Grammar Mechanics Study Guide: Pre-Ged Language Arts, Writing (page 5)
The practice quiz for this study guide can be found at:
In this article, you will learn to recognize errors in mechanics and correct errors in capitalization, punctuation, and spelling—essential skills for succeeding on the GED exam.
Understanding the mechanics of writing is an integral part of writing well. Using proper capitalization, punctuation, and spelling helps you to create a quality piece of work. On the GED, questions about mechanics comprise about 25 percent of the test. You will be expected to recognize errors in a passage and select the correct way to revise sentences. The skills that will be tested are all things that you likely have learned in the past; however, going over these basic rules of writing will ensure that they are fresh in your mind.
You already know some of the basics: every sentence begins with a capital letter, and the pronoun I is always capitalized. You probably capitalize these letters every day without even thinking about it. You also know to capitalize the first letter in your name. Let's review some of the other words that begin with a capital letter.
Proper names and initials are always capitalized, as well as titles if they refer to a specific person or piece of work. If a title or relationship simply refers to occupations or families in general, they are not capitalized. Consider the following examples:
- On Saturday, Aunt Judy took me to see Dr. Elena K. Diaz.
- On Saturday, my aunt took me to the doctor.
In the first sentence, Aunt is part of someone's name, so it is capitalized. The title Dr. also refers to a specific person. In the second sentence, aunt refers to a relationship in general and is not part of a name, so it is not capitalized. The word doctor is not capitalized because it refers to an occupation, and is not part of someone's name. Some titles that would be capitalized when used to name specific individuals include:
The names of specific groups, organizations, or teams are usually capitalized, as follows:
- We made a donation to the Salvation Army.
- After we watched the Tampa Bay Rays play the Toronto Blue Jays, we ate dinner at the Italian-American club.
- The teams played across the street from my dad's business.
Notice that in the first two sentences, the group/team names are capitalized. If you were to write a sentence about animals and discuss rays or blue jays, these words would not be capitalized. However, when they are part of a team's name, they begin with a capital letter. Notice that in the third sentence, team and business are not capitalized since they are not proper nouns.
Notice that in the previous sentences, the names of cities are capitalized. The names of specific places, including cities, states, countries, streets, schools, and landmarks, begin with a capital letter. Take a look at the following sentences:
- When we flew from New York City to Frankfurt, Germany, we saw the Statue of Liberty standing in New York Harbor.
- Mountain View Middle School is located at the corner of Kennedy Boulevard and Dogwood Street in Knoxville, Tennessee.
- Her street is next to a lake on the other side of our city.
Since the names of countries are always capitalized, so are words which are derived from these names. When north, south, east, and west are used as locations, they are capitalized. However, when they are used as directions, they do not begin with a capital letter. Consider the following examples:
- Logan wanted to learn to speak Chinese for his trip to the East.
- Jaleesa takes Irish dance lessons on the east side of town.
Let's practice what we've reviewed so far about capitalization. Choose the best answer to the following question.
- Aimee's dad is a doctor, and was asked by Judge Rubenstein to present his research to members of the U.S. house of Representatives.
- Which correction should be made to the sentence?
- change dad to Dad
- change doctor to Doctor
- change Judge to judge
- change house to House
- change Representatives to representatives
The U.S. House of Representatives is a specific group and should be capitalized. Since dad and doctor are not used as part of someone's name, they are not capitalized. Since Judge is used as part of someone's name, it begins with a capital letter. Therefore, choice d is correct.
Not only should names of people and places be capitalized, but also the titles of books, magazines, songs, plays, and television shows. Keep in mind that short prepositions or articles such as the, an, and of are not capitalized unless they are the first word of the title. Take a look at the following sentences:
- Our family subscribes to National Geographic and the New York Times.
- Judy Garland sang "Over the Rainbow" in The Wizard of Oz.
In the first sentence, the is not part of the newspaper's name, so it is not capitalized. In the second sentence, the is capitalized when it is part of the movie's title.
The names of months, days, holidays, and historic events are also capitalized, but the names of seasons are not, unless they are part of a title. Let's review a few examples:
The fall weather in November always makes Thanksgiving feel so cozy.
Will classes be cancelled for Memorial Day during the Spring 2010 semester?
On Tuesday, I will give a report on the causes of the Revolutionary War.
About the same time you learned to begin a sentence with a capital letter, you also learned to end a sentence with a period, a question with a question mark, and an exclamation with an exclamation point. However, the correct usage of some other forms of punctuation is not always as clear. Commas often cause the most confusion for writers, so we will review their use in this section. We will also quickly review a few others, including semicolons, apostrophes, and quotation marks.
Each time you write the date, whether on an assignment or on a check, you use a comma to separate the day and the year, such as January 1, 2015. In a sentence, a comma is used to set off the year if the day is included. However, if only the month and year are stated, a comma is not used. Look at the following sentences:
We moved into our house in August 2001, and my sister was born on February 9, 2002, at West Coast Hospital.
Commas are also necessary to separate items in a series. If only two items are joined by the conjunction and, a comma is not needed. Commas are also used to separate adjectives that are listed together if each adjective is able to independently describe the noun. Look at the following examples:
We had a quiz in English, a test in math, and a paper due in history.
The math test covered addition and subtraction of fractions.
It has been a long, stressful day.
Commas are also used to set off phrases. Use a comma after an introductory phrase at the beginning of a sentence, or at the beginning and end of a phrase that interrupts the main message of a sentence with nonessential information. To determine whether information is essential or not, try reading the sentence without it. If the meaning of the sentence does not change without this information, it is not essential. Consider the following examples:
By the way, there is going to be a sale at the mall this weekend.
After the movie ended, Mr. Moffitt took his family for a walk downtown.
Our drama teacher, who is new to the school this year, is planning auditions for the spring play.
A comma is also used to introduce a quotation or to separate a quote from the speaker. Notice that when the speaker is named after the quotation, the comma is placed inside the quotation marks, as follows:
Julio said, "The movie, a documentary on the life of penguins, lasted nearly two hours."
"I've wanted to see that movie since it was released," replied Kailyn.
An appositive is a noun, pronoun, or modifying phrase which explains or identifies the noun or pronoun beside it in a sentence. If the noun being explained is too general without the appositive, a comma is not used because the information is essential to the meaning of the sentence. However, if the meaning of the sentence is clear without the appositive, commas are needed before and after the appositive. Consider the following examples:
A top expert in his field, Professor Johansen is often asked to speak at national conferences.
Nicholas the captain of the chess team is not the same person as Nicholas the captain of the wrestling team.
A compound sentence includes two independent clauses which are joined by a conjunction, such as and, but, or, nor, for, or yet. In a compound sentence, a comma is used between the first independent clause and the conjunction. However, a comma is not used between compound predicates. Consider the following:
Springfield is the capital of Illinois, and it is the home of Abraham Lincoln.
The frozen surface of the lake began to thaw and became dangerous for ice skaters.
The first example is a compound sentence because it contains two independent clauses. The second example has a compound predicate, or two verbs, but is not a compound sentence since it does not contain two independent clauses.
Sometimes, two independent clauses are joined by a conjunctive adverb, such as however or on the other hand. When this happens, a semicolon or a period is used to separate the clauses, not a comma. A conjunctive adverb is followed by a comma when it begins an independent clause, and it is set off by commas on either side when used in the middle of a sentence. Consider the following:
My grandfather's car won't start this morning; however, it is still under warranty.
My dad's car, on the other hand, no longer has a warranty.
In order to use commas effectively, it is important to recognize the following conjunctive adverbs:
Some complex sentences include a dependent clause and an independent clause. When the dependent clause comes first, it is followed by a comma. When the independent clause comes first, a comma is not needed. Consider the following:
Because it was so hot outside, Adrienne only stayed at the beach for a short time.
Adrienne only stayed at the beach for a short time because it was so hot outside.
Let's put all of this information about commas into practice. Use what you've learned to answer the following question.
"Well," explained Morgan, "we need to slice the fruit, pour the punch into the punchbowl, and bake the stuffed mushrooms. The guests who are mostly his coworkers, will arrive by 7:00."
Which correction should be made to the sentence?
- remove the comma after Morgan
- remove the comma after fruit
- insert a comma after punch
- insert a comma after guests
- remove the comma after coworkers
The phrase who are mostly his coworkers is not essential because the meaning of the sentence can be understood without it. Therefore, it should be placed apart by commas on both ends.
Rather than using a comma and coordinating conjunction, a semicolon can be used to link two related independent clauses. As discussed in the section about commas, semicolons also link clauses that are connected by a conjunctive adverb. Consider the following:
The Countryside High School football team won Friday night's game; they remain undefeated.
The president is elected to a term of four years in office; similarly, governors also serve a four-year term.
As you know, commas are used to separate items in a series. However, if the elements of the series already contain commas, semicolons are used to separate the elements. Consider the following:
Judge Alvarez has presided over cases in Sacramento, California; Rockford, Illinois; and Lexington, Kentucky.
Apostrophes are used to form possessive nouns. If the noun is singular, the apostrophe precedes the s, even if the singular noun already ends in s. If the noun is plural and already ends with s, the apostrophe is placed after the s.
It was Nadia's idea to donate her brother's old toys to the children's home.
The twins' birthday was last week, and everyone went to Carlos's house for the party.
Apostrophes are not used with possessive pronouns such as hers, theirs, or its. These words already indicate possession, so an apostrophe and s are not necessary. Consider the following examples:
Marisol pointed out that the flowers in the vase are hers.
The dog wagged its tail.
An apostrophe is also used to show the plurals of letters, as follows:
There are four i's in Mississippi.
One of the most common uses of apostrophes is to take the place of the missing letters in contractions. These words will be discussed later in this chapter.
Quotation marks are used at the beginning and end of direct quotes; these are the exact words that someone has spoken or written. Take a look at the following examples:
Miss Jordan said, "Your book reports are due on Friday."
According to the colonel, "There were several causes of this particular skirmish."
Quotation marks are also used to enclose the titles of shorter works such as:
Now that you've reviewed correct punctuation usage, try answering the following question.
Isabella's teacher said, "The students' will share their research papers with the class on Monday; the boys will share theirs first."
Which correction should be made to the sentence?
- remove the apostrophe in Isabella's
- remove the comma after said
- remove the apostrophe after students'
- insert an apostrophe after boys
- insert an apostrophe in theirs
In this sentence, students is plural, but not possessive, so an apostrophe is not needed.
On the GED, spelling questions will be limited to testing what you know about possessives, contractions, and homonyms. Let's go over the things you need to know to answer spelling questions on the test successfully.
As discussed earlier in the chapter, possessives show ownership. To form a possessive, add an apostrophe and an s to the end of a singular or plural noun that does not already end in s. If a plural noun ends in s, place the apostrophe at the end of the word. This shows that the object belongs to more than one person. Take a look at the following examples:
Keegan's dog is staying at Charles's house this weekend.
Our family's fishing cabin is nearly 50 years old.
That girl's book is on the desk.
The girls' locker room is on the east side of the gymnasium.
Look at the third and fourth sentences above. These show that the book belongs to one girl; however, the locker room belongs to more than one girl.
Possessive pronouns show ownership and do not need an apostrophe and s at the end. Possessive pronouns include:
Contractions are formed when two words are combined, and one or more of the letters are then replaced by an apostrophe. For example, the contraction I'll combines the words I and will. Notice that the apostrophe takes the place of the missing letters. While contractions are very commonly used, they are not often used in academic or formal writing. Take a look at the following examples:
We haven't been to the library yet.
I'm sure the concert starts at 8:00 p.m.
A few common contractions are formed as follows:
- are not – aren't
- ashe is – she's
- can not – can't
- they are – they'ren
- do not – don't
- we are – we'ren
- I am – I'm
- we will – we'lln
- it is – it's
- will not – won'tn
- have not – haven't
- you are – you'ren
- he will – he'll
- she is – she's
Be careful to always include the apostrophe in a contraction. Notice that without the apostrophe, several of these contractions would actually be completely different words. Without the apostrophe, we'll would be well, and it's would be the possessive pronoun its.
Homonyms are words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings. For example, knew and new are homonyms. They sound identical but are not spelled the same and do not mean the same thing. Here are some examples of homonyms in action:
We knew that the book reports were due on Thursday.
Did you get new shoes?
Below is a list of common homonyms and their meanings. Carefully review any that you are unfamiliar with. Remember, not only will you have to use homonyms correctly in your own writing, you will also have to recognize whether these words are used properly in a passage provided to you.
- accept: to take something that is offered; come to terms with / except: excluding
- affect: act upon / effect: result
- brake: a device used for slowing or stopping / break: to separate into pieces or damage; a period of rest
- forth: onward / fourth: one of four parts; number four in a series
- hear: to listen to something / here: in this place
- peace: freedom from war; calm and quiet / piece: part taken from a whole
- principal: school administrator; most important; money invested / principle: basic assumption or standard
- right: correct; opposite of left; entitlement or freedom / rite: ceremonial act / write: put words or characters on paper
- their: belonging to them / there: in that place / they're: contraction for they are
- through: finished; to move from one side to the other / threw: past tense of throw
- to: indicates direction or recipient / too: also / two: number between one and three
- weak: not strong / week: seven days
- wear: to put on / where: in which location
- weather: state of the atmosphere / whether: introduces alternatives
- wood: substance of trees / would: helping verb
The following are some additional homonyms to look out for. Be sure to know the correct meanings and spellings of the words in each pair.
Let's use some of what you've reviewed about spelling to answer the following question.
It's always good to hear the children's choir when they begin there song.
Which correction should be made to the sentence?
- replace It's with Its
- replace hear with here
- replace children's with childrens'
- replace when with win
- replace there with their
There indicates direction, such as in the phrase go over there. Their is a possessive pronoun which means that something belongs to them. In this sentence, the song belongs to the children.
The practice quiz for this study guide can be found at: