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Some Basic Concepts

By definition, a sentence has the following properties:


it contains a subject
it contains a verb
it expresses a complete thought

E.g., the sentence "Japan prospers" has a subject: "Japan"; a verb: "prospers"; and it conveys a complete
thought or idea that makes sense.

Most sentences also have an object (receiver of the action); e.g., in the sentence "John kicked the ball,"
the object is "the ball."

Run-on Sentences (fused sentences)

Incorrect usage Correct usage Explanation

I jogged everyday, for I


wanted to get fit.
I jogged everyday; I
wanted to get fit.
I jogged everyday I I jogged everyday. I Run-on sentences occur when two main clauses
wanted to get fit. wanted to get fit. have no punctuation between them.
Since I wanted to get fit, I
jogged everyday.
Trying to get fit, I jogged
everyday.

Comma Faults (comma splices)

Incorrect usage Correct usage Explanation

I jogged everyday, for I


wanted to get fit.
I jogged everyday; I wanted
to get fit.
I jogged everyday, I I jogged everyday. I wanted Comma faults occur when two main clauses
wanted to get fit. to get fit. are joined by only a comma.
Since I wanted to get fit, I
jogged everyday.
Trying to get fit, I jogged
everyday.

Sentence Fragments
Incorrect usage Correct usage Explanation

Joe can balance a glass of water on Joe can balance a glass of water on A sentence must have a
his head. Without spilling a drop. his head without spilling a drop. subject and a verb.

Faulty Subordination

Incorrect usage Correct usage Explanation

Place what you want to emphasize in the main


I gazed out of the bus Gazing out of the bus
clause, not the subordinate clause. Here the mugging
window, noticing a window, I noticed a
should be emphasized and so should be in the main
person getting mugged. person getting mugged.
clause.

Errors in Subject-Verb Agreement

Rule: The verb should agree with the subject in terms of number (singular or plural) and person (first,
second, or third).
Incorrect usage Correct usage Explanation

The subject books is plural; therefore, the verb


There is no books. There are no books.
should be plural (i.e. are).

The subject she is in the second person, and is


She like music. She likes music. singular; therefore, the verb should also be in the
second person, and be singular (i.e.likes).

Neither Tom nor Harry Neither Tom nor Harry


"Harry" is singular, so the verb should be also.
were there. was there.

Neither Tom nor the Neither Tom nor the


"Others" is plural, so the verb should be also.
others was there. others were there.

All of the team were All of the team was


"Team" is singular, so the verb should be also.
there. there.

All the players was All the players were


"Players" is plural, so the verb should be also.
present. present.

There are a variety of There is a variety of


"Variety" is singular.
books. books.

There is a lot of birds Both are correct. The first is correct since "lot" is
here or there are a lot of singular. The second is correct because it is gaining
birds here. acceptance through popular use.

Here is wealth and Here are wealth and "Wealth and beauty" is plural.
beauty. beauty.

She is one of the best She is one of the best


"Doctors" is plural, so the verb should be also (i.e.
doctors who has doctors who have
"have").
graduated from here. graduated from here.

Note that "I often forget" and "I forgot my


"I forget" or "I forgot". I've forgotten.
umbrella yesterday" are correct.

Errors in Noun-Pronoun Agreement

Rule: Pronouns should agree with their nouns in terms of number (singular or plural), person (first,
second, or third), and gender (masculine or feminine).
Incorrect usage Correct usage Explanation

Did everyone Did everyone


remember their remember his Everyone is singular, so the pronoun should be as well.
assignment? assignment?

It was them who It was they who The nominative case (I, you, he, she, it, we, you, they, who) is
called. called. used following some form of the verb to be.

If I were him, I If I were he, I


As above.
would go. would go.

It is me. It is I. As above.

A simple rule-of-thumb is to use "who" when "he" would also


Whom will make sense; and use "whom" when "him" would also make
Who will succeed?
succeed? sense (e.g. "Him will succeed" does not sound right, while
"he will succeed" does).

Who did you give it Whom did you As above. "You gave it to he" does not sound right, while
to? give it to? "you gave it to him" does. Thus, use "whom".

The objective case of pronoun (i.e. me, you, him, her, it, us,
It belongs to he and It belongs to him
you, them, whom) is used as the object of a preposition, such
I. and me.
as "to".

The objective case of pronoun (i.e. me, you, him, her, it, us,
Sam hired he. Sam hired him.
you, them, whom) is used as the object of a verb.

He is as busy as Try stretching the sentence out: "He is as busy as I am busy,


He is as busy as I.
me. not "he is as busy as me am busy."

He was in the same He was in the same Try stretching the sentence out: "He was in the same class as
class as us. class as we. we were in."

I trust Bob more I trust Bob more Try stretching the sentence out: "I trust Bob more than I trust
than he. than him. him."
Now skate without Now skate without Use the possessive case of the pronoun (i.e. my, your, his, her,
me helping you. my helping you. its, our, your, their, whose) in sentences like this.

Dangling Modifiers

Rule: Avoid dangling modifiers (i.e. adjectives or adverbs that do not refer to the noun or pronoun they
are intended to refer to).
Incorrect usage Correct usage Explanation

The modifying phrase "while walking in the garden"


While walking in the While I was walking in
does not refer to a particular noun or pronoun (i.e. it
garden, Bob arrived. the garden, Bob arrived.
dangles).

After watching the


After watching the
movie, pizza was As above.
movie, we ate pizza.
eaten.

Misplaced Modifiers

Incorrect usage Correct usage Explanation

I could almost run all I could run almost all The first sentence does not mean what it is intended
the way up the hill. the way up the hill. to mean. The modifier "almost" is misplaced.

I only want one. I want only one. Same as above.

"Were"to be used in the Subjunctive Mood

Rule: Use "were" in the subjunctive mood, i.e. when expressing a wish, regret, or a condition that does
not exist.
Incorrect usage Correct usage Explanation

If I was taller, I would be If I were taller, I would be This sentence is in the subjunctive
richer. richer. mood.

He treats him as if he is a He treats him as if he were a


As above.
child. child.

That, Which, and Who


Incorrect usage Correct usage Explanation

When commas are not used, use


This is the book which he wrote. This is the book that he wrote.
"that".

This book, that is written by Bob, This book, which is written by When commas are used, use
is clear and concise. Bob, is clear and concise. "which".

He is the person that wrote the He is the person who wrote the For persons, use "who". Do not
book. book. use "who" for animals.

The President, which is an avid The President, who is an avid For persons, use "who", even
golfer, was on the course. golfer, was on the course. when commas are used.

Note: Often the above pronouns can be omitted making a sentence more concise. Thus:
This is the book he wrote. ("That" is implied.)
This book, written by Bob, is clear and concise.
He wrote the book.
The President, an avid golfer, was on the course.

Faulty Parallelism

Incorrect usage Correct usage Explanation

He has wealth, reputation, and is He has wealth, reputation, and Similar ideas should be expressed in
powerful. power. grammatically similar ways.

Not only did the horse lose, but Not only did the horse lose, Similar ideas should be expressed in
the leg of the jockey was broken. but the jockey broke his leg. grammatically similar ways.

Mixed Constructions

Incorrect usage Correct usage Explanation

He wondered whether she got his He wondered whether she got Don't mix a statement with a
message? his message. question.

The reason is because I don't have The reason is that I don't have Don't mix two different sentence
enough money. enough money. constructions.

Split Infinitives

Incorrect usage Correct usage Explanation


I need to mentally I need to prepare "To prepare" is an infinitive. Splitting infinitves with other
prepare. mentally. words tends to be awkward.

Commas

Incorrect usage Correct usage Explanation

I have apples, I have apples,


Use a comma before the last item in a series to avoid any
oranges, peanut oranges, peanut
confusion.
butter and jam. butter, and jam.

Use commas to separate adjectives that could be joined


The dog was wet The dog was wet,
with "and." You could say that "the dog was wet and cold
cold and smelly. cold, and smelly.
and smelly."

Captain Smith is a Captain Smith is a Don't use commas to separate adjectives that could not be
seasoned, naval seasoned naval joined with "and." It would be ridiculous to say that
officer. officer. "Captain Smith is a seasoned and naval officer."

Don't use a comma to set off clauses that are short or have
You stand in line, You stand in line
the same subject. However, always use a comma before
and I'll find a table. and I'll find a table.
"for", "so," and "yet" to avoid confusion.

Semicolons

Incorrect usage Correct usage Explanation

The house is old;


The house is old, however, it is Use a semicolon with a conjunctive adverb (e.g. nevertheless,
however, it is sound. however, otherwise, consequently, thus, therefore,
sound. The house is old; it meanwhile, moreover, furthermore).
is, however, sound

Apostrophes

Correct usage Explanation

Tom Jones' car broke down.


Since there is disagreement on which is correct, both are acceptable.
Tom Jones's car broke down.

Tom Williams' car broke down.


Same as above.
Tom Williams's car broke down.