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Fundamental of English Grammar

The Eight Parts of Speech

To help build the foundation for becoming a good writer, you should go back to the basics.
That means reviewing the eight parts of speech.

A noun names a person, place, or thing. There are two types of nouns. Common nouns
identify generic people, places, or things, such as computer, desk, chair, and window. Proper
nouns name a specific person, place, or thing. Your name and your company's name are
proper nouns.

Pronouns take the place of nouns in sentences. They expedite writing and speaking. Below are
two sentences, one with no pronouns and one in which pronouns are used effectively. Notice
how much smoother the second sentence reads:

· Mary went to Mary's car to get Mary's briefcase so Mary could get the materials that
Mary needed for Mary's meeting.
· Mary went to her car to get her briefcase so she could get the materials that she needed
for her meeting.

Verbs can be used to show action or a state of being. Action verbs tend to be easy to
recognize; you can picture people doing or performing action verbs. For example, if you were
to say, "George ran down the street," it's immediately obvious that the action is running.

The other type of verb is a being verb. These verbs simply describe a state of being, as in:
"John is here." There are eight being verbs: am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been.

Adverbs and adjectives

Adjectives and adverbs serve similar functions because they are both modifiers. Adjectives are
modifiers that describe nouns. They help paint the picture in a sentence. They answer the
questions, "What kind?" "How many?" or, "Which one?"

Adverbs are modifiers that describe verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They answer the
questions, "When?" "Where?" "Why?" "In what manner?" or, "To what extent?"

For example, the sentence, "My car is in the parking lot, " can be enhanced by adding
adjectives: "My little red sports car is in the parking lot." Notice how the adjectives little and
red create a more specific picture and give the car size, color, and form. That's the power of

Similarly, the sentence, "The man walked across the street as a car approached," can be made
much stronger and more clear by using adverbs "The man walked slowly and deliberately
across the street as a car approached."

Conjunctions are connecting words. They can be used to connect words, phrases, or clauses.
The most commonly used conjunctions are: and; or; but.

These are words that show a great deal of emotion or surprise. Typically, they are not
grammatically connected to other parts of the sentence, as shown in this example: "Wow!
What a fabulous painting!"

These are connective words that show the relationship between a noun or a pronoun and some
other word in the sentence. Words such as from, to, in, on, of, at, by, for, and with, are some
common prepositions. The following sentences demonstrate how prepositions are used in
sentences, showing the relationship between the house and Spot, the dog.

· Spot ran around the house.

· Spot went under the house.
· Spot ran through the house.
· Spot jumped over the house.

Developing yourself as a good writer requires an understanding of the basics of grammar.

Knowing how to use the parts of speech will get you off to a good start.

Using Pronouns
Using pronouns correctly is necessary to speak and write effectively. Pronouns are one of the
eight parts of speech; they take the place of nouns in sentences and help you vary the pace of
your messages. They indicate a difference in person (I, you, he), number (he, they), and gender
(he, she). There are four types of pronouns:

1. Nominative case pronouns

The nominative case pronouns are I, you, he, she, it, who, we, and they. These pronouns have
two specific functions. They can function as the subject of a sentence, and they can function as
the complement of a being verb (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been).

When used as the subject of a sentence, the pronoun must be in the nominative case. For
example, "I reviewed the agenda." When complementing a being verb, the nominative case is
also used. For example, "The winner is she."

2. Objective case pronouns

These function as objects. They are the receivers in sentences. The objective case pronouns
are me, you, him, her, it, whom, us, and them. The following sentences show how to use
objective case pronouns effectively:

· Henry gave the books to Jack and me.

· Henry gave the books to him.

Selecting who or whom

In certain situations, selecting the correct pronoun can be confusing. This is especially true
with who and whom. Whenever you use the word who, try substituting the word he in the
sentence to see if it makes sense. Whenever you use the word whom in a sentence, try
substituting the word him. Deciding whether he or him makes sense will help you determine
whether you should use who or whom. A memory hook is to let the m in him remind you of
the "m" in whom.

For example, consider which is appropriate in the following: "Who or whom is calling?" Use
the memory hook to determine whether you would say, "He is calling," or "Him is calling "?
The correct choice is "He is calling." Therefore, the sentence should read, "Who is calling?"

3. Reflexive and intensive case pronouns

A reflexive pronoun refers to a noun or pronoun that has already been named in a sentence.
An intensive pronoun emphasizes the use of a noun or another pronoun. They are both formed
by adding -self or -selves to a personal pronoun.

· Reflexive use—"I painted that portrait myself." In this example, the word myself is
reflexive in nature because it refers to the pronoun I which has already been named in
the sentence.
· Intensive use —"I myself painted that portrait." In this case, the word myself serves as
an intensive pronoun because it emphasizes the use of the pronoun I.
· Common error—"If you have any questions, contact Bob or myself." In this example,
myself is used incorrectly because it is not referring to a noun or pronoun that has
already been named in the sentence. The sentence should read, "If you have any
questions, contact Bob or me."

4. Possessive case pronouns

Possessive pronouns are used to show ownership. Unlike other possessive words, possessive
pronouns do not require an apostrophe. Possessive pronouns include: my, mine, your, yours,
his, her, our, ours, their, theirs, and whose.

When pronouns are combined with other words

Choosing the correct pronoun is most confusing when it is combined with other words. For
example, you might have difficulty deciding whether to use me or I in the sentence, "Max and
me (or I) went to the meeting." To ensure that you choose the correct pronoun, apply the
following system:

1. Read the sentence using only the pronoun to see if it sounds right. If you have the
slightest doubt, move to Step 2.
2. To check pronoun usage, read the sentence using just the pronoun. In this case, that
means eliminating the words "Max and." The error is now obvious. It sounds
uncomfortable to say, "Me went to the meeting."
3. Now substitute the correct pronoun in the sentence. Again, read it out loud: "I went
to the meeting."
4. The final step is to put the sentence back together. This process ensures that you've
used the correct pronoun.

Pronouns are used constantly in speaking and writing. They indicate a difference in person (I,
you, he), number (he, they), and gender (he, she). You now know how to use four types of
pronouns: nominative, objective, reflexive and intensive, and possessive.
Course: Foundations of Grammar
Topic: Pronouns

Using Adjectives and Adverbs

By using well-chosen adjectives and adverbs, you'll be able to fully explain your ideas,
concepts, and suggestions. This requires mastering the use of adjectives, mastering the use of
adverbs, and differentiating between the two.

Adjectives and adverbs both function as modifiers or describers in sentences; however, they
modify different types of words.

· Adjectives describe nouns or pronouns and answer, "What kind?"; "How many?"; or
"Which one?".
· Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs, and answer when, where, why, in
what manner, or to what extent. They often end in -ly.

Degrees of comparison
Special forms and phrases are used for the adjectives and adverbs in comparisons. The three
degrees of comparison are:

1. The positive degree—This expresses quality, quantity, or manner for one person
or thing. The following is an example of an adjective used in the positive degree:
Alice wrote a long letter. The following is an example of an adverb used in the
positive degree: Alice arrived early.
2. The comparative degree—This compares quality, quantity, or manner between
two people or things. The following is an example of a comparative adjective: Alice
wrote a longer letter than Betty. The following is an example of a comparative adverb:
Alice arrived earlier than Betty.
3. The superlative degree—This compares three or more people or things. The
following is an example of a superlative adjective: Alice wrote the longest letter. The
following is an example of a superlative adverb: Alice arrived earliest of them all.

Forming comparative and superlative degree

The comparative degree of one-syllable adjectives and adverbs is formed by adding -er. The
superlative degree of one-syllable words is formed by adding -est. Stronger and strongest are
good examples.

The comparative of two-syllable words is formed by adding -er or by inserting less or more
before the word. The superlative adds -est or most or least before the word. Happier, happiest,
more happy, and most happy are examples.

The comparative of words with three or more syllables is formed by inserting more or less
before the word. The superlative is formed by inserting most or least before the word. Most
appropriate is an example.

Differentiating between adjectives and adverbs

The words real and sure are adjectives, while the words really and surely are adverbs.
Following a simple memory hook can help you avoid usage errors with these words.
Whenever you're using really or surely in a sentence, you should be able to substitute the word
very without changing the meaning. For example, "John was really upset." can become "John
was very upset," without changing the meaning. However, "John was a real gentleman,"
cannot become "John was a very gentleman."

Without adjectives and adverbs, your speech and writing would be dull and lifeless. However,
it's important to use these words wisely. This requires mastering the use of adjectives,
mastering the use of adverbs, and differentiating between the two.

Using Compound Nouns

Compound nouns consist of two or more words, such as stay-at-home mothers. To ensure
your written information is professional and grammatically correct, you need to understand
compound nouns.

Compound nouns follow few regular patterns and may be written as one single word, as
separate words, or as hyphenated words. Things you need to know about compound nouns
include using current guidelines, forming plurals, and handling gender differences.

Using current guidelines

The only complete guide to forming compound nouns correctly is an up-to-date dictionary.
And even then, authorities do not agree on all the rules and styles. However, there are some
general rules that will give you a solid start when using compound nouns.

1. In—In words typically are hyphenated. Examples include break-in, check-in,

drive-in, run-in, shoo-in, trade-in.
2. Out—Out words typically are written as one single word. Examples include
blackout, checkout, handout, lookout, printout, sellout, turnout. Exceptions include
fade-out, lights-out, shoot-out, time-out.
3. Over, back, away—Over, back, away words typically are written as one single
word. Examples include hangover, pushover, stopover, fallback, feedback, flashback,
setback, breakaway, getaway, hideaway.
4. Around, about, by—These typically are written as one single word. Examples
include whereabouts, runaround, passersby, standby.
5. Between, through, together—These typically are hyphenated. Examples include
go-between, walk-through, get-together. One exception: breakthrough.
6. Lacking a noun—A compound noun that lacks a noun as one of its elements is
hyphenated. Examples include also-ran, free-for-all, give-and-take, half-and-half,
hand-me-down, know-it-all, show-and-tell. Exceptions include ups and downs, wear
and tear.
7. Prepositional phrase—Compound nouns ending in a prepositional phrase are
hyphenated. Examples include brother-in-law, right-of-way, stay-at-home, stick-in-
the-mud. Exceptions include power of attorney, rule of thumb, standard of living.
8. Two nouns that signify one person—Two nouns that signify one person or thing
that has two functions are hyphenated. Examples include actor-director, dinner-dance,
owner-manager, secretary-treasurer, wheeler-dealer.

Making compound nouns plural

When forming plural version of compound nouns, a good rule of thumb is to make the main
word or most important word in the compound plural. For example, refer to mothers-in-law
(rather than mother-in-laws) because mother is the most important word.

Making compound nouns gender-neutral

Compound nouns containing man or men are now considered unacceptable when referring to
both males and females alike. Whenever possible, avoid these terms and replace them with
gender-neutral compound nouns. For example, instead of saying mailman or mailwoman, use
mail carrier.

Compound nouns can be written as one word, as separate words, or as hyphenated words.
They can be confusing because there isn't agreement among authorities on the rules for
forming them.

Using Compound Adjectives

It is important to be able to recognize compound adjectives and to understand when to
hyphenate them. You may find some guidance for handling compound adjectives in a
dictionary, but you may not find everything you need to know.

Hyphenating compound adjectives

The basic rule for handling compound adjectives is to hyphenate the elements of the
compound adjective when they occur before a noun. This is done because the words aren't in
their normal order and therefore require hyphens to hold them together.

For example, in the sentence, "You can send your manager up-to-date reports using e-mail,"
the hyphens hold together the adjectives that precede the noun. However, in the sentence, "It's
important to keep your manager up to date on your progress," no hyphens are needed because
the adjectives follow the noun.

Hyphenating compound adjectives with words of measure

Compound adjectives often involve joining a number with words of measure, such as inch,
foot, mile, ounce, and day. When hyphenating adjectives that join a number with words of
measure, the basic rule for hyphenating compound adjectives still holds true. However, the
unit of measure is always singular. For example, the following phrase, "We were experiencing
delays of five weeks in getting our supplies," may be rewritten with the adjective before the
noun to give, "We were experiencing five-week delays in getting supplies." Because the
adjective precedes the noun, the unit of measure is singular.

Compound adjectives that are always hyphenated

There are a few compound adjectives that are always hyphenated, no matter how they are used
or where they are located in the sentence. These include:

· -self—All compound adjectives formed with self require a hyphen. In a sentence, they
look like this: Alfred is a self-made man.
· -elect—Adjectives formed with elect are always hyphenated, as in this example: Owen
is the president-elect this year.
· Spelled-out numbers—Also included in this group of adjectives are those made from
larger numbers when they must be spelled out: twenty-one through ninety-nine are
always hyphenated.

A word of caution is necessary when dealing with hyphenating compound adjectives. If the
compound adjective includes an adverb that ends in ly, the hyphen is eliminated, as in the
following example: the newly trained workers, a highly valued employee, and clearly defined
values and goals

Compound adjectives are probably the greatest single cause of difficulty in writing, and
deciding if you should hyphenate them can be one of the most vexing problems you'll face.
You'll have an easier time if you concentrate on being able to recognize compound adjectives
and by understanding the rules that apply to hyphenating compound adjectives.

Forming Tenses
When it comes to parts of speech, verbs are second only to nouns in frequency of use. As you
write and speak, you use verbs to not only describe action, but also to indicate the time of the
action, condition, or state of being.

To form verb tenses properly, you must be able to use the principal parts of the verbs. Regular
verbs form their past tense and past participle by adding ed. Irregular verbs change form and
spelling. All verbs form their present participle by adding ing.

Forming simple tenses

The present, past, and future tenses of a verb are referred to as the simple tenses. Obviously,
these forms help you explain what is happening now (present), what has happened (past), or
what will happen (future).

· Present—The present tense indicates action that is currently taking place or something
that is always true. For example, "Mickey manages people well." Mickey may not be
managing people this minute, but she does manage people well, and it's her habit to do
· Past—The past tense indicates a definite past action or event—something that is
already completed. Regular verbs form their past tense by adding ed to the verb. For
example, "Mickey managed people well."
· Future—The future tense indicates action or events that will take place in the future.
This tense is formed by placing will before the verb. For example, "Mickey will
manage people well."

Forming perfect tenses

In addition to the three simple tenses, there are correlated "perfect" tenses. The perfect tenses
are commonly used in writing and conversation, and use a verb form called the past participle.
The present perfect tense is used to show that an action began in the past and it may still be
occurring. The present perfect tense uses the verb have or has along with the past participle.
For example: Luke has explained the problem.

The past perfect and future perfect tenses also use the past participle of the verb. The past
perfect tense allows you to order two past actions clearly for your reader. It's formed by
adding had to the past participle. For example, "Gil had received the award before we

The future perfect tense shows action that will be completed by a specific future time. The
action may have begun or will begin in the future. Form this tense by using will have. For
example, "Gil will have received the award by then."

Forming progressive tenses

Closely related to the simple tenses and the perfect tenses just explained are the progressive
tenses. The progressive tenses depict actions that are still in progress. All progressive tenses
are formed by using the present participle, which is formed by adding ing to the verb.

· Present progressive—Think of this as action that's happening right now. Use am, is,
or are with a present participle. For example, "I am working on my report."
· Past progressive—Think of this as action that was happening for a certain amount of
time in the past. You have to use was or were with a present participle. For example, "I
was reviewing my report last week."
· Future progressive—This is action that will be in progress at a certain time in the
future. This tense is formed by using will be with a present participle. For example, "I
will be reviewing my report next week."

Since verbs are the second most frequently used words, their role in language is significant.
Knowing how to use the simple, perfect, and progressive tenses of verbs will help you use
these words more effectively. You'll be better equipped to communicate in a more exact
manner that clearly identifies the order and time of events.

Using Prefixes and Suffixes

Writing correctly is an important and valued skill. Some of the smallest details, such as using
prefixes correctly, are the very things that make a writer appear to be knowledgeable and

A prefix is a word part that is added to the beginning of a base word, while a suffix is added to
the end. As a skilled business writer, you'll want to know the guidelines to use when adding
prefixes and suffixes, and the errors to avoid when using prefixes and suffixes.

When to hyphenate
While it's a general rule that a hyphen is not usually needed when adding a prefix or suffix,
there are a few special circumstances in which a hyphen is required. When the prefix mid- is
followed by a number, the hyphen is used; for example, mid-50s. When adding less or like to
the end of a word, use a hyphen if three l's occur in succession; for example, bell-like.

The prefix re also seems to be a common concern. Re means again and doesn't usually need to
be followed by a hyphen. However, the hyphen is used when words with the same spelling
and different meanings need to be distinguished from one another. The following are some

· Release—You would release a statement to the press. However, you would re-lease
an apartment.
· Remarked—You may say, "John remarked to me that he was frustrated." But you
would say, "Shelly re-marked the ticket."
· Resort—It's proper to say, "We'll have to resort to other tactics." However, you would
re-sort a stack of cards.

A hyphen is used to ensure clarity and meaning in the following instances:

· Compound nouns—Compound nouns are words formed from two words. When
adding a prefix to a hyphenated or spaced compound word, you need to use a hyphen.
Some examples include words such as pre-high school, ex-attorney general, and non-
· Common elements—If you're using two or more prefixes with a common element,
use a suspending hyphen after each prefix to show its relationship to the common
element: "We complete pre-, mid-, and post-training assessments."
· Self-words—Use a hyphen when self is used as a prefix; for example, self-confidence.
However, the hyphen is not needed when self is the base word and it's followed by a
suffix; for example, selfish.
· Capital letters—When you add a prefix to a word that begins with a capital letter, you
need to use a hyphen. This includes words such as mid-June, pre-World War II, and

The final two cases that require special attention involve adding prefixes to words with
specific spellings. When the prefix ends in a or i and the base word begins with the same
letter, use a hyphen. For example: ultra-active. When the prefix ends with e or o and the base
word begins with the same letter, omit the hyphen. For example: reeducate.

Using prefixes and suffixes correctly may seem like a minute detail of grammar. However, it's
senseless to risk a first impression or your reputation on something that can be corrected by
remembering a few basic guidelines.

As a skilled business writer, you need to know how to add prefixes and suffixes to words
properly, and you need to avoid common mistakes that can tarnish your writing ability.

Forming Plurals
Forming plurals correctly is necessary to write effectively. You will get a head start by
learning the basic rule for forming plurals, special rules for forming plurals, and handling
foreign nouns and proper names.

There are several rules for forming plurals. While each has some exceptions, the rules provide
a solid basis for ensuring correctly spelled words.

· Basic rule—The basic rule for forming plurals is to add s to the singular form.
Examples include checks, committees, ideas, leagues, menus, and quotas.
· Nouns ending in s, x, ch, sh, z—Add es to form plurals of singular nouns ending in s,
x, ch, sh, or z. Examples include businesses, faxes, sketches, and wishes. However, one
exception is quizzes.
· Nouns ending in y—Nouns ending in y and preceded by a consonant are formed by
changing the y to an i and adding es. Examples include copies, policies, and liabilities.
However, when a noun ending in a y is preceded by a vowel, add an s to form the
plural, as in attorneys, boys, and delays.
· Nouns ending in f, fe, ff—The plurals of nouns ending in f, fe, or ff are formed by
adding s, as in beliefs, safes, and tariffs. However, there are some common exceptions,
including halves, leaves, selves, and wives. Notice that these are formed by changing
the f or fe to ve and adding s.

Nouns ending in o are formed in different ways. When preceded by a vowel, add s to the
singular form, as in stereos, ratios, portfolios, and scenarios. However, nouns ending in o and
preceded by a consonant are formed in different ways. Some nouns add s: egos, logos, memos,
photos, typos, and all musical terms such as altos, cellos, pianos, and sopranos. Other words
add es: echoes, heroes, potatoes, tomatoes, fiascoes. Still other words have two plural forms:
zeros, zeroes. Check your dictionary to be sure.

Irregular, foreign, and proper nouns

The plurals of these three categories of nouns need special attention.

· Proper nouns—When forming the plural of proper names, the main rule to remember
is never change the original spelling of a surname. For example, Mr. and Mrs.
McCarthy become the McCarthys, not the McCarthies.
· Foreign nouns— Foreign nouns use different rules to form plurals. Words ending in o
change to i (concerto/concerti); words ending in on and um change to a
(criterion/criteria); words ending in x change to ces (index/indices). Consult a
dictionary to be certain.
· Irregular nouns—Some nouns are irregular because their plurals are formed by
changing letters within the word or adding letters other than s or es. Man/men,
woman/women, mouse/mice, child/children are some examples.

Learning the rules for forming plurals will help ensure that your message is clear and accurate,
and will help you avoid embarrassing spelling errors. This can be accomplished by becoming
familiar with the basic rules, rules for words ending in specific letters, and rules for foreign
words and proper nouns.

Forming Possessives
Errors in the use of possessive forms of nouns are very common and noticeable both in writing
and in speaking. However, you can easily master the correct usage by learning the basic
guidelines for forming possessives, the rules for handling joint and separate ownership, and
the guidelines for making gerunds, compound nouns, and appositives possessive.

Forming possessives
The possessive form of a noun allows you to show that one noun is the owner of, author of, or
origin of another noun. Possessive nouns make writing and speaking more clear and concise.
You can use the following four-step process when determining how to form a possessive.

1. Ask yourself, "Who owns what in this sentence?" By identifying the ownership
involved, you can avoid the common mistake of putting apostrophes where they don't
2. Once ownership is established, check to see if the noun does or does not end in s.
If the noun doesn't end in s, add an apostrophe plus s, as in the following example: The
company's assets totaled over $1 million.
3. If the noun that is showing ownership ends in s, add only an apostrophe to the
word, as in this example: The employees' teamwork was impressive.
4. If the noun ends in s, say the word aloud to determine if an extra pronounced
syllable has been added. If it has, you must show it as in the following sentence: The
witness's reply was direct and clear.

Distinguishing between joint and separate ownership

In joint ownership, two or more owners possess a single thing together. Separate ownership
means that each of two or more owners owns something individually. To show joint
ownership, add the apostrophe or the apostrophe plus s to the last part of the compound: Al
and Bev's house. To show separate ownership, add the apostrophe to each part of the
compound: Al's and Bev's mothers.

The following three situations require close attention when dealing with possessives:

1. Gerunds—A gerund is a verb form that ends in ing and is used as a noun. A noun
or pronoun used before a gerund must be in the possessive case. For example: Larry's
singing was irritating to his office mate.
2. Compound nouns—These become possessive by making the last word in the
compound possessive. For example: My father-in-law's business operates throughout
the country.
3. Appositives—An appositive is explanatory word or group of words that gives
additional information about the noun that precedes it. If the noun that precedes the
appositive would ordinarily be possessive, then the appositive must be in the
possessive case. For example: Our doctor, Andy Brown's, practice is continuing to

Since possessive appositives often form awkward constructions, you may want to rewrite the
sentence for ease of reading and comprehension.

Mastering the use of possessive nouns will assist you in eliminating noticeable mistakes in
writing and in speaking.

Commonly Confused Word Pairs

There are several words that appear to be interchangeable when writing. The key to using
these words correctly is understanding their meanings.

Two of the most commonly confused and misused words are anxious and eager. Undoubtedly,
you have heard these two words used interchangeably. However, each word has a distinct
meaning and a specific usage.

· Anxious—This means that you're apprehensive or concerned about the anticipated

event. You're anxious to get home before it rains.
· Eager—This means that you are fervent and enthusiastic about an event. You're eager
to get home and have a nice dinner.

Disinterested and uninterested are also misused in many instances. Disinterested means that
you're impartial. The following is an example of how it is used: To ensure that the decision
was fair, it was made by a disinterested party.

Uninterested means that you're bored or lacking interest. For example: Shelly was
uninterested in the conversation at dinner.
Two sets of words that deal with measurement or degree often cause confusion:

1. farther/further—Farther refers to a measurable distance. For example: "Julie is

farther away from the house than Ted."

Further refers to additional time, quantity, or degree. For example: "We need further
discussion before we can vote on the idea."

2. Fewer/less—Fewer refers to a specific number and is used with plural nouns. For
example: "There were fewer jams in the copy machine after it was serviced."

Less refers to a degree or bulk amount and is used with singular nouns. For example:
"The copy machine is jamming less now that is has been serviced."

Possibly the words you see confused most often are there, their, and they're. This troublesome
trio pops up as an error when the writer is in a hurry and more prone to oversight. They should
be used as follows:

· Their—This is a possessive personal pronoun. It must be used to show ownership. For

example: "The students expressed their concerns."
· They’re—This is a contraction of the words they are. For example: "They're going to
the meeting after lunch."
· There—This is an adverb that shows location. A good memory hook for using "there"
is that you should be able to substitute the word here in the sentence and have it make
sense. For example: "There is a problem."

Another pair of words that is commonly misused and confused is stationary versus stationery.
Stationary means not moveable, for example, "The work stations were stationary." Stationery
refers to the paper and envelopes used to write letters. For example: "The new stationery will
arrive on Monday."

The word pairs above are not interchangeable. The first step in mastering the usage of these
word pairs is to recognize commonly confused words. Then, by following the tips and
guidelines given, you'll be able to determine the appropriate usage in a variety of writing

Troublesome Verbs
To write correctly, you must be able to distinguish between the following commonly misused

· Affect/effect—In most cases, affect is used as a verb meaning to influence, change, or

assume, while effect is used as a noun meaning result or impression. For example,
"The decision will primarily affect the HR department; however, the effect of the
change will be felt by everyone." Effect can also function as a verb meaning "to bring
about." For example, you might write, "We must effect this change before our
competitors overtake us."
· Lay/lie—A handy tip for choosing between these two is to substitute the word place
for the word in question. If it fits, use lay. If it doesn't, use lie.

Lay means "to put" and requires an object to complete its meaning. For example, you
should say, "He lays the book on the table" because lay can be replaced with place by
saying, "He places the book on the table."

Lie means "to recline, rest or stay" and is not followed by an object. For example, you
should say, "He lies on the sofa," because lie cannot be replaced with place by saying,
"He places on the sofa."

· Imply/infer—Imply means to suggest: "Max implied that he was in charge." Infer

means to assume or reach a conclusion: "Max inferred from Pierre that he wasn't
included." You imply something by your own words or actions; you infer something
based on another person's words or actions.
· Deduce/deduct—Deduce means to use reasoning to arrive at a conclusion and is
similar to infer. Deduct means to subtract mathematically.
· Aggravate/irritate—Aggravate means to make a bad situation worse, and is often
used when the speaker or writer means to irritate. Instead of saying, "He was
aggravated when the plane was late," say, "He was irritated when the plane was late."
· Can/may—Can shows ability, while may connotes permission. So when requesting
permission to do something, always use may. For example, instead of saying to your
boss, "Can I attend the conference?" say, "May I attend the conference?"
· Assure/ensure/insure—Assure means to give confidence; ensure means to make
certain; and insure means to protect against loss. Correct uses are, "Greg has ensured
that nothing will go wrong," or, "Greg has assured us that nothing will go wrong."

Misused verbs are sometimes hard to spot and can cause subtle but critical differences in
meaning. Proper use of verbs can sharpen your writing and speaking skills.

Using Idiomatic Expressions

Idiomatic expressions are prepositional uses in the English language that have no basis in
grammar rules, but are still considered "correct." It's crucial to every skilled writer to learn to
use the following expressions correctly:

· Agree with/agree to—The phrase agree with should be used to concur with a person
or an idea. For example, "Pete agrees with Bob." The phrase agree to should be used
to show acceptance of another person's plan. For example, "Pete agreed to their
· Angry with/angry at—Angry with is used when the object of the anger is a person.
For example: Karen was angry with Albert for forgetting the appointment. Angry at is
used when the object of the anger is not a person. For example: Karen was angry at the
condition of the office when she returned.
· Part from/part with—These are also differentiated by whether you're dealing with a
person or an object. For example, it is correct to write, "As soon as we part from
Jackie Benedict at the conference, we'll return to the hotel," but you must write, "Allen
Tucker hated to part with his favorite old jalopy."
· Different from/different than —Different from is the correct usage in most cases. It
is correct to say, "This computer is different from the one I normally use." It would not
be correct to say, "This computer is different than the one I normally use."
· Identical with/identical to—It is correct to use the term identical with, but the term
identical to is incorrect. For example, "This seminar is identical with the one I attended
last year."
· Between/among/all/all of—While these last four prepositions may not technically fit
into the idiomatic category, they are misused as frequently as many idiomatic

Use between to refer to two people, places, or things. For example, "The money was
divided between Kate and Michele."

Use among to refer to three or more people, places, or things. For example, "The
money was divided among Kate, Michele, and Lynn."

Use the word of after the word all when all refers to a pronoun. For example, "All of
them went on vacation."

Omit the word of after all when all refers to a noun. For example, "All the developers
went on vacation."

Idiomatic expressions are not based on regular grammar rules; instead, they have become
acceptable over time through repeated usage. Using these expressions correctly will ensure
clear, error-free writing and speaking.

e and
of Grammar
Instructions: Use this SkillGuide when forming the comparative and superlative
degrees of adjectives
and adverbs.

Rule Positive Comparative Superlative

· Form the comparative degree big bigger biggest
of one-syllable adjectives and
adverbs by adding er. soon sooner soonest

· Form the superlative degree of quick quicker quickest

one-syllable adjectives and
adverbs by adding est. poor poorer poorest

· Form the comparative degree funny funnier funniest

of two-syllable adjectives and
adverbs by adding er or by happy happier happiest
inserting more/less before
the positive form. useful more/less useful most/least useful

· Form the superlative degree healthy more/less healthy most/least healthy

of two-syllable adjectives and
adverbs by adding est or by
inserting most/least before
the positive form

· Form the comparative degree decisive more/less decisive most/least decisive

of three-syllable adjectives
and adverbs by inserting carefully more/less carefully most/least carefully
more/less before the positive
form. important more/less important most/least important

· Form the comparative degree competent more/less competent most/least competent

of three-syllable adjectives
and adverbs by inserting
most/least before the positive

SkillGuide - Adjective and Adverb Comparison

Subjects and Their Predicates

Every sentence must have a subject and a verb:

· Subjects—These are the center of attention, the focus of the sentence. They can,
however, be understood rather than stated. For example, in the phrase "Come here,"
"you" is understood.
· Verbs—are the workhorses of sentences. In one way or another, they link, explain, or
show what's happening to the subject.

In its simplest form, the predicate is the verb. But the predicate also includes any other
phrases or clauses that describe what is happening to the subject.

Inverted sentences
In most English sentences, the subject comes before the verb. However, some sentences have
an inverted subject/verb order. The following explains some examples:

· Questions—"Has a copy of the annual report been mailed?" The subject of this
question is "copy." The verb is "has been mailed."
· Phrases—The words there is, there are, here is, and here are often begin sentences.
For instance, "Here are copies of the annual report." However, "copies" is the subject,
not "annual report" or "here." Here or there can never be the subject of a sentence.
· Compound subject—"Striding purposefully into the meeting were the CFO and the
COO." There is a compound subject in this inverted sentence: "the CFO and the
COO." Both are in the predicate; they follow the verb.

Phrases and clauses as subjects

Phrases and clauses can also be the subjects of sentences. In general, the verb used with these
is singular because the phrase or clause is considered one entity. However, if the clause begins
with the word what, the verb may be singular or plural, depending on the predicate that
explains the meaning of what.. For example: "To become a millionaire was her ambition." The
infinitive phrase "To become a millionaire" is the subject of the sentence.

Getting subjects and verbs right is the beginning of being professional.

Using Phrases and Clauses

Phrases and clauses can help you say exactly what you mean.

A phrase is defined as words that are used as a single group. Because of this, as a group, they
become a part of speech. There are three primary types of phrases under whose umbrellas the
others fall. These phrases add detail, make your meaning more precise, and allow you to
include additional information:

1. Prepositional phrases—These begin with a preposition and end with one or more
nouns or pronouns. For example: "We are going to the meeting." These phrases show
time, space, or position. They can also be used as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs.
2. Appositive phrase—These contain nouns or pronouns that add information to the
noun or pronoun they describe. For example: "John, the head of security, is arriving."
If the sentence would be complete without the appositive phrase, set it off with
3. Verbal phrases—These combine a verb form and modifiers. A participial phrase
is used as an adjective. All gerunds end in ing and are used as nouns. To in front of a
verb creates an infinitive and can be used as a noun, adjective, or adverb.

There are nine types of clauses. However, if you know two of these types of clauses well, the
others will rarely be a problem. These two clauses are the independent clause and the
dependent clause.

Independent clauses
Every sentence is an independent clause. It has a subject and a verb. You can join two
independent clauses by words such as therefore, also, nevertheless, and however, or by a
coordinating conjunction such as and, but, for, or, nor, so, and yet. For example: "The meeting
started at 10 a.m.; however, John did not attend." Both clauses can stand alone as sentences.
"The meeting started at 10 a.m. John did not attend."

Dependent clauses
Dependent clauses are linked to independent clauses by words such as unless, if, because,
while, once, since, and until. These words establish a relationship between the clauses by
expressing time order, result, effect, condition, reason, choice, or contrast. For example:
"Unless you get me those numbers by noon, we will not be able to complete our report."
"Unless" shows a condition, but the clause by itself is not a sentence.

Well-crafted phrases and appropriately used clauses will make your writing clearer and more
effective. Used correctly, your ideas and thoughts will flow naturally from one to another.

The Functions of Four Sentence Types

As you talk throughout the day, you use different types of sentences without much thought.
But when you write, understanding the purpose and effect of the different kinds of sentences
will increase your effectiveness. There are four types of sentences:

1. Imperative sentences
The imperative sentence communicates a complete thought. It is the sentence that gives orders
or directions. It can end with an exclamation point or with a period. One of the more familiar
imperative sentences is: "Please fasten your seat belts when the overhead sign is illuminated."
The subject "you" is understood and omitted. Even when couched in the politeness of "Please
fasten...," this is still an imperative, an order.

2. Interrogative sentences
Every interrogative sentence asks a question and ends in a question mark. An interrogative
sentence begins with one of the following questions:

· Who?—"Who" questions focus on people and give you information and facts about
them. For example: "Who’s coming to the meeting?"
· What?—These questions help you gather details and facts that help you make
decisions. For example: " What did you mean?"
· When?—"When" questions elicit important time and date information. For example:
"When will you have that project done?"
· Where?—These questions give you specific information about the location of events
or people. For example: "Where is the next board meeting?"
· Why?— This interrogative helps you discover the reasons for actions, ideas, and
decisions. For example: "Why did you do that?"
· How?—This "nuts and bolts" type of question is the mainstay of most organizations.
"How will we get that project done on time?"

3. Exclamatory sentences
These sentences end in an exclamation point. They demonstrate strong feelings or emotions:
"Profits are down!" The exclamation point is an attention getter. It can be used to draw
attention to an unlikely point: "Look at this!" As a general rule, using such sentences should
be kept to a minimum so that their emphasis is not diluted or your message is not weakened.

4. Declarative sentences
These sentences are the primary way to convey information in written communications. They
end with a period. They express ideas. Most of your writing will be in declarative sentences.

To be an effective business communicator, use the four types of sentences to convey exactly
what you mean.

Identifying and Correcting Sentence Fragments

Sentence fragments are incomplete sentences. They often happen because people tend to write
the way they speak. They usually show up as a dependent clause or a phrase.

Sentence fragments as dependent clauses

Dependent clauses have subjects or verbs; phrases do not. To be a complete sentence, a phrase
must be connected to an independent clause. Sometimes, though, fragments are created by
using the wrong verb form. For example: "The fiber optic cable arrived yesterday. After we
had waited for three weeks." This can be correctly written as: "After waiting for three weeks,
we received the fiber optic cable yesterday."

As important as it is to avoid fragments in your written communications, there are exceptions.
Some commonly accepted fragments can stand alone for emphasis because their meaning is
clear: "Big deal." "Fat chance." "No way."

Once you identify a sentence fragment, you can make it a sentence by adding the missing part
of the sentence, or omitting the subordinate conjunction and including the appropriate

Few people always speak in complete sentences. However, it's important to use complete
sentences to make your written words clear.
Identifying and Eliminating Comma Splices
Comma splices are created when two sentences are incorrectly joined with a comma. You
need to know how to recognize comma splices and how to fix—and eliminate—them.

To identify a comma splice, first identify the two independent clauses—the sentences being
connected. Examples of comma splices are:

· She should attend the meeting, he should not.

· She should attend the meeting, however, he should not.

You can use five methods for eliminating comma splices:

1. Join two independent clauses with a coordinating conjunction and a comma

Coordinating conjunctions are and, but, for, or, nor, so, and yet. If you write two
sentences joined with one of those words, use a comma at the end of the first
sentence—before the conjunction. For example: "Labor Day is one of our company
holidays, but your birthday is a floating holiday."
2. Join two independent clauses with another connecting word and a semicolon
If you don't use a coordinating conjunction, join the two sentences by putting a
semicolon—not a comma—before a connecting word that's between the two
sentences. An example of a connecting word is however. For example: "Labor Day is
one of our company holidays; however, your birthday is a floating holiday."
3. Join two independent clauses with a semicolon
Replace the comma with a semicolon if no conjunction or other connecting word is
used between the two sentences. For example: "Labor Day is one of our company
holidays; your birthday is a floating holiday."
4. Reword the sentence
Another way to avoid comma splices is to reword the sentence to change one of the
independent clauses into a dependent clause. For example: "Labor Day is one of our
company holidays, although your birthday is a floating holiday."
5. Separate
Sometimes it is better to make the two sentences independent thoughts. For example:
"Labor Day is one of our company holidays. Your birthday is a floating holiday."

Comma splices are common problems in writing. The first step in eliminating them is to
recognize the errors. The second step is to punctuate sentences correctly.

Run-on Sentences
Run-on sentences dilute your ideas. Their effect on your written communications can range
from confusing to embarrassing. To correct them, you must first be able to identify them.

Two important facts will help you identify run-on sentences.

· Run-on sentences are not always long. They can be short. For example: "Cats meow
dogs bark."
· Run-on sentences often have a clause beginning with a pronoun. For example: "Amy
was too pressured to decide she didn't know what to do."

Correcting run-on sentences

Run-on sentences can be easily corrected. Below are possible ways of correcting two example
run-on sentences. The first example sentence is: "Leo the lion roared in the jungle he was
king." The second is: "Time stands still do you?" Correction methods include:

· Create two sentences—The first one can be written as two different sentences.
Punctuation changes the meaning. It could be: "Leo the lion roared in the jungle. He
was king." Or it could be: "Leo the lion roared. In the jungle, he was king."
· Create a sentence and a question—Change the second example into a sentence and a
question: "Time stands still. Do you?"
· Create a compound sentence—A compound sentence has a coordinating conjunction
or a semicolon that joins two independent sentences. You can write: "Leo the lion
roared in the jungle, so he was king." Or you can say: "Leo the lion roared in the
jungle; he was king."
· Create a complex sentence—A complex sentence consists of one independent clause
and one or more dependent clauses. You can write: "Leo the lion roared in the jungle
because he was king."

Sometimes it's easy to recognize run-on sentences. They are usually long and poorly
punctuated. However, run-on sentences can also be short.

Subject/Verb Agreement
When you write with certainty and knowledge, you create powerful messages. Using subjects
and verbs correctly will enable you to enhance meaning in your writing.

The most basic rule of sentences is that the subject and verb must agree in two ways. The first
is number. Are they both singular? "The memo says tomorrow is a holiday." Or are they
plural? "The memos explain the procedure." The second way they must agree is in person: I
am, we are, it is, they are.

Subjects and verbs

The subject of a sentence is the person, place, or thing being acted upon. It's the focus of the
sentence. The verb explains what's happening to the subject. People are often confused by the
following areas of subject/verb agreement:

· Book titles—No matter how long a book title is or if it sounds plural, the title of one
book is always singular and so is the verb. For example: "War and Peace takes a long
time to read."
· Compound subject—If the subject of a sentence connects two or more people, places,
or things by the words and or both...and, the verb must be plural. For example: "Both
Dr. Smith and Ms. Jones are reviewing the contracts."
· Alternatives— If two subjects are joined by neither...nor or but, the verb should agree
with the subject closest to it. For example: "Neither management nor the employees
are right."
· Single units—Some words look like they are plural but actually function as a single
unit. Some of those words include: spaghetti and meatballs, news, and milk and cereal.
Each of these takes a singular verb. For example: "The news was good."
· Collectives— Words such as team, staff, or company can be either singular or plural.
A group acting as a single unit takes a singular verb. For example: "My staff works
hard." If it's a group of individuals acting separately, the verb is plural. For example:
"The movie's crew are preparing the sets."
· Measurements—Even though they look plural, most measurements are considered
singular and take singular verbs. For example: "Twelve inches is a foot."
· Indefinite pronouns—Pronouns that end in one or body are always singular and
should be used with a singular verb. These are words such as: anybody, everybody,
someone, and no one. However, both, few, many, and several are always plural.

Subject/verb order in inverted sentences

In inverted sentences, such as questions and other constructions, the verb comes before the
subject. These sentences tell you what happens before they tell you to whom it is happening.
They also create interest and emphasis because the inverted order is not the norm.

To test for subject/verb agreement in an inverted sentence, turn it around and leave out
distractors. This means changing, "What is the question?" to, "The question is this." Then the
verb is clear. Below are more examples:

· Questions—Remember that in questions, the verb comes first. For example, in the
sentence, "Are copies of the annual report available?" The subject is "copies." The
verb is plural, "are." The subject is not the singular "annual report."
· Phrases—The words, there is, there are, here is, and here are often begin sentences.
For instance, "Here are copies of the annual report." However, the word "copies" is the
subject, not "annual report" or "here." The verb must be plural.
· Contractions—Be especially careful when using contractions for the phrases. In
colloquial English, people may say, "There's the reports." But the contraction means
"there is." Because "reports" is plural, the correct wording would be "there are" or
· Compound subject—"Striding purposefully into the meeting were the CEO and the
COO." In this inverted sentence, the verb "were" is plural because the subject of the
sentence is two people: "the CEO and the COO."

Distracting words, phrases, and clauses

You should watch out for distracting words and phrases as you write. For example, you should
learn how to use the pronoun none. If the words not one can be substituted, use a singular
verb. If the words not any can be substituted, use a plural verb. For example, "None of the
offers [not one] stands out." "None [not any] of my cousins are girls."
Moreover, don't let intervening parenthetical phrases confuse you. For example, "The new
CEO, as well as several other executives, arrives today."

You should also be aware that the following words are singular: anything, each, each one,
either, every, everything, neither, someone, and no one.

Applying the above information will strengthen your effectiveness as a communicator.

Making Pronouns and Antecedents Agree

Making pronouns and their antecedents agree will add logic and clarity to what you write.
Certain types of words must agree—be grammatically consistent—with other words.

There are four important areas in which pronouns and the words to which they refer—their
antecedents—must be clear. They must agree in gender, be consistent in person, avoid number
problems, and refer to the right antecedent.

1. Agree in gender
Sometimes you need to use gender discrimination to make your writing clear and logical.
Gender agreement between pronouns and antecedents depends on it. The following examples
demonstrate how to achieve clarity in gender agreement:

· Masculine—"Either of the brothers will do well for themselves as stewards." "Either"

requires a singular pronoun. "Brothers" requires a masculine pronoun. "Themselves" is
plural. The sentence should read: "Either of the brothers will do well for himself as a
· Feminine— "Since she's our latest design, she'll be the one everyone wants." There is
no clear antecedent to either "she." The sentence should say: "Since this ocean liner is
our latest design, she'll be the one everyone wants."
· Gender-neutral—The words it and its refer to things that are neither masculine nor
feminine. Be sure, though, not to switch in midsentence from "She's a beautiful ship,"
to "and it is ready to sail."
· Indefinite—Words such as anyone, everyone, someone, and no one are examples of
indefinite pronouns that are used as nouns. They require singular pronouns. For
example, "Every project has its own standards." It's not: "Every project has their own
· Common-gender—A noun that can refer to both males and females is considered
common-gender. Some examples are: customer, manager, and attorney. This is when
you must decide to say, he or she or his/her, or change the wording to eliminate the

2. Be consistent in person
To make pronouns agree in person, the primary rule is: Do not switch from one person to
another in the same sentence. For instance, do not write: "You shouldn't have to come in early,
although one should never say never."

3. Avoid number problems

In the past, a generic he was used to refer to both sexes. However, many no longer feel this is
acceptable. Today, some people use the he/she form. Some alternate the use of he and she in
documents. But some people try to avoid gender bias by mixing singular pronouns and plural

It is incorrect to say, "If an employee wants to change insurances, they must do so in the open
enrollment period." The antecedent, "an employee," is singular. The pronoun, "they," is plural.
The sentence should be reworded to avoid this. Make the subject the plural, "employees."

4. Refer to right antecedents

It's important to check your writing to ensure that your reader will understand what you mean
when you substitute pronouns for nouns. For instance: "Bob worked as a cruise director last
summer, which may be his career choice." To clarify this, change it to: "Bob worked as a
cruise director last summer; cruise service may be his career choice." Or, "Bob worked as a
cruise director last summer, and he may want to make a career out of cruise service."

Referring to the right antecedent shows careful writing and helps your reader understand
exactly what you mean.

Antecedents are the words to which pronouns refer. Pronouns and their antecedents must
agree in number, person, and gender, and pronouns must refer to the right antecedent. When in
doubt, reword the sentence.

Avoiding Dangling Modifiers and Misplaced Modifiers

Modifiers add color and description to your writing. The most common modifiers are
adjectives and adverbs, as in the sentence, "The cool breeze blew gently across the lake."
Details transform your writing from flat, dull descriptions to material that your reader will
remember. However, carelessly placed modifiers can obscure meanings and create
misunderstandings and confusion.

Dangling modifiers
Dangling modifiers are phrases in which essential words are missing—or the phrase may
describe something that is not mentioned in the sentence. Without those words, the meaning of
the sentence becomes unclear, sometimes illogical. Consider the following example:

· "Hidden in a vault for the past 75 years, the original owner of the company decided to
display the company's first stock certificate."

According to this sentence, the original owner of the company has been hidden in a vault for
75 years. The dangling modifier is "hidden in a vault for the past 75 years," because it is
closest to the word "owner," which it doesn't modify. To make the meaning clear, the sentence
should be rewritten to say: "The original owner of the company decided to display the
company's first stock certificate. It had been hidden in a vault for 75 years."

Another way to eliminate the dangling modifier is to say, "The company's first stock
certificate had been hidden in a vault for the past 75 years, and the original owner of the
company decided to display it."

Misplaced modifiers
Misplaced modifiers can be words, clauses, or phrases that are so far from the noun or
pronoun they're modifying that the meaning of the sentence is distorted. For clarity and logic,
the two elements—the modifier and the word being modified—should be next to each other.
Consider the following example:

· "The PR employees created a presentation for the company that they called Getting
Ahead." If the company's name isn't Getting Ahead, reword the sentence. For clarity
and logic, word the sentence: "The PR employees created a company presentation
which they called Getting Ahead."

Misplaced or dangling modifiers can also create confusion. However, well-placed modifiers
increase the clarity of what you write.

Tone, Word Choice, and Audience

How you write something is your writing style. It can change the way your content is viewed
or your message is accepted. To adapt your writing style, you must consider your tone, word
choice, and audience.

Tone varies according to your audience and your purpose because it reveals your attitude
toward the content and the reader. The tone of a report or a letter might be academic, didactic,
pedantic, or pompous. It could also be conversational and personal.

Word choice
The words you choose create the tone. Your words are as important to the style and tone as
correct grammar is to the professional image of your message. Your words must fit the topic,
the audience, and your purpose. However, there are three specific areas you need to be aware
of when choosing words:

1. Fog index—Experts say that words of three syllables or more in sentences create a
"fog" index. The more syllables in your words, the denser the "fog," and the more
difficult it is to understand your meaning.
2. Dazzle factor—The dazzle factor of long, pretentious words is overrated. You
may have colleagues who enjoy the flowery, well-turned literary phrase. However,
most well-constructed business sentences use simple, concrete words.
3. Business jargon—This can generate a positive comfort zone or distance between
you and your reader. Ask yourself if the words you are using are necessary terms that
will communicate effectively to the audience. If not, will they obscure the meaning for
the people who read it?

Effective writers understand their audience and adjust their styles, tone, and word choices
accordingly. Tailor your writing style to the audience's interests, objectives, or needs.
Understanding how broad your audience might be can help you write more effectively. There
are four audiences to keep in mind.

1. Target audience—the person to whom you are writing.

2. Secondary audience—people who may see or be influenced by your message.
3. Guardian audience—the group that can stop your message from getting to the
target audience. An example is the CEO or the client's spouse.
4. Power audience—people who can have an effect on the impact of your message.
An example is a client's friend.

When writing, always keep in mind your tone, word choice, and audience.

The Passive and Active Voices

The active and passive voices of verbs say different things to the reader. Using the right voice
can help you say exactly what you mean.

Active voice
The active voice conveys strength and action. For example, in the sentence, "Photographers
create [active voice] startling results with black and white film." The photographers are doing
something. The verb is active. The action is directed toward "startling results."

Sentences written in the active voice name the doer of the action. For example: "Pete fell from
the train." An active voice verb usually creates a stronger mental image of what the subject
[Pete] is doing.

Passive Voice
Active verbs stand alone. But when you combine some form of the helping verb to be with the
past participle of the main verb, you create the passive voice. Helping verbs include: is, are,
was, were, can, could, do, did, has, had, have, may, might, must, will, shall, should, and
would. Past participles of a verb are often, although not always, the same word as the past
tense of the verb, such as: arrived, came, flew, and issued.

As a general rule, use the active voice because it is more direct, concise, and forceful.
However, use the passive voice if your purpose is to:

· Be indefinite: "It would be better if the meeting were postponed."

· Avoid assigning blame: "Perhaps it was someone else who left the car unlocked."
· Achieve an academic tone: "One would be benefited if he gained tenure."
· Emphasize the receiver of the action: "I might be willing to protest that."
· Downplay the doer of the action: "The meal was cooked by a chef."

You can select either the passive or the active voice to achieve a specific meaning. Both will
serve you well when used wisely.

Using Consistency and Variety

You can use different techniques that will help you create both consistency and variety in
what you write. These include:

1. Parallel construction
A parallel construction is a way of writing a sentence, a list, ideas, or items that are related in
the same form. One famous example of this was in Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.
He said, "But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate...we cannot consecrate...we cannot hallow
this ground." By the similarity of form, the parallel phrase "we cannot" adds emphasis and a
mental rhythm that people remember.

The following is a nonparallel construction: "The order you placed is exciting and a
challenge." This isn't parallel because it combines an adjective, "exciting," and a noun,
"challenge." Saying, "The order you placed is exciting and challenging," would be parallel
because you'd use two adjectives to describe the order.

2. Use different types of sentences

Another way to develop both consistency and variety in your writing is to use different types
of sentences to express your ideas. Your sentences might be:

· Simple—Simple sentences have one independent clause. They do not have any
subordinate clauses. Simple sentences can be quite short. A series of them can convey
energy or emotion.
· Compound—Compound sentences contain two or more independent clauses, and they
are joined by a comma before the coordinating conjunction. They can also be joined by
a semicolon; however, compound sentences do not contain any subordinate clauses,
· Complex—Although complex sentences contain one independent clause, they also
contain one or more dependent clauses. For example: "Since I worked late last night
[dependent clause], I came in late this morning [independent clause]."
· Compound/complex—Even though they need good punctuation, compound/complex
sentences are easy to understand, and they communicate ideas well—although you
need to know that they contain two independent clauses and they have one (or more)
dependent clauses.

The most effective sentences are concise. They use as few words as possible to express an
idea. The most effective sentences also include the primary idea of the sentence in the
independent or main clause because it's easier to see.

The types of sentences you use depend on who your readers are and your purpose. The types
of sentences you use create rhythm and pacing. Use all of them to create consistency or to
provide variety.

3. Breaking the rules the right way

While it's important to know the standard conventions of a language—if only to keep others
from criticizing you—even experts have begun to accept popular usage in all but the most
formal documents. You may break the rules in the following areas:

· Prepositions—It's best to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition, but writing

should sound natural. If rewording a sentence makes the sentence sound awkward,
leave the preposition at the end.
· Conjunctions—When used at the beginning of a sentence, conjunctions are visual
signposts. They strongly link a preceding sentence or paragraph with ideas that follow.
Use them at the beginning of a sentence to communicate your ideas more forcefully or
· Infinitives—People split infinitives all the time by putting an adverb between to and
the verb. In general, don't split infinitives. However, splitting infinitives may achieve a
more natural word order and avoid confusion as in the following example: "I want you
to get this report done today. And I want it done right."

By applying the above techniques, you can make your writing more appealing and memorable
by adding consistency and variety.

Agreement of Subjects and Objects

Disagreement between subjects and verbs in writing represents a basic sentence error that can
lead to confusion among readers and uncertainty about the writer's competence.

This topic will answer two important questions for business writers:

1. What does subject-verb agreement in number mean?

2. How can I make sure that my sentences are correct?

Before you can understand subject-verb agreement, you have to understand what the basic
grammatical terms subject and verb mean.

Definition of Subject
The subject of a sentence is a word or group of words that names the actor in the sentence. To
identify the subject, ask "Who?" or "What?" By reading the following, you can see how
asking these questions will help you to identify the subject:
· My computer is broken.

What is broken? The computer is broken, so the computer is the subject.

Definition of Verb
The verb shows the action of a sentence (I dropped my computer) or state of being (My
computer is broken).

Verbs can show actions or states that happened in the past, are happening now, or may happen
in the future.

To find an action verb, ask "What is the subject doing?" or "What was the subject doing?" or
"What will the subject be doing?" If there is no action verb, look for a word that shows a state
of being (forms of the verb to be, such as am, are, is, was, and were).

Rules for Agreement

Verbs must agree with their subjects in number. Below are some rules to help you determine
when to use the singular or plural forms of the verb.

Use singular verbs with singular subjects and plural verbs with plural subjects. Below are
some examples that illustrate subject-verb agreement in number, for example:

· Our employees are our most valuable resource.

In this example, "employees" is the plural subject, so "are" is a plural verb.

Two singular subjects connected by and take a plural verb. They are called a compound
subject. The following sentence provides an example of this:

· Lily and Terri are receiving pay increases.

In this example, "Lily and Terri" are two singular subjects connected by and. They take the
plural verb "are receiving."

Two singular subjects connected by or or nor take a singular verb. This is demonstrated in the
following example:

· Neither Lily nor Terri knows about the raise yet.

In this example, "Lily and Terri" are two singular subjects connected by nor. They take the
singular verb "knows."

If a singular subject is connected to a plural subject by or or nor, put the plural subject last and
use a plural verb. The following sentence gives an example of this:

· Either Terri or two other employees are moving into the corner office.

In this example, the singular subject "Terri" is connected to the plural subject "two other
employees" by or. The plural verb is "are moving."

Intervening Phrases
Frequently, the subject and verb are separated by intervening phrase or groups of words. Do
not be confused—these do not change the above rules. This is demonstrated in the following

· The workers in each division agree with most decisions.

In this example, the subject is "workers," not division. Since workers is plural, the verb must
be plural ("agree"). The intervening phrase is "in each division."

Intervening phrases often begin with prepositions, which are function words, such as at, by,
for, in, under, and with. You must ignore prepositional and other intervening phrases when
deciding which verb form to use.

Collective Nouns
Collective nouns have singular form but refer to a group of individuals. Examples include
board, committee, group, staff, and team.

In American English, collective nouns are usually treated as singular, to emphasize the unit,
rather than the individual members. But they may be treated as plural if the meaning is clearly
plural. Below are two examples that illustrate this:

· A strong staff is essential to a successful expansion.

In this sentence, "staff" is clearly understood as a single entity, so the singular verb "is" can be

· The group disagree about whether to expand into China or Japan.

In the above sentence, it is important to stress that "the group" consists of different
individuals, so the verb is plural. Alternatively, you could write:

· The group members disagree about whether to expand into China or Japan.

Once you start using a collective noun as a singular form, you must continue to do so. If you
replace that noun with a pronoun, it must be a singular pronoun. Similarly, if you use a
collective noun as a plural form, you must be consistent.
Other words that are usually treated as singular when they refer to a field of study and as
plural in other uses include acoustics, economics, ethics, mathematics, and physics.

Be alert. When you encounter a complex sentence, take it apart slowly and determine which
rules apply. Try to simplify the sentence in order to make your decision easier.

By applying all of the grammar rules regarding intervening phrases, collective nouns, and
compound subjects, you will make your writing smooth, and prove your competence and

Writing Complete Sentences

A sentence fragment is a partial sentence. It may be missing a subject (the actor in the
sentence), a verb (the action), or both, or it may fail to express a complete thought.

Sentence fragments are common in speech, but are unacceptable in business writing. The
following example contains a sentence fragment.

· "Our new client sells frozen foods. Such as pies and fish fillets."

The sentence fragment looks unprofessional. "Such as" is one example of a word that, if it
appears at the beginning of a group of words, suggests an incomplete sentence is about to
follow. These are called subordinating words, and other examples include:

· also
· and
· but
· especially
· for example
· mainly

To avoid sentence fragments starting with subordinating words, you can simply join them to
the previous sentence with a comma, dash, or parentheses as in the three examples below:

1. Comma —"Our new client sells frozen foods, such as pies and fish fillets."
2. Dash—"Our new client sells frozen foods—such as pies and fish fillets."
3. Parentheses—"Our new client sells frozen foods (such as pies and fish fillets).

Identifying Fragments
To determine whether a sentence is complete, ask yourself the following questions:

· Does it contain a verb? A verb is a word that expresses an action or a state of being.
· Does it contain a subject? A subject is a noun, noun phrase, or pronoun that denotes
the doer of the action or the person or thing that is described in the sentence.
· Is it a subordinate clause? Like a sentence, a subordinate clause has a subject and
verb, but unlike a sentence, a subordinate clause cannot stand alone. Subordinate
clauses often begin with subordinating words.

Repair Strategies
Once you identify a sentence fragment in your text, you can use one of the following three
strategies to repair it.

1. Add the missing subject or verb.

o Fragment: "For example, people in our computer room."
o Complete sentence: "For example, I'd like to include shots of people in our
computer room."
o Strategy: The missing words, "I'd like to include shots of," have been
2. Omit the subordinating word and turn the remainder into a complete
o Fragment: "As we discussed on the phone recently regarding the file
o Complete sentence: "We discussed the file formats on the phone recently."
o Strategy: The subordinating word "as" has been omitted, and the sentence
has been rephrased slightly.
3. Connect the fragment to a nearby sentence.
o Fragment: "Except for shots of the boardroom."
o Complete sentence: "The photos of our headquarters (except for shots of
the boardroom) are nearly complete."
o Strategy: The fragment has been connected to another sentence, "The
photos of our headquarters are nearly complete."

Avoid Run-on Sentences

When omitting a subordinating word, be careful not to change a sentence fragment error into a
run-on sentence error. A run-on sentence consists of two or more independent clauses that
have been joined incorrectly (that is, they have been joined by no punctuation or by a comma

For example, the following sentence is correct —it does not need to be changed.

· The photos are nearly complete, although the boardroom shots didn't come out well.

It would be wrong to change this by eliminating "although." This would create the following
run-on sentence:

· The photos are nearly complete, the boardroom shots didn't come out well.

Clear writing is essential in business. You can check that you have not inserted any sentence
fragments into your document by ensuring all sentences contain a subject and verb and that no
sentence consists solely of a subordinating clause.

Once you have identified a fragment, you have several repair options:

1. Add the missing subject or verb.

2. Attach the fragment to a nearby complete sentence.
3. Omit the subordinating word to create a complete sentence.

Sentence fragments detract from a strong document. Identifying and repairing them can help
to create clearer, more professional writing.

Recognizing and Repairing Run-ons

In writing, periodic pauses are essential. They give readers time to absorb the content clearly,
without getting overwhelmed. Run-on sentences must be avoided.

Definition of a Run-on Sentence

A run-on sentence consists of two or more independent clauses that have been joined
incorrectly. Independent clauses are groups of words that contain a subject and predicate and
that can stand alone.

Joining Independent Clauses

There are several punctuation marks you can use to join independent clauses

· Comma—to join independent clauses with a comma, you also need to add a
coordinating conjunction: and, but, or, nor, for, so, or yet.

Be sure that the comma comes before, not after, the coordinating conjunction.

· Semicolon, Colon, Dash—to join independent clauses with a semicolon, colon, or

dash, you do not need to add additional words.

Types of Run-on Sentence

Run-on sentences do not follow the rules for joining independent clauses. They often occur
when two sentences are closely related in meaning. There are two types of run-on sentences:
fused sentences and comma splices.

Fused Sentences—these occur when two independent clauses are joined with no connecting
punctuation and with no coordinating conjunction (connecting word). The following is an

"Lily has been given a promotion Phil has been given a new computer."
In this case, a period could be used to split the two independent clauses into two separate
sentences, thereby making the meaning much clearer. The passage should read:
"Lily has been given a promotion. Phil has been given a new computer."
Comma Splices—another common type of run-on sentence involves comma splices. A
comma splice can take three forms. These are described in the following examples:

1. "Lily works in sales, Phil is in accounts."

The problem with this sentence is that two independent clauses ("Lily works in sales
and Phil is in accounts") are joined with a comma but no coordinating conjunction.
The sentence should read as follows:

"Lily works in sales; Phil is in accounts."

2. "Phil's new computer is very advanced, it has a lot of memory."

Writers often generate run-on sentences when the second sentence begins with a
pronoun referring to the subject of the first sentence. In the above case, the pronoun,
"it," refers to the previous noun, "computer." The sentence should read as follows:

"Phil's new computer is very advanced. It has a lot of memory."

3. "The computer has a lot of memory, however, it has crashed each time Phil has
tried to use his new software."

Writers often create run-on sentences when the second clause begins with however
and other transitional words. In this case, the second clause should be preceded by a
semicolon. The sentence should read as follows:

"The computer has a lot of memory; however, it has crashed each time Phil has tried
to use his new software."

By asking and answering the following questions, you will establish whether your sentence is
a run-on and needs to be corrected.

· Does the sentence contain two independent clauses?

· Are the independent clauses connected by a comma followed by a coordinating
· Are the clauses connected by a semicolon, colon, or dash?

Repairing Run-ons
Once you have identified a run-on sentence, you will need to repair it as in the above
examples. The four strategies for doing this are:

1. Add a comma or coordinating conjunction.

2. Join the clauses with a semicolon, colon, or dash.
3. Replace the comma with a period, turning the two clauses into two sentences.
4. Add a subordinating word to the clause.
Using good grammar will not guarantee your document will yield the results you want, but
using poor grammar will certainly not help your chances. Effective writing requires
appropriate pauses and adequate transitions between thoughts.

Since run-on sentences lack these characteristics, learning to recognize and repair run-ons will
strengthen your writing.

Using Modifiers Well

Modifiers are words, phrases, or clauses that describe another word or limit its meaning.
Omitting or misplacing a modifier can alter the meaning of a sentence. Adjectives and adverbs
are the most common modifiers.

Definition of Adjective
Adjectives describe nouns or pronouns. They often answer these questions: "Which one?"
"What kind of?" "How many?"

Definition of Adverb
Adverbs describe verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They often answer these questions:
"When?" "Where?" "How?" "Why?" "To what extent?"

Misplacing Modifiers
A modifier is misplaced when it appears to apply to the wrong part of a sentence or when the
reader cannot tell which part of the sentence the modifier applies to. Misplaced modifiers may
be unclear or unintentionally humorous. To recognize misplaced modifiers, look for modifiers
that are far from the words they describe.

Tips for Placing Modifiers

The following examples show how to, and how not to, place modifiers:

1. Incorrect—A small managers group has been trained in new software.

Correct— A small group of managers has been trained in new software.

Tip— Adjectives usually come before their nouns. The adjective "small" here refers to
"group," not "managers."

2. Incorrect—Lily reminded Terri to show up on time occasionally.

Correct—Lily occasionally reminded Terri to show up on time.

Tip—Adverbs like occasionally may either precede or follow the verbs they modify.
Keeping the adverb as close as possible to the verb usually prevents confusion.

3. Incorrect—Russ developed a brochure for the project that required four-color


Correct—Russ developed a project brochure that required four-color processing.

Tip— Subordinate clauses should come next to the word or words to which they refer.

4. Incorrect—Terri ignored a complaint letter from a client marked "Urgent."

Correct—Terri ignored a complaint letter marked "Urgent" from a client.

Tip—Modifying phrases should come next to the word or words to which they refer.

5. Incorrect—Lily and Terri only chatted at departmental meetings.

Correct—Lily and Terri chatted only at departmental meetings.

Tip—Limiting modifiers such as almost, even, and only should come immediately
before the word or words they modify.

In general, placing adjectives, adverbs, phrases, clauses, and other limiting words as close as
possible to the items they describe avoids confusion.

Dangling Modifiers
A dangling modifier is a word or (more often) a phrase that is intended to be a modifier but
fails, because the word or words it is supposed to modify are missing or misplaced in the

Dangling modifiers often appear at the beginning of a sentence, but they may occur at the end
as well. While they may be understandable, these constructions represent careless writing. The
following are two examples of dangling modifiers:

· Incorrect—While running the company, our financial outlook improved under Alex's
· Correct—While Alex was running the company, our financial outlook improved.

The original sentence did not tell who was running the company. Adding the subject "Alex"
provides this information.

· Incorrect —Having declared bankruptcy, our company stocks plummeted.

· Correct—After our company declared bankruptcy, our stocks plummeted.

The original sentence did not say who or what declared bankruptcy. The revised sentence tells
the reader that it was the company.

To avoid dangling modifiers, make sure that if you start a sentence with a phrase describing an
action, you identify the actor immediately after that phrase.

Remember to place modifiers near the words they modify. If you put modifiers in the wrong
place, you can unintentionally create sentences that are confusing or even funny. But since
your goal in business writing is usually to be clear and serious, you should be aware of
misplaced and dangling modifiers.

Using Parallel Structures

The repetition of identical or equivalent grammatical structures can strengthen statements.
This practice is known as parallelism. The following is one famous example:

· "Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.
"— John F. Kennedy

Parallelism can improve the flow of ideas by helping readers to recognize similar content or
similar functions. The use of parallel words, phrases, and clauses can emphasize or reinforce
your points, giving them clarity and effectiveness, as well as a rhythm that makes them

When to Apply Parallelism

Parallelism is effective when each item in a series (such as a list or a set of procedures) is of
equal importance, when all items are similar in quality or kind, and when the ideas are related.
The following is an example:

· Peter dresses well, speaks well, and performs well.

When not to Apply Parallelism

Parallelism is usually inappropriate when the items are dissimilar or of unequal importance or
when the ideas they represent are unrelated.

· Incorrect— Sarah would bring four qualities to this job: patience, perseverance,
courtesy, and Spanish.
· Correct —Sarah would bring four qualities to this job: patience, perseverance,
courtesy, and sensitivity to Spanish speakers.

In the original list, the items are not parallel ideas because Spanish is a language, not a quality.

Parallelism ensures that parts of sentences that are equal in purpose are also equal in
grammatical structure.

Using parallel structures—words, phrases, or clauses— in your writing can help your readers
to understand your meaning and can emphasize or reinforce your ideas.
Making Pronouns and Antecedents Agree
To communicate clearly and competently, it is essential to make pronouns agree with

A pronoun is a word that replaces a noun. A noun is a word that represents a person (Sarah),
place (Chicago), thing (computer), or quality (kindness). The noun that is replaced by a
pronoun is called the antecedent.

Reaching Agreement
The antecedent's gender (masculine, feminine, or neuter) and number (singular or plural)
determine the correct form of the pronoun. When a pronoun agrees with its antecedent, that

· A singular pronoun replaces a singular noun.

· A plural pronoun replaces a plural noun.
· A feminine pronoun replaces a feminine noun (such as a woman's name).
· A masculine pronoun replaces a masculine noun (such as a man's name).
· A neuter pronoun replaces a neuter noun (such as a physical object).

There are several mistakes that writers can make if they are not careful about agreement
between pronouns and antecedents.

Common Errors
These mistakes generally occur with two categories of antecedent words:

1. Words that refer to a nonspecific individual or thing, such as anyone, each,

everybody, everything, someone, and something.

This category also includes terms that represent a generic or typical member of a
group, such as every worker, the employee, and a supervisor.

2. Collective nouns are words that may be followed by either singular or plural
pronouns, depending on the meaning to be conveyed.

Nonspecific Words
In the past, experts advised writers to use his in sentences where the gender of the antecedent
is not specified, such as in the following example:

· Everyone needs to sign his own time card.

Now, however, this is often regarded as sexist. Some writing experts recommend the use of
their in these cases, but this is not considered standard English because the plural pronoun
does not match the antecedent number.
The sentence can be repaired by using one of the following three strategies:

1. Change the pronoun to match the noun in number. This would entail using the
singular form of both genders: his or her. The sentence would then look like this:

Everyone needs to sign his or her own time card.

2. Change the antecedent to match the pronoun in number:

All employees must sign their own time cards.

3. Rewrite the sentence to evade the problem. The following sentence demonstrates
how this could be done:

Please sign your time cards.

It is always advisable to maintain agreement in number and to use pronouns that clearly apply
to both men and women.

Collective Nouns
Collective nouns, such as staff, group, firm, and team, are usually treated as singular in order
to emphasize that they represent single units, rather than individual members. But when the
meaning is clearly plural, collective nouns may be treated as plural.

The following two examples illustrate these points:

1. The executive board has decided to delay its decision on new record-keeping

In this example, the pronoun its is used, rather than their, because the executive board
is referred to as a single unit with a single view.

2. The staff are completing a survey to register their views. In this example, the plural
pronoun their is used because staff represents members as individuals who hold
individual views.

Before deciding whether to use a singular or plural pronoun to refer to a collective noun, you
must decide whether the collective noun refers to a group as a unit or to the individual

Checking the agreement between a pronoun and its antecedent (especially in the case of
nonspecific, generic, and collective nouns) and repairing errors by changing a few words or by
more substantial rewriting can help to ensure that your readers will understand your message
and appreciate your professionalism.
Identifying Subjects and Objects
Sometimes deciding what pronoun to use can be tricky. A pronoun is a word (such as I, he, or
they) used to replace a noun, and the form it takes depends on its role in the sentence,
specifically on whether it is an object or a subject.

Definition of Subject
The subject of a sentence is the thing, person, place or quality that performs the action or
embodies the condition described by the verb. For example, the subjects in the following
sentence are Jane and Maurice.

· Jane and Maurice sent the memo to the manager.

The subjective pronoun is used when the pronoun serves as the subject in a sentence, as in the
following example:

· She and I sent the memo to the manager.

Definition of Object
The objective form of a pronoun is used when the pronoun is part of the object of the
sentence, which means that it is acted upon by the verb. It often follows a preposition. A
preposition links the word that follows it (its object) with another part of the sentence.
Together, the preposition and its object may modify a noun, a pronoun, an adjective, an
adverb, or a verb.

An example of pronouns as objects is provided in the following sentence:

· The manager sent the memo to her and me.

In this example, the pronouns (her and me) are objects of the verb (sent) and the preposition
(to). It would be wrong to write the pronouns in their objective form (The manager sent the
memo to she and I).

Identification Strategies
In longer sentences, it can be difficult to identify the subject or the object. If you are unsure
which is which, use one of the following strategies:

1. Simplify the sentence—either by considering the two elements separately or by

eliminating words that stand between the pronoun and its verb or preposition. For
example, to determine whether me is the correct form in the sentence "Give the
documents to Pauline and me," eliminate the confusing element (Pauline) and see how
the sentence works without it: "Give the documents to…me." (not to I).
2. Reverse the order of the two elements.

For example, to determine whether me is the correct form in the sentence "Give the
documents to Pauline and me," reverse Pauline and me and see how the sentence
works without it: "Give the documents to me and Pauline." (not I and Pauline).

In the case of you and it, the subjective and objective forms are identical. In all other cases,
you must use different forms of the words for their different functions.

Than and As
Sometimes writers have problems knowing which pronouns to place after the words than and
as. These sentences can actually have different meanings when they are completed by
subjective and objective pronouns. The following examples demonstrate this:

· The CEO likes Alex better than I.

· The CEO likes Alex better than me.

The first example means that the CEO likes Alex better than I do— the word do is omitted but

The second case means that the CEO likes Alex better than she likes me—she likes is omitted
but understood.

The best way of guaranteeing that you convey the meaning you intend when writing sentences
including as or than is to mentally insert the missing words.

Who or Whom?
The most challenging pronoun for many business writers is the who/whom issue. These
words, which are known as relative pronouns, introduce subordinate clauses (clauses that
cannot stand alone).

Who is the subjective form. Use it as a substitute for I, we, he, she, or they.

Whom is the objective form. Use it as a substitute for me, us, him, her, or them.

The principles that determine the correct form are the same as those for personal pronouns.
Similarly, you can resolve who/whom questions by using the strategies of clarification,
substitution, and replacement.

The following is an example of this practice in operation:

· Who/whom in the company was responsible for the delays?

· Clarification— [Who/whom] was responsible for the delays?
· Substitution—He was responsible for the delays.
· Final —Who in the company was responsible for the delays?

These strategies of clarification, substitution, and replacement will help make you accurate
decisions about whether to use who or whom. They will also give you more confidence that
his written work will represent a high degree of professionalism.
Using strategies such as simplification, reversal, substitution, and sentence completion can
often help you to know which form to use.

Choosing the Right Possessive Pronoun

Possessive pronouns are used to denote ownership or possession of a noun. Examples include
his, her, and theirs. Sometimes, business writers cause confusion by mixing up possessive
pronouns with other word forms. You must avoid this.

Recognizing Possessive Pronouns

Most singular nouns use an apostrophe and the letter s to show possession, as in the following

· I have seen the company's new headquarters.

Possessive pronouns, however, do not use apostrophes (his, her, your, etc.). Remembering this
fact will help you overcome one of the most common problems encountered by many writers:
not knowing when to use its and it's.

The correct possessive pronoun for replacing the company's in the example sentence is its, as
shown below:

· I have seen its new headquarters.

Its, without an apostrophe, is the pronoun form to use when you mean ownership, origin, or

It's means it is or it has.

Strategies for Selecting the Right Form

If you are unsure which to use, you can make up your mind by substituting the questionable
word in a sentence with it is—if the sentence makes sense, then it's is the correct form to use.
Otherwise, use its. The following example demonstrates how this works.

· "I have seen it is new headquarters." This does not make sense, therefore it's is not the
correct form. Use its.

Similarly, it is often possible to replace the questionable word with his— if the sentence
makes sense, then its is the correct form to use. The example again shows how this works:

· "I have seen his new headquarters." This makes sense, meaning its would be correct.

You can use the same strategies for distinguishing between other others words too, such as
your and you're, their and they're, and who's and whose.
Do not forget that possessive pronouns show ownership and do not contain apostrophes.
Remember also the two methods for distinguishing between possessive pronouns and sound-
alike contractions (which do contain apostrophes): substituting the spelled-out contraction for
the questionable word and replacing the questionable word with his.

Using possessives properly will let your readers know who owns what. That's important
information in the business world.

Using -self pronouns

Pronouns are substitutes for nouns. Pronouns that end in -self or -selves are used either to
intensify or emphasize a subject, or to refer back to the subject.

Intensive Pronoun
The following sentences provides an example of how a – self pronoun can be used for

· The CEO himself gave me a raise.

The pronoun himself stresses that it was the CEO who personally awarded the raise. The
pronoun in this case is called an intensive pronoun.

Removing an intensive pronoun from a sentence eliminates the emphasis, but does not change
the essential meaning. "The CEO gave me a raise" still makes sense.

Relfexive Pronoun
The following example demonstrates when to use the pronoun to refer back to the subject.

· The CEO gave himself a raise.

This example explains that the CEO gave the raise to the CEO. The pronoun himself is
necessary to refer back to the subject, the CEO.

Removing the reflexive pronoun from a sentence would render the sentence meaningless.
"The CEO gave a raise" is not a complete thought.

Nor can a reflexive pronoun be replaced by an alternative pronoun without changing the
meaning of the sentence. For example, "the CEO gave him a raise " is very different from "the
CEO gave himself a raise."

You only use – self pronouns when the meaning is intensive or reflexive. Any other use is
wrong. The following example, therefore, is incorrect.
· The CEO and myself negotiated a raise.

Since myself in this example emphasizes nothing and does not refer back to the subject, it
should not be used. The sentence should read:

· The CEO and I negotiated the contract.

Excessive use of – self pronouns as intensifiers, even when grammatically correct, can make a
document seem bizarre or silly, as in the following example:

· The CEO himself negotiated a raise with me myself.

Moderation is key to the effective use of -self pronouns as intensifiers.

-Self pronouns serve two important functions: they emphasize words and they refer back to
earlier words in their sentences. But they should not be used in place of other personal
pronouns, and they should not be overused as intensifiers.