Grammar and Punctuation
Brush up on your grammar skills with the following grammar reviews.
Use a comma
1. To separate direct quotations from the phrase identifying the speaker
Example: John said, "The fishing is great in Blackwater River."
2. To separate the names of smaller geographic units from the names of larger units
Example: Denver, Colorado, is called the Mile High City.
3. To separate dates, if the order is month-day-year. If in the middle of a sentence, use another comma after the year
Example: Kennedy was assassinated November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas.
4. To separate names of titles or degrees that follow the name
Example: Harold Johnson, Ph.D., will speak in the Commons Auditorium on Tuesday.
Example: Carmen Elly, Senior Vice President of Creative Technology, will conduct the seminars.
5. To separate short, tightly interrelated clauses in a series
Example: Joe called, Eleanor stopped by, and Bruce left a message.
6. To provide clarity and prevent misreading, even if none of the other rules apply
Example: We left the candidate, assured that he would win. (We were sure that the candidate would win.)
Example: We left the candidate assured that he would win. (He was sure that he would win.)
7. To mark allowable omissions of repeated words, especially verbs
Example: Your analysis is superb; your execution, appalling.
8. To separate two or three consecutive occurrences of the same word within a sentence
Example: Rain, rain, rain--doesn't the sun ever shine around here?
9. To separate two independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so)
Example: I have known the applicant for ten years, and I am pleased to recommend her for this job.
Example: Either I will meet you in the lobby, or I will come to your office.
10. To separate three or more items or phrases in a series
Example: Golfing, swimming, and playing tennis are my favorite activities.
Example: We looked under the bed, in the fireplace, and on top of the refrigerator.
Example: He is capricious, irresponsible, and unreliable.
11. To separate a series of two or more adjectives not connected by a conjunction if the order of the adjectives can be reversed and still retain the same meaning
Example: Your friend is a clever, sensitive person.
12. To separate introductory phrases, words, or clauses from the main part of the sentence
Example: After the Vietnam War ended, a number of veterans were hospitalized.
Example: By the end of World War II, Europe was devastated. Fortunately, there has not been a third world war.
13. To separate parenthetical adverbs and adverbial phrases from the rest of the sentence
Example: Politicians, on the whole, are not highly trusted individuals.
Example: Most of them, however, do try to act friendly and courteous.
14. To separate contradictory and contrasting phrases from the rest of the sentence
Example: It was Claire Williams, not her son, who was appointed senior vice president.
15. To separate names used in direct address or other isolates such as yes, no, and thank you from the rest of the sentence
Example: Tell me, Eddie, for whom did you vote?
Example: No, I am not voting for myself.
16. To separate tag questions from the rest of the sentence
Example: You did that on purpose, didn't you?
17. To separate words and abbreviations that introduce an example or an illustration, including namely, that is, to wit, i.e., e.g., for example, and for instance
Example: Many of my friends, for example, Bruce, Jenelle, and Harry, like to play petanque.
18. To separate nonrestrictive clauses, phrases, and appositives from the rest of the sentence
Example: The scout leader, overweight and out of shape, trudged up the hill.
Example: Mr. Willis, who is a very good scout leader, is overweight and out of shape.
Example: Denver, which is known as the Mile High City, is located in Colorado.
But -- The city which is known as the Mile High City is Denver, Colorado.
Use a semicolon
1. To separate independent clauses that are not joined by a coordinating conjunction
Example: I understand how to use the comma; the semicolon I have not yet mastered.
2. To separate independent clauses connected by a conjunctive adverb
Example: He took great care with his work; therefore, he was very successful.
3. To combine two independent clauses connected by a coordinating conjunction if either or both of the clauses contain other internal punctuation
Example: Success in college, some maintain, requires intelligence, industry, and perseverance; but others, fewer in number, assert that only personality is important.
4. To separate items in a series when each item has internal punctuation
Example: I bought an old, dilapidated chair; a table, which was in beautiful condition; and a new, ugly white rug.
Example: Call one of the mortgage offices for more information: Florida, 1-800-552-2923; Georgia and Alabama, 1-800-205-5509; Mississippi, (209)878-6449; and Louisiana, 1-800-323-3366.
5. To separate individual items listed vertically
Example: To help us decide which programs to include in the next publication on curriculum development, we need the following current information:
background information on the development of your program;
philosophy behind your program;
descriptive literature on your current activities;
course syllabi; and
faculty development in this area.
Do not use a semicolon
1. To separate a dependent and an independent clause
Incorrect: You should not make such statements; although they are correct.
2. To separate an appositive phrase or clause from a sentence
Incorrect: His immediate aim in life is centered around two things; becoming an engineer and learning to fly an airplane.
3. To precede an explanation or summary of the first clause
Weak: The first week of camping was wonderful; we lived in the cabins instead of tents.
Note: Although the sentence above is correctly punctuated, the use of the semicolon provides a miscue, suggesting that the second clause is merely an extension, not an explanation, of the first clause. The colon provides a better cue.
Better: The first week of camping was wonderful: we lived in cabins instead of tents.
4. To substitute for a comma
Incorrect: My roommate also likes sports; particularly football, basketball, and baseball.
5. To set off other types of phrases or clauses from a sentence
Incorrect: Being of a cynical mind; I should ask for a recount of the ballots.
Incorrect: The next meeting of the club has been postponed two weeks; inasmuch as both the president and vice president are out of town.
Note: The semicolon is not a terminal mark of punctuation; therefore, it should not be followed by a capital letter unless the first word in the second clause ordinarily requires capitalization. However, usage concerning whether a capital letter should follow a colon is divided. The colon gives the reader a different cue from the semicolon--it tells the reader to look ahead and directs his attention to what follows. You may use a capital letter after colon so long as you are consistent with the instances.
Use a colon
1. To introduce a list (One item may constitute a list.)
Example: I hate this one course: English.
Example: Three plays by William Shakespeare will be presented in repertory this summer at The University of West Florida: Hamlet, Macbeth, and Othello.
2. To introduce a list preceded by as follows or the following
Example: The reasons he cited for his success are as follows: integrity, industry, and pleasant disposition.
3. To separate two independent clauses, especially when the second clause is a summary or explanation of the first one
Example: All of my high school teachers said one thing in particular: college is going to be difficult.
4. To introduce a word or word group which is a restatement, explanation, or summary of the first sentence
Example: These two things he loved: a friendly dog and a good burger.
5. To introduce a formal appositive
Example: There is one behavior I can't stand: bullying.
6. To separate the introductory words from a quotation which follows, if the quotation is formal, long, or paragraphed separately
Example: The actor then stated the following: "I would rather be able adequately to play the part of Hamlet than to perform a miraculous operation, deliver a great lecture, or build a magnificent skyscraper."
Note: The colon should be used only after statements which are grammatically complete.
Do not use a colon
1. After a linking verb even though the verb precedes a list
Incorrect: The high school I attended was: old, centrally located, and small.
2. After a preposition even though it may precede a list
Incorrect: The University Theater will present the 1984 Playwright's Repertory Festival, featuring rotating performances of: Major Barbara, You Never Can Tell, and Heartbreak House.
3. Interchangeably with the dash
Incorrect: Mathematics, German, English: These gave me the greatest difficulty of all my studies.
Note: Information preceding the colon should be a complete sentence regardless of the explanatory information following the clause.
4. Before the word/words for example, namely, that is, or for instance even though these words may be introducing a list
Incorrect: We agreed to the plan: namely, to give him a surprise party.
Incorrect: There are a number of well-known African-American female writers: for example, Nikki Giovanni, Phyllis Wheatley, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, and Maya Angelou.
A comma splice is the unjustifiable use of only a comma to combine two separate sentences. (One should use either a period, a semicolon, or a coordinating conjunction and a comma to separate the two statements.)
Comma splice: Wearing a seatbelt is not just a good idea, it's the law.
Revision: Wearing a seatbelt is not just a good idea; it's the law.
Comma splices may be corrected in any of the following ways:
Comma splice: Tevon won the award, he had the highest score.
1. Separate the sentences with a period.
Example: Tevon won the award. He had the highest score.
2. Separate the sentences with a comma and a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so).
Example: Tevon won the award, for he had the highest score.
3. Separate the sentences with a semicolon.
Example: Tevon won the award; he had the highest score.
Note: If a conjunctive adverb like therefore, however, then, or consequently separates the two sentences, use a semicolon also.
Example: I was unwilling to testify; however, I did it anyway.
4. Separate the sentences with a subordinating conjunction such as although, because, since, or if.
Example: Tevon won the award because he had the highest score.
A run-on or fused sentence is two independent clauses that are not separated by any punctuation.
Run-on: Wearing a seatbelt is not just a good idea it's the law.
Revision: Wearing a seatbelt is not just a good idea; it's the law.
Note: Even if one or both of the fused sentences contain internal punctuation, the sentence is still a run-on.
A fragment is an incomplete construction which may or may not have a subject and a verb. Specifically, a fragment is a group of words pretending to be a sentence.
Fragment: Traffic was stalled for ten miles on the freeway. Because repairs were being made on potholes.
Revision: Traffic was stalled for ten miles on the freeway because repairs were being made on potholes.
Fragment: It was an excellent movie; one that was nominated for an Oscar.
Fragment: It was an excellent movie. One that was nominated for an Oscar.
Revision: It was an excellent movie, one that was nominated for an Oscar.
Fragment: Prospectors invaded the newly discovered territory. Some in wagons, some on horseback, and a few in heavily laden canoes.
Fragment: Prospectors invaded the newly discovered territory; some in wagons, some on horseback, and a few in heavily laden canoes.
Revision: Prospectors invaded the newly discovered territory, some in wagons, some on horseback, and a few in heavily laden canoes.
1. A verb must agree with its subject, not with any additive phrase in the sentence such as a prepositional or verbal phrase. Ignore such phrases.
Example: Your copy (of these rules) is on the desk.
Example: The video will not be available until the dispute (over video rights) is settled.
Example: My professor's record (of community service, outstanding teaching, and university involvement) qualifies for her promotion.
2. In an inverted sentence beginning with a prepositional phrase, the verb still agrees with its subject.
Example: At the end of the holiday season come the best sales.
Example: Under the house are some old Mason jars.
3. Prepositional phrases beginning with the compound prepositions such as along with, together with, in addition to, and as well as should be ignored, for they do not affect subject-verb agreement.
Example: Gladys Knight, as well as the Pips, is riding the midnight train to Georgia.
Example: A driver's license, together with two other pieces of identification, is required.
4. A verb must agree with its subject, not its subject complement.
Example: Drugs are a problem.
Example: A problem is drugs.
Example: He's a hedonist; his main source of pleasure is food and drink.
Example: For some people, a few pounds are no problem.
5. When a sentence begins with an expletive such as there, here, or it, the verb agrees with the subject, not with the expletive.
Example: Surely, there are several loyal alumni in this area who would be interested in meeting regularly as a group.
Example: There are twenty-five students in my English composition class.
Example: There are some awful statistics coming out on child abuse.
6. Indefinite pronouns such as each, either, one, everyone, everybody, and everything are singular.
Example: Somebody in Detroit loves me.
Example: Does either of you have a pencil?
Example: Neither of my parents has a formal education.
7. Indefinite pronouns such as several, few, both, and many are plural.
Example: Both of my sorority sisters have decided to live off campus.
Example: An increasing number of older people seek the enlightenment of higher education.
8. Indefinite pronouns such as all, some, most, and none may be singular or plural depending on their referents.
Example: Some of the food is cold.
Example: Some of the vegetables are cold.
Example: I can think of some remarks in retort, but none seem appropriate.
Note: None is singular when it means "no one of" or "not a single one."
Example: None of the girls is in a sorority.
Example: None of the children is as sweet as Mary Ann.
9. Fractions such as one-half and one-third may be singular or plural depending on the referent.
Example: Half of the mail has been opened.
Example: Half of the letters have been read.
10. Subjects joined by and take a plural verb unless the subjects are thought to be one item or unit.
Example: Jim and Tammy were "televangelists."
Example: Guns and Roses is my mother's favorite rock group.
Example: Chicken and dumplings is my favorite dish.
Example: A psychiatric analysis and examination has been done.
11. In cases where the subjects are joined by or, nor, either . . . or, or neither . . . nor, the verb must agree with the subject closer to it.
Example: Either the teacher or the students are responsible.
Example: Neither the students nor the teacher is responsible.
12. Relative pronouns, such as who, which, or that, which refer to plural antecedents require plural verbs. However, when the relative pronoun refers to a single subject, the pronoun takes a singular verb.
Example: She is one of the girls who cheer on Friday nights.
She is the only one of the cheerleaders who has a broken leg.
13. Subjects preceded by every, each, and many a are singular.
Example: Every man, woman, and child was given a life preserver.
Example: Each graduate and undergraduate is required to pass a proficiency exam.
Example: Many a tear has to fall, but it's all in the game.
14. A collective noun, such as audience, faculty, or jury, requires a singular verb when the group is regarded as a whole and a plural verb when the members of the group are regarded as individuals.
Example: The jury has made its decision.
Example: The faculty are preparing their presentations.
15. Subjects preceded by the number of or the percentage of are singular, while subjects preceded by a number of or a percentage of are plural.
Example: The number of vacationers in Florida is increasing.
Example: A number of vacationers are young people. However, a large percentage of the vacationers are senior citizens.
16. Titles of books, companies, name brands, and groups are singular or plural depending on their meaning.
Example: Trix are for kids.
Example: Snickers satisfies you.
Example: Great Expectations is my favorite novel.
Example: The Rolling Stones once performed in the Super Dome.
Example: Kiss is no longer performing.
Example: Hamilton is my favorite musical.
17. Certain nouns of Latin and Greek origin have unusual singular and plural forms.
Example: The data are available for inspection.
Example: The only criterion for membership is a high GPA.
18. Some nouns such as deer, shrimp, and sheep have the same spelling for both their singular and plural forms. In these cases, the meaning of the sentence will determine whether they are singular or plural.
Example: Deer are beautiful animals.
Example: The spotted deer is licking a sugar cube.
19. Some nouns like scissors, jeans, and wages have plural forms but no singular counterparts. These nouns almost always take plural verbs.
Example: The scissors are on the table.
Example: My jeans fit me like a glove.
20. Words used as words, not as grammatical parts of the sentence, require singular verbs.
Example: Can't is the contraction for cannot.
Example: My dog cannot spell dog.
21. Mathematical expressions of subtraction and division require singular verbs, while expressions of addition or multiplication take either singular or plural verbs.
Example: Ten divided by two equals five.
Example: Five times seven equals (OR equal) thirty-five.
22. Nouns expressing time, distance, weight, and measurement are singular when they refer to a unit and plural when they refer to separate items.
Example: Fifty yards is a short distance.
Example: Two years have passed since I finished high school.
23. Expressions of quantity are usually plural.
Example: Nine out of ten dentists recommend daily flossing.
24. Some nouns ending in -ics, such as economics and ethics, take singular verbs when they refer to principles, a system or a field of study; however, when they refer to individual practices or applications, they usually take plural verbs.
Example: Ethics is being taught in the spring.
Example: His unusual business ethics get him into trouble.
25. Some nouns like measles, news, and calculus, which appear plural in form, are actually singular in number. These words take singular verbs.
Example: Measles is a dreadful disease.
Example: Calculus requires great skill in algebra.
26. A verbal noun (infinitive or gerund) serving as a subject is treated as singular, even if the object of the verbal phrase is plural.
Example: Hiding your mistakes does not make them go away.
Example: To run five miles is my goal.
27. A noun phrase or clause acting as the subject of a sentence requires a singular verb.
Example: What I need is to be loved.
Example: Whether there is any connection between the two events is unknown.
28. Plural subjects followed by a singular appositive require a plural verb; similarly, a singular subject followed by a plural appositive requires a singular verb.
Example: When the tenants in my complex throw a party, they each bring a dish.
Example: The board, all ten members, is meeting today.
Here are some terms that you should know:
ANTECEDENT: The noun that a pronoun stands for
CLAUSE: A structure with a subject and a predicate
EXPLETIVE: A word that enables a writer or speaker to shift the stress in a sentence or to embed one sentence in another: "A fly is in my soup/ There's a fly in my soup."
GENDER: A feature of personal pronouns and certain nouns that distinguishes masculine (he), feminine (she), and neuter (it)
NUMBER: A feature of nouns and pronouns, referring to singular and plural
PERSON: A feature of personal pronouns that distinguishes the speaker or writer (first person), the person or thing spoken to (second person), and the person or thing spoken of (third person)
Note: Every pronoun must have a conspicuous antecedent, and every pronoun must agree with its antecedent in number, gender, and person.
Pronoun reference problems occur in the following instances:
1. When a pronoun refers to either of two antecedents
Incorrect: Doris told Shirley that she was getting old. (Which one is getting old?)
Correct: Doris told Shirley, "I'm getting old."
2. When a pronoun refers to an unspecified antecedent
Incorrect: A strange car followed us closely, and he kept blinking his lights at us. (Who or what kept blinking the light at us?)
Correct: A strange car followed us closely, and its driver kept blinking his lights at us.
3. When this, that, and which refer to the general idea of a preceding clause or sentence rather than the preceding word
Incorrect: The students could not understand the pronoun reference handout, which annoyed them very much. (What annoyed the students? Was it the handout or not being able to understand the handout?)
Correct: The students could not understand the pronoun reference handout, a fact which annoyed them very much. (The students were annoyed because they could not understand the pronoun reference handout.)
4. When a pronoun refers to an unexpressed but implied noun
Incorrect: My dad wants me to become a dancer, but I'm not interested in it. (What is not interesting?)
Correct: My dad wants me to become a dancer, but I'm not interested in dancing.
5. When it is used as something other than an expletive to postpone a subject
Incorrect: It says in today's paper that the newest shipment of cars from Detroit, Michigan, seems to include outright imitations of European models.
Correct: Today's newspaper says that the newest shipment of cars from Detroit, Michigan, seems to include outright imitations of European models.
Incorrect: The football game was cancelled because it was bad weather. (What was bad weather?)
Correct: The football game was cancelled because the weather was bad.
6. When they or it is used to refer to something or someone indefinitely, and there is no definite antecedent
Incorrect: At the job placement office, they told me to stop wearing ripped jeans to my interviews. (Who told me?)
Correct: At the job placement office, my counselor told me to stop wearing ripped jeans to my interviews.
Correct: At the job placement office, I was told to stop wearing ripped jeans to my interviews.
7. When the pronoun does not agree with its antecedent in number, gender, or person
Incorrect: Any graduate student, if they are interested, may attend the lecture. (student--singular; they--plural)
Correct: Any graduate student, if he is interested, may attend the lecture.
Correct: Any graduate student, if he or she is interested, may attend the lecture.
Incorrect: Some Americans are concerned that the overuse of slang and colloquialisms is corrupting its language. (Americans--plural; its--singular)
Correct: Some Americans are concerned that the overuse of slang and colloquialisms is corrupting their language.
Incorrect: The Board of Regents will not make a decision about tuition increase until their March meeting. (Board of Regents--singular;their--plural)
Correct: The Board of Regents will not make a decision about tuition increase until its March meeting.
8. When a noun or pronoun has no expressed antecedent
Incorrect: In the President's address to the union, he promised no more taxes. (Who is he?)
Correct: In his address to the union, the President promised no more taxes.
When a pronoun is part of a compound group—for, example, her and her husband, delete and and the other person. Then read the sentence.
Incorrect: Reita said her and her husband will donate the dental hygiene items for the children’s travel packets. [Reita said her will donate the dental hygiene items . . . .]
Correct: Reita said she and her husband will donate the dental hygiene items for the children’s travel packets.
When a pronoun follows than or as, complete/insert the elliptical/missing part of the sentence.
Incorrect: You’ve read more novels this year than me. [You’ve read more novels this year than me (have)]
Correct: You’ve read more novels this year than I.
When deciding between who and whom or whoever and whomever, follow these steps:
Isolate the part of the sentence in which the “wh” word is functioning.
Change who and whoever to he and whom and whomever to him.
Read the sentence.
He’s a candidate who/whom is dependable.
He is dependable OR Him is dependable.
He is a candidate who is dependable.
Use the nominative case (subjective pronouns)
1. For the subject of a sentence
Example: We students studied until early morning for the final.
Example: Ronnie and I "burned the midnight oil," too.
2. For pronouns in apposition to the subject
Example: Only two students, Beatrice and I, were asked to report on the meeting.
3. For the predicate nominative/ subject complement
Example: The employees nominated for the award were she and I.
4. For the subject of an elliptical clause
Example: Shirley is more experienced than she.
5. For the subject of a subordinate clause
Example: Valerie is the driver who reported the accident.
6. For the complement of an infinitive with no expressed subject
Example: I would not want to be he.
Use the objective case (objective pronouns)
1. For the direct object of a sentence
Example: Sarah invited us wallflowers to her party.
2. For the object of a preposition
Example: The books that were torn belonged to her and her sister.
Example: The duties are divided between the staff director and me.
3. For the indirect object of a sentence
Example: Calvin gave me and his other girlfriend a dozen red roses.
4. For the appositive of a direct object
Example: The committee elected two delegates, Doris and me.
5. For the object of an infinitive
Example: The young boy wanted to help James and me paint the fence.
6. For the object of a gerund
Example: Enlisting him was surprisingly easy.
7. For the object of a past participle
Example: Having called the other students and us, the secretary went home for the day.
8. For a pronoun that precedes an infinitive
Example: The supervisor told him to work late.
9. For the complement of an infinitive with an expressed subject
Example: The fans thought the best player to be him.
10. For the object of an elliptical clause
Example: Calvin tackled Eddie harder than me.
11. For a pronoun in apposition to the object of a verb
Example: Terrance invited two extra people, Minnie and me, to her party.
Use a possessive case pronoun
1. Before a noun in a sentence
Example: Our friend moved during the semester break.
2. Before a gerund in a sentence
Example: Her running helps her to relieve stress.
Example: We have no record of your having called our office.
Example: We don't mind your taking carts to the parking lot.
3. As a noun in a sentence
Example: Mine was the last test graded that day.
Use a reflexive pronoun
1. As a direct object when its antecedent is present in the sentence
Example: I kicked myself.
2. As an indirect object when its antecedent is present in the sentence
Example: Julian bought himself a tie.
3. As an object of a preposition when its antecedent is present in the sentence
Example: Monte and Aja baked the pie for themselves.
4. As a predicate pronoun when its antecedent is present in the sentence
Example: She hasn't been herself lately.
Note: Do not use a reflective pronoun to substitute for a personal pronoun.
Incorrect: Send the report to either the manager or myself at your earliest convenience.
Correct: Send the report to either the manager or me at your earliest convenience.
Use who and whoever as the subject of a dependent clause
Example: He is the person who I think has outstanding leadership skills.
Example: Give the money to whoever wins.
Example: He is a person who is dedicated to his principles.
Use whom and whomever as the object of a dependent clause
Example: Voters will elect a person whom they think they can trust.
Example: She is the person for whom I have a great deal of respect.
Example: Give the ticket to whomever the group chooses.
1. A--used before words and letters with an initial consonant sound
Examples: a CPA, a historical event
2. An--used before words and letters with an initial vowel sound
Examples: an MBA, an honorable man
3. Alot--incorrect spelling for a lot
4. Accept--verb: to take
Example: I graciously accept your invitation.
5. Except--verb: to omit; preposition: but
Example: Mothers of small children are excepted from jury duty.
Example: Everyone was excused except Joe and me.
6. Advice--noun (ending pronounced "ice")
Example: Good advice often falls on deaf ears.
7. Advise--verb (rhymes with devise)
Example: The protestors were advised to submit a list of their grievances.
8. Affect--verb: to influence
Example: The noise affects my concentration.
9. Effect--noun: result; verb: to bring about
Example: His speech had a positive effect on me.
Example: The President has effected a new tax law.
10. Alright--incorrect spelling for all right
11. Almost--adverb meaning "nearly"; adjective or pronoun meaning "some" or "many"
Example: We sold almost all the tickets.
12. Most--adjective or pronoun
Example: We sold most of the tickets.
13. Among--used for relationships involving MORE THAN TWO people or things
Example: There is a quiet tension among the family members.
14. Between--used for relationships involving ONLY TWO people or things
Example: Lois and Hattie had only fifty cents between them.
15. Amount--used with singular (mass) nouns (see less)
Examples: amount of work, amount of credit
16. Number--used with plural (countable) nouns (see fewer)
Examples: number of classes, number of mistakes
17. As, as if, as though--used before clauses (see like)
Example: It looks as if (not like) it's going to rain.
Example: He acts as though (not like) he has all the time in the world.
18. Be sure and--misused for be sure to
19. Try and--misused for try to
20. Could of--misused for could have
21. Should of--misused for should have/ might of--misused for might have/ would of--misused for would have
22. Different than--used only when a clause follows
Example: The park is different than it used to be.
23. Different from--used always except when a clause follows
Example: Her hairdo is different from yours.
24. Due to--used to introduce adjective phrases; means "caused by"
Example: His mistakes were due to carelessness.
25. Because of--used to introduce adverb phrases; means "as a result of"
Example: He was dismissed because of his dishonesty.
26. Due to the fact that--misused and wordy for because
27. Enthuse/enthused--colloquialisms for enthusiastic
28. Fewer--used with countable nouns (see number)
Examples: fewer hours, fewer dollars
29. Less--used with mass nouns or general amounts (see amount)
Examples: less time, less money
30. Hopefully--used as an adverb meaning "in a hopeful manner," not as a sentence modifier
Example: The children waited hopefully for the packages to arrive.
Incorrect: Hopefully, the team will win.
Note: Hopefully is usually misused when placed at the beginning of a sentence.
31. Irregardless--misused for regardless
32. Is when/is where--should not be used to introduce an explanation or a definition
Incorrect: Plagiarism is when a writer presents the thoughts and ideas of another author as his own.
Correction: Plagiarism occurs when a writer presents the thoughts and ideas of another author as his own.
33. Kind of/sort of--correctly used preceding nouns, not adjectives
Example: I enjoy reading this kind of magazine.
Incorrect: The movie was kind of boring.
Correction: The movie was rather boring.
34. Lead & led--Lead (pronounced "leed") means "to go first." Its principal parts are lead, leads, leading, led (rhymes with red), and (have) led.
Example: Priests lead lives of celibacy.
Example: The man led a life of celibacy before he became a priest.
Note: The homonym for led is a noun.
Example: The lead in this pencil is broken.
35. Lend--verb: to allow the use of (lending, lent, [have] lent)
Example: The credit union lends (not loans) money to members only.
Example: I lent (not loaned) my book to her last week.
36. Loan--noun: something lent for temporary use
Example: I need to establish credit so that I can be eligible for a loan.
37. Lie--verb: to rest or recline (lying, lay, [have] lain)
Example: I let my dog lie on the couch every day.
Example: My dog lay on the couch for hours yesterday.
Example: That silly dog is still lying on the couch.
38. Lay--verb: to put or place (laying, laid, [have] laid)
Example: Where did he lay my brush?
Example: I must have laid it down somewhere yesterday.
Example: I'm always laying things down and forgetting where I laid them.
39. Like--preposition used to introduce a phrase, not a clause (see as, as if, and as though)
Example: His features are unique like a fingerprint.
Example: It looks like rain.
40. Principal--noun: chief official; adjective: foremost, major Principle--noun: axiom, rule
Example: Her principal reasons for resigning were her principles of right and wrong.
41. Reason is because/reason was because--misused for reason is that/reason was that
Example: The reason he was promoted is that (not is because) he worked exceptionally hard.
42. Rise--verb: to go up (rising, rose, [have] risen)
Example: She must rise early in the morning to get to work on time.
43. Raise--verb: to push up (raising, raised, [have] raised)
Example: My apartment complex's property manager says she must raise the rent to offset recent inflation.
44. Sit--verb: to be seated (sitting, sat, [have] sat)
Example: Students who have a hard time hearing the professor usually sit on the front row.
45. Set--verb: to put, to place (setting, set, [have] set)
Example: Please set the paperwork on my desk.
Example: Try to set a positive example for incoming members to follow.
46. Suppose to/use to--incorrect spellings for supposed to and used to
Example: Amy is a better tennis player than I.
48. Then--adverb of time (often misused for than)
Example: The cashier rang up our sale; then he gave us our change.
1. Add '-s to singular nouns and indefinite pronouns.
Example: Tiffani's flowers
Example: everybody's computer
Example: today's paper
Example: a dog's bark
Example: at the owner's expense
2. Add '-s to singular nouns ending in -s.
Example: Deloris's paper
Example: Dr. Yots's class
Example: the boss's pen
Example: Dr. Evans's office OR Dr. Evans' office
3. Add an apostrophe to plural nouns ending in -s or -es.
Example: two cents' worth
Example: ladies' night
Example: thirteen years' experience
Example: two weeks' pay
4. Add '-s to plural nouns not ending in -s.
Example: men's room
Example: children's toys
5. Add '-s to the last word in compound words or groups.
Example: brother-in-law's car
Example: someone else's paper
6. Add '-s to the last name when indicating joint ownership.
Example: Juan and Selina's home
Example: Julie and Kathy's party
7. Add '-s to both names if you intend to show ownership by each person.
Example: Juan's and Selina's trucks
Example: Julie's and Kathy's pies
8. Possessive pronouns change their forms without the addition of an apostrophe.
Example: her, his, hers
Example: your, yours
Example: it, its
Example: their, theirs
Example: our, ours
9. Use the possessive form of a noun preceding a gerund.
Example: His driving annoys me.
Example: My bowling a strike annoyed him.
Example: Do you mind our stopping by?
10. Add '-s to words, symbols, numbers, letters, and initials to show that they are plural.
Example: IRA's available at the bank
Example: the 1990's (or the 1990s)
Example: No if's, and's, or but's
Example: the returning POW's
Example: three A's
1. A dangling modifier is a word or phrase modifying a term that has been omitted or to which it cannot easily be linked. To correct a dangling modifier, reword the sentence by either (1) changing the modifying phrase to a clause with a subject or (2) changing the subject of the sentence to the word that should be modified.
Shortly after leaving home, the accident occurred.
Shortly after we left home, the accident occurred.
To get up on time, a great effort was needed.
To get up on time, I made a great effort.
Being very tired, the alarm failed to disturb Charles's sleep.
Because he was very tired, the alarm failed to disturb Charles's sleep.
2. A modifier is misplaced if it appears to modify the wrong part of the sentence or if we cannot be certain what part of the sentence the writer intended it to modify. To correct a misplaced modifier, move the modifier next to the word it describes.
She served hamburgers to the men on paper plates.
She served hamburgers on paper plates to the men.
Infinitives consist of the marker to plus the plain form of the verb. The two parts of the infinitive are widely regarded as a grammatical unit that should not be split. Splitting an infinitive is placing an adverb between to, the sign of the infinitive, and the verb.
The weather service expected temperatures to not rise.
The weather service expected temperatures not to rise.
Sometimes, a split infinitive may be natural and preferable, though it may still bother some readers.
Several U.S. industries expect to more than triple their use of robots within the next decade.
A squinting modifier is one that may refer to either a preceding or a following word, leaving the reader uncertain about what it is intended to modify. Correct a squinting modifier by moving it next to the one word it is intended to modify.
The kids who threw food in the cafeteria often escaped the teacher's notice.
The kids who often threw food in the cafeteria escaped the teacher's notice.
The kids who threw food in the cafeteria escaped the teacher's notice often.
Tense sequence indicates a logical time sequence.
1. Use present tense in universally true statements not limited to a particular time.
Example: I learned that the sun is ninety-million miles from the earth. (The fact that the sun is ninety-million miles away from the earth is a universal truth.)
Example: The editor reminded us that periods and commas are always placed inside the closing quotation marks.
Example: Somebody told me that it is 836 miles from Houston, Texas, to El Paso, Texas.
2. Use present tense in statements about the contents of literature and other published works. This is the eternal present.
Example: Hamlet is one of the most indecisive characters in literature.
Example: In this book, the protagonist becomes a priest and writes a book on psychology.
3. Use past tense in statements concerning writing or publishing of a book.
Example: She wrote her first book in 1946, and it was published posthumously in 1952.
4. Use present perfect tense for an action that began in the past but continues into the future.
Example: I have lived here all my life.
5. Use past perfect tense for an earlier action that is mentioned after a later action.
Example: Marvin bought the car that he had seen advertised in the paper. (First he saw it; then he bought it.)
6. Use future perfect tense for an action that will have been completed at a specific future time.
Example: By May 2030, I will have graduated.
7. Use a present participle for an action that occurs at the same time as the verb.
Example: Speeding down the interstate, I saw a cop's flashing light.
8. Use a perfect participle for an action that occurred before the main verb.
Example: Having read the instructions, I started the test.
9. Use subjunctive mood to express a wish or state a condition contrary to fact.
Example: If it were not raining, we could have a picnic.
10. Use subjunctive mood in that-clauses after verbs like request, recommend, suggest, ask, require, and insist; and after such expressions as it is important and it is necessary.
Example: It is necessary that all papers be submitted on time.
11. All verbs have five forms
|Principal Parts of Verbs|
|base form (infinitive)||walk||go|
|-ed/-en form||(had) walked||(had) gone|
Note: Always use a helping verb with the -ed/-en form.
Example: We had gone for a jog.
|Degrees of adjectives and adverbs (modifiers)|
|eager||more eager||most eager|
|efficient||more efficient||most efficient|
Faulty comparisons take a number of forms:
1. Use -er or -est for most adjectives with one or two syllables.
Faulty: I am more lonely than she is.
Revised: I am lonelier than she is.
2. Use more or most for most adjectives with two or more syllables.
Faulty: Benny is the eagerest student Ms. Johnson has.
Revised: Benny is the most eager student Ms. Johnson has.
3. Double comparisons occur when the degree of the modifier is changed incorrectly by adding both -er and more or -est and most.
Faulty: Doris is more friendlier than her brother.
Revised: Doris is friendlier than her brother.
4. The misuse of the superlative occurs when a comparison is made between two things or people and the superlative form is used incorrectly.
Faulty: Of the two textbooks, the oldest edition is the best.
Revised: Of the two textbooks, the older edition is better.
5. The superlative is also used incorrectly when it is combined with any other, meaning "only one" or with all the others, thereby excluding the compared item from its category. For example, the sentence below suggests that Montreal is the largest of one city.
Faulty: Montreal is the largest of any other city in Canada. (Can Montreal be the largest of one city?)
Revised: Montreal is the largest of all the cities in Canada.
6. Illogical comparisons occur when there is an implied comparison between two things that are not actually being compared or that cannot logically be compared.
Illogical: The interest at a loan company is higher than a bank.
Revised: The interest at a loan company is higher than that at a bank.
Revised: The interest at a loan company is higher than a bank's.
7. Ambiguous comparisons occur when elliptical words (those omitted) create for the reader more than one interpretation of the sentence.
Ambiguous: I like Nancy better than you.
Revised: I like Nancy better than I like you.
Revised: I like Nancy better than you do.
8. Incomplete comparisons occur when the basis of the comparison (the two categories being compared) is not explicitly stated.
Incomplete: Watching paint dry is more interesting. (Than what?)
Revised: Watching paint dry is more interesting than watching reality television.
9. Omission of other, any, and else: Do not omit the words other, any, or else when comparing one thing or person with a group of which it/he is a part.
Faulty: Joan writes better than any student in her class. (Joan is a student in the class. Does she write better than herself?)
Revised: Joan writes better than any other student in her class.
If the superlative is intended, use the following: Joan is the best writer in her class.
10. Omission of as: Do not omit as when making a point of equal or superior comparison using as . . . as.
Faulty: The University of West Florida is as large or larger than the University of North Florida.
Revised: The University of West Florida is as large as or larger than the University of North Florida.
11. Further, in such comparisons as the following, all one need do is omit the italicized phrase to see why the comparison is faulty.
Faulty: This is one of the best, if not the best, college in this country. (The problem is that one of the best requires the plural word colleges, not college. Such sentences need to be rewritten.)
Revised: This is one of the best colleges in this country, if not the best.
Parallel structure is used to express matching ideas. It refers to the grammatical balance of a series of any of the following:
Example: The dog chased the cat along the fence, up the tree, and into the house.
Example: The job market is flooded with very talented, highly motivated, and well-educated young people.
Example: You will need a notebook, pencil, and dictionary for the test.
Example: The children were told to decide which toy they would keep and which toy they would give away.
Example: The farmer plowed, planted, and harvested his crops before the flood.
Example: Reading, writing, and calculating are fundamental skills that all of us should possess.
Parallel structure also applies to the correlative conjunctions:
both . . . and
neither . . . nor
whether . . . or
either . . . or
not only . . . but also
Example: Either you will do your homework, or you will fail; it is that simple.
Note: Correlative conjunctions must be used as pairs (not only with but also, not just but) and not mixed with other conjunctions such as neither with or.
Repetition of structural signals such as articles, auxiliaries, prepositions, and conjunctions
Note: Repetition of prepositions is considered formal and is not necessary.
- You can travel by car, by plane, by boat, or by train; it's all up to you.
- You can travel by car, plane, boat, or train; it's all up to you.
Who and which constructions that are too wordy
- Bad: Nancy is a career-oriented young lady and who can cook and clean.
- Better: Nancy is a career-oriented young lady who can also cook and clean.
Repetition of who and that clauses
- She is engaged to a man who works hard and who donates his salary to charity.
- The company works diligently to ensure that employees know company policies and that every employee is treated fairly.
Adjectives are words that modify nouns or pronouns by defining, describing, limiting, or qualifying those nouns or pronouns.
Adverbs are words that modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs and that express such ideas as time, place, manner, cause, and degree.
Use adjectives as subject complements with linking verbs; use adverbs with action verbs.
The old man's speech was eloquent. (ADJ)
Mr. Potter speaks eloquently. (ADV)
Please be careful. (ADJ)
Drive carefully. (ADV)
GOOD AND WELL
Good is an adjective; its use as an adverb is colloquial or nonstandard.
He looks good to be an octogenarian.
The quiche tastes very good.
He gets along well with his co-workers.
He gets along good with his co-workers.
Well may be either an adverb or an adjective. As an adjective, well means "in good health."
He plays well. (Well is an adverb.)
My mother is not well. (Well is an adjective.)
BAD OR BADLY
Bad is an adjective used after sense verbs such as look, smell, taste, feel, or sound or after linking verbs (is, am, are, was, were, and other forms of be).
I feel bad about the delay.
Badly is an adverb used after all other verbs.
It doesn't hurt so badly now.
REAL OR REALLY
Real is an adjective meaning "genuine"; its use as an adverb is colloquial or nonstandard.
He writes real well.
Have a real nice day.
The company is real pleased with your work.
This purse is real leather. (ADJ)
Really is an adverb.
He writes really well.
Have a really nice day.
The company is very/really pleased with your work.
NOTE: Really has become an overworked adverb; therefore, one should use alternatives such as very or exceedingly whenever possible or leave out the adverb entirely.
SORT OF AND KIND OF
Sort of and kind of are often misused in written English by writers who actually mean rather or somewhat.
Lannie was kind of saddened by the results of the test.
Lannie was somewhat saddened by the results of the test.
1. Personal names
Examples: Mr. Ezell, Bruce Springsteen, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Shaquille O'Neal, Brandy
2. The first word and all major words of a title (work of art, book, movie, awards, etc.)
Examples: The Baptism, The Hand I Fan With, Gone with the Wind, A Time to Kill, Nobel Peace Prize
3. States, countries, and continents
Examples: Minnesota, Sierra Leone, Australia, San Francisco, Fulton County
4. Abbreviations, initialisms, and certain acronyms
Examples: Ph.D. or PhD, NFL, ERA, CPA, NOW, NASA, CEO
5. Races, nationalities, and species
Examples: Native American, Black, White, Indian, Homo sapien, Italian, Haitian
6. Proper nouns (Proper nouns are specific, whereas common nouns [school, boulevard, university, etc.] are not specific.)
Examples: Washington High School, Hollywood Boulevard, Dartmouth College, The University of West Florida
7. Titles when they precede or follow proper names
Examples: Ms. Bonnie Jones, Supervisor of Elections; Dr. Percy Goodman, Internist; Representative Buzz Ritchie; Carol Moseley Braun, U.S. Senator; Sheriff Jim Lowman; Professor Harry Stopp; Attorney Cheryl Howard; Anne McDowell, Director of Admissions
Note: Do not capitalize a professional title that does not accompany a name.
Examples: sheriff, city councilman, director, physics professor, systems analyst, sales associate, administrative assistant, manager, accountant, judge
8. Nicknames and stage names
Examples: "Magic" Johnson, "Hammerin'" Hank Aaron, "Awesome Dawesome," Madonna, Boyz II Men, General Daniel "Chappie" James, the Dream Team
9. The first word of a direct quotation
Example: Attorney Cochran said to the jurors, "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit!"
10. Trade names
Examples: Realtor, Kleenex, Ford truck, Nike
11. Titles which denote high rank
Example: He is the President of the United States.
Note: Do not capitalize president in the following sentence:
He is president of the freshman class.
12. Religions and religious terms
Examples: Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddha, the Bible, Christian, the Ten Commandments, Mt. Zion Methodist Church
Note: Do not capitalize the following:
church, communion, atheist, agnostic, spirituality
13. Compass directions only when they refer to regions
Example: I live in the South, but I don't have a Southern accent.
Note: Do not capitalize general compass directions.
Example: I live south of here.
14. Political, social, athletic, and other groups
Examples: Atlanta Braves, the Super Bowl, U.S. Olympics Gymnastics Team, NWBA (National Women's Basketball Association), the Dream Team, the Links Incorporated, League of Women Voters, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity
15. God in references to the one God of all monotheistic religions, but do not capitalize god in references to religions that recognize more than one god.
Examples: Christians believe in God. Thor is the Norse god of thunder.
16. Specific courses
Examples: Chemistry I, English Composition II, American History I, Student Life Skills, Black Women Writers, Professional Writing, College Algebra 1101
Note: Do not capitalize general names of courses.
Examples: mathematics, biology, home economics, physical education, history
17. Proper names used in other contexts
Examples: brown Betty, oysters Rockefeller, German shepherd
Note: Do not capitalize tuxedo, rottweiler puppy, or leotards.
18. Time periods, holidays, and events
Examples: The Greek Age, the Renaissance, Presidents' Day, Election Day
Note: Do not capitalize seasons (winter, spring, summer, or fall) or academic classifications (freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior).
Test your knowledge of grammar rules with the UWF Writing Lab student practice tests.
"Let's Talk Grammar" Podcast
Writing Lab Director Mamie Hixon discusses grammar.
Grammar Mini-Lessons PowerPoints
Mini-Lessons for Grammar
Mini-lessons are grammar lessons on a more granular scale for students with specific questions. Each lesson includes a quick quiz.