happens to be a prepositional phrase.)

Kangaroos kick attackers in defense.  A sentence with both a direct and indirect object.

Compound Sentences (Coordination)

Compound sentences are composed of two independent clauses joined with a coordinating conjunction: FANBOYS.

The storm came without notice, and the people scrambled to avoid getting wet.

Notice the two independent clauses in green joined with the coordinating conjunction in red.

Coordination is the combining of sentences using coordinating conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.  These conjunctions combine sentences of equal value.

Examples of Sentences using Coordinating Conjunctions (FANBOYS)
FANBOYS sentence
For       (because)    I brought an umbrella, for the news report said it would rain.
And      (also) Jenny drives an old Ford truck, and her brother drives a tiny Kia.
Nor      (and not)    She wouldn’t read the book, nor would she see the movie.
But       (however)  I was going to see the talk, but I felt too tired to get out of bed.
Or        (choice)   You can go to work in Tampa, or you can stay in New Port Richey.
Yet       (nevertheless) The neighbors complained, yet he continued to party until 4 a.m.
So        (consequently) The car had a flat tire, so we were late for class.

Comma Use in Coordination

Commas are not always needed.

If the coordinating conjunction joins two independent clauses (sentences that can stand on their own), a comma is used. If not, no comma is used.

No comma:  I went to the store and went home.

The word group I went to the store can stand alone as a complete sentence. It contains a subject, I, and a verb, went. However, the second part of the sentence is not independent. It contains no subject.

Comma needed:  I went to the store, and he stayed home.

Here, there are two independent clauses, each with both a subject (I and he) and a verb (went and stayed). Therefore, a comma is required.

Use a comma after each item when there are more than two items in a series:

No Comma:  I like apples and bananas.

There are only two items.

No Comma: I like apples baked with walnuts and bananas topped with chocolate and whipped cream.

It does not make any difference if there is more than one word in the item.

Comma needed:  I like apples, bananas, and peaches.

There must be a comma before the and. (Note:  Many publications and teachers do not use the comma before the and.  However, on standardized tests, it is required.)

Semicolon Use in Coordination

Two independent sentences may be joined with a semicolon instead of a coordinating conjunction (FANBOYS word).  Using a semicolon is another way of creating a compound sentence.  Use of a semicolon should be limited to short independent clauses that are so closely related that they seem to belong in one sentence.

Transitional Words in Coordination

Transitional words are words such as indeed, however, in other words can be used following the semicolon to begin the independent clause. Remember that these are introductory words and must be followed with a comma.

The tsunami crashed on the shore and started flooding the town; however, no one was injured.

Rules in Coordination:

  1. Never start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction.
  2. Only use a comma when you join two complete sentences or three or more items in a row.
  3. The comma always goes before the coordinating conjunction.
  4. When using a semicolon to create a compound sentence, be sure there is an independent clause (word group that can stand alone as a sentence) on both sides.

*Be careful about the word for.  Sometimes it is a coordinating conjunction (FANBOYS) needing a comma, and sometimes it is simply a preposition which never needs a comma.  If you can substitute the word because, it is a coordinating conjunction.

Conjunction: I stayed up all night worrying, for my son was in the hospital.

Preposition: I had to bring my own water for the camping trip.

Coordination is one way of combining sentences to add variety to writing instead of only using

short sentences.

Complex Sentences (Subordination)

Complex sentences are composed of an independent clause and a dependent clause.

Because the storm came without notice, the people scrambled to avoid getting wet.

Notice that the dependent clause is first (Because the storm cam without notice).  Notice also that there is a comma after the dependent clause since it is introductory to the main clause.  Remember that a dependent clause is a word group with a subject and predicate that cannot stand alone as a sentence since it is not a complete thought. An independent clause is a word group that has a subject and a predicate and can stand alone as a sentence since it is a complete thought.  The dependent clause is subordinate (subject to or less important than) to the independent clause.

The people scrambled to avoid getting wet because the storm came without notice.

Since the independent clause is first, there are no longer introductory words and, consequently, no comma.

Subordination (using a dependent clause) is another way of combining sentences for variety.  It is also a way of showing relationships between thoughts.  Subordination is different than coordination.  In coordination, the sentences being joined have equal value.  In subordination, the sentences being combined are not equal.  In fact, one is subordinate to the other. Subordinate conjunctions begin subordinate phrases or clauses.  Subordinate clauses are dependent clauses and cannot stand alone as sentences. Using subordination creates complex sentences.

Remember that coordination creates compound sentences while subordination creates complex sentences.

Subordinate clauses can be created using subordinating conjunctions, relative pronouns, Some common subordinating conjunctions include:

Subordinating Words
ITS AA BB WW
if after because when
through although before while
since      

Rules in Subordination:

You can use a subordinating conjunction at the beginning or in the middle of a sentence.  However, remember that subordinating conjunctions begin phrases or clauses.

  1. If you start a sentence with a subordinating conjunctionuse a comma at the end of the subordinate clause.
  2. Do not use a comma if the subordinating conjunction is in the middle.
  3. The comma is never near the subordinating conjunction. It goes at the end of the first part of the sentence.

Incorrect:  If, you go you must bring a hat. 

Correct:  If you go, you must bring a hat. 

Incorrect:  Although, you are late you should still be careful driving. 

Correct:  Although you are late, you should still be careful driving.  

  1. When the subordinate clause follows the independent clause, no comma is used:

You must bring a hat if you go.

You should still be careful driving although you are late.

For more information on comma use with coordination and subordination, see Commas and Commas After Introductory Words in Related Pages.

Compound/Complex Sentences

Compound/Complex Sentences are composed of two independent clauses and a dependent clause.

Because the storm came without notice, the people scrambled to avoid getting wet, but few escaped getting drenched.

Use of Relative Pronouns

Relative pronouns include the words that, which, where, who, whom, whose, where, and when. Adding clauses beginning with these words help add variety and make the writing more interesting.  Here are two examples:

The man who had just run across the street went quickly into the market.

The news which indicated a hurricane was coming startled the listeners.

Other Ways to Vary Sentence Structure

Use of Phrases and Clauses

There are many types of phrases and clauses that can add spark to sentences.  Infinitives (to + verb) can be used. Here is an example:

To find interesting objects, the investigator bought a metal detector.

Adverbs are words that modify verb, adjectives, and other adverbs.  When they begin a group of words, it is an adverbial phrase. When they begin a group of words that has a subject and a verb, they are called adverbial clauses.  These can also make writing more interesting.  Here is an example: 

As it lay glistening in the sun, the piece of copper looked like gold.

A gerund is a noun that looks like a verb since it has an -ing ending.  Here is an example.

Dancing was her favorite form of exercise.

Use of Participles or Appositives

Participles are the -ing and -ed (en) form of verbs.  Participles can be used as adjectives. They can be used alone or as part of a phrase:

Suspended from the tree branch, the swing rocked in the breeze. (Note how the word 

Appositives are noun phrases which restate or clarify the noun. Here is an example:

The wonderful fragrance, orange blossoms, filled the backyard.  (Note how the words orange blossoms further describe the noun fragrance. They have a comma on each side to separate them from the rest of the sentence since they are not necessary to the meaning of the sentence.)

Use of Direct and Indirect Questions

Including questions can also help to very sentences.  There are two ways questions can be phrased: directly or indirectly.

A direct question is as follows:

The man at the counter asked, “What time will the train leave?”

An indirect phrasing is as follows:

The man at the counter asked what time the train will leave.

Use of Quotes

Using quotes (exact words from a source) is another way to vary sentences.  This can be as simple as including a well-known phrase or sentence or including substantial quotes from sources when you are writing a research paper.

Simple Sentences

Simple Sentences

A simple sentence requires only a subject and a verb:

Bunnies hop.

Simple sentences can have prepositional or other phrases:

Bunnies hop in the meadow.

After it rains, bunnies hop in the meadow.  Two prepositional phrases.

Simple sentences can have adjectives: words which describe a noun.

Pink bunnies hop.  Pink describes the noun bunnies.

Simple sentences can have adverbs: words which describe a verb, an adjective, or another adverb.

Bunnies hop quickly.  Quickly describes the verb hop.

Very pink bunnies hop.  Very pink bunnies hop.

Bunnies hop very quickly. Very is an adverb describing quickly.

Simple sentences can have compound subjects.

Bunnies and kangaroos hop.

Simple sentences can have compound verbs.

Bunnies and kangaroos hop and play.

Simple sentences can have direct and indirect objects.

Kangaroos kick attackers.  Attackers is a word that receives the direct action of the verb: a direct object.

Kangaroos kick in defense. In defense is a phrase that receives the indirect action of the verb: an indirect object. (It also happens to be a prepositional phrase.)

Kangaroos kick attackers in defense. A sentence with both a direct and indirect object.

Compound Sentences (Coordination)

Compound Sentences (Coordination)

Compound sentences are composed of two independent clauses joined with a coordinating conjunction: FANBOYS.

The storm came without notice, and the people scrambled to avoid getting wet.

Notice the two independent clauses in green joined with the coordinating conjunction in red.

Coordination is the combining of sentences using coordinating conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.  These conjunctions combine sentences of equal value.

Examples of Sentences using Coordinating Conjunctions (FANBOYS)
FANBOYS sentence
For       (because)    I brought an umbrella, for the news report said it would rain.
And      (also) Jenny drives an old Ford truck, and her brother drives a tiny Kia.
Nor      (and not)    She wouldn’t read the book, nor would she see the movie.
But       (however)  I was going to see the talk, but I felt too tired to get out of bed.
Or        (choice)   You can go to work in Tampa, or you can stay in New Port Richey.
Yet       (nevertheless) The neighbors complained, yet he continued to party until 4 a.m.
So        (consequently) The car had a flat tire, so we were late for class.

Comma Use in Coordination

Commas are not always needed.

If the coordinating conjunction joins two independent clauses (sentences that can stand on their own), a comma is used. If not, no comma is used.

No comma:  I went to the store and went home.

The word group I went to the store can stand alone as a complete sentence. It contains a subject, I, and a verb, went. However, the second part of the sentence is not independent. It contains no subject.

Comma needed:  I went to the store, and he stayed home.

Here, there are two independent clauses, each with both a subject (I and he) and a verb (went and stayed). Therefore, a comma is required.

Use a comma after each item when there are more than two items in a series:

No Comma:  I like apples and bananas.

There are only two items.

No Comma: I like apples baked with walnuts and bananas topped with chocolate and whipped cream.

It does not make any difference if there is more than one word in the item.

Comma needed:  I like apples, bananas, and peaches.

There must be a comma before the and. (Note:  Many publications and teachers do not use the comma before the and.  However, on standardized tests, it is required.)

Semicolon Use in Coordination

Two independent sentences may be joined with a semicolon instead of a coordinating conjunction (FANBOYS word).  Using a semicolon is another way of creating a compound sentence.  Use of a semicolon should be limited to short independent clauses that are so closely related that they seem to belong in one sentence.

Transitional Words in Coordination

Transitional words are words such as indeed, however, in other words can be used following the semicolon to begin the independent clause. Remember that these are introductory words and must be followed with a comma.

The tsunami crashed on the shore and started flooding the town; however, no one was injured.

Rules in Coordination:

  1. Never start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction.
  2. Only use a comma when you join two complete sentences or three or more items in a row.
  3. The comma always goes before the coordinating conjunction.
  4. When using a semicolon to create a compound sentence, be sure there is an independent clause (word group that can stand alone as a sentence) on both sides.

*Be careful about the word for.  Sometimes it is a coordinating conjunction (FANBOYS) needing a comma, and sometimes it is simply a preposition which never needs a comma.  If you can substitute the word because, it is a coordinating conjunction.

Conjunction: I stayed up all night worrying, for my son was in the hospital.

Preposition: I had to bring my own water for the camping trip.

Coordination is one way of combining sentences to add variety to writing instead of only using

short sentences.

Complex Sentences (Subordination)

Complex Sentences (Subordination)

Complex sentences are composed of an independent clause and a dependent clause.

Because the storm came without notice, the people scrambled to avoid getting wet.

Notice that the dependent clause is first (Because the storm cam without notice).  Notice also that there is a comma after the dependent clause since it is introductory to the main clause.  Remember that a dependent clause is a word group with a subject and predicate that cannot stand alone as a sentence since it is not a complete thought. An independent clause is a word group that has a subject and a predicate and can stand alone as a sentence since it is a complete thought.  The dependent clause is subordinate (subject to or less important than) to the independent clause.

The people scrambled to avoid getting wet because the storm came without notice.

Since the independent clause is first, there are no longer introductory words and, consequently, no comma.

Subordination (using a dependent clause) is another way of combining sentences for variety.  It is also a way of showing relationships between thoughts.  Subordination is different than coordination.  In coordination, the sentences being joined have equal value.  In subordination, the sentences being combined are not equal.  In fact, one is subordinate to the other. Subordinate conjunctions begin subordinate phrases or clauses.  Subordinate clauses are dependent clauses and cannot stand alone as sentences. Using subordination creates complex sentences.

Remember that coordination creates compound sentences while subordination creates complex sentences.

Subordinate clauses can be created using subordinating conjunctions, relative pronouns, Some common subordinating conjunctions include:

Subordinating Words
ITS AA BB WW
if after because when
through although before while
since      

Rules in Subordination

You can use a subordinating conjunction at the beginning or in the middle of a sentence.  However, remember that subordinating conjunctions begin phrases or clauses.

If you start a sentence with a subordinating conjunctionuse a comma.

Do not use a comma if the subordinating conjunction is in the middle.

The comma is never near the subordinating conjunction. It goes at the end of the first part of the sentence.

Incorrect:  If, you go you must bring a hat. 

Correct:  If you go, you must bring a hat. 

Incorrect:  Although, you are late you should still be careful driving. 

Correct:  Although you are late, you should still be careful driving.  

When the subordinate clause follows the independent clause, no comma is used:

You must bring a hat if you go.

You should still be careful driving although you are late.

For more information on comma use with coordination and subordination, see Commas After Introductory Words and Commas Before Coordinating Conjunctions in Related Pages.

Compound/Complex Sentences

Compound/Complex Sentences

Compound/Complex Sentences are composed of two independent clauses and a dependent clause.

Because the storm came without notice, the people scrambled to avoid getting wet, but few escaped getting drenched.

Use of Relative Pronouns

Relative pronouns include the words that, which, where, who, whom, whose, where, and when. Adding clauses beginning with these words help add variety and make the writing more interesting.  Here are two examples:

The man who had just run across the street went quickly into the market.

The news which indicated a hurricane was coming startled the listeners.

Use of Phrases and Clauses

There are many types of phrases and clauses that can add spark to sentences.  Infinitives (to + verb) can be used. Here is an example:

To find interesting objects, the investigator bought a metal detector.

Adverbs are words that modify verb, adjectives, and other adverbs.  When they begin a group of words, it is an adverbial phrase. When they begin a group of words that has a subject and a verb, they are called adverbial clauses.  These can also make writing more interesting.  Here is an example: 

As it lay glistening in the sun, the piece of copper looked like gold.

A gerund is a noun that looks like a verb since it has an -ing ending.  Here is an example.

Dancing was her favorite form of exercise.

Use of Participles or Appositives

Participles are the -ing and -ed (en) form of verbs.  Participles can be used as adjectives. They can be used alone or as part of a phrase:

Suspended from the tree branch, the swing rocked in the breeze. (Note how the word 

Appositives are noun phrases which restate or clarify the noun. Here is an example:

The wonderful fragrance, orange blossoms, filled the backyard.  (Note how the words orange blossoms further describe the noun fragrance. They have a comma on each side to separate them from the rest of the sentence since they are not necessary to the meaning of the sentence.)

Use of Direct and Indirect Questions

Including questions can also help to very sentences.  There are two ways questions can be phrased: directly or indirectly.

A direct question is as follows:

The man at the counter asked, “What time will the train leave?”

An indirect phrasing is as follows:

The man at the counter asked what time the train will leave.

Use of Quotes

Using quotes (exact words from a source) is another way to vary sentences.  This can be as simple as including a well-known phrase or sentence or including substantial quotes from sources when you are writing a research paper.

Problems with Sentences

Problems with Sentences

There are Various Types of Problems with Sentences

While it may sound simple to put a group of words together with a subject and verb and which completes a thought, there are several different ways sentences can have grammatical problems.

When one or more of the required components of a sentence is missing, the word group isn't a sentence at all. It is a fragment.  If the sentence doesn't have a period at the end, it is said to run-on.  Typically, these have a comma between sentences instead of a period which is a comma splice run-on or no punctuation at all which is a fused run-on.

In addition, some sentences could have problems with coordinating or subordinating clauses or misplaced modifiers.  There could be problems with parallel elements not having the same phrasing or problems with pronouns not being clearly used or not agreeing in number (singular or plural) with the noun to which it is referring.  There could be problems with agreement of subjects and verbs or verb tense or form.

Clearly, there can be problems in formulating a grammatical sentence.

However, by learning the types of common problems, you can develop skills for self-editing.

This section has a separate page for each type of problem.  To access, click the topic on the left sidebar.

Fragments

Fragments

What is a fragment?

A fragment is a group of words that is less than a sentence.  To help identify fragments, they are grouped into four categories: -ing fragments, appositive fragments, infinitive fragments, and conjunction fragments. 

What is a complete sentence?

A sentence is a group of words that has a subject (the doer of an action), a predicate (verb), and completes a thought.

Here is an example of a sentence:

Bunnies hop.

This word group is a sentence because it has a subject and a predicate, and it completes a thought.

Here is an another example of a sentence.

Blue giraffes fly at midnight.

This word group is also a sentence.  The word group does not have to be a logical or sane thought.  It only has to be a complete thought.

Identifying and Fixing Fragments

-ing Fragments

Swimming in the ocean.

Smoking cigarettes in excess.

These are not sentences.  They do not have a verb.   Words that end in -ing without a helping verb are nouns, not verbs. An -ing word needs a helper to be a verb: is swimming.

These can be fixed by either joining it to another complete sentence.

Swimming in the ocean, they saw a school of colorful fish.

or by simply adding the needed verb.

Smoking cigarettes in excess can lead to severe health problems.

A sentence must have a subject and grammatical verb and complete a thought.  

Appositive Fragments

Appositives are groups of words that name something. They are used in sentences to further describe a noun, usually the subject of the sentence. They are incidental and not necessary to the main meaning of the sentence and, therefore, are separated by commas from the rest of the sentence.  

Here is an example of a sentence with an appositive.

Introduction to Speech I, the class in room 302, makes a lot of noise.

When not part of a sentence, these types of word groups as called appositive fragments. They are just a group of words. They lack a complete thought.

Here are two examples:

The class in room 302.

Our only philosophy professor.

To fix an appositive fragment, it is necessary to introduce a specific subject and verb to complete the thought such as the following.

Introduction to Speech I, the class in room 302, makes a lot of noise.

Another way to fix an appositive fragment is to use the phrase as a subject and add a verb and complete thought such as the following:

Our only philosophy professor is famous in her field.

Infinitive Fragments

Infinitive fragments start with the word to. These fragments, like –ing fragments, lack a verb because infinitive forms are not true verbs.  Here are two examples:

To become a famous actor.

To walk to school in the snow.

These can be also fixed by joining it to another complete sentence such as the following:

She has always wanted to become a famous actor.

Another option is to simply add the needed verb as in the following example:

To walk to school in the snow is an unpleasant prospect.

Conjunction Fragments

Conjunctions are words that join parts of a sentence.  When a word group written as a sentence consists only of a word group beginning with a conjunction, it is not a sentence even though it may have a subject and a verb.  It is a fragment.  It is not joining anything and is not a complete thought.

There are three types of conjunctions people commonly use resulting in fragments: coordinating conjunctions, subordinating conjunctions, and relative conjunctions (relative pronouns).

Coordinating Conjunction Fragments

Coordinating conjunction fragments are word groups that have a subject and a verb and begin with a coordinating conjunction: for,and, nor, but, or, yet, or so (FANBOYS).  Here are three examples.

So I had to pack the night before.

And many people believe that aliens have visited earth.

But they had some good results.

These word groups are not sentences.  Although they have a subject and a predicate, they do not complete a thought.  If the conjunction is not connecting something, the thought is not complete.

These can be fixed by either removing the conjunction or adding more information. Remember, if you join two complete sentences with a coordinating conjunction, a comma is needed to separate the two.  Here are the three sentences with possible corrections:

My plane left at 5:00 in the morning, so I had to pack the night before.

However, if there is only one subject or predicate, no comma is used.

Many people believe in ghosts and that aliens have visited Earth.

Subordinate Conjunction Fragments

Subordinate clauses are word groups that have a subject and a verb and begin with a subordinating conjunction such as althoughbecauseifsincewhenwhere, and while.  A subordinate clause fragment, also called subordinating conjunction fragment, leaves the reader wondering what comes next. Here are three examples:

Because it was raining

When I’m feeling angry

If I’m feeling blue

These word groups are not sentences.  Although they have a subject and a predicate, they do not complete a thought. For this reason, they are called dependent or subordinate clauses.

They can be fixed by adding more information. Remember, if you begin a sentence with a subordinating conjunction, it is considered introductory words and a comma is needed to separate the subordinate clause from the rest of the sentence. Here is an example:

When I’m angry, I like to listen to music.

If the subordinating conjunction is in the middle, no comma is used since the words are no longer introducing the main clause.

I call my best friend if I’m feeling blue.

Relative Clause Fragments

Relative clauses are word groups that have a subject and a verb and begin with a relative pronoun:

  • whose    that    which     whichever
  • who    whoever
  • whom    whomever
  • what    whatever

Learning the abbreviation WTWW, WW, WW, WW will help to remember these.  These are dependant clauses since they depend upon an independent clause to complete a thought and, therefore, a sentence. Relative pronouns are also conjunctions since they join parts of a sentence. Here are three relative clause fragments:

That I have always wanted to visit.

Which are green.

Wherever I play every day.

They can also be fixed by adding more information.  Remember, when you use the word that, you never use a comma. Here is an example:

New York is a city that I have always wanted to visit.

However, you may or may not need a comma with who or which. If you need the information to understand the meaning of the sentence, you do not need a comma. If the information is just added in as extra information, you need to indicate this with commas.

Oranges which are green should not be eaten.

My guitar, which I play every day, was a gift from my father.

See Commas in Related pages (link on the right) for more information on necessary (restrictive) and (nonrestrictive) clauses with who, which, and that. 

Hints in Identifying fragments

  1. Read out loud.  The ear often picks up what the eye misses.
  2. Be sure there is a subject and proper verb (an actor and some action that is done).  Sometimes, the action is simply a state of being (existence) such as in the following sentence: The girl is tall. 
  3. Be sure the thought is complete.  There are words such as although that cannot begin a complete thought since they create clauses that depend on more information.

 

Coordinating Conjunction Fragments

Coordinating Conjunction Fragments

Coordinating Conjunction Fragments 

are word groups that have a subject and a verb and begin with a coordinating conjunction: for,and, nor, but, or, yet, or so (FANBOYS).

  • So I had to pack the night before.
  • And many people believe that aliens have visited earth.
  • But they had some good results.

These word groups are not sentences.  Although they have a subject and a predicate, they do not complete a thought.  If the conjunction is not connecting something, the thought is not complete.

These can be fixed by either removing the conjunction or adding more information. Remember, if you join two complete sentences with a coordinating conjunction, a comma is needed to separate the two.

  • My plane left at 5:00 in the morning, so I had to pack the night before.
  • However, if there is only one subject or predicate, no comma is used.
  • Many people believe in ghosts and that aliens have visited Earth.

Relative Clause Fragments

Relative Clause Fragments

Relative clauses are word groups that have a subject and a verb and begin with a relative pronoun:

  • whose    that    which     whichever
  • who    whoever
  • whom    whomever
  • what    whatever

Learning the abbreviation WTWW, WW, WW, WW will help to remember these.  These are dependant clauses since they depend upon an independent clause to complete a thought and, therefore, a sentence. Relative pronouns are also conjunctions since they join parts of a sentence.

  • That I have always wanted to visit.
  • Which are green.
  • Wherever I play every day.

They can also be fixed by adding more information.  Remember, when you use the word that, you never use a comma.

  • New York is a city that I have always wanted to visit.

However, you may or may not need a comma with who or which. If you need the information to understand the meaning of the sentence, you do not need a comma. If the information is just added in as extra information, you need to indicate this with commas.

  • Oranges which are green should not be eaten.
  • My guitar, which I play every day, was a gift from my father.

See Commas for more information on necessary (restrictive) and (nonrestrictive) clauses with who, which, and that.

Subordinate Conjunction Fragments

Subordinate Conjunction Fragments

Subordinate clauses are word groups that have a subject and a verb and begin with a subordinating conjunction such as althoughbecauseifsincewhenwhere, and while.  A subordinate clause fragment, also called subordinating conjunction fragment, leaves the reader wondering what comes next.

  • Because it was raining
  • When I’m feeling angry
  • If I’m feeling blue

These word groups are not sentences.  Although they have a subject and a predicate, they do not complete a thought. For this reason, they are called dependent or subordinate clauses.

They can be fixed by adding more information. Remember, if you begin a sentence with a subordinating conjunction, it is considered introductory words and a comma is needed to separate the subordinate clause from the rest of the sentence.

  • When I’m angry, I like to listen to music.

If the subordinating conjunction is in the middle, no comma is used since the words are no longer introducing the main clause.

  • I call my best friend if I’m feeling blue.

Run-On Sentences

Run-On Sentences

What is a run-on?

While a fragment is something less than a sentence, a run-on is something more.  They are called run-ons since without end punctuation, the sentence runs on.

Generally, the term run-on refers to when there is no punctuation between sentences.

A comma splice occurs when there is a comma between two sentences.  A comma splice is a type of run-on since a comma is not end punctuation and cannot stop the sentence from running on.

Types of run-ons

Fused run-on:

  • Many people have seen the movie Titanic few of them have read the book.  (incorrect)

These are actually two sentence fused together without any punctuation.

  • Many people have seen the movie Titanic.
  • Few of them have read the book.

Two sentences without any punctuation between them are called run-ons, fused run-ons, or fused sentence run-ons.

Comma Splice run-on:

Sometimes, a comma is inserted between two sentences that are closely related, but this is also incorrect.

  • Many people have seen the movie Titanicfew of them have read the book.  (incorrect)

This is known as a comma splice or a comma splice run-on since the sentences are spliced together with the comma.  While inserting a comma  may be more clear than no punctuation, using a comma still does not properly separate the thoughts.

Fixing a run-on

There are several ways to fix a run-on sentence.

Period or semicolon

End of sentence punctuation includes periods, question marks, and exclamation points.  A run-on can be fixed with a period.

  • Many people have seen the movie Titanic few of them have read the book.  (fused run-on)
  • Many people have seen the movie Titanic.  Few of them have read the book.

A semicolon (a blend of a comma and a period – ; ) may be used to separate short sentences so closely related they seem to belong in one sentence.  Therefore, when appropriate, a semicolon in addition to a period is a way to fix a fused or a comma splice run-on.

  • Many people have seen the movie Titanic few of them have read the book.  (fused run-on)
  • Many people have seen the movie Titanic, few of them have read the book. (comma splice run-on)
  • Many people have seen the movie Titanic; few of them have read the book. (corrected with a semicolon)

Remember that semicolons are not the equivalent of periods.  A semicolon should not be used often and should only be used when the sentences are short and when they are very closely related.

A conjunctive adverb (also, consequently, furthermore, however, then, or therefore) is sometimes used between sentences.   However, remember that these are just adverbs.  They cannot be used alone to fix a run-on as you would a coordinating conjunction .

  • Incorrect: Many people have seen the movie Titanic, however, few of them have read the book.
  • Correct: Many people have seen the movie Titanic.  However, few of them have read the book.
  • Correct: Many people have seen the movie Titanic; however, few of them have read the book.

Note that there is a comma following the adverb since it is actually an introductory word in these sentences.

Coordinating conjunction

Using a coordinating conjunction such as for, and, nor, but, or, yet, or so (FANBOYS).

  • Many people have seen the movie Titanicbut few of them have read the book.

Note that there must be a comma before a FANBOYS coordinating conjunction.

Subordinating conjunction

Using a subordinating conjunction such as if though since, although as,  because before, when  where to join the sentences.  A way to remember common subordinating conjunctions is ITS AA BB WW

  • Many people have seen the movie Titanic although few of them have read the book.

Note that there is no comma before the word although.  There is no rule to insert a comma before a subordinate clause when it follows the main clause.  There is a rule that says to put a comma after a subordinate clause  when the subordinate clause begins the sentence since then it is introductory words.

  • Although few people have read the book, many people have seen the movie Titanic.

Coordination and Subordination

Coordination and Subordination

Coordination

Coordination is the combining of sentences using coordinating conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.  These conjunctions combine sentences of equal value.

Combining Sentences with Coordination
FANBOYS   Coordinating Conjunctions
For (because) I brought an umbrella, for the news report said it would rain.
And (also) Jenny drives an old Ford truck, and her brother drives a tiny Kia.
Nor (and not) She wouldn’t read the book, nor would she see the movie.
But (however) I was going to see the talk, but I felt too tired to get out of bed.
Or (choice) You can go to work in Tampa, or you can stay in New Port Richey.
Yet (nevertheless) The neighbors complained, yet he continued to party until 4 a.m.
So (consequently) The car had a flat tire, so we were late for class.

Comma Use

Commas are not always needed. Only use commas in these two situations:

Joining two independent clauses:

If the coordinating conjunction joins two independent clauses (sentences that can stand on their own), a comma is used. If not, no comma is used.

No comma: I went to the store and went home.

The word group I went to the store can stand alone as a complete sentence. It contains a subject, I, and a verb, went. However, the second part of the sentence is not independent. It contains no subject.

Comma needed: I went to the store, and he stayed home.

Here, there are two independent clauses, each with both a subject (I and he) and a verb (went and stayed). Therefore, a comma is required.

Three or more items in a series:

If you have three or more items, you will need to add commas.

No Comma: I like apples and bananas.

There are only two items: apples and bananas.

No Comma: I like apples baked with walnuts and bananas topped with chocolate and whipped cream.

It does not make any difference if there is more than one word in the item.  There are two items:

apples baked with walnuts

bananas topped with chocolate and whipped cream

A comma is needed in the following sentence:

I like apples, bananas, and peaches.

There are three items in a series.  There must be a comma before the and. (Note:  Many publications and teachers do not use the comma before the and.  However, on standardized tests, it is required.)

RULES:

  1. Never start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction.
  2. Only use a comma before a coordinating conjunctions (FANBOYS) when you join 2 complete sentences or 3 or more items in a row.
  3. The comma always goes before the coordinating conjunction.

*Be careful about the word for. Sometimes it is a coordinating conjunction (FANBOYS) needing a comma, and sometimes it is simply a preposition which never needs a comma.  If you can substitute the word because, it is a coordinating conjunction.

Here is an example of the word for used as a conjunction: I stayed up all night worrying, for my son was in the hospital.

Preposition:  I had to bring my own water for the camping trip.

Coordination is one way of combining sentences to add variety to writing instead of only using

short sentences.

Subordination:

Subordination is another way of combining sentences for variety.  It is also a way of showing relationships between thoughts.  Subordination is different than coordination.  In coordination, the sentences being joined have equal value.  In subordination, the sentences being combined are not equal.  In fact, one is subordinate to the other. Subordinate conjunctions begin subordinate phrases or clauses.  Subordinate clauses are dependent clauses and cannot stand alone as sentences. To determine whether a clause is dependent and therefore subordinate, just read out loud to see if it completes a thought.  Subordinate clauses are not complete thoughts. They are dependent upon an independent clause to complete the thought.

Here are some common subordinating conjunctions:

Subordinate Conjunctions
ITS AAA BB WWW
if after because when, whenever
though although before while
since as, as if   where, wherever

Here are examples of subordinate (dependent) clauses:

Because the city council voted against the proposal

After the vice president announced her resignation

Since there was a concerted effort to make the change

See how these are not complete thoughts and, therefore, are not sentences.

Here more subordinate conjunctions:

as long as, even though, in order that, once, so that, than, and unless

RULES:

You can use a subordinating conjunction at the beginning or in the middle of a sentence.  However, remember that subordinating conjunctions begin phrases or clauses.  Here are two examples, one where the subordinating conjunction starts the first clause and one where the subordinating conjunction starts the second clause.

If you start a sentence with a subordinating conjunctionuse a comma.

Do not use a comma if the subordinating conjunction is in the middle.

The comma is never near the subordinating conjunction. It goes at the end of the first part of the sentence.  Here are examples.

If, you go you must bring a hat. =  Comma after the word If is Incorrect

If you go, you must bring a hat. =  Comma after the word go is Correct

Although, you are late you should still be careful driving. =  Comma after the word Although is Incorrect

Although you are late, you should still be careful driving.  = Comma after the word late is Correct

When the subordinate clause follows the independent clause (the word group that can stand alone as a sentence), no comma is used.  Here are two examples where there should not be commas.

You must bring a hat if you go.

You should still be careful driving although you are late.

Subordination and Relative Pronouns:

There are a group of words that begin phrases or clauses that describe a noun in the sentence: who, whoever, whom, whomever, whose, which, and that. The words what, when, and where can also serve as relative pronouns. The phrases and clauses which begin with these words are different from subordinating conjunctions since they function to describe a noun or pronoun.

For more information on comma use with coordination and subordination, see the link under Related Pages on the right sidebar.

Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers

Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers

Modifiers

A modifier is a word or group of words that describe or limit another word or words.  Adjectives modify nouns and pronouns. Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs.

The cherry tree is in bloom.  The word cherry modifies the word tree. The word cherry is a modifier.

She ran very quickly.  The words very quickly modify the word ran.

Misplaced Modifiers

Modifiers should be placed next to the words they modify.  When they don’t, they can cause confusion and are said to be misplaced.

Confusing:  The boy barely saw the black kitten with his sunglasses on.

In this sentence the modifier is place after the black kitten.

This means that the kitten, not the boy, is wearing the sunglasses!

Clear:  With his sunglasses on, the boy barely saw the black kitten.

Even a one-word modifier can affect meaning. Here are some examples.

How Placement of Modifier Determines Meaning
Examples
Only she knew the answer.
She knew the only answer.
She only knew the answer.
He just went to the office
He went just to the office

When a modifier is placed where it can be interpreted to modify the word on either side, it is called a squinting modifier.  Here is an example:

Smiling often can make you look and feel younger.  Does this mean that people who smile often always look and feel younger, or does it mean that when people smile, often it makes them look and and feel younger?

Dangling Modifiers

While a misplaced modifier is in the wrong place in a sentence, a dangling modifier does not have a specific reference actually in the sentence.  It’s just dangling there.

Confusing:  While surfing at Laguna Beach, three whales appeared.

While it’s not likely the whales are surfing, we have no other subject for the modifier to describe. To revise a dangling modifier you must rephrase the original sentence.

Clear:  While we were surfing at Laguna Beach, three whales appeared.

Misplaced and dangling modifiers can be difficult to detect since we have a tendency to make sense out of what is really not sensible.

Last night, I saw an elephant in my pajamas.  What he was doing in my pajamas, I’ll never know.  This is an old Groucho Marx joke.

Parallelism

Parallelism

Parallel Structure in Sentences

Parallelism is the idea that parts of a sentence such as items in a series should be phrased in the same grammatical way. The famous quote of Julius Caesar is good example of why parallelism is so powerful.

Parallel Elements could be independent clauses

Parallel: I came; I saw; I conquered.

Here we have three independent clauses (word groups that can stand alone as sentences) in a row with each of them in the simple past tense using the same pronoun. It would be a very different quote if parallelism were not present.

Not Parallel: I came; I saw; they were conquered.

The introduction of the new pronoun, they, is jarring and disrupts the flow of ideas.    

Smaller parts of sentences should also be parallel.

Not Parallel: I like going to the beach, to go out to eat, and going to the movies.

Clearly, the phrase to go out to eat is not phrased in the same way as the other two.  Such inconsistencies jar a reader to questioning credibility or authority of a writer.  Good writing requires an even flow.

Parallel: I like going to the beach, going to restaurants, and going to the movies.

Identifying the elements in a series

Sometimes, it is difficult to see the parts of a sentence that should be parallel. Can you see the nonparallel part of the next sentence?

Not Parallel:

The economic problems were caused by lenders who gave mortgages to people who really could not afford them, by credit cards companies who approved too much easy credit, and by people borrowing more than they could repay.

The last clause uses an -ing word (borrowing) instead of a subject - verb (who + verb) combination.

Parallel:

The economic problems were caused by lenders who gave mortgages to people who really could not afford them, by credit card companies who approved too much easy credit, and by people who borrowed more than they could repay.

See how now each of the elements in the list now includes a clause that begins with the word who.

The economic problems were caused

  1. by lenders who gave mortgages to people who really could not afford them
  2. by credit card companies who approved too much each credit, and
  3. by people who borrowed more than they could repay.

Not Parallel:

John played soccer, but tennis was played by Sonja.

Parallel:

John played soccer, but Sonja played tennis.

Not Parallel:

I like ice cream with chocolate syrup and cake which has butter cream icing on it.

Parallel:

I like ice cream with chocolate syrup and cake with butter cream icing.

Pronouns

Pronouns

What is a pronoun?

Pronouns are words that take the place of nouns. He, she, it, they, them, us, and our are all forms of pronouns.

In most cases, there isn’t a question of which pronoun to use.

In the following example, it is clear that the pronoun he refers to John.

John gave the book to Marcia. He gave the book to her.

However, in some cases, it is not that easy to determine which pronoun to use.

Who or whom?  We girls are going… or Us girls are going…  He is taller than I or He is taller than me? To know which is the correct form of the pronoun, we have to understand how pronouns are categorized according to their use. 

Pronoun Case

Pronoun case is the form of the pronoun needed.

Pronouns are used as subjects and objects and to show possession.

There are three cases:

subject

object

possessive

Subject Case

The subject form of a pronoun is the form when it is the subject of a sentence.  The subject is the doer of the action in a sentence.

They are going to deliver the box, not Them are going to deliver the box.

She is traveling to Idaho to participate in a dance competition, not Her is traveling…

Who is going? Not Whom is going?

Who or Whom?

The bicyclist ran into the lady who was walking, not whom was walking.  Who is the subject of the clause who was walking.

Here are the subject forms of pronouns: 

Subject Pronouns
singular plural
I we
he, she, it they
you you
who  

Most people know the subject form of pronouns.

Object Case

The object form of a pronoun is used when a pronoun is an object.  An object is a receiver of some form of action.

Adrian gave the book to Inez.

Adrian gave it to her.

The pronouns it and her are in the objective case.

To whom should we address the letter?   Whom is in the object case since it is the object of the preposition to.

The teacher gave the students the assignment. The nouns students and assignment are objects.

The teacher gave it to them. Here is the sentence with pronouns instead of nouns.

Here are the object forms of pronouns:

Object Pronouns
singluar plural
me us
you you
him, her them
whom  

Who or Whom?

Most people don’t have problems with the object form except for who and whom.

One way to see whether the he or him fits.  If he fits, then it is a subject situation, and who is proper.

If him can be substituted, then it is an object situation, and whom is the right pronoun.

Unfortunately, not all sentences lend themselves to this trial replacement test.

You need to determine whether it is a subject situation or an object situation.  If there is a verb following it, then it is a subject situation.

Who knows the answer? (Subject) knows the answer.

Whom do you love? Do you love (object)?

The doctor helps whoever needs treatment. The doctor helps (subject) needs treatment.

The doctor helps whomever he treats. The doctor treats (object).

Possessive Pronouns

Possessive pronouns are pronouns that show possession.

Possessive Pronouns
singluar plural
my mine
our ours
his, hers, its their, theirs

Note that there are not apostrophes for possession since these words are themselves possessive. They don’t need an apostrophe to show possession.

Note that its is a possessive pronoun.  The contraction it’s (it is) is not possessive. It is the contraction for it is or it has.

There are different ways possessive pronouns are used:

The book is mine.  This is my book.

The idea for a new air conditioner was his.  It was his idea.

Their opinion is to hire a new facilitator. (They share the same opinion.)

The people voiced their opinions at the meeting.  (They had individual opinions.)

Demonstrative Pronouns

Demonstrative pronouns are pronouns that refer to a particular person, place, or thing. 

Demonstrative pronouns include this, that, these, and those.

This and that are singular:  This is the table.

These and those are plural:  These are the notes.

Reflexive Pronouns

Reflexive pronouns are the form of the noun with –self at the end:

Reflexive Pronouns
singluar plural
myself ourselves
yourself yourselves
himself, herself themselves

Note the following non-standard usages: hisself, theirself, themself.  These are slang expressions and should not be used in formal writing.

Reflexive pronouns should be used only in limited situations:

I, myself, did the analysis. See how it is used to put emphasis on the noun.

Mr. Langley, himself, walked from the pier to the shopping center to check the distance.

In order to determine the difficulty, Mrs. Amesly, herself, performed the calculations.

Examples of incorrect usage:

Luis and myself undertook the responsibility.   There must be a subject form in this sentence.

Luis and I undertook the responsibility.

The administrator gave the application to myself.  There must be an object form in this sentence.

The administrator gave the application to me.

Relative Pronouns

Relative pronouns are pronouns that begin a clause which shows a relationship to the subject of the sentence.

The pronouns who, whom, which, and that can serve as relative pronouns where they have a predicate although they are not a sentence since relative clauses do not complete a thought.  (Exception: The pronoun that which can be used to begin a sentence: That is the one I want.)

The technical assistants, whose notes are used to train new executives, felt they should be compensated.

The geologists fought for new funding which helps to continue the study

Interrogative Pronouns

Interrogative pronouns are pronouns that are used in questions.  Note that the same pronoun can serve as different types of pronouns.

Interrogative pronouns include whom, whose, what, and which.

Examples of sentences with interrogatives

Who is the current treasurer?

To whom should these letters be addressed?

Whose car is parked in the spot reserved for the chairman of the board?

What is the result of discontinuing the outsourcing efforts?

Which technical report is the most thoroughly completed?

Problems with interrogative pronouns

Aside from whether to use who or whom in a particular sentence as discussed above, problems associated with these pronouns are usual with subject-verb agreement.  Interrogative pronouns must agree with the noun to which they are referring.

Who are the current members of the board of directors?

Whose cars are parked in the long-term parking lot?

What are the consequences of discontinuing the outsourcing efforts?

Which technical reports are the most thoroughly completed?

 

Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement and Pronoun Reference

Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement and Pronoun Reference

What is meant by pronoun-antecedent agreement?

Pronouns are words that take the place of nouns:  he instead of John or they instead of John and Joan.  We use pronouns instead of repeating the noun:

John took his keys from the table instead of John took John’s keys from the table.

Pronouns must always agree with their antecedent (the noun or pronoun they refer back to) in

gender (she is used to refer back to a female; he is used to refer back to a male, for example)

number (singular or plural; it is used to refer back to one thing; they is used to refer back to more than one)

person (the doer or receiver of the action)

This is called pronoun-antecedent agreement.  Ante- means before; therefore, the word antecedent simply means that which comes before.  A pronoun must agree with its antecedent, the houn of pronoun that comes before it and to which it is referring.

Identifying the Antecedent:

Pronouns must agree with the noun or pronoun to which it is referring.  Whenever we use a pronoun, we should determine the noun to which it is referring to make sure it is agreeing.

John lost his cell phone.

In this example, John is the antecedent of the pronoun his. Notice how his agrees with the gender (masculine), the number (singular), and person (third person) of the antecedent John.

The children went back to their seats.

The word their refers to children.  The pronoun’s gender (neutral), number (plural), and person (third person) all agree with the antecedent children.

In English, there is no masculine plural or feminine plural pronoun.  The neutral plural pronouns they, them, theirs is used.

Shifts in Gender:

Sometimes, we cannot determine the gender of a noun.  It is not correct to use a plural:

Incorrect:  No American citizen should lose their right to vote.

Citizen is singular, but the pronoun their is plural. It is not acceptable to use their as a singular if you do not know the gender. Both men and women can vote in the United States.

Incorrect: No American citizen should lose his right to vote.

While some accept the use of the male singular pronoun (hehim, his) as a generic singular, it is always correct to use his or her to avoid sexist language.

Corrected: No American citizen should lose his or her right to vote.

This problem can be avoided altogether if you simply change the antecedent to a plural.

Corrected: No American citizens should lose their right to vote.

Shifts in Number:

It is important to determine whether the antecedent pronoun is singular or plural.

Incorrect:         Every man should wear a tie to an interview to look their best.

Man is a singular noun; their is a plural pronoun. They do not agree. Change the pronoun to agree with its antecedent.

Corrected:        Every man should wear a tie to an interview to look his best.

Sometimes, everyday speech does not use correct agreement, so the correct forms may sound funny.

Incorrect:       Everyone brought their lunch and ate in the employee break room.

Corrected:       Everyone brought his or her lunch and ate in the employee break room.

Corrected:       All the employees brought their lunch and ate in the employee break room.

There are some situations where the number is not clear.   Following is a chart to remember.

Indefinite pronouns are a group of pronouns where some are always singular., some are always plural, and some depend on the noun to which they are referring.

Singular Indefinite  Pronouns
   Always  Singular
one           each
either nothing
anybody nobody
each anything
neither another
everybody much
everyone  

Plural Indefinite Pronouns

Always Plural
both
many
two
most
Singular and Plural
Depend on the Noun*
some
few
several
lots
none
all

*These pronouns are used to refer to both singular and plural nouns.

Shifts in Person:

Person refers to the voice or position the writer is taking.  The pronoun must refer back in agreement with person.

Person
person pronouns
first person I, we, me, my, us, our. ours
second person

you, yours

third person he, she, it, his, hers, theirs, they, them

Incorrect:  As soon as a student finishes an on-line quiz, the computer shows your score.

Think about this literally.  When a student finishes the quiz, the computer shows my score?

Here, the pronoun your is second person, but the noun it refers to student is in third person.

Correct:  As soon as you finish an on-line quiz, the computer shows your score.

Pronoun Reference:

While in most cases we know how or what we are referring to, there are some cases where confusion and errors can occur.

Unclear:  Jenny couldn’t park her car in the garage because it was broken.

In this case, we are not sure what the word it is referring to.  Was her car broken or was the garage broken?  Correct this error by replacing the unclear pronoun with a noun.

Corrected:  Jenny couldn’t park her car in the garage because her car was broken.

Here are more examples of vague pronoun reference:

Janice took the watch and necklace and sold it.  The reader does not know whether it refers to the watch or the necklace.

Corrected:

  • Janice took the watch and necklace and sold them.
  • Janice took the watch and necklace and sold the watch.
  • Janice took the watch and necklace and sold the necklace.

Parents should watch their children before they get into trouble.  The reader doesn’t know whether they refers to the parents or the children.

Corrected:

  • Parents should watch their children before the children get into trouble.
  • Parents should watch their children before the parents get into trouble.

Subject-Verb Agreement

Subject-Verb Agreement

The predicate (verb) in a sentence must agree with its subject in number. 

In the present tense, singular subjects must have singular verbs, and plural subjects must have plural verbs.

Generally, singular nouns take verbs which end in the letter s.

Alice goes to the store.

The bird flies south in winter.

No s for plural verbs

Plural nouns generally take verbs that do not end in s.

Alice and Michael go to the store.  (They go.)

Birds fly south in winter.

Be careful not to confuse making plurals in nouns and verbs.  The plural of nouns has an s. A plural verb does not have an s: They go. She goes.

Problem areas

For most native speakers of English, subject-verb agreement is not a problem except there are a few situations which can be confusing.

Subjects Separated from Verbs

One problem arises when the subject is separated from the verb in the sentence.  Usually in English, the order of ideas in a sentence is subject and then verb.

The parents are in the waiting room.

Prepositional Phrases

Prepositional phrases can sometimes separate the subject and the verb. A prepositional phrase begins with a preposition such as inonat, of, and ends with the object of that preposition.

The parents of the child are in the waiting room.

The words of the child are the prepositional phrase. The word child is the object of the preposition and is not the subject of the sentence. This can cause confusion because the child is right before the verb and the ear wants to make the verb agree with the closest noun, in this case the singular noun child. However, the true subject of this sentence is still the plural noun parents, so the verb must also remain plural: parents are.

Relative Pronouns

Another separation also occurs with relative pronouns such as who, whom, that, and which.

The parents who called Dr. Smith are in the waiting room.

To avoid making this error, always make sure you know what the true subject of the sentence is, not just the words closest to the verb: parents are.

Singular or Plural Subjects

Indefinite pronouns are a group of pronouns where some are always singular., some are always plural, and some depend on the noun to which they are referring.

Singular Indefinite  Pronouns
   Always  Singular
one           each
either nothing
anybody nobody
each anything
neither another
everybody much
everyone  

Plural Indefinite Pronouns

Always Plural
both
many
two
most
Singular and Plural
Depend on the Noun*
some
few
several
lots
none
all

*These pronouns are used to refer to both singular and plural nouns.

Either-Or or Neither-Nor

While either and neither alone are always single, when they are paired with an or / nor, a different rule applies. The verb agrees with the nearer part of the subject.

Either the dogs or the cat is scratching at the door. Cat is

Either the cat or the dogs are scratching at the door. Dogs are

Verb Tense and Verb Form

Verb Tense and Verb Form

What are Verbs?

Verbs are action words: to run, to sit, to speak.  Verbs also describe the state of being:  to be (is, are, was, were), to appear, to become. 

Verb Tense

Verbs relate information about when the action occurred.  Here are examples:

past (She ran to the store),

present (She runs in the park), and

future (She will run on Saturday). 

Past Tense

The simple past tense of regular verbs is formed by adding -ed to the based form of the verb: plan, planned; generate, generated.  However, many verbs are irregular and have an irregular simple past tense: drive, driven; run, ran; see, saw.

Present Tense

Unlike nouns, the third person simple present tense of singular verbs generally end in the letter -s while the plural does not: She goes, They go; He decides, They decide.  The first person simple present tense generally does not end in the letter -s: I go, I see, I decide.

Future Tense

The future tense is generally formed with the word will and the simple present base form of a verb: will see, will decide, will navigate.

In addition to past, present, and future verb tenses, there are the progressive and perfect tenses which describe action that is ongoing or action that is completed or to be completed before another action.

Progressive Tense

The progressive tense describes an action that is ongoing either in the past, present, or future.  These are formed with a helper verb and the present participle (-ing form) of the verb. Here are three examples:

She was going to the gym at the time of the accident.

He is explaining how to complete the exercise

They will be draining the pool to find the leak.

Perfect Tense

The perfect tense describes an action that was completed to be completed before another action.  These are formed with a helper verb and the past participle (-ed form) of the verb.  Here are three examples.

She had gone to the gym before the accident occurred.

He had explained how to complete the exercise before the students left class.

They will have drained the pool by the time it rains.

Generally, people don’t have a problem using the proper verb tense when they are talking about a single action.  However, sometimes the content of a sentence can make it difficult to determine proper tense.

Incorrect Shifts in Tense

Incorrect:  When she goes to the store, she forgot what she went for. 

This is an illogical shift in tense.  The first part is using the tense for an ongoing situation, but the second part of the sentence is referring to one past.

Corrected:   When she goes to the store, she often forgets what she went for.

In this case, both goes and forgets are in the same tense: the present.

Correct Shifts in Tense

Sometimes, it is correct to use different tenses, but only if we really want to indicate different times.

Incorrect:  Last year, I took Humanities I; now, I took Humanities II.

Even though both verbs are in the same tense, the past tense, the words Last year and now clearly show a difference in time.

Corrected:  Last year, I took Humanities I; now, I am taking Humanities II.

Here, the verb tenses were corrected to reflect the different times involved.

Verb Form

Verb form refers to the variety of ways a verb can be expressed:

base form of verb – the simplest form of  a verb: see, run, think

the -s form of the verb – third person present form – She reads

present participle – the -ing form of a verb

past form of the verb – the past tense

the past participle – generally the same as the past tense – the -ed form of the verb

the infinitive form of the verb is expressed with the word to: to do, to run, to see

Spelling

Spelling

There are various aspects regarding the issue of spelling.  One area of difficulty is when to use apostrophes and capitals.  There are other situations where words are pronounced in the same way (homonyms) but are spelled differently and have different meanings such as compliment and complement.  Closely related is the problem of commonly confused words such as effect and affect. 

How to spell the plural form of nouns can also be a problem.  Whether to use the numeral form or to spell out numbers is another problem area.  Lastly, when and how to abbreviate is a spelling topic..

Click on each topic listed on the left sidebar.

Plurals

Plurals

Plurals of Nouns

There are a number of rules for making nouns plural.  It is important to check the dictionary when you are not sure.

A plural is more than one and is generally formed by adding s

girl – girls

tree – trees

the Walker family – the Walkers

When the singular of the noun ends in ssxchsh, or z use es to form the plural.

box – boxes

ditch – ditches

business – businesses

the Jones family – the Joneses

the Rodriguez family – the Rodriguezes

When a word ends in an o, an es is usually used.

tomato – tomatoes

hero – heroes

echo – echoes

However, there are some exceptions such as the following:

Video – videos

piano – pianos

soprano – sopranos

When the singular of the noun ends in a vowel and a y, simply add an s.

toy – toys

day – days

monkey – monkeys

However, if it ends in a consonant and a y, drop the y and add ies.

city – cities

body – bodies

family – families

When a word end in an f or fe, change the ending to –ves.

knife – knives

wife – wives

wolf – wolves

Hyphenated Nouns form their plurals by adding –S or –ES to the main word.

 secretary–of–state

secretaries–of–state

father–in–law

fathers–in–law

Some words that have the same form for both singular and plural

deer – deer

moose – moose

There are irregular plural forms such as the following

child – children

man – men

woman – women

mouse – mice

crisis – crises

syllabus – syllabi

Plurals of Verbs

Verbs also can be singular or plural depending upon the subject since the verb must agree with the subject. Interestingly, singular verbs end in s, and plural verbs do not end in s. See Subject-Verb Agreement on Related Pages for more information.

Capitalization

Capitalization

Use a capital letter to begin a sentence including a sentence in quotation marks

It was inevitable that the business would succeed.

Professor Duncan said, “Reading literature is a great way to learn about other people and cultures.”

However, don’t begin quote with a capital when the quote is not a sentence.  Sometimes, only groups of words are quoted. A sentence must have a subject, proper verb, and complete a thought.

Professor Duncan said that students can “learn about other people and cultures.”

Here is another example of phrasing with a quote where what is in the quote is not a sentence and should not begin with a capital.

Professor Duncan said that “reading literature is a great way to learn about other people and cultures.”

Use a capital letter for proper nouns

Names of people, places, pets

John Goodman

America

St. Louis, Missouri

the West (the geographic location, not the direction)

Sun Valley

Grandma Sara, Uncle Fred (names of family relations)

Mother, Father (when used in place of a name)

Fido

Planets, months of the year, and days of the week are proper nouns since they are  named after gods and goddesses or important rulers.

Mars is named after the Roman god of war.

June is named after Juno, the wife of Jupiter.

Thursday is Thor’s day.

Nationalities, cultures, religious affiliations, and religious texts are proper nouns

American, Chinese

Hispanic, Latino

Jewish, Muslim

Even when these describe something:

Chinese food

French wine

Bible

Koran

New Testament

Names of organizations, television shows and series, names of artwork, buildings, structures, and boats, planes, and trains and proper nouns

(Note: Don’t capitalize words such as the, a, and, for unless they are the first word)

United Way

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

Friends

Mona Lisa

Statue of Liberty

USS Enterprise

Orient Express

(Note that the names of television shows [a long published work], artwork, structure or building, ship, or railroad are also in italics)

Titles of movies, books, articles, and websites are proper nouns

Capitalize the first letter and all other words except articles (a, and, the), prepositions (such as  to, of, at, in, with, for), and coordinating conjunctions (FANBOYS – for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so).

Tess of the D’Urbevilles – a book (italics are used for long, published works such as a book, newspaper, journal, or website)

“When Dinosaurs Ruled the World” (quotation marks are used for short published works such as an article in a magazine)

Special rules for titles in MLA and APA style:

In MLA and APA style, in the body of the paper, use the standard rule as explained above including the use of italics and quotation marks.  In the Works Cited page of an MLA paper, the rule is also the same for how to list titles.  However, in the References page of an APA paper, only the first letter of the title is capitalized and no quotation marks are used.

Use capitals in some abbreviations

When the first letter of a series of words in a title is used:

IBM  (International Business Machines)

NATO (North American Treaty Organization)

MD (medical doctor)

A.M. and P.M. (common usage including GED) (Also abbreviated without periods and small letters as in MLA style: a.m. and p.m.)

Use capitals in salutations and closings in business letters

The salutation is the opening greeting such as Dear Mrs. JonesDear Sir or Madam, or To Whom It May Concern.  Note that each word begins with a capital.  In the letter itself, you should not use italics.  Italics are use here since one of the rules of italics is for when a word is used as a word and not for the meaning of the word.  Since here we are talking about the words and not the meaning, italics are used.

The closing at the end with words such as Yours truly or Sincerely yours.  Note that only the first letter of the first word is capitalized unlike the saluatation.  Again, italics are used here only because we are referring to the words as words.  You should not use italics in an actual letter.

When not to capitalize

Seasons (fall, spring, summer, winter) are not capitalized.

Directions (east, west, north, south).

Names of family members are not capitalized unless they are used as names:

It was clear that my mother made dinner.

It was clear that Mother made dinner. (Mother is used as a name.)

My aunt came with us.

My Aunt Ann came with us.

Names of professions or areas of study are not proper nouns and should not have the first letter capitalized.

He went for a degree in psychology.

She wanted to go into teaching.

Their friend became a forensic biologist.

They studied math.

However, if part of a formal title or job title, then the same words would be capitalized.

He enrolled in Psychology 101.

He accepted a position in the Department of Philosophy.

She was promoted to Assistant Technician.

However, names of languages are always capitalized.

She liked English best.

He found French difficult.

Names of diseases are not proper nouns and should not have the first letter capitalized unless a person’s name is part of the name of the disease.

Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with cardiovascular disease right after his mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

Sometimes, it is difficult to recognize what a proper noun is since words used in a general way are not proper nouns.  However, the same words become proper nouns when they are part of a title.

I went to high school.

I went to Gulf High School. Capitals are used here since now the words high school are part of a name of a school

Homonyms and Other Commonly Confused Words

Homonyms and Other Commonly Confused Words

Homonyms are words that are pronounced the same but which are spelled differently and have different meanings.

There are some homonyms which are commonly confused. There are other words which are not really homonyms because they are not pronounced the same but are pronounced in a similar way. Here are some words whose meanings are commonly confused:

accept/except

accept means to take or agree.

She accepted the gift.

except means something different.

Everyone except John went to the party.

affect/effect

affect means to change something.

The weather affects her sinuses

effect means the result.

The effect of the weather is sinus congestion.

The word affect is a verb.  It is used only to show action on something.

The word effect is primarily used as a noun (person, place, thing).  Although it is actually also a verb, it is not usually used as a verb.  As a verb, it means to bring about:

She effected a proper response in writing.

The safest way to avoid an affect/effect error is simple to use affect as a verb (action) and effectas a noun (person, place, thing).

cite/site/sight

cite means to refer to or name someone or something.

She cited the rule for commas.

site is a noun meaning place or location.

The construction site was fenced off.

sight refers to what is seen.

The accident was a terrible sight.

everyday/every day

everyday is an adjective.

She wore her everyday shoes to the dance.

every day is a combination of an adjective and a noun used when you mean each and every day.

I go to school every day.  (I go to school each day.)

its/it’s

its shows possession (his, hers, yours, ours, theirs, its).

The cat licked its paw.

it’s is a contraction (it is = it’s; it has = it’s).

It’s a good day.

It’s been a good day.

lose/loose

lose is a verb meaning misplace.

I always lose my keys.

loose is an adjective.

The belt was loose. (Think of moose.)

principle/principal

principle is a noun indicating a fundamental rule or doctrine.

The Golden Rule is a principle I try to adhere to.

principal is usually used as an adjective; however, it can also be used as a noun indicating the head of a school.

His principal concern was for the welfare of his children.

The principal had a meeting with the teachers.

soul/sole

soul is a noun meaning spirit.

Many believe that the human soul is immortal.

sole is an adjective meaning the only one.

She was the sole beneficiary under the will.

stationary/stationery

stationery is writing paper.

He wrote on a note on his personal stationery.

stationary means stable and unmoving.

She attached the bookshelf to the wall in order to make the bookshelf stationary.

then/than

then refers to a sequence in time.

He went to the store then to the gym.

than is used for comparison.

He would rather go to the store than to the gym.

they’re/there/their

they’re is the contraction for they are.

They’re going to the store. (They are going to the store.)

there refers to a place.

Put it over there.

Their is a possessive pronoun.

They forgot their coats.

to/too

to is a preposition denoting towards something.

She went to the store.

too is an word meaning in addition to or also.

He went to the store too.

until/till

until – a word referring to a time.

She waited until he came home.

till – a noun meaning money box or a verb referring to getting the soil ready for planting.

The farmers till the soil

Note:  The proper abbreviation for until is ’til.  See how an apostrophe replaces the omitted letters un.

weather/whether

weather refers to the climate outside.

The weather was cold and rainy.

whether is a word showing an alternative.

She will run whether or not it is raining.

where/were

where means in what place.

The chairs are where the table is.

were is the past plural form of the verb to be.

They were in the corner.

whose/who’s

whose is a relative pronoun referring to a person or thing.

Whose bike is this?

The father whose daughter was suspended went to school to see the principal.

who’s is the contraction for who is.

Who’s the owner of this bike?

Commonly Misspelled Words:

nonetheless – not none the less

all right – not alright

cannot – not can not

each other  – not eachother

through – not thru

congratulations – not congradulations

kindergarten – not kindergarden

’til is the abbreviation for until – not til’ or ’till (the ’ goes in the place of the omitted letters)

Words with More than One Spelling

There are some words that have more than one acceptable spelling.  However, you should use the spelling that is listed first in the dictionary and use that spelling consistently throughout.

gray – grey.  Gray is the standard usage in America while grey is the British spelling.

judgment – judgement.  Judgment is the standard American usage.

color – colour.  Color is the standard American usage.

Foreign Words

Quoted material in another language must have the accents and any other marks from the original quote.

While many words from foreign languages have been incorporated into and are commonly used in Standard English:

ad hoc

laissez-faire

etc.

bayou

cantina

Other foreign words and phrases not commonly used are still considered foreign and should be in italics.

bambina (baby girl)

mon dieux (my God)

poco a poco (little by little)

A favorite expression in New Orleans is Laissez les bon temps rouler.

Always consult a dictionary when you are not sure.

Numbers and Abbreviations

Numbers and Abbreviations

Numbers

Context determines whether you should spell out a number or use a numeral. The general rule for papers written in MLA format is to spell out quantities that are said in one or two words.

Here are two examples:

one hundred (written out since it is said in two words)

101 (written in numerals since it is said in more than two words)

If there are quantities in a series and one or more has to be put into numerals, put all into numerals.

Here is are two examples showing where quantities should be spelled out or written in numerals.

Her children are nine, twelve, and sixteen. (since all quantities are said in one word, they are all written out)

There were 56 children and 210 adults.  (since 210 has to be in numbers, 56 must also be written in numeral form even though it is said in only two words)

Don’t begin a sentence with a numeral. 

If a quantity that is said in more than one word is at the beginning of a sentence, spell it out or change the wording so that it is not at the beginning.

Two thousand six was the year I graduated. (This shows how to spell out quantity at the beginning of a sentence even when it is said in more than two words.)

I graduated in 2006. (This shows how the quantity should be written in numerals since it is not at the beginning and is said in more than two words.)

Form the plural of written-out numbers by adding or es.

Here are two examples:

fours

sixes

In MLA, avoid abbreviations, but when abbreviations are used for the following, always use numerals: lbs., a.m. or p.m., %, KB, $

Here are three examples:

4 lbs.

5 p.m.

10%

Standard Use of Numerals such as addresses, dates, and fractions.

Here are three examples:

2 Locus Lane

January 3, 2001

2.5 (decimals)

If the writing is for a technical or scientific paper where there are a lot of numbers or a paper written in APA style, use numerals throughout except in APA format numbers one through ten should be written out.

Abbreviations

In the text of your paper, you should avoid abbreviations.

There are, however, times when abbreviations are more commonly used. These include papers for a science or technical course or papers written in APA style.

Papers written in MLA format generally only use abbreviations in parenthetical citations or in the Works Cited, but they are proscribed abbreviations such as n. pag. which means no page information or eds. for editors. 

The abbreviation et al., which means and others, is used in referring to a source by more than three authors: (Jones et al.) instead of (Jones, Marino, Hedgewick, and Malkovitch).

Following this rule, in an MLA formatted paper, spell out words that people commonly abbreviate in informal language.

Spell Out Commonly Used Abbreviations
Incorrect Correct
TV television
fridge refrigerator
U.S. United States

Abbreviations with Time

We spell out the months of the year and days of the week in the text but use abbreviations in the works cited. May, June, and July are exceptions.

In the text of an MLA style paper:

November

Wednesday

June

In the Works Cited of the paper:

Nov.

Wed.

June

Some words are always abbreviated:

a.m.    (Note the use of periods. Lowercase is used in MLA. Uppercase is used in other style systems)

p.m.   (Note the use of periods. Lowercase is used in MLA. Uppercase is used in other style systems)

AD      (Note the lack of periods.)

BC      (Note the lack of periods.)

Abbreviations with Measurement

In combination with the rule for spelling out numerals, in MLA format, write out units of measurement if numbers are not referred to often in the paper.

ten miles per hour

forty ounces of water

However, if the paper is written for a science or technical course or in APA style, it is appropriate to use 10 mph or 40 oz. of water.

Periods and Spaces with Abbreviations

While in MLA format abbreviations are avoided, some are acceptable such as a title after a name such as John Jones, MD. However, such abbreviations should not be used to replace words. Here is an example:

John Jones is a medical doctor specializing in neurological disorders.

Not John Jones is a MD specializing in neurological disorders.

Most abbreviations ending with a lowercase letter are followed by a period.

Mr.

fig.

Prof.

introd.

When the letters of an abbreviation are all capitals, periods and spaces are generally not used.

Here are nine examples:

RN (registered nurse)  

MD (medical doctor)                  

BA (bachelor of arts)

MA (master of arts)  

PhD (doctor of philosophy)                                        

FL (Florida)

IBM (International Business Machines)

AIDS (acquired immune deficiency disorder)

MS (multiple sclerosis)

An exception to this rule is after the initials in a person’s name.

J. K. Rowling

Philip K. Dick

J. R. R. Tolkien

In most cases where the abbreviation is made up of lowercase letters, a period is used without a space.

e.g.

i.e.

Spelling with Apostrophes

Spelling with Apostrophes

Apostrophes for Contractions

Apostrophes are used to show that letters have been deleted when certain words are merged into one word.

Here are some examples of contractions:

didn't (did not)

couldn't (could not)

they're (they are)

who's (who is)

Apostrophes for Possession

An apostrophe s ('s) is used to show possession.

Here are a couple of examples of using 's for possession:

the coat belonging to the girl - the girl's coat

the coat belonging to the woman - the woman's coat

When the plural of the noun ends in s, drop the possessive s and use only the apostrophe.

Here is an example of using an apostrophe to show possession when the plural of the noun ends in an s:

the coats belonging to the girls - the girls' coats

When the plural of the noun does not end in s, do not drop the possessive s.

Here is an example of using an apostrophe s ('s) when the plural of the noun does not end in an s:

the coats belonging to the women - the women's coats