Grammar and Communication Help
Introduction to Grammar and Effective Communication
In this section, we will discuss grammatical constructs and grammar usage for the purpose of effective public speaking. Usage refers to the rules that govern the form of the words we use and how we string those words together in sentences. Correct grammar and usage are essential for clear and effective communication. In this section, you will review the following areas of effective grammatical constructs and basic grammar and usage:
- Parallel Structure
- Active and Passive Voice
- Introduction to Grammar Usage
- Regular, Irregular, and Helping Verbs
- Subjunctive Mood and Troublesome Verbs
- Verb Tenses and Subject-Verb Agreement
- Gerunds and Infinitives
Parallel structure is an important part of effective writing. It means that words and phrases in the sentence follow the same grammatical pattern. This makes ideas easier to follow and expresses ideas more gracefully. Notice how parallelism works in the following examples:
- Not parallel: We came, we saw, and it was conquered by us.
- (The first two clauses use the active we + past tense verb construction; the third uses a passive structure with a prepositional phrase.)
- Parallel: We came, we saw, we conquered.
- (All three clauses start with we and use a past tense verb.)
- Not parallel: Please be sure to throw out your trash, place your silverware in the bin, and your tray should go on the counter.
- (Two verbs follow the to + verb + your + noun pattern; the third puts the noun first, then the verb.)
- Parallel: Please be sure to throw out your trash, place your silverware in the bin, and put your tray on the counter.
- (All three items follow the to + verb + your + noun [+ prepositional phrase] pattern.)
Parallelism is most often needed in lists, as in the previous examples, and in the not only/but also sentence pattern.
Hermione's nervousness was exacerbated not only by the large crowd, but also by the bright lights.
(Each phrase has a preposition, an adjective, and a noun.)
Their idea was not only the most original; it was also the most practical.
(Each phrase uses the superlative form of an adjective—see the Appendix section on usage for more information on superlatives.)
Active and Passive Voices
In most cases, effective writing will use the active voice as much as possible. In an active sentence, the subject performs the action:
- James filed the papers yesterday.
- Jin Lee sang the song beautifully.
In a passive sentence, on the other hand, the subject is passive. Rather than performing the action, the subject is acted upon:
- The papers were filed by James yesterday.
- The song was sung beautifully by Jin Lee.
Active sentences are more direct, powerful, and clear. They often use fewer words and have less room for confusion. There are times when the passive voice is preferred, such as when the source of the action is not known or when the writer wants to emphasize the recipient of the action rather than the performer of the action:
- Protective gear must be worn by everyone entering this building.
As a general rule, however, sentences should be active whenever possible.
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