Dr. Carol J.V. Fisher's Communication and Literacy Preparation

Grammatical Definitions and Rules—in a Nutshell

Jump right to the exercises!

Grammar is the set of rules governing the use of language.

Two great sites, with quizzes and worksheets:
The Tongue Untied
Grammar Bytes

adjective a word used to describe a noun or a pronoun
a brilliant student
adverba word used to describe a verb She worked carefully.
(How did she work?
Adverbs often end in -ly.)
antecedent ♦  the noun to which a pronoun refers
♦  a pronoun must match its antecedent—singular/plural, masculine/feminine
♦  examples of problems with antecedents
The girl who solved the problem is worn out.
(girl is the antecedent of who)
Students must have their own pencils.
(students is the antecedent of their)
appositive a noun or noun phrase that renames another word right beside it Will they give us teachers access to the results?
(teachers is an appositive to us)
The teacher, a formidable presence, entered the room.
(a formidable presence is an appositive to teacher)
case ♦  the case of a pronoun indicates whether the pronoun:
-- initiates the action (subjective case)
-- receives the action (objective case)
-- conveys ownership (possessive case)
♦  in sentences with a compound joined by AND, use the same case as you would with each part of the compound alone
♦  a pronoun with an appositive following it uses the same case as it would without the appositive
♦  pronouns in comparison: figure out what is implied, and use the correct case
♦  notice the difference in meaning:
-- She likes studying more than I. (more than I like studying)
-- She likes studying more than me. (more than she likes me)
They looked with confusion at the book and me. (objective; test each piece; they looked at me)
Will they give us teachers access to the results? (leave off the appositive; will they give us access...)
She is taller than he. (than he is tall)
Whom does Carol wish to see? (whom is the object of the infinitive "to see")
Carol is the person whom she met. (whom is the object of "met")
Between you and me, this is a tough test. (me is the object of the preposition "between")
To whom do you wish to speak? (object of preposition)
clause ♦  a group of related words that has both a subject and a verb
♦  two types of clauses:
-- an independent clause functions alone;
it is not dependent on another clause for context or function;
when a sentence has only a single clause, then it is an independent clause
-- a dependent clause is dependent on another clause for context or function;
it typically functions as a single part of speech in a sentence
(e.g., noun, adjective, adverb)
conjunction ♦  a word that connects other words
♦  "fanboy":   for, and, nor, but, or, yet
Math is challenging and fun.
demonstrative pronoun a word that points out something, like this, that, these, and those I studied that book carefully.
direct object the noun that receives the action of a transitive verb Please lay the books on the table.
idiom a combination of words with meaning different from the individual words themselves I am broke.
(meaning:  I have no money.)
indefinite pronoun ♦  refers to an unknown or undetermined person, place or thing
♦  always singular:
-- another, each, one
-- anyone/body/thing, everyone/body/thing
-- no one/body/thing, someone/body/thing
-- neither (but not neither/nor; see below)
-- either (but not either/or; see below)
♦  always plural: both, few, many, several
♦  singular or plural, depending on meaning: all, most, none, some
♦  if you can replace "none" by "not one of," then use singular
Someone loves me.
Many of my students love math.
Almost all the money is used up.
None of his children wants to attend college. (Not one of ...)
indirect object ♦  the noun or pronoun that receives the direct object
♦  typically, an indirect object precedes the direct object
♦  to determine the indirect object, ask: "Who/what received the direct object?"
Did the students give their teacher the assignment?
(assignment is the direct object)
infinitive the basic form of a verb, usually preceded by the preposition "to" I like to do math.
interjection a word that expresses strong emotion Ouch, that hurt!
Oh no, I forgot the exam was today.
Woo hoo! I aced the quiz!
interrogative pronoun ♦  poses a question: who, whose, whom, what, which
♦  if you can replace a word with "he" or "she," then use "who"
♦  if you can replace a word with "him" or "her," then use "whom"
Who got the right answer?
Whom did she choose as her guest?
Whom did you call?
(Rephrase/replace: Did you call him?
You called whom?
You is subject; him/whom is object)
noun ♦  a person, place, thing, or idea
♦  types of nouns:
abstract: a noun that cannot be experienced with any of the five senses (see, hear, smell, taste, touch);
every noun is either abstract or concrete
common: a noun that names general items;
every noun is either common or proper
collective: a group of people or things that are considered a single unit
concrete: a noun that can be experienced with at least one of the five senses
countable: a noun that can be counted;
if you can add a number to the front and put an s at the end, then you have a countable noun
noncountable: a noun that cannot be counted;
these nouns have only a singular form;
you cannot add a number to the front or put an s at the end
proper: names a specific (usually a one-of-a-kind) item;
begins with a capital letter, no matter where it occurs in a sentence
a brilliant student
bravery, trust, dedication (abstract)
class, faculty, school, society (collective)
four books, two smiles (countable)
weather, information, homework (noncountable)
Snoopy, Dr. Fisher (proper)
phrase ♦  a group of related words that lacks both a subject and a predicate
♦  because it lacks a subject and a predicate it cannot act as a sentence
♦  a phrase typically functions as a single part of speech in a sentence (e.g., noun, adjective, adverb)
You should look over your notes before class.
parts of speech the eight primary parts of speech:
nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions and interjections
possessive nouns SINGULAR:
♦  if a singular noun does not end in s, add  's
♦  if a singular common noun ends in s, then look at the next word:
-- if the next word doesn't begin with s, then add  's , as usual
-- if the next word begins with s (or with the s or sh sound), then add an apostrophe only ♦  if a singular proper noun ends in s, add only an apostrophe
♦  if a plural noun ends in s, add only an apostrophe
♦  if a plural noun does not end in s, add 's
♦  for joint possession, use possessive only for the possessive closest to the noun
♦  use the correct possessive form for each word
The girl's book was on the table. (one girl)
The girl's books were on the table. (one girl)
the boss's temper
the boss' sister
Chris' exam scores
The girls' book was on the table. (many girls)
The girls' books were on the table. (many girls)
the children's book; the children's books
Carol and Karl's house (joint possession)
the dog's and the cats' owners (one dog, many cats)
the dogs' and the cat's owners (many dogs, one cat)
predicate ♦  every complete sentence contains two parts: a subject and a predicate
♦  the subject is what the sentence is about; the predicate tells something about the subject
Carol loves math.
pronoun ♦  a word that takes the place of a noun
♦  pronouns eliminate the repetition that would come with having to use nouns repeatedly
♦  personal pronouns stand in for people, places, things, and ideas
-- subject (nominative case) pronouns: I, you, he, she, it, we, you, they, who
-- object (objective case) pronouns: me, you, him, her, it, us, you, them, whom
♦  take a short subject/object pronoun quiz
♦  possessive pronouns show ownership
-- possessive pronouns used alone: mine, yours, his, hers, ours, theirs, whose
-- possessive pronouns to modify a noun: my, your, his, her, its, our, their, whose
-- none of the possessive pronouns are spelled with an apostrophe
She is a great student. (subject pronoun)
Carol spoke to him. (object pronoun)
That computer is hers. (possessive; alone)
That is her computer. (possessive; modify noun)
preposition ♦  a word that indicates location (in the physical world, in time)
♦  nouns that follow prepositions are called objects of the preposition
♦  a prepositional phrase includes the preposition, the object of the preposition, and optional modifiers
♦  some common prepositions: at, by, for, from, in, of, on, to, with
♦  when a pronoun acts as an object of the preposition, it takes the objective case
From the beginning of the day, Carol was tired.
beginning is the object of the preposition from;
day is the object of the preposition of;
from the beginning and of the day are prepositional phrases
She gave a hug to Julia and me. ("me" is the object of the proposition)
reflexive pronoun ♦  "reflects back" to the person to whom the reflexive pronoun refers
♦  these are the selfish pronouns—they all end in self
♦  they always act as objects; they cannot be subjects
♦  singular: myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself
♦  plural: ourselves, yourselves, themselves
I gave myself a pat on the back.
relative pronoun ♦  a pronoun that relates one part of a sentence to a word in another part of the sentence
♦  when referring to people:
-- subjective: who, whoever
-- objective: whom, whomever
♦  when referring to a place, thing, or idea:
-- use that without a comma for information critical to the main clause
-- use which for information that is not critical to the main clause, and set the information off by commas
The teacher, who is leaving, is loved by the students.
(teacher is subject; who modifies teacher)
She did homework that took three hours to complete.
She did her homework, which was very difficult.
sentence ♦  a group of words that expresses a complete thought
♦  types of sentences:
-- declarative:  makes a statement (ends with a period)
-- exclamatory:  communicates a strong emotion or surprise (ends with an exclamation point)
-- imperative:  makes a command
-- interrogative:  asks a question (ends with a question mark)
-- compound:  has at least two verbs and two subjects
Carol is here. (declarative)
Carol is here! (exclamatory)
Carol, come here! (imperative)
Is Carol here? (interrogative)
Carol is here and the students are ready. (compound)
subject ♦  the person, place, thing or idea that is "doing" or "being" in the sentence
♦  a subject is typically followed by a verb
subject/verb agreement ♦  the verb must agree with the intended number of the subject
♦  objects cannot be subjects, so the object of a preposition cannot be a subject of a clause
♦  phrases such as together with, as well as, such as, along with, rather than, accompanied by and including introduce items that are NOT considered when determining whether a verb is singular or plural
♦  "the number," when used as the subject of a sentence, takes a singular verb
♦  "a number," when used as the subject of a sentence, takes a plural verb
♦  subjects that stand for definable units of money, measurement, and time always take singular verbs
♦  use a singular verb when all parts of a compound subject are singular and refer to the same person or thing
♦  use a plural verb when a compound subject is joined by and, and the subjects either refer to different things or cannot be considered a unit
♦  use a singular verb when the subject is followed by the phrase the only one of
♦  when the parts of a compound subject are joined by
-- or
-- but
-- either ... or
-- neither ... nor
-- not only ... but also
the verb must agree with the subject nearest to the verb
♦  great practice problems on subject/verb agreement
The group of students is working hard.
The text, together with the supplements, is wonderful.
The number of students without their calculators is disturbing.
A number of students are in the classroom.
Six months is not enough time.
Five thousand dollars is a lot of money.
The teacher and the author is the same person.
Your discipline and work ethic are sure to get you far.
Julia is the only one of the students who has finished.
Neither the teacher nor the students were happy.
Neither the students nor the teacher was happy.
subjunctive mood ♦  a mood of the verb to be that expresses doubt, uncertainty, regret, desire
♦  with subjunctive mood, use were instead of was
If I were rich, I would still teach mathematics.
verb ♦  a word that describes action or a state of being
♦  transitive verb: an action verb that requires a direct object to complete its meaning
♦  intransitive verb: an action verb without a direct object
-- such verbs often end a sentence
-- an adverb or prepositional phrase often modifies an intransitive verb
She always does her homework. (transitive)
The book fell. (intransitive)
She complained bitterly. (intransitive)
verb tenses ♦  three basic tenses: present, past, and future
♦  present:  action that goes on in the current time or with regularity
♦  past:  action that is completed at a definite moment before the present
♦  future:  action that takes place in a time to follow the present
♦  each tense has a progressive form, indicating ongoing action
♦  present perfect indicates action that began in the past but continues into the future
♦  past perfect indicates earlier action that is mentioned in a later action
Carol is a teacher. (present)
Carol is working on her online curriculum. (present progressive)
Carol finished her doctorate in 1994. (past)
Carol was explaining the problem when the bell rang. (past progessive)
Carol will finish her online curriculum. (future)
Carol will be teaching next week. (future progressive)
I have lived here all my life. (present perfect)
I read the book that I had chosen. (past perfect)
(passive, active)
♦  passive voice: the subject receives the action
-- the agent performing the action may appear in a "by the ..." phrase
-- the verb phrase will always include a form of be, such as am, is, was, were, are, or been
♦  active voice: the subject performs the action
♦  passive voice is justified in the following situations:
-- the recipient of the action is more important than the performer of the action
-- the performer of the action is unknown, difficult to identify or irrelevant
-- In scientific writing, passive voice is more readily accepted since using it allows one to write without using personal pronouns or the names of particular researchers as the subjects of sentences. This helps to create the appearance of objectivity.
♦  in most non-scientific writing, active voice is preferred
The test was passed by the student. (passive)
(Acting? The student.
Receiving the action? The test, which is the subject.)
The boy was bitten by the dog. (passive)
(Acting? The dog.
Receiving the action? The boy, which is the subject.)
The student passed the test. (active)
The dog bit the boy. (active)

Here are some verbs that are often confused:
to lay
-- to place something
-- transitive
Carol lay the book on the table.
is laying
Carol is laying the book on the table.
Carol laid the book on the table.
had laid
Carol had laid the book on the table.
to lie
-- to recline
-- intransitive
Go lie down.
is lying
Carol is lying down.
Carol lay down yesterday.
had lain
After Carol had lain down, she felt better.

Here are some singular/plural forms that are often confused:
criterion criteria The only criterion for enrollment is enthusiasm.
alumnus (male)
alumna (female)
alumni (male)
(alumni is also used to refer to a group containing both men and women)
alumnae (female)
Carol is an alumna of UMass, Amherst.
datum data In formal writing, be sure to use "data" as plural.
In informal writing, "data" as singular is commonly accepted.
medium media In formal writing, be sure to use "media" as plural.
In informal writing, "media" as singular is commonly accepted.

Here are some often-confused words:
less, fewer ♦  use fewer with countable items
♦  use less with amounts or things not countable
I should eat fewer M&Ms.
I have less time to work than last year.
affect, effect ♦  effect is a verb meaning to bring about
♦  effect is a noun meaning result
♦  affect is almost always a verb meaning to influence
♦  occasionally, affect is a noun referring to an emotional state
Carol is trying to effect [bring about] change with her web site.
The effect of her web site is that more people will know about MathML.
Being good at mathematics can affect your career.
Carol's love of mathematics affects her students in a positive way.
Carol had a flat affect upon hearing the news.
good, well, bad ♦  good is an adjective
♦  well is usually an adverb
♦  well is used as an adjective only to mean in good health
♦  bad is an adjective used after sense verbs such as feel
The dessert tastes very good.
How are you feeling? I feel good, thank you.
How are you? I am well, thank you.
I feel bad about the delay.
farther/further ♦  farther shows a relation to physical distance;
if you can replace it with more miles then you have used it correctly
♦  further refers to increased time or quantity;
it is another way of saying additional
I drove farther [more miles] than I had thought.
I want further [additional] discussion on the topic.
real, really ♦  real is an adjective meaning genuine
♦  really is an adverb meaning very
This is real leather.
This is really important. [adverb]

Here are some miscellaneous punctuation rules:
colon ♦  a colon is used to precede a list
-- make sure there is a complete sentence before the colon
-- do NOT use a colon after a verb
WRONG: My favorite colors are: blue, green, and purple.
RIGHT: These are my favorite colors: blue, green, and purple.
making abbreviations plural ♦  add  's  to abbreviations with periods to make them plural
♦  add just  s  (no apostrophe) to abbreviations without periods to make them plural
Ph.D.'s require many years of education.
The TVs and VCRs were old and dusty.
punctuation inside/outside
quotation marks
♦  commas and periods are always placed inside quotation marks
♦  other punctuation goes inside only if it is part of the quoted material
"I love you!" he exclaimed.
"Please come here," said the teacher.
Did you hear her say "I adore math"?
capitalization ♦  a general term that is used as part of a title is capitalized
♦  when a sentence appears within a sentence, start it with a capital letter
♦  do NOT capitalize compass directions (north, south, east, east) or seasons (spring, summer, winter, fall)
Washington State
[but] the state of Washington
Senator Obama
[but] the senator from Illinois
Webster's Dictionary
She had only one concern: Will the test be difficult?
Head west on I90.
The spring term is very busy.
spelling A few to watch out for:
accommodate all right (not alright) benefited commitment curiosity
disappear disappoint dissatisfied embarrass exaggerate
heroes inoculate insistent judgment license
misspelled occasion occurred omission pastime
perseverance prevalent privilege prominent superintendent
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