Grammar

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Sentences Fragments Run-ons Comma-splice Parallelism
Apostrophes Active/Passive Voice Pronoun Antecedent Homonyms Irregular Verbs

Sentences:  In order for a group of words to be properly punctuated as a sentence, it must contain a subject, contain a verb, and express a complete thought.

Example:  Brian rode his bicycle to school in order to squeeze some much needed exercise into his busy schedule. 

This group of words, which is punctuated as a sentence, is a sentence because it contains a subject (Brian), it contains a verb (rode), and expresses a complete thought.

Refresher: A subject is the thing (be it a person, place or thing) that is doing something or being something in a sentence.  A verb is a word that shows action or a state of being.                                                            

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Fragments:

A fragment occurs when a group of words is punctuated like a sentence, but lacks something that is needed to make it a sentence. If the group of words lacks a subject or a verb or does not express a complete thought, it is a fragment. 

Examples:    After the bookstore closed.

                      When I meet you to study.

Both of these groups are fragments because they do not express a complete thought.  More information is needed.  In order to make these fragments complete sentences, add the information that is missing.  (i.e.) After the bookstore closed, I went home.    When I meet you to study, I'll come prepared.

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Run-ons:

In order to understand run-ons and comma-splices, it is best to first become familiar with independent and dependent clauses.

An independent clause is a group of words that could stand alone as a sentence.  In other words, it has a subject, it has a verb, and it expresses a complete thought.

Conversely, a dependent clause could not stand alone as a sentence because it lacks either a subject, a verb, or a complete thought.

A run-on is a grammatical error that occurs when two or more independent clauses are joined without punctuation. 

Example: 

My television lost its signal I climbed on the roof to adjust the antenna.

This example of a run-on contains two independent clauses.  The first independent clause is "My television lost its signal."  The subject is television, the verb is lost, and it expresses a complete thought.  The second independent clause is "I climbed on the roof to adjust the antenna."  The subject is I, the verb is climbed, and it expresses a complete thought.

The best way to find run-ons in your writing is to examine each group of words you punctuated like a sentence and ask yourself whether or not you have an abrupt change of topics in one group of words.  If you find one, try to seperate the groups into independent clauses.  The most difficult part of run-ons is identifying where they are in your writing.  Once you find them, fixing them is easy because there are four ways to fix a run-on.

Fixing Run-ons:

Method 1:  Make the two independent clauses two distinct sentences.  

Example: My television lost its signal. I climbed on the roof to adjust the antenna.

Method 2: Add a comma and a coordinating conjunction. (A coordinating conjunction is a word used to connect words, phrases, and clauses.  The coordinating conjuctions are for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.  Perhaps your instructor has refered to them as FANBOYS.) 

Example: My television lost its signal, so I climbed on the roof to adjust the antenna.

Method 3: Use a semicolon between the two independent clauses.  (Only use this method if the two independent clauses share a close relationship with each other. Also, try not to overuse this method.)

Example:   My television lost its signal; I climbed on the roof to adjust the antenna.

Method 4: Make one of the independent clauses a dependent clause.

Example: Because my television lost its signal, I climbed on the roof to adjust the antenna.

In this example, I changed the first independent clause to a dependent clause.  It is now dependent because it doesn't express a complete thought.  Imagine if someone you know walked up to you and said, "Because my television lost its signal."  Comma Alert!  Note that when the dependent clause comes before an independent clause, a comma is used to seperate them.  This does not hold true when the independent clause comes before the dependent clause.

Method 4 example 2: I climbed on the roof to adjust the antenna because my television lost its signal.  (There are no commas in this second example because the independent clause comes first.)

Last words on Run-ons:

Run-ons create confusion for readers, which is why you should eliminate them from your writing.  When it comes to fixing run-ons, variety is the key.  Try using different methods so your sentences don't all have the same rhythm. 

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Comma-splices:

A comma-splice is a type of run-on.  It occurs when two independent clauses* are joined together with only a comma. 

Example: My computer crashed, I lost all my music files.

If you get a paper back from your instructor indicating you have comma-splices (CS), you'll need to proofread future papers for this grammatical flaw. 

To find comma-splices, locate the first comma in your paper.  Cover up everthing to the right of the comma and determine if everything to the left of the comma is an independent clause.  If it isn't, move on to your next comma.  If everthing to the left is a dependent clause, determine whether what is to the right of the comma is an independent clause.  If independent clauses are found on the left and right of the comma, you have a comma-splice.

Fixing Comma-splices:

To fix comma splices, use the same four methods indicated in the run-on section of this web page.

*To understand independent clauses, see the beginning of the run-on section above.


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Parallelism, which occurs when words, phrases, and clauses are in the same grammatical form within a sentence, is a good thing in writing.  

However, faulty parallelism creates problems for the reader.  When you see the symbol     //     in the margin of your paper, it indicates that you have faulty parallelism.  Your goal, then, is to make your writing parallel (to put elements of your sentence into the same grammatical form).  Faulty parallelism tends to occur when you have items in a series.  It also tends to occur with the word and.  Think of the word and as an equal sign; what is on one side (grammatically), should be on the other side (grammatically).

Here are some examples of faulty parallelism and their corrected forms to better illustrate this concept:

Example:  Being respectful and honesty are admirable qualities in a person.

Though the above example may sound fine, it is actually an example of faulty parallelism because "being respectful" and "honesty" are not in the same grammatical form.  The following two examples correct the problem.

Corrected Version 1:  Being respectful and being honest are admirable qualities in a person.

Corrected Version 2:  Respectfulness and honesty are admirable qualities in a person.

Example My days off from school are filled with doing laundry, running errands, and phone calls.

"Doing laundry," "running errands," and "phone calls" are not all in the same grammatical form.

Corrected Version 1:  My days off from school are filled with laundry, errands, and phone calls.

Corrected Version 2:  My days off from school are filled with doing laundry, running errands, and making phone calls.

Example:  To eat and playing are my daughter's favorite activities.

Corrected Version 1: To eat and to play are my daughter's favorite activities.

Corrected Version 2: Eating and playing are my daughter's favorite activities.

Remember, faulty parallelism usually occurs when there are three or more items in a series or when the word and connects two words, phrases, or clauses.   Be sure to proofread for this grammatical flaw.

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Apostrophes tend to give many students problems.  Although there are a few other uses for the apostrophe, it is primarily used to form contractions and to show possession.

In a contraction (two words combined as one) the apostrophe almost always is used to show that a letter or letters have been omitted.  For example, in the contraction don't, which means do not, the apostrophe stands in place of the  o in not.  Without the apostrophe in the correct place, you would have a spelling error.

Think of a contraction as the result of two words having a head-on collision.  When the two words collide, letters are ejected.  The apostrophe is placed in the contraction as a remembrance to those ejected letters.

The following is a list of common contractions and their meanings:

Contraction

Meaning

Contraction

Meaning

Aren't 

Can't

Couldn't

Didn't

Don't

He's

I'll 

I'm

I've

I'd

Isn't

Let's

Are not

Can not

Could not

Did not

Do not

He is

I will

I am

I have

I had, I would

Is not

Let us

She's

She'll

There's

They're

Wasn't

We're

Weren't

We've

Who's

Won't

Wouldn't

You're

She is

She will

There is

They are

Was not

We are

Were not

We have

Who is

Will not

Would not

You are

The only anomaly appears to be the contraction won't, which means will not.

Please note that some instructors ask that you not use contractions in academic writing.   It is important that you know how to use contractions correctly outside the academic arena.  

Apostrophes Continued

Possessives are words used to show ownership or belonging.  They, like contractions, are formed with the apostrophe.  However, the apostrophe in possessive words does not stand for an omitted letter like it does in contractions.  An example of a possession is found in the following sentence:  

Example: Professor Peppard's house is simple.  

The above sentence contains the possessive noun Peppard's The 's in the word Peppard's indicates that the house belongs to Instructor Peppard.  There are some basic rules for forming the possessive case of nouns:

Rule 1:  To show possession to plural nouns ending in s, add only an apostrophe after the s.

Example:  The graduates' hats were thrown everywhere after the president announced their graduation.                

Whose hats were thrown about in the above example?  In this case all the graduates hats were thrown about.  Because graduates is a plural noun ending in s, all you need to do to show ownership is add an apostrophe (graduates').

Rule 2:  To show possession for all other nouns, add 's.  It does not matter whether the noun is singular or plural.  Following are some examples of this rule put into use.

Example:  The children's toys spilled across the once clean room.

Explanation: Although children is a plural noun, it does not end in "s."  Therefore, to show possession, I have to use rule 2, which indicates I need to add an 's to the word.

Example:  Chris's plot to pass English 1A by buying essays off the internet was thwarted by Mr. Peppard's use of the web site turnitin.com.

Explanation: "Chris" is a singular noun.  To show possession, I need to apply rule 2, which indicates I need to add an 's to the word.

Example:  Mary's little lamb followed her to school one day and made the children laugh and play.

Explanation: "Mary" is a singular noun.  To show possession, I need to apply rule 2, which indicates I need to add an 's to the word.

Alert!  Some words are possessive without the apostrophe.  These words are known as possessive pronouns.  The following is a list of possessive pronouns.

my, mine
its
his
her, hers
your, yours
our, ours
their, theirs
whose

Remember, the possessive pronouns listed above do not take an apostrophe to show possession.  They show possession all by themselves.  Please do not confuse these with their contraction semi-look alikes.

Other Uses for the Apostrophe

1)  To indicate numbers that have been omitted.
Example: I graduated from the class of '95. 

In this sentence the apostrophe represents the 19 in 1995.

2)  To indicate slang or informal speech is being used. 

Example: I have been fixin' to build an electric car for some years now.   Example: I love gangsta' rap!

3)  To form the plural of some numbers or letters.  

Example: I anticipate getting straight A's this semester. 

This last use of the apostrophe is optional (some writers omit the apostrophe).  Whether or not you choose to use the apostrophe in instances like this, stay consistent throughout your essay.

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Voice refers to the ability of the verb to show whether a subject acts or receives the action named by the verb.

All simple sentences are either active or passive voice.  Although both are grammatically correct, the active voice is often stylistically preferred.  Most students tend to write in the passive voice, but most readers prefer to read sentences in the active voice.

Active Voice: When the subject of the sentence performs the action, the sentence is said to be in the active voice

Example:  Mary hurled the javelin. 

Explanation: Because the subject (Mary) is performing the action (she is doing the hurling), the sentence is in the active voice.

Passive Voice: When the subject of the sentence receives the action, the sentence is said to be in the passive voice

Example:   The javelin was hurled by Mary. 

Explanation: Because the subject (the javelin) is receiving the action (it is being hurled by Mary and is itself not doing the hurling), the sentence is in the passive voice.

Prefer the active voice to the passive voice because it is more direct, more precise, and more likely to hold a reader's attention.

Exceptions to giving preferential treatment to the active voice include situations when the doer of the action is unknown (my car was stolen by someone) and when you wish to emphasize the action rather than the doer of the action (the body was found on Mount Everest by the search team). 

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Pronoun-antecedent agreement occurs when pronouns agree in gender and number with the word(s) they modify (their antecedents).  You always want your pronouns to agree with their antecedents. 

Example:  Brian passed in all his homework on time.  

Explanation: The pronoun "his" refers to Brian.  Because "his" is both masculine (refers to a male) and indicates one person, it completely agrees with the antecedent "Brian."

Example: Students need to pass in their essays on time. 

Explanation: "Their" refers to students.  Because "their" is plural, it completely agrees with the antecedent "students."  Note, gender is not a concern in this case.

A lack of agreement can cause confusion for individuals reading your paper.

Example: Everyone needs to break free from their limitations in life.

Explanation:  The pronoun "their" is a plural pronoun.  However, the antecedent "everyone" is actually singular because it refers to each one person.  This sentence could be fixed: Everyone needs to break free from his or her limitations in life.

Example: Neither of the doctors had their license to practice medicine.

Explanation: The pronoun "their" is plural.  However, it refers to the singular antecedent "neither."  

Alert! The following indefinite pronouns are singular and take a singular pronoun to refer to them:

"Body" words "One"words "Thing" words Others
nobody                                    
somebody               
anybody                  
everybody               
                   
someone              no one  
one            
anyone
something                    everything                    each
neither
either

              everyone

Notice, most of the words listed above have the word "body," "one," or "thing" in them.  Those words should tip you off that the words are singular.

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Homonyms are words that sound alike, but are quite different in meaning.  People often confuse one word for its sound-alike cousin.  The following is a list of some common homonyms and their definitions.   Also included are commonly confused words that are not homonyms.  In the chart below (N) indicates a noun and (V) indicates a verb.

Accept:  To receive                                                                            Except:  To exclude

Advise:  To offer recommendations  (V)                                      Advice:  a recommendation (N)

Affect:  To produce an influence on (V)                                       Effect:  To cause (V)

Aid:  Help                                                                                           Aide:  Assistant

Allude:  To make a reference to                                                    Elude:  To stay away from

Allusion:  An indirect reference                                                    Illusion:  Something not as it appears

All ready:  Completely prepared                                                  Already:  Previously; before

Altogether:  thoroughly, completely                                           All together:  Everything in one place

Ante:  before                                                                                    Anti:  against

ArePresent, plural tense of the verb to be                                           OurPossessive pronoun (plural of my)

Assent:  Agree                                                                                 Ascent:  Rise

Awhile:  (Adverb used without for)                                            A while:  ([N] He stayed for a while)

Base: The bottom; foundation                                                     Bass:  A deep tone; type of fish

Bear:  To carry;  The animal                                                          Bare:  Naked

Capital:  Main; city                                                                        Capitol:  The building in D.C.

Decent:  Good                               Descent:  Go down               Dissent:  to oppose

Desert:  Dry land like the Mohabi                                            Dessert:  The after-dinner treat

Everyone:  All people                                                                  Every one:  each one

Flew:  (did fly)                       Flu:  similar to a cold                  Flue:  A chimney

Foreword:  An introduction                                                       Forward:  To move ahead

Farther:  Refers to physical distance        Father:  Dad         Further:  Refers to extent or degree

Gorilla:  The animal                                                                   Guerrilla:  War related

Hear:  Listening with the ear                                                    Here:  A location

Heard:  A group of animals                                                       Heard:  Did hear

Hoarse:  harsh (as in throat)                                                     Horse:  The animal

Its:  Possessive pronoun                                                            It's:  It is or It has

Knew:  Did know                                                                        New:  Not used or old

Lead:  A metal; to guide                                                            Led:  (Did guide)

Loose:  Not tight                                                                        Lose: Not win

Maybe:  Perhaps                                                                       May be:  May happen

Passed:  Did pass                                                                      Past:  Previous time

Patience:  Forbearance                                                             Patients:  People who doctor's treat

Quiet:  Silence                                                                           Quite:  Completely, very

Raise:  To bring up; to build         Raze:  To level; to destroy              Rays: Light beams

Serial:  In a row                                                                         Cereal:  That breakfast food

Threw:  Tossed                                                                          Through:  Penetrated; Completed

There:  Location                  Their:  Possessive Pronoun      They're:  They are

To:  Toward                         Two:  The Number 2                 Too:  Also

Your:  Possessive pronoun (Your house)                               You're:  You are

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Irregular Verbs 

As you are well aware, many verbs in English are irregular.  The following chart provides some common irregular verbs.  It really does not take too much to  learn those with which you are not already familiar.

The chart has three sections: the simple form of the verb (the verb in its present tense form), the past tense, and the past participle (the past tense used with one or more auxiliary verbs such as have).

 Simple Form  Past Tense  Past Participle
arise

awake

be

bear

beat

bid (to command)

bite

choose

cling

come

creep

dive

do

draw

drink

drive

fly

forget

forsake

get

give

go

grow

hang (to suspend)

have

hide

know

lay

lie

light

lose

make

prove

ride

ring

rise

run

see

seek

shake

shine (to glow)

show

shrink

sing

sink

sit

slay

sling

speak

spring

stink

stride

strike

strive

swim

swing

take

teach

tear

think

throw

wake

wear

write

arose

awoke or awaked

was, were

bore

beat

bade

bit

chose

clung

came

crept

dived or dove

did

drew

drank

drove

flew

forgot

forsook

got

gave

went

grew

hung

had

hid

knew

laid

lay

lighted or lit

lost

made

proved

rode

rang

rose

ran

saw

sought

shook

shone

showed

shrank

sang

sank or sunk

sat

slew

slung

spoke

sprang or sprung

stank or stunk

strode

struck

strove

swam

swung

took

taught

tore

thought

threw

woke or waked

wore

wrote

arisen

awaked or awoken

been

borne or born

beaten

bidden

bitten or bit

chosen

clung

come

crept

dived

done

drawn

drunk

driven

flown

forgotten or forgot

forsaken

got or gotten

given

gone

grown

hung

had

hidden

known

laid

lain

lighted or lit

lost

made

proved or proven

ridden

rung

risen

run

seen

sought

shaken

shone

shown or showed

shrunk

sung

sunk

sat

slain

slung

spoken

sprung

stunk

stridden

struck

striven

swum

swung

taken

taught

torn

thought

thrown

waked or woken

worn

written

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