Grammar Study Guide (page 2)
Agreement is a very important step in constructing a coherent sentence. There are three basic agreements in a sentence: subject-verb agreement, tense agreement, and antecedent-pronoun agreement.
First, you have to know the definition of a verb:
- Verb: a word or group of words describing the action or the state of being of a subject.
- If the subject is singular, the verb is singular; if the subject is plural, the verb is plural → Mrs. Hendrickson feeds the birds every day. Or: The Hendricksons feed the birds every day.
- Subjects joined by and are plural and receive a plural verb → Jolie and Lara swim together every Thursday.
- Subjects joined by or or nor adopt the singularity or plurality of the last subject; accordingly, the verb matches it → Either that cat or those dogs have been eating my snacks!
- Each, either, neither, anybody, anyone, everybody, everyone, no one, nobody, one, somebody, and someone are singular pronouns and receive singular verbs. → Each of us is accountable for his own actions.
- Both, few, many, and several are plural pronouns and receive plural verbs. → Both of us are accountable.
- All, any, most, none, and some can be singular or plural pronouns, depending on their use. These pronouns can receive plural or singular verbs.
- Sometimes a specific member (singular) of a larger group (plural) is the subject of a sentence. In that case, the verb would be singular rather than plural. → One of the chairs is broken. (The group of chairs is actually not broken, only one of them is—so the verb is singular.) → The greatest of all the generals was George Washington. (There were many generals, but the sentence specifically refers to George Washington.)
- Do not use they, them, or their in place of the pronouns, he, him, or his. → Incorrect: Each student should check their own work. Correct: Each student should check his or her own work.
- Maintain one tense in a complete thought: past tense or present tense. →
Incorrect: In the game of hide and seek, Bobby chased Mary and tag her from behind.
Correct: In the game of hide and seek, Bobby chased Mary and tagged her from behind.
Incorrect: Dusk had just settled when I see a fawn timidly step onto the beach.
Correct: Dusk had just settled when I saw a fawn timidly step onto the beach.
Do not use of in place of have.
You cannot avoid pronouns. Pronouns substitute for nouns. Instead of saying, "Because Janie was late, Janie hopped on Janie's moped, and Janie raced to the wedding," you would say, "Because Janie was late, she hopped on her moped, and she raced to the wedding."
In this section, you will clarify ambiguous pronouns and assure pronoun-antecedent agreement, and you will also grapple with contractions. All too often, certain pronouns and contractions are confused. "The file cabinet drawer snagged on an overstuffed folder; it's now stuck just before its halfway point." It's is a contraction meaning it is, while its is a possessive pronoun meaning the drawer's halfway point. The only visual difference between the two is an apostrophe neatly inserted between the t and the s in the contraction.
Do You Know These Terms?
- Antecedent: In the last example, Janie is the specific noun that she and her replace; so Janie is the antecedent. The presence of the antecedent in a sentence is as important as which pronouns substitute for it.
- Contractions: Two words made into one by omitting letters and using an apostrophe to highlight the omission creates a contraction.
- Subjective, Objective, and Possessive Cases: Persons or things (nouns) acting on other things are subjects. Pronouns that refer to these subjects are in the subjective case (I, you, he, she, we, they, who). Persons or things acted upon (in other words, they are not performing the action) are objects. Pronouns that refer to these objects are in the objective case (me, you, him, her, us, them, whom). Subjects or objects that claim ownership of something are possessors. Pronouns that claim their possessions are in the possessive case (my, your, his, her, our, your, whose).
- Avoid Ambiguous Pronoun References. The antecedent that a pronoun refers to must be clearly stated and in close proximity to its pronoun. If more subjects than one are present, indicate which subject is the antecedent. → When Katherine and Melissa left for England, she promised to write me about all their adventures. Who is she? Katherine or Melissa?
- Agree in number with their antecedent: Singular antecedents use singular pronouns, and plural antecedents use plural pronouns.
- Compound antecedents joined by and use plural pronouns. → A horse and a donkey make a mule. The horse and the donkey are singular subjects, but together they create one plural subject.
- Compound antecedents joined by or or nor use pronouns that agree with the nearest antecedent. → Neither my one cat nor my four dogs are as difficult to maintain as my one pet fish.
- Collective nouns use singular pronouns unless it is obvious that each person or thing in the group acts individually. → The company mandated a universal naptime for all its employees. The company is a group of many people, but in the first sentence the group is acting as a single entity, so the pronoun (its) is singular.
- Persons receive the pronouns who, whom, or whose, not that or which.
- After is, are, was, or were, use the subjective case.
- Pronouns preceding or following infinitive verbs (the plain form of a verb preceded by to) take the objective case. → Billy Jean begged him to play catch, but he did not want to play ball with her at that moment. In the first clause, him is the subject; in the second clause, her is an object. Despite their difference, both take the objective case because of the infinitive to play.
Practice exercises for these concepts can be found at:
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