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15 Golden Rules of Grammar

Grammar may appear to have been invented just to stifle your creativity and make you stumble as a writer, but it does have a positive purpose. Without the rules of grammar your reader would often have a tough time understanding what you are trying to communicate. You do want the reader to be able to follow what you are writing, right? Here are some grammar basics that can help you out on that front.

1: Know the essential parts of the sentence.
A sentence is divided into two parts. The subject (WHAT the sentence is about or WHO the sentence is about) and a predicate (SAYS SOMETHING about the subject and contains a word EXPRESSING ACTION or STATE OF BEING). A simple sentence example? “Marco walks.”

2 Avoid sentence fragments
Sure, there are times when you can consciously use a sentence fragment in your writing. But more often than not you aren’t doing it on purpose, and fragments are largely frowned upon in academic writing. What is a fragment? An incomplete sentence starting with a capital and ending with a period.
Consider this example: “They tried to understand Arturo’s objections. Which were unfounded.” You can change these multiple ways. How about adding a subject to the second part of the fragment so it becomes: They were unfounded. Or you could link the sentence parts with a comma after objections. Or simply move the word unfounded up in the sentence to describe Arturo’s objections and get rid of the “Which were.”

3: Avoid comma splices
A comma splice occurs when two or more independent clauses (word groups that could stand alone as separate sentences) are joined simply by a comma.
There is typically a coordinating conjunction missing (For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So). Use a semicolon instead. Or a period.
What coordinating conjunction could be said to be missing from the following comma splice? “In 1800, a traveler needed six weeks to get from New York City to Chicago, in 1860, the trip by railroad took two days.” After Chicago you could have used a “but,” right? Why not use a semicolon now. Or a period.

4 A single, rather than a double, negative is correct.
A double negative is when two negatives within a clause are used to express one single negation. Example: “He did not keep no records.” All you need to say is, “He did not keep records.”

5 Clarify meaning by placing modifiers near the word they are meant to modify.
A modifier is a word such as almost, only, just, even, hardly, nearly or merely.
Look at how the meaning changes in these sentences depending on where the modifier is placed. “Natasha went out with just her coat on.” Or, “Natasha just went out with her coat on.” Or, “Just Natasha went out with her coat on.”

6 Revise your dangling modifiers.
A dangling modifier is a verbal phrases that does not clearly refer to other words or phrases in the sentence. The words can typically be rearranged to make meaning clear.
Example: “When only a small boy, my father took me with him to Chicago.” Wait a sec…How young was your Dad? He was a young boy when he took you to Chicago? How about: “When I was only a small boy…”

7 Verbs must agree with their subjects.
What does it mean to agree? They don’t have to share politics or point of view, but they do need to match in form. If your subject is plural, your verb is plural. If your subject is singular, your verb is singular.
Examples: “The rose in the vase is wilted.” Or, “The tulips in the garden are blooming.”

8 Unnecessary shifts are unpleasant
What is an unnecessary shift? Examples include changing from singular to plural or from past to present in the same sentence.
Examples: “Arlo believes in nuclear power while Mary believed in solar power.” (Can’t they both believe in the same tense?). Or, “If a person is going to improve, you should work harder.” (Let’s make it: “If YOU are going to improve..”)

9 Strive for parallelism in expressing ideas.
Parallelism provides clarity and rhythm as you balance sentence parts of equal structure and value.
How can you create parallelism in these examples? “I like to swim, to dance, and having fun.” Let’s try, “I like to swim, to dance, and to have fun.” Or, “He uses his computer for writing and to play games.” Let’s make it: “He uses his computer for writing and playing games.”

10 Use the apostrophe appropriately.
Apostrophes show possession, mark omissions in contractions and form certain plurals.
Examples: Possession: Anna’s car, Nona’s house, anyone’s computer, the babies’ toys, the boys’ game, Olga and Nadia’s house.
Contractions: Don’t, They’ll, Class of ’99
Certain plurals: p’s and q’s, three minus’s

11 Use quotation marks to set off dialogue and direct quotations.
Double quotation marks are used to set off direct quotations, but not indirect ones.
Examples: Direct: “People are trapped in history,” writes James Baldwin, “and history is trapped in them.”
Indirect: James Baldwin claims that people cannot escape history and that history cannot exist without people.
When quoting directly within quotations you use single quotations. Example” Andy said, “Have people ever asked me ‘Do you revise what your write?’ Yes, lots of times, and when they do, I tell them that my motto is ‘A writer’s work is never done.’”

12 Use proper punctuation to transfer meaning from spoken to written language.
Use the period to mark the end of a declarative or mildly imperative sentence.
The question mark is used after direct (but not indirect questions). “What in the world is Jenn doing?” Or, “They want to know what Bryan is doing.”
The exclamation point occurs after an emphatic interjection or other expression showing emotion such as surprise or disbelief. Yikes! Zounds!

13 A hyphen can be used to link words.
Use the hyphen to link two or more words to form a compound functioning as a single word.
Examples: “..a well-built house.” Or, “I hard-boiled the egg.” Or, “…the make-believe city of Camelot.”

14 Capitals start every sentence and directly quoted speech.
Examples: Procrastination is my specialty.
Oh, really! Do you want to become more efficient? Not right now.
He says, “Stop dieting and start exercising.”

15 Revise your run-on sentences.
Ask yourself these questions to help recognize run-ons:
Does the sentence contain two independent clauses? No. You’re OK
Are the clauses joined with a comma and a coordinating conjunction? Yes. You’re OK.
Are the clauses joined with a semicolon, colon or dash? Yes. You’re OK.
Example: “Gestures are a means of communication for everyone, they are essential for the hearing impaired.” You could fix this run-on many ways. How about putting a “but” before “they are?” Or a semicolon in place of the comma before “they are?” Or, perhaps, adding “however,” before “they are?” Each would work.
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Mild obligation and advice

Main points

* You use `should' and `ought' to talk about mild obligation.

* You use `should have' and `ought to have' to say that there was a mild obligation to do something in the past, but it was not done.

* You can also use `had better' to talk about mild obligation.

1 You can use `should' and `ought' to talk about a mild obligation to do something. When you use `should' and `ought', you are saying that the feeling of obligation is not as strong as when you use `must'.

`Should' and `ought' are very common in spoken English.

`Should' is followed by the base form of a verb, but `ought' is followed by a `to'-infinitive.

When you want to say that there is a mild obligation not to do something, you use `should not', `shouldn't, `ought not', or `oughtn't'.

2 You use `should' and `ought' in three main ways:

* when you are talking about what is a good thing to do, or the right thing to do.

We should send her a postcard.
We shouldn't spend all the money.
He ought to come more often.
You ought not to see him again.

* when you are trying to advise someone about what to do or what not to do.

You should claim your pension 3-4 months before you retire.
You shouldn't use a detergent.
You ought to get a new TV.
You oughtn't to marry him.

* when you are giving or asking for an opinion about a situation. You often use `I think', `I don't think', or `Do you think' to start the sentence.

I think that we should be paid more.
I don't think we ought to grumble.
Do you think he ought not to go?
What do you think we should do?

3 You use `should have' or `ought to have' and a past participle to say that there was a mild obligation to do something in the past, but that it was not done. For example, if you say `I should have given him the money yesterday', you mean that you had a mild obligation to give him the money yesterday, but you did not give it to him.

I should have finished my drink and gone home.
You should have realised that he was joking.
We ought to have stayed in tonight.
They ought to have taken a taxi.

You use `should not have' or `ought not to have' and a past participle to say that it was important not to do something in the past, but that it was done. For example, if you say `I should not have left the door open', you mean that it was important that you did not leave the door open, but you did leave it open.

I should not have said that.
You shouldn't have given him the money.
They ought not to have told him.
She oughtn't to have sold the ring.

4 You use `had better' followed by a base form to indicate mild obligation to do something in a particular situation. You also use `had better' when giving advice or when giving your opinion about something. The negative is `had better not'.

I think I had better show this to you now.
You'd better go tomorrow.
I'd better not look at this.

WARNING: The correct form is always `had better' (not `have better'). You do not use `had better' to talk about mild obligation in the past, even though it looks like a past form.

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Obligation and necessity

Main points

* You use `have to', `must', and `mustn't' to talk about obligation and necessity in the present and future.

* You use `had to' to talk about obligation and necessity in the past.

* You use the auxiliary `do' with `have to' to make questions.

* You use `have got to' in informal English.

1 When you want to say that someone has an obligation to do something, or that it is necessary for them to do it, you use `must' or `have to'.

You must come to the meeting tomorrow.
The plants must have plenty of sunshine.
I enjoy parties, unless I have to make a speech.
He has to travel to find work.

2 There is sometimes a difference between `must' and `have to'. When you are stating your own opinion that something is an obligation or a necessity, you normally use `must'.

I must be very careful not to upset him.
We must eat before we go.
He must stop working so hard.

When you are giving information about what someone else considers to be an obligation or a necessity, you normally use `have to'.

They have to pay the bill by Thursday.
She has to go now.

Note that you normally use `have to' for things that happen repeatedly, especially with adverbs of frequency such as `often', `always', and `regularly'.

I always have to do the shopping.
You often have to wait a long time for a bus.

3 You use `must not' or `mustn't' to say that it is important that something is not done or does not happen.
You must not talk about politics.

They mustn't find out that I came here.

Note that `must not' does not mean the same as `not have to'. If you `must not' do something, it is important that you do not do it.

If you `do not have to' do something, it is not necessary for you to do it, but you can do it if you want.

WARNING: You only use `must' for obligation and necessity in the present and the future. When you want to talk about obligation and necessity in the past, you use `had to' rather than `must'.

She had to catch the six o'clock train.
I had to wear a suit.

4 You use `do', `does', or `did' when you want to make a question using `have to' and `not have to'.

How often do you have to buy petrol for the car?
Does he have to take so long to get ready?
What did you have to do?
Don't you have to be there at one o'clock?

WARNING: You do not normally form questions like these by putting a form of `have' before the subject. For example, you do not normally say `How often have you to buy petrol?'

5 In informal English, you can use `have got to' instead of `have to'.
You've just got to make sure you tell him.

She's got to see the doctor.
Have you got to go so soon?

WARNING: You normally use `had to', not `had got to', for the past.

He had to know.
I had to lend him some money.

6 You can only use `have to', not `must', if you are using another modal, or if you want to use an `-ing' form, a past participle, or a `to'-infinitive.

They may have to be paid by cheque.
She grumbled a lot about having to stay abroad.
I would have had to go through London.
He doesn't like to have to do the same job every day.

* You use `need to' to talk about necessity.

* You use `don't have to', `don't need to', `haven't got to', or `needn't' to say that it is not necessary to do something.

* You use `needn't' to give someone permission not to do something.

* You use `need not have', `needn't have', `didn't need to', or `didn't have to' to say that it was not necessary to do something in the past.

7 You can use `need to' to talk about the necessity of doing something.
You might need to see a doctor.
A number of questions need to be asked.

8 You use `don't have to' when there is no obligation or necessity to do something.
Many women don't have to work.

You don't have to learn any new typing skills.

You can also use `don't need to', `haven't got to', or `needn't' to say that there is no obligation or necessity to do something.

You don't need to buy anything.
I haven't got to go to work today.
I can pick John up. You needn't bother.

9 You also use `needn't' when you are giving someone permission not to do something.
You needn't say anything if you don't want to.
You needn't stay any longer tonight.

10 You use `need not have' or `needn't have' and a past participle to say that someone did something which was not necessary. You are often implying that the person did not know at the time that their action was not necessary.
I needn't have waited until the game began.
Nell needn't have worked.
They needn't have worried about Reagan.

11 You use `didn't need to' to say that something was not necessary, and that it was known at the time that the action was not necessary. You do not know if the action was done, unless you are given more information.
They didn't need to talk about it.
I didn't need to worry.

12 You also use `didn't have to' to say that it was not necessary to do something.
He didn't have to speak.
Bill and I didn't have to pay.

13 You cannot use `must' to refer to the past, so when you want to say that it was important that something did not happen or was not done, you use other expressions.

You can say `It was important not to', or use phrases like `had to make sure' or `had to make certain' in a negative sentence.
It was important not to take the game too seriously.
It was necessary that no one was aware of being watched.
You had to make sure that you didn't spend too much.
We had to do our best to make certain that it wasn't out of date.

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Wants and wishes

Main points

* You use `would like' to say what you want.

* You use `wouldn't like' to say what you do not want.

* You use `would rather' or `would sooner' to say what you prefer.

* You also use `wouldn't mind' to say what you want.

1 You can say what someone wants by using `would like' followed by a `to'-infinitive or a noun group.

I would like to know the date of the next meeting.
John would like his book back.

When the subject is a pronoun, you often use the short form `-'d' instead of `would'.
I'd like more information about the work you do.
We'd like seats in the non-smoking section, please.

In spoken English, you can also use the short form `-'d' instead of `would' when the subject is a noun.
Sally'd like to go to the circus.

2 You can say what someone does not want by using `would not like' or `wouldn't like'.

I would not like to see it.
They wouldn't like that.

3 You use `would like' followed by `to have' and a past participle to say that someone wishes now that something had happened in the past, but that it did not happen.

I would like to have felt more relaxed.
She'd like to have heard me first.

You use `would have liked', followed by a `to'-infinitive or a noun group, to say that someone wanted something to happen, but it did not happen.
Perhaps he would have liked to be a teacher.
I would have liked more ice cream.

Note the difference. `Would like to have' refers to present wishes about past events. 'Would have liked' refers to past wishes about past events.

4 You can also use `would hate', `would love', or `would prefer', followed by a `to'-infinitive or a noun group.

I would hate to move to another house now.
I would prefer a cup of coffee.

Note that `would enjoy' is followed by a noun group or an `-ing' form, not by a `to'-infinitive.

I would enjoy a bath before we go.
I would enjoy seeing him again.

5 You can use `would rather' or `would sooner' followed by the base form of a verb to say that someone prefers one situation to another.

He'd rather be playing golf.
I'd sooner walk than take the bus.

6 You use `I wouldn't mind', followed by an `-ing' form or a noun group, to say that you would like to do or have something.

I wouldn't mind being the manager of a store.
I wouldn't mind a cup of tea.

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Offers and invitations

Main points

* You use `Would you like' to offer something to someone or to invite them to do something.

* You use `Can I', `Could I', and `Shall I' when you offer to help someone.

1 When you are offering something to someone, or inviting them to do something, you use `Would you like'.

Would you like a drink?
Would you like to come for a meal?

You can use `Will you' to offer something to someone you know quite well, or to give an invitation in a fairly informal way.

Will you have another biscuit, Dave?
Will you come to my party on Saturday?

2 You use `Can I' or `Could I' when you are offering to do something for someone. `Could I' is more polite.

Can I help you with the dishes?
Could I help you carry those bags?

You also use `Shall I' when you are offering to do something, especially if you are fairly sure that your offer will be accepted.
Shall I shut the door?
Shall I spell that for you?

3 You use `I can' or `I could' to make an offer when you want to say that you are able to help someone.

I have a car. I can take Daisy to the station.
I could pay some of the rent.

4 You also use `I'll' to offer to do something.

I'll give them a ring if you like.
I'll show you the hotel.

5 You use `You must' if you want to invite someone very persuasively to do something.

You must come round for a meal some time.
You must come and visit me.

6 There are other ways of making offers and giving invitations without using modals. For example, you can use `Let me' when offering to help someone.

Let me take you to your room.
Let me drive you to London.

You can make an offer or give an invitation in a more informal way by using an imperative sentence, when it is clear that you are not giving an order.
Have a cigar.
Come to my place.

You can add emphasis by putting `do' in front of the verb.
Do have a chocolate biscuit.
Do help yourselves.

You can also give an invitation by using `Why don't you' or `How about'.
Why don't you come to lunch tomorrow?
How about coming with us to the party?

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