Learning correct grammar can be a love-hate relationship. The rules of grammar have purpose, are necessary for greater understanding and effective communication; with so many rules it can be overwhelming.
Those who love grammar usually appreciate the logic of its rules; those who hate it often get frustrated by the constant exceptions to the rules.
The basic rules serve as the foundation of English grammar and include: nouns and pronouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs, synonyms, homonyms and homographs, and punctuation. However, using correct grammar goes much further. Begin by knowing the parts of speech, what the words are doing in a sentence. Know if the sentence has all of its parts and if you have sufficient sentence variety – all vitally important to effective writing.
STAY ALERT: some words (homonyms and homographs) can shift roles.
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1. Use an Active Voice
Every human language starts an active sentence with the subject – or noun. In English, the verb follows the subject. If there is an object, it comes after the verb.
2. Link Ideas with a Conjunction
Sometimes you want to link two ideas. When you do, you need a coordinating conjunction.
3. Use a Comma to Connect Two Ideas As One
When connecting two ideas as one in a single sentence, don’t forget the comma.
4. Using the Semicolon to Join Two Ideas
The semicolon is the easiest thing in the world to use! When you want to join two ideas and do not want to use a coordinating conjunction. The two ideas can be separate sentences, even when they are closely connected; they really should be one.
5. Use Perfect Tenses
Practice makes perfect with the perfect tenses.
- The present perfect can be confusing for some, but it is one of the most important rules of grammar. When people talk about things that have already happened but consider the time in which they occurred to be unfinished, they use the third form of the verb with a helping verb. The helping verb for the present perfect is the present tense conjugation of “to have.”
- When the action as well as the time is considered unfinished, the verb loads up on third form helping verbs (“to be” and “to have”) and changes to the progressive form.
- When two things happen in the past, we have to mark which one happened first. The one that happened first changes to third form and gets the helping verb, “had.”
- When we talk about the past, we have to add an “-ed” to regular verbs to make the second form. Irregular verbs are tricky and have their own sets of rules. Drink turns to “drank”; most of the time “-ed” will do.
- Use the Simple Present Tense for Habitual Actions
The simple present is the tense you use for any habitual action. The things you always do or do every Tuesday are described with the simple present, which just means you pick the first form of any verb.
- Use the Present Progressive Tense for Current Action
The present progressive tense is for anything that is happening right now. All of the progressive tenses are easy to spot because their verbs always end with “-ing”.
Confusing Words in Writing:
- a vs an: the rule is that “a” is placed before consonant-sounding words and “an” before vowel-sounding words.
- a lot vs alot vs allot: ‘a lot’ is either an adverb or pronoun, “allot” is a verb, and “alot” is incorrect.
- affect vs effect: “affect” is usually used as a verb, while “effect” is usually a noun.
- allude vs elude: “allude” means to suggest or hint at something, while “elude” means to evade or escape.
- alright vs all right: “all right” is a commonly used phrase for okay, while “alright” is incorrect.
- analogy vs metaphor vs simile: “metaphor” is something, a “simile” is like something, and “analogy” explains how one thing being like another helps explain them both.
- bi-annual vs biennial: “bi-annual” means twice a year; biennial means once every two years.
- starting a sentence with ‘because’: there’s no rule against it, and totally acceptable to begin a sentence with ‘because’.
- dived vs dove: “dived” into a pool is correct, dove is a bird and incorrect for diving
- empathy vs sympathy vs apathy: “empathy” means you can understand what another feels; “sympathy” means you can share sadness for another’s misfortune; and “apathy” means you don’t care one way or the other.
- ensure vs ensure: some style guides make these words interchangeable, “insure” refers specifically to financial insurance policies and “ensure” to mean “to make certain.”
- everyday vs every day: “everyday” is an adjective; “every day” is a phrase that means “each day.”
- fable vs parable vs allegory: fables and parables are actually both allegories with fables usually featuring animal characters and parables featuring humans.
- I could care less or I couldn’t care less: “I couldn’t care less” means you don’t care; “I could care less” means you do care.
- imminent vs eminent vs immanent: “imminent” means something’s about to happen; “eminent” describes a person or thing that is famous and/or respected; and “immanent” means inherent, intrinsic, or spread throughout.
- its vs it’s: “it’s” is a contraction of “it” and “is,” while “its” is an adjective or possessive pronoun.
- lay vs lie vs laid: In the past tense, “lay” becomes “laid” and “lie” becomes “lay”.
- metaphor vs personification: “metaphor” is a word or phrase that takes on the meaning of something else (“I am an island”); “personification” is a figure of speech that attributes human behavior to things that are not alive (“the stars winked”).
- peak vs peek vs pique: “peek” means to take a look; “peak” is related to the highest point (like a mountain peak); and “pique” is a French word meaning “to stimulate” (something piqued my interest).
- snuck vs sneaked: “sneaked” is the proper word to use, “snuck” is incorrect
- when to spell out numbers: a sound rule of thumb is to spell out numbers under 10 (zero through nine) and use numeric form when more than 10.
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