A few grammar tips

So sad that so many authors don’t pay attention to correct grammar. Hoping that some will make use of them, here are a few tips for future use.



Every affix performs a specific duty. If two affixes of the same basic function are applied to a single root, the effect of both is rendered obsolete. Thus, PREFIX ‘ir’ and SUFFIX ‘less’ (both expressing negation), added to ROOT ‘regard’, equals ‘not without regard’… in short, ‘regardful’!


A gerund is formed when we add ‘ing’ to a verb and use it as a noun. In the sentence Dancing is fun, the word ‘dancing’ functions as SUBJECT, while in I like dancing, it takes the role of DIRECT OBJECT. When modifying a gerund, be sure to use the POSSESSIVE case (Horton’s dancing caused quite a stir.)

NO:  ”I’m sure they won’t object to US coming to the party.”
YES: “I’m sure they won’t object to OUR coming to the party.”


Assembling a sentence that contains two or more modifying ideas is not always as simple as it seems. The various elements need to be organized so as not to create confusion. For instance, if one attempts to combine the main clause  Sally met the doctor  with the modifying ideas  that had removed her appendix  and  on the subway, a couple of concerns may arise. In Sally met the doctor that had removed her appendix on the subway, the subway becomes the scene of surgery. In Sally met the doctor on the subway that had removed her appendix, the subway becomes the surgeon. For optimum clarity, place one of the modifiers at the beginning of the sentence: On the subway, Sally met the doctor that had removed her appendix.


To ‘LIE’ means to ‘recline’ or to ‘occupy a space’, while to ‘LAY’ means ‘to place’. Principle parts of LIE are lie/lay/lain/lying; principle parts of LAY are lay/laid/laid/laying. Contrary to popular belief, this is NOT a matter of personal preference. An easy way to keep the distinction in mind is to remember that while LAY takes a direct object (to lay eggs), LIE does not (to lie down).

“On Sundays, I lie in bed until noon. Yesterday, I lay there all day.”
“On Sundays, I lay two books on the table. Yesterday, I laid four.”


The formation of certain POSSESSIVES can be a source of some confusion. For instance, it is correct to say either “my son’s friend” or “a friend of my son”. To say “a friend of my son’s” (as people often do) is to form the possessive twice, which may not actually cancel it out, but certainly renders it redundant.

“This applicant has ten years of experience.”
“This applicant has ten years’ experience.”


The ADVERBS ‘hardly’, ‘barely’, and ‘scarcely’ are expressions of negativity (there is scarcely any sugar  means  there is NOT much sugar). As such, none of them should be paired with a second negative (such as ‘no’, ‘not’, ‘never’, or ‘none’), as a DOUBLE NEGATIVE will result (there is scarcely no sugar  means something like  there is plenty of sugar).

NO: I can’t hardly believe my eyes.
YES: I can’t believe my eyes.
YES: I can hardly believe my eyes.


Here’s one that may be especially useful to those who speak English as a second language. SINCE, FOR, and FROM are not interchangeable when applied as prepositions. Whereas FOR is the word we use to express the duration of an event, SINCE cites a specific starting point for that event. Meanwhile, FROM is something of a combination of both: in conjunction with TO, it introduces a starting and ending point, and thus, shows duration.

“I have been sick FOR three days.”
“I have been sick SINCE Tuesday.”
“I was sick FROM Tuesday TO Friday.”


Use parallel construction after each half of a CORRELATIVE CONJUNCTION (such as ‘neither… nor’ or ‘both… and’) as in: either we travel together, or she goes alone, or he is not only hard-working, but also efficient.

“Mrs. Avery scrubbed both the floor in the kitchen and the one in the bathroom.”


In a SIMPLE DECLARATIVE sentence, subject typically precedes verb (Martin is here). However, in the EXISTENTIAL clause (that is, one that begins with ‘here’ or ‘there’), verb precedes subject, the same way it does in an INTERROGATIVE sentence (Where is Martin? … Here is Martin). In this case, be sure the verb continues to agree with the subject and not (somehow) with either ‘here’ or ‘there’.

Yes: “There ARE some Corn Flakes in the cupboard.”
No:  ”There IS some Corn Flakes in the cupboard.”


There are two kinds of adjectives that appear in a series in reference to a noun. COORDINATE adjectives each modify the noun equally and must be separated by commas (a strong, confident, independent woman). CUMULATIVE adjectives modify each other in sequence and must NOT be separated by commas (three big orange pumpkins). If you’re not sure which is which, try rearranging the series (orange big three pumpkins). If it doesn’t sound right, the adjectives are CUMULATIVE.

“Several exuberant brown dogs dragged on the leashes of a tired, anxious, harried owner.”


As SUBORDINATING CONJUNCTIONS, ‘though’ and ‘although’ can be used interchangeably, whether they appear initially or medially. Some suggest that ‘although’ is more formal, but ‘though’ is, in fact, its precursor (not until the 1300s did ‘all though’ become ‘although’). However, ‘though’ as an ADVERB (meaning ‘however’ or ‘nonetheless’), can never be substituted with ‘although’.

“Although/Though she is hungry, she refuses to eat.”
“She is not healthy, though, and needs to gain some weight.”


‘I, you, (s)he, it, we, they’ are SUBJECT PRONOUNS. ‘Me, you, him, her, it, us, them’ are OBJECT PRONOUNS. A subject pronoun is the ‘do-er’ and an object pronoun is the ‘do-ee’. If you’re not sure which goes where, trying removing the additional factor and see how it sounds:

YES: “They (and the children) are ready to go. Are they taking (John and) me?”
NO:  ”(The children) and them are ready to go. Are they taking (John and) I?”


RELATIVE PRONOUNS ‘that’ and ‘which’ can be used interchangeably to introduce a RELATIVE CLAUSE as long as it is RESTRICTIVE (essential to the meaning of the sentence). However, to introduce a clause that is NON-RESTRICTIVE (optional to the meaning of the sentence), use ‘which’ only. Note that such clauses are always set off by commas.

YES:  Here is the house that Jack built.
YES:  Here is the house which Jack built.
YES:  Here is Jack’s house, which is yellow.
NO:   Here is Jack’s house, that is yellow.


Is there any MOOD so mysterious as the English SECOND CONDITIONAL? This is the syntax we use to describe unreal or improbable situations in the present tense. Such sentences consist of a dependent ‘if’ clause plus an independent result clause and feature an important EXCEPTION. When the verb ‘to be’ appears in the ‘if’ clause, always conjugate it as ‘were’ regardless of the case of the subject.

“If I were a ghost, I would haunt you every Thursday evening.”


While it’s common knowledge that the SEMI-COLON (in conjunction with a right parenthesis) is the universal symbol of cyber-diplomacy, it’s also useful as a PERIOD plus a COMMA: a period to divide two independent clauses and a comma to link them in terms of what they mean.

“Your punctuation is remarkable; you never use a period when a splice will suffice… ”


There is a difference between prepositions BETWEEN and AMONG, just as there is among quantifiers SOME, MORE, and MOST. Use ‘between’ to refer to two elements and ‘among(st)’ for three or more.
“Though there is always friction between my brother and sister, there is nothing but diplomacy   amongst us all.”
To make your sentence as clear as possible, always place one-word modifiers (such as ‘only’, ‘just’, and ‘almost’) close to the words they modify, and in most cases before them. Note the difference between  we just sold the car  and  we sold just the car. The first suggests the sale was completed very recently, the second, that the car was sold, but maybe not the motorcycle.
“Jane only looked at the paintings; she had no plans to buy.”
“Jane looked at only the paintings; sculpture bores her.”


QUANTIFIERS ‘few’ and ‘many’ are applicable to COUNT nouns in the positive degree (‘hour’), ‘little’ and ‘much’ to NON-COUNT (‘time’). When comparing two nouns, use ‘fewer’ and ‘more’ for COUNT, and ‘less’ and ‘more’ for NON-COUNT. When comparing three or more nouns, use ‘fewest’ and ‘most’ for COUNT, ‘least’ and ‘most’ for NON-COUNT’.

“I have less sugar than I need. There are fewer cubes here than I remember.”


The distinction between participial adjectives such as ‘interested’ and ‘interesting’ can be a source of confusion to many students of English as a second language. PAST PARTICIPLE ‘interested’ describes a subjective condition in which a person (or animal) EXPERIENCES interest. PRESENT PARTICIPLE ‘interesting’ describes an objective condition in which a person, place, or thing GENERATES interest.

“I am very worried. My situation is very worrying.”


Never let a PREPOSITIONAL PHRASE distract you from the rightful SUBJECT of a sentence. In the woman with two children looks very anxious, the subject (woman) is singular and therefore takes a singular verb (looks), even though it appears in conjunction with a plural modifier (with two children).

“The priorities of the chairman are to hold another meeting and settle the matter once and for all.”


A RESTRICTIVE CLAUSE is one that contains information inherent to the meaning of the sentence and therefore, should NEVER appear with commas before and after. In contrast, a NON-RESTRICTIVE clause is optional (its role is only to restate or modify information essential to the meaning of the sentence) and, as such, should ALWAYS be framed in commas.

RESTRICTIVE: “People who eat their veggies lead wholesome lives.” (their lives are wholesome because they eat their veggies)

NON-RESTRICTIVE: “Those people, who are wearing funny hats, always eat their veggies.”
(the hats have nothing to do with their eating habits)


‘Affect’ and ‘effect’ are commonly confused. ‘Affect’ is a VERB, meaning ‘to have an influence on’ (or less frequently, ‘to pretend’, or ‘assume falsely’). Meanwhile, ‘effect’ is a NOUN, meaning ‘something produced by a cause’, but also (less frequently), a VERB, meaning ‘to bring about’ or ‘make happen’.

Affect (verb):  I was deeply affected by her tears.
Affect (verb):  I didn’t know she was only affecting sadness.
Effect (noun):  Even so, her manipulation had a profound effect.
Effect (verb):  It made me want to effect a change.

In keeping with today’s theme, the word ‘LIKE’ has numerous applications in English. It can function as a VERB (‘to enjoy’ or ‘to feel friendly towards’), a PREPOSITION (‘similar to’ or ‘typical of’), a CONJUNCTION (‘the same as’ or ‘as if’) or, in Facebook times, even a NOUN. However, ‘like’, as an INTERJECTION (in expression of heaven-knows-what), must always be considered an indefensible breach of good lexical etiquette.
YES:  George really likes bananas. (verb)
YES:  He is like a monkey. (preposition)
YES:  He eats them like there’s no tomorrow (conjunction)
YES:  His picture got a lot of likes on Facebook. (noun)
NO!:  I am, like, going to have to share it with my friends.
The APOSTROPHE has three functions. It is used to indicate CONTRACTION and POSSESSION, and in some cases, to clarify PLURALS of letters, acronyms, etc. It is NEVER appropriate to use an apostrophe to pluralize a simple noun.
YES:  It’s time to go home. I’m exhausted.
YES:  Me, too. I’m tired of watching my p’s and q’s.
YES:  The guests’ coats are in the closet. Mark’s hat is there, too.
NO:   Old folk’s need their beauty rest.
When three or more nouns appear in a series, controversy arises as to whether or not a COMMA should appear before the coordinating conjunction that precedes the last. This is generally known as the SERIAL or OXFORD comma. Proponents argue that including it is the best way to avoid ambiguity (the last two elements may otherwise be linked in modification of the first). Opponents say that ‘and’, ‘nor’, or ‘or’ is sufficient for the job. Neither way is more correct than the other.

“It is a lesson for my cousins, Adolph Hitler, and Atilla the Hun.”
“It is a lesson for my cousins, Adolph Hitler and Atilla the Hun.”
“Either of the girls is very pretty.”In this sentence, ‘of the girls’ is a PREPOSITIONAL PHRASE whose role it is to modify SUBJECT ‘either’. INDEFINITE PRONOUN  ‘either’ (like ‘neither’, ‘each’, ‘any’, every one’, and ‘none’) is SINGULAR, and therefore, takes a singular verb for agreement.
“None of the pies is ready to be eaten.”  (none = not one)
FARTHER and FURTHER serve equally as comparatives for the adverb FAR. However, contrary to the rather loose terms of contemporary usage, there is a traditional distinction between them. Briefly, where FARTHER is meant… to refer to literal, or physical, distance (I can’t run any farther), FURTHER is more figurative (I won’t discuss it any further). In cases that seem ambiguous (in I am further along in my book…, distance is measurable in terms of either plot or pages), FURTHER is the option with more wiggle room.
The verb sequence ‘could have’ consists of MODAL ‘could’ plus AUXILIARY ‘have’ which precedes the PAST PARTICIPLE in construction of the PERFECT tense. This is not to be confused with ‘could of’, nor its ugly cousins, ‘would of’, ‘should of’, ‘might of’, which is gibberish.

“I WOULD HAVE called you a thousand times, if I thought I could change your mind.”
The spelling of ACCEPT vs EXCEPT can prove perplexing for some. ACCEPT is a verb meaning to ‘receive’, ‘approve of’, or ‘ADD to the equation’. EXCEPT is also a verb (though more often a preposition) meaning to ‘leave out’, ‘exclude’, or ‘SUBTRACT from the equation’. The distinction is easy to remember if you consider ‘ex’ as a mark of omission.
“Every member, except Stephen, was prepared to accept the terms.”
The tendency to add ‘of’ to expressions like ‘that big (of) a deal’ probably arose by extension from oldies like ‘a devil of a time’, where one NOUN is used to describe another. While this may be appropriate for phrases containing ADJECTIVES of QUANTITY (more OF an issue), it remains a stretch for those featuring ADJECTIVES of DEGREE, especially in formal English (he’s not that young OF a man). To clarify, try inverting the syntax: a man that young makes better sense than a man OF that young.
YES: “Your sister is a peach OF a girl.”
YES: “I think she’s more OF a lemon.”
NO: “She doesn’t have that sweet OF a nature?”
YES: “She doesn’t have that sweet a nature.”
In the INFINITIVE PHRASE (as in to play piano), grammar gives us the green light to use the common verb in various other syntactic capacities. With this handy construction, we can turn an action word into a NOUN, either as SUBJECT (to play piano takes effort) or OBJECT (I like to play piano), an ADVERB (I stay home to play piano), or an ADJECTIVE (my urge to play piano is strong). However, one rule remains consistent in all applications. The infinitive itself is an indivisible unit which should never be interrupted by a modifying factor. In other words, do not split the infinitive!
YES: “I am learning to play brilliantly.”
NO:  ”I am learning to brilliantly play.”
A regular PAST PARTICIPLE is formed by adding -d, -ed, -n, or -en to a verb (saved, hated, blown, spoken). It appears after auxiliary ‘to have’ in formation of the perfect tense (he has taken more than his fair share), and after ‘to be’ in construction of the passive (he is taken to school by his mother). It is also helpful for generating a PARTICIPIAL PHRASE (taken by surprise), which functions in the capacity of adjective. If you decide to use it this way, be sure the substance of your phrase refers directly to the subject of the sentence.

YES: “Overwhelmed with emotion, he sank to his knees and wept.”
NO:  ”Overwhelmed with emotion, she could see that he was crushed.”

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