1. Their is possessive. (Their cars are fast.) There means position. (John sits there). There is also used with a nonaction verb. (There are many girls in class.) They’re is a contraction for “they are.” (They’re going to be sent to the office for fighting.)
2. Your is a possessive pronoun. (Your dog is mean.) You’re is a contraction for “you are.” (You’re really a nice person .) *Don’t misuse “your.” (Wrong: Your a nice person.)
3. Its is a possessive pronoun. (The dog bit its owner.) It’s is a contraction for “it is.” (It’s a mean dog.) Not: The cat ate it’s (it is) food.
4. To use the correct nominative (subjective) or objective case of pronouns like I/me, we/us, she/her, who/whom, and whoever/whomever correctly (the nominative case is the first word in the above pairs), you can usually “hear” the correct usage by subtracting or replacing certain words:
a. Jack and I/me ran. (Eliminate “Jack and”; thus, “I ran” and not “Me ran.” Be polite and place yourself last. (not “I and Jack ran.”)
b. The principal told us/we students about the problem. (Eliminate “students” and you can “hear” that us sounds correct.)
c. She/her and her friend came over to my house yesterday. (Eliminate “and her friend” and you can “hear” that she sounds correct.
d. Who can be interchanged with he and whom with him. (Notice how both “whom” and “him” end with an m.) The boy who/whom I sat with is my brother. (I sat with he or with him? Since “I sat with him” sounds correct, then use whom, not who.)
e. Whoever can be interchanged with he, and whomever can be interchanged with him. (Whoever/Whomever gets the lowest score must retake the test. Since “He gets the lowest score” not “Him gets the lowest score” sounds correct, then use whoever here. )*The following is difficult to “hear” the right answer: Give this to whoever/whomever walks in first. “Give this to him” (thus whomever) sounds correct, but so does “He (thus whoever) walks in first”; the correct answer is the latter since the object of the preposition “to” is a complete sentence. (“He walks in first” and not “Him walks in first” sounds correct, so use whoever not whomever here.)
f. “Is Jon faster than he/him?” It’s “understood” that Jon is faster than he is fast, not him is fast. However, “The students disliked no
one more than her” is correct. (It’s understood that students disliked no one more than they disliked her, not she.)
*In these sentences the subject (the nominative case) should be “he” or “she“; use “him” or “her” for the objective case.
5. Use correct noun-pronoun antecedents. For instance, if the noun is plural, then use a plural pronoun to refer back to this noun. (The hogs squealed their loudest--not its loudest.) or (The boy was yelling at his mom--not their mom.) *
6. Indefinite pronouns (each, everyone, everybody, somebody, someone, etc.) take the singular case; therefore, subsequent verb or pronoun references take the singular case, too. (Each of the students was in his seat, not Each of the students were in their seats.)
Plural case: All of the students were in their seats. (Yet, if a concept is seen as one unit, use the singular case: All of the class was sick.)
7. Avoid using ambiguous pronouns (which don’t clearly refer to another noun/pronoun) . If no clear noun/pronoun can be found to refer directly to a used pronoun, then don’t use this “ambiguous” pronoun (which may be used in informal situations, though).
a. Don’t use you or your. (Wrong: You need to improve your speech but “Students need to improve their speech.”)
b. Don’t use we or our. (Wrong: We need stronger laws against “driving while under the influence” but “Kansans need …”
c. Don’t use one. (Wrong: One should not drive while using a cell phone but “Drivers should not operate a vehicle while using a cell phone.”)
d. Don’t use it is or it was. (Wrong: It’s (It is) raining hard outside but “The rain is pouring down in torrents outside.”)
e. Don’t use there is or there are. (Wrong: There are many errors in John’s paper but “John’s paper contains many errors.”)*This change eliminates ambiguous words, adds conciseness, and replaces a nonaction verb with an action verb.
f. Don’t refer to an inappropriate noun. (Wrong: Since her dad was a doctor, she was interested in this as a profession but “Since her dad was a doctor, she was interested in being a doctor as a profession.” * the word “this” only refers to “a doctor”; if you must add other words such as “being” in order to make sense, then you can’t just substitute the pronoun “this” in such a situation.
g. Don’t be unclear as to the appropriate reference. (Wrong: Bob’s picture was in yesterday’s paper, but I couldn’t find it but “Bob’s picture was in yesterday’s paper, but I couldn’t find the paper (or the picture).”
8. Use who for people and that or which for nonhumans. (Wrong: The boy that threw the chalk is Bob but “The boy who threw the chalk, which was found under the desk, is Bob.”)*the use of that versus which: Use that for an essential clause and which for a nonessential clause, the latter often used as an afterthought and/or interrupter. (The rock that hit my windshield created a big crack, which means I must replace the windshield soon.)
OTHER GRAMMAR CONCEPTS
9. Concerning subject-verb agreement, use a singular verb with a singular noun and a plural verb with a plural noun. Usually, plural verbs end with an s (but man/men) whereas plural verbs end with no s; singular verbs end with an s. (Dogs run fast but a snail moves slowly.)
a. Don’t let an object of a prepositional phrase confuse you as to the subject-verb agreement. (The colleges in our state are diversified.)
b. Compound nouns joined by a coordinating conjunction need a plural verb, even if both nouns are singular. (Jack and Jill are nice.)
c. When you use either/or, neither/nor, etc., then the noun nearest the verb determines whether the verb should be singular or plural. (Neither the coach nor his athletes were friendly; neither the cheerleaders nor the team manager was friendly.)
d. Quantities usually take a singular verb, even though they end with an s. (Two gallons of milk is a lot of milk to drink daily.)
e. With collective nouns, use a singular verb if you are dealing with a group as a whole. (The football team is playing this Friday night.) Yet, use a plural verb if you are dealing with each individual member. (The football team are taking off their helmets while the national anthem is playing.)
f. The pronouns “you” and “I” usually need a plural verb. (You like coke, I like tea, and Sam likes coffee.)
10. Concerning verb tenses: Usually don’t shift the tense of a verb (Wrong: Jon ate pizza and was drinking coke but “Jon ate pizza and drank coke.”). Also, use the correct verb tense. (Wrong: Jon did ate pizza but “Jon did eat pizza before he swam.”**use past perfect
“did eat” when an event occurred/finished before another event took place
11. As a general rule, don’t split infinitives (verbs preceded by “to”). Wrong: To kindly speak of a man is to clearly show your humanity but “To speak kindly of a man is to show clearly your humanity.” Sometimes a split infinitive avoids awkward wordings: “To fully reach your potential is important” sounds better than “To reach fully your potential is important” or “To reach your potential fully is important.”
12. Should’ve is a contraction for should have. (I should’ve known better not I should of known better.)* In formal papers, avoid using contractions.
13. Avoid using thing. (Wrong: One thing I like is pizza but “One food I like is pizza.”) The use of “thing” is unclear and nonspecific.
14. Don’t omit any words; check to see if you any words out. (Add the word “left” after the word “you.”)
15. Use an before words starting with vowel “sounds” (an ant or an honest man--notice how “honest“ begins with a silent consonant and thus the first sound is the vowel “o“). Otherwise, use a (a big bug).
16. Don’t be redundant. To be redundant and repetitive is really unneeded and unnecessary.
17. Avoid using dangling phrases by placing the phrases close to the nouns that they modify. (Wrong: While plowing the field, the deer was spotted by the farmer but “While plowing the field, the farmer spotted a deer.” ) *the change provides active voice (the subject is doing the action) and conciseness as well as eliminates a nonaction verb (was spotted) and a dangling participle (the deer was plowing?)
18. Too means “to a great extent” (too fat) or “also” (I like pizza, too). Otherwise, use to. (I went to town.)
19. Don’t use two negative words in one sentence , such as hardly/scarcely or no/never. (Wrong: I don’t like nobody here but “I don’t like anybody here” or Wrong: I hardly never get bored but “I hardly ever get bored.”)
20. Use parallel structures (repetition of sentence parts/structures). The repeated structures could include adjectives, nouns, pronouns, verbs, phrases, or a combination of these. (Wrong: I eat bread, pizza, and cake if it’s chocolate but “I eat brown bread, Godfather’s pizza, and chocolate cake.”) Also, if you drop a repeated structure that is “understood” in order to enhance conciseness, then keep this “dropped” throughout. (Not “I went to the movie, the store, and to the game” but “I went to the movie, the store, and the game.”* The article “the” could also have been dropped, along with the preposition “to.” )A note on coordinating conjunctions that work in pairs (not only/but also, neither/nor, either/or): Keep the same balance (repeated structures) on both sides of these. (Not “The dog was not only a very vicious animal but also he was very mean” but “The dog was not only very vicious but also quite mean.”)
21. Don’t finish a sentence with a preposition. (Wrong: Whom shall I give this note to? But “To whom shall I give this note?”)
22. Use “well” as an adverb and “good” as an adjective. (The debater talked well and thus left a good impression.) Use “ly” for most adverbs. (He talked quietly, not quiet.)