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Grammar 101: A Quick Guide (page 2)

Grammar 101: A Quick Guide

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Updated on Feb 14, 2009

Test it out: The cage belonging to it. It is cage. Which phrase makes sense? The first. We know, then, the dog jumped out of its cage.

Verbs: Where the Action Is

Burckmyer’s trusty tips on verbs:

  • Don’t switch tenses. If you’re writing in the past tense (“Jack went outside, climbed the tree, and smelled dinner through the kitchen window”), avoid shifting to the present tense (“He jumps onto the grass and runs inside”).
  • Never say would of or should of – it’s would have and should have.
  • Practice the active voice:

Passive: A rock was thrown by Dale into the river.

Active: Dale threw a rock into the river.

  • Don’t make nouns out of verbs: Instead of  "to add strength," use "strengthen." Change "to have a preference" to "prefer" and "to give a performance" to "perform."

Adjectives and Adverbs: Pump Up Your Prose

An adjective, a word that modifies a noun or pronoun, “dresses up” a description. “The talking turquoise parrot flew away” offers a better visual than “the parrot flew away.”

Adverbs, often ending in –ly, describe how, where, why, and to what degree: Ann accepted the gift thankfully. Graham read the book immediately. But Burckmyer warns of possible blunders:

  • Don’t modify strong adjectives: Some don’t need a modifier, such as an adverb like very. Examples include powerful, massive, unique, unbelievable, and critical.
  • Place an adjective as close as possible to the word it describes:

No: Silly or brilliant, I thought we needed to try his suggestion.

Yes: I thought we needed to try his suggestion, silly or brilliant.

  • Position an adverb wisely:

Mark only shoots hoops on Sundays. (Meaning: Mark throws around a basketball all day on Sundays.)

Mark shoots hoops on Sundays only. (Meaning: Sunday is the only day Mark plays basketball, but he likely does other activities that day, too.)

Conjunctions and Prepositions: The Glue of a Sentence

Some are just two letters long, but conjunctions and prepositions are vital to a sentence. Common conjunctions are and, but, so, though, for, or, which, yet, and although. See how they join two sentences, preceded by commas:

  • My mother watches the sitcom 30 Rock, although she prefers dramas.
  • I forgot my wallet, so Jean paid for my sandwich.

A run-on, a frequent mistake in student writing, results from not using a conjunction when it’s needed:

No: I flew east for the Inauguration, it was incredible.

Insert and after the comma to connect the two independent sentences, or combine them by replacing it with which:

Yes: I flew east for the Inauguration, and it was incredible.

Also Yes: I flew east for the Inauguration, which was incredible.

A preposition – such as at, by, or near – introduces a prepositional phrase, such as at the carnival, by the playground, and near the laptop. To avoid confusion when using a prepositional phrase, Burckmyer advises:

  • Place a prepositional phrase carefully, or rewrite if needed:

No: Whom did I see this morning who died in the newspaper? (Is it possible for a person to die within pages of newsprint?)

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