Grammar Rules Rule #1 Abbreviations

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Grammar Rules

Rule #1 Abbreviations
1A. Most abbreviations are followed by a period. Examples: Mr., Mrs.
1B. If, however, all the letters of the abbreviation are capitals, a period is not used. These often are acronyms,

words formed from the initial letters of a name. Examples: NATO, USSR, USA

Usually abbreviations begin with a capital letter. Abbreviations of units of measure, however, do not

begin with capital letters. They also do not require periods. The only exception is the abbreviation for

inch. Examples: mph, hp, l, km, and so on. Exception: in.
Common abbreviations: Mr., Mrs., Ms., Dr., St., Rd., Ave., Co., Inc., days of the week, months of the year,

A.M., P.M., O.K., etc.

State abbreviations: The United States Postal Service uses special abbreviations for each state. These are

always two letters, both capitalized, without any periods. The postal code of twenty-nine states is the

first two letters of the state. If the state has two words, the first letter of each word is used.
States that follow this rule: AL, AR, CA, CO, DE, FL, ID, IL, IN, MA, MI, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NY, NC, ND, OH,

OK, OR, RI, SC, SD, UT, WA, WV, WI, and WY

Exceptions: Alaska (AK), Arizona (AZ), Connecticut (CT), Georgia (GA), Hawaii (HI), Iowa (IA), Kansas

(KS), Kentucky (KY), Louisiana (LA), Maine (ME), Maryland (MD), Minnesota (MN), Mississippi (MS),

Missouri (MO), Montana (MT), Nevada (NV), Pennsylvania (PA), Tennessee (TN), Texas (TX),

Vermont (VT), and Virginia (VA).

Rule #2 Accept/Except

2a 1. Accept is a verb that means “to receive willingly.” Example: The fat Rottweiler surely will accept the bone.

3b 2. Except is a preposition that means “excluding” or “other than.” It also can be used as a verb that means “to leave out” or “exclude.”


The fat Rottweiler eats everything except onions. (preposition)

The fire department will except men over seventy-two inches from that kind of duty. (verb)
Rule #3 Active vs. Passive Verb Voices

3a 1. Active: In the active voice, the subject does the action. Active voice is always better for more

effective writing.

Example: The owner pets the happy dog on the head.
3b 2. Passive: In the passive voice, the subject receives the action. Encourage students to try to avoid

passive voice if at all possible. It weakens writing and often muddies the meaning in a sentence.

Example: The happy dog was petted on the head by the owner.
Rule #4 Adjective

An adjective describes a noun; it gives information about a noun.

Examples: ugly, pretty, big, little, this, four

An adjective answers one of the following three questions about a noun:

1) Which one?

2) What kind?

3) How many?

The amazing English teacher taught two grade levels. (Which teacher?)

The English teacher; What kind of teacher?

An amazing teacher; How many grade levels? Two grade levels.)
Rule #5 Adjective Clauses

An adjective clause is any subordinate clause (a complete sentence made into an incomplete sentence

by the addition of a subordinating conjunction) that acts as an adjective in a sentence.

The house where she lives is filled with animals. (“She lives.” would be a complete sentence without the addition of “where.” “Where she lives” modifies the noun “house.”)

Adjective clauses also can begin with a relative pronoun: who, whom, whose, which, that, where, or when.


The oven which was small and dirty could not be used.

This is the school where my child is a student.

The school that my child attends is a good one.

The teacher who loves to laugh has more fun.

Monday is the day when we always write in our journals.

The teacher whom we admire is retiring.

Jane Kiester, whose dogs are obese, teaches middle school.

(See Subordinate Clauses and Subordinating Conjunctions.)
Rule #6 Adverb

An adverb is any word, phrase, or clause that tells more about a verb;

6a many of the single-word adverbs end in “ly.”

6b An adverb also tells to what extent an adjective or another adverb is true (very, extremely, and so on).

This is called an intensifier.

Examples: a very hungry dog, an extremely sleepy cat
An adverb answers one of the following six questions about a verb, an adjective, or another adverb: where,

when, why, how, how often, or to what extent it happened.


Where? The students learned grammar at home. (phrase)

When? Yesterday the teacher was absent.

How? The students quickly intimidated the substitute.

How often? The student yawned four times during class. (phrase)

To what extent? The teacher was very angry. (modifies the adjective “angry”)

Why? She yelled because she was angry. (clause)

(See Intensifiers.)

Rule 7 Adverb Clauses

In the “olden days,” an adverb clause was called an adverbial clause.

7a An adverb (or adverbial) clause is a subordinate clause that cannot stand on its own in a sentence. It acts as an adverb in a sentence. Adverb clauses begin with a subordinating conjunction (see list under Subordinating Conjunctions).


Whenever the teacher taught grammar, the students groaned.

(When did the students groan? “Whenever the teacher . . .”)

The students went home when the last bell rang.

(When did the students go home? “When the last bell rang.”)

(See Subordinate Clauses.)
Rule 8 Affect/Effect

8a 1. Affect is a verb that means “to influence.” It cannot be used as a noun.

Example: The eating habits of the fat Rottweiler will affect her girth.
8b 2. Effect can be a noun or a verb. As a noun it means “the result of an action.” As a verb it means “to

cause to happen.” Examples: The effect of overeating is obvious in the width of the dog’s belly. (noun)

The fat dog’s owner will effect a new rule this week — no more scraps. (verb)
Rule 9 Agreement

9a 1. Antecedent and pronoun: It is important that everything agrees in a sentence. If the subject is

singular, then the pronoun used later in the sentence also must be singular. If the subject is plural, the pronoun should be plural.

Example of incorrect agreement: Everyone ate their pizza.

(The indefinite pronoun “everyone” is singular, and thus the possessive pronoun which refers to it also must be singular.)

Examples of correct agreement:

Everyone ate his or her pizza.

Each finished his or her lunch.

The teachers ate their lunch.

The teacher ate his lunch.
9b 2. Subject and verb: If the subject is singular, then the verb must also be singular. If the subject is plural, then the verb must be plural.


The dog bays at the full moon. (singular)

The dogs bay at the full moon. (plural)

9c 3. Verbs in a story: When writing a story an author must keep all the verbs in the same tense. If the

story starts in the present tense, it must continue in the present tense (unless, of course, there is a

flashback or a reference to something general). If a story begins in the past, it must remain in the past,

and so on.

Rule 10 Among and Between

“Among” and “between” are two prepositions that students often confuse, but they cease to be a problem

very quickly after you point out the difference.
10 a 1. Between refers to two people, things, or groups.

Example: The cat slept between the two huge dogs.
10 b 2. Among refers to more than two people, things, or groups.

Example: The foolish cat slept among the four dogs.
Rule 11 Antecedents

These are the words that come before a given word in a sentence, as in “antecedent/pronoun agreement,” and

are referred to by the given word. Thus, they must agree with each other. If one is singular, the other also must

be singular, etc.

Example: The pack (antecedent) of dogs forsook its (pronoun) mistress. (“Pack” is singular and thus must

be followed by a singular pronoun.)

(See Collective Nouns.)
Rule 12 Apostrophes
12a 1. Contractions always contain apostrophes. A contraction comprises two words that are combined

into one by omitting one or more letters. (See Contractions for more information and examples.)

Common contractions: I’m, I’ve, can’t, don’t, haven’t, isn’t, it’s, let’s, they’re, we’re, we’ve, won’t, you’re

12b 2. Possessive nouns always contain apostrophes. A possessive noun is a noun that shows ownership of


Singular: Always add ’s to the noun.


The dog’s growl is ferocious. (The growl belongs to the dog.)

The glass’s rim is dirty. (The rim belongs to the glass.)
Plural: Add after the noun if the noun ends in “s.” Add ’s to the noun if the plural does not end in “s.”

The dogs’ growls are ferocious. (Several dogs “own” their growls.)

The children’s laughter fills the room. (Several children “own” the laughter.
12c 3. Plurals of letters: Form the plural of single letters by adding “s.”
Examples: You will find more “Es” in words than any other letter. She received all “As” on her report card.
Rule 13 Appositive

An appositive is a noun or a noun phrase that means the same thing as the noun that comes before it.

13A 1. Appositives are set off by commas if they occur in the middle or end of a sentence and are not

necessary to the meaning of the sentence.

Examples: Dino, the Doberman with the floppy ears, loves to eat bananas.

The dog who craves bananas is Dino, the Doberman with the floppy ears.

13B 2. Appositives are set off by commas if the appositive is extra information and is not needed to complete

the meaning of the sentence.


Jane Kiester, an English teacher at Westwood, loves dogs.

Always by her side are her two dogs, a wimpy Rottweiler and an oversized Doberman.
13C 3. Appositives are not set off by commas if the information given is needed to identify the noun.

Example: Mrs. Kiester’s son John loves to tease his mother. (There are no commas to set off this appositive because

Mrs. Kiester has more than one son. The name is necessary to determine to which son the sentence refers. Technically, this is called a restrictive modifier. If Mrs. Kiester has only one son, the comma is needed because the information is not necessary. This is called a non-restrictive modifier.)

(See Modifiers and Misplaced Modifiers for more information and examples.)

Rule 14 Articles

These are simply the three most commonly used adjectives. They are also called noun markers since they

signal the arrival of a noun.
List of articles: a, an, the

These three adjectives answer the question “which one?” (See Noun Markers.)

14A 1. Use “a” before a word that begins with a consonant.

Example: There is a lazy dog and a sleepy cat on the floor.
14B 2. Use “an” before a word that begins with a vowel.

Example: An obnoxious black and white cat howled until someone let him out the door.

An exception to this rule is the letter “h.”

14C 3. Use “a” before a word that begins with a pronounced, breathy “h.”

Example: She had a healthy baby.
14D 4. Use “an” before a word that begins with an unpronounced “h.”

Example: They were an hour away from home.

Rule 15 Bad and Badly
These words often cause confusion. “Bad” is the adjective and should modify a noun. “Badly” is the

adverb and should tell about a verb.

Examples: The bad dog begged for forgiveness. (adjective tells what kind of dog)

The poor dog badly wanted a bone. (adverb tells to what extent it wanted the bone)

When a sense verb such as “feel” functions as a verb of being, it is often followed by a predicate adjective.

Thus, one would use the adjective form after such a verb.

Example: I feel bad. (Not “I feel badly,” since one would not say “I am badly.”
Rule 16 Because and Since

If you never put a comma before “because” and “since,” you will be right ninety-eight percent of the

time. While there are some exceptions to this, they are rare. The words “because” and “since” begin adverb

clauses. An adverb clause that begins a sentence needs a comma, but an adverb clause that follows the

independent clause usually does not need a comma. Saying the sentence aloud is a good test.

About the only exceptions to this would be with a quotation or in a series, in the case of “since” acting as a coordinating conjunction in a compound sentence, or in one of the few subordinate clauses that takes a comma for clarity.

Because I like books about cats, I read The Literary Cat. (adverb clause at the beginning of the sentence)
I read The Literary Cat because I like books about cats. (adverb clause that follows the independent clause)
Between (See Among and Between)
Rule 17 Bibliographical Forms
These do vary. Use the Modern Language Association (MLA) form, and you will be safe. Most traditional grammar books have a large list explaining how to write any reference you may need in correct bibliographical form. Just make sure that you insist that students list the books, articles, etc. in their bibliographies in alphabetical order.
Rule 18 Business Letters (Correct Format)

Sender’s address

Sender’s city, state zip


Receiver’s name

Receiver’s address

Receiver’s city, state zip
Dear Sir or Madam:
The bulk of the letter should be written in block style, skipping lines between paragraphs.
Sincerely yours,

Sign name here in cursive.

Print or type name here.
Rule 19 Capitalization

Capitalize the following:

19A 1. Abbreviations (See Abbreviations for the exceptions.)

19B 2. Beginnings of sentences

19C 3. First word in the greeting and closing of a letter

19D 4. I

19E 5. Names of months, days, and holidays

19F 6. Proper nouns and proper adjectives

19G 7. Titles of long works (see Titles)

– Capitalize first and last words.

– Capitalize all other words in title except prepositions, noun markers (a, an, the), and short conjunctions.

Rule 20 Chronological Order

In writing stories and paragraphs, it is important to narrate the action in a logical order. Chronological order maintains a sequence of time.

Rule 21 Clauses and Phrases
21A 1. Phrase: Simply stated, a phrase is a group of words that serves as one part of speech (like a noun or an

adjective or an adverb). It lacks a subject or a verb or both. Prepositional phrases are the most common.

These are phrases that begin with a preposition and end with a noun.

Examples: in the dog house, to the store, filled with anger, rubbing his ears
21B 2. Clause: A clause, on the other hand, is a group of words that contains a subject and a verb. With the

removal of a subordinating conjunction that begins it, it could stand on its own as a sentence.

Example: because the dog is lazy (The subject is the word “dog.” The verb is the word “is.”)

(See Prepositional Phrases.)

Rule 22 Collective Nouns

Collective nouns are nouns that take a group of something (many) and make that group one thing.

Common collective nouns: crew, class, orchestra, chorus, committee, family, flock, herd, fleet, jury, group,

team, majority.

22A 1. Most collective nouns are singular and therefore require the singular form of the verb. Also, any

pronoun that refers to such a collective noun must be singular.

Examples: A flock of big birds flies over her house every autumn. (“Fly” would be the plural form of the verb.)

The group applauded its leader. “Its” is the singular pronoun; “their” is the plural pronoun and thus is

incorrect. This is one of the most common mistakes that people make in speech and in writing.

Example: The girl’s family took its vacation in June.
22B 2. A few collective nouns are plural. Example: The people took their dogs to the veterinarian.
Rule 23 Colons

23A 1. Use a colon before a list but never after a verb or a preposition.

Example: It is important to remember to bring the following to class: pencil, paper, and a big grin.
23B 2. Use after the greeting in a business letter.

Examples: Dear Sir or Madam: To Whom It May Concern:
23C 3. Use a colon to separate the hour from the minute in telling time.

Examples: 5:45 P.M., 6:24 A.M.
23D 4. If the wording that follows a colon forms a complete sentence, do not capitalize the first letter of the


Example: The question is as follows: do Dobermans like to eat broccoli?
Rule 24 Combining Sentences for Clearer, More Concise Writing
Combine two related sentences into one by making a compound subject and/or a compound verb or by

adding an appositive. There are other ways to combine sentences. These are the most common.


Change “The teacher hated spelling. Her students hated spelling.” to “The teacher and her

students hated spelling.” (compound subject)
Change “The Rottweiler loved to sleep. She liked to lick her owner’s face in the morning.” to “The Rottweiler

loved to sleep and liked to lick her owner’s face in the morning.” (compound verb)

Change “The Doberman had floppy ears. He also had a sweet disposition.” to “The Doberman, who had

floppy ears, had a sweet disposition.” (adding an adjective clause)

(See Appositive, Compound Sentences, and Compound Subjects and Compound Predicates.)

Rule 25 Comma Rules

25A 1. Use commas to separate items in a series. There are many different kinds of series, one for each part of speech except conjunctions.


The teacher entered the class, wrote on the board, and sat down at her desk. (verb series)

The teacher ate apples, bananas, and cherries. (noun series)

The nice, kind, and beautiful teacher assigned no homework for the weekend. (adjective series)

The teacher sat down quickly, quietly, and with great dignity. (adverb series)

He went to the store, down the aisle, and into the vegetable section. (prepositional phrase series)

She sat with him, her, and them. (series of pronouns)

Oh boy, wow, and whoopee, the teacher had a great class! (series of interjections)
You also can have a series of predicate nouns and adjectives. (These are just nouns and adjectives that are

located after the predicate.)

25B 2. Use commas between two or more adjectives that precede a noun unless one of the adjectives

expresses a single idea with the noun (jet plane) or the last adjective tells color (green, etc.) or age (old,

Comma needed: The cute, fuzzy dog barked at everyone.

Comma omitted: The cute brown dog barked at everyone. (color adjective)

The noisy jet plane flew overhead. (“Jet plane” is one idea. The adjective is really part of the

The ugly young dog wolfed down its food. (age adjective).
The general “rule of thumb” is to use a comma if it sounds right to use the word “and” instead of a comma.

Examples: The old oaken bucket was covered with wet green moss.

(No commas needed as it would be awkward to say “The old and oaken bucket was covered with wet and green moss.”)

The floppy-eared, lazy Doberman slept all day. (Here you use a comma because it makes sense to say “The

floppy-eared and lazy Doberman slept all day.”)

25C 3. Use commas to separate the simple sentences included in a compound sentence (see Compound

Example: The teacher wrote the sentence, and she put in a comma because the sentence was compound.
25D 4. Use commas after words, phrases, and clauses that come at the beginning of sentences. “No” and “yes”

are included here. They always are followed by a comma.


No, you may not turn in your homework late.

Yes, you may do extra work if you wish.

Wow, the student earned an A+ on his test!

At the end of the phrase, there should be a comma.
If a subordinate clause is at the beginning of a sentence, you have to put a comma after it.
Suddenly, the teacher yelled. (This comma is often debated. Put a comma if a breath or a pause would

help clarify the sentence or if you want to accentuate the adverb.)

Well, she said that she would come.
25E 5. Use commas to separate interrupters such as parenthetical expressions, direct addresses, and

unnecessary appositives in a sentence.


Parenthetical expression — The big dog, of course, was a wimp.

Direct address — You know, parents, it is important to write correctly.

Parents, you know it is important to write correctly.

Unnecessary appositive — My cat, Skeeter, likes to sit on my lap as I write. (I have only one cat; therefore his

name is not necessary for the meaning of the sentence to be clear.)

My dog Dino has floppy ears. (No commas are needed because I have two dogs, and I need to identify to

which dog I refer.)

25F 6. Use commas to separate the month and the day from the year.

Example: September 15, 1945
25G 7. Use commas between the city and the state and after the state as well if the address is within the sentence.

Example: The animal lover lives in Gainesville, Florida, and teaches English at a middle school.
25H 8. Use commas after the greeting in friendly letters and after the closing in both friendly and business letters.


Dear Jane,

Sincerely yours,
25I 9. Use commas with quotation marks to set off what is being said out loud.

Examples :

  • “Get off my foot,” she whimpered to the heavy dog.

  • She whimpered to the heavy dog, “Get off my foot.”

  • “If you don’t get off my foot,” she said, “I’ll step on yours.”

(See Appositive, Conjunctions, Direct Address, Interrupters, and Parenthetical Expressions.)
RULE 26 Comparisons Adjectives & Adverbs


26A 1. If you are comparing two or more things and the adjective has fewer than three syllables, add “er” tot the adjective. Example: Florida is warmer than Maine in the winter.

26B 2. If you are stating that something is the best (or worst), add “est” to the adjective if it has fewer than

three syllables. Example: Florida is the warmest state in the union.

26C 3. Using “more” and “most” - Adjectives of three or more syllables almost always use the words more” or “the most” to state comparison.


The Rottweiler is more obnoxious than the Doberman.

The black and white cat is the most obnoxious of all of the animals in her menagerie.
26D 4. When comparing persons or things in the same group, use the word “other.”

Example: Jesse can run faster than any other boy in his club.
26E A few adjectives with irregular forms of comparison must be memorized: good-better-best; bad-worse - worst; many-more-most; much-more-most; little (quantity only)-less-least; far-farther-farthest.

26F 1. If you are comparing two things, add “er” to the adverb. If you are saying that something is done

better than anything else, add “est” to the adverb.

Examples: Planes travel faster than cars. Rockets travel fastest of all.
26G 2. Using “more” and “most”

There is no steadfast rule as to when you add “er” or “est” or when you use “more” or “most.” The best

suggestion I can make is to go with what sounds correct. Most adverbs of two or more syllables form

comparisons with “more” or “most.”

Example: comprehensively, more comprehensively, most comprehensively
Rule 27 Complex Sentences

A complex sentence is a sentence that has one or more independent clauses (a group of words that makes

sense by itself) and a subordinate clause (a group of words with a subject and a verb but which does not

make sense by itself).

The important thing to remember about a complex sentence is that if the subordinate clause begins the sentence, a comma must follow it.

Example: Although the dog sat on her foot, she did not say a word. (subordinate clause, independent clause)

(See also Subordinate Clauses and Independent Clauses.)

Rule 28 Compound Sentences

A compound sentence is composed of two complete sentences (related ideas only) joined together with a

comma and a coordinating conjunction (and, or, nor, for, so, but, yet) or a semicolon.
Examples: The big dog sat on her foot, and she gazed up at her mistress with love. “The big dog sat on her

foot” and “She gazed up at her mistress with love” are complete sentences.

Hint: Put your finger over the coordinating conjunction and check whether there is a complete sentence on either side of the finger. If there are two sentences, a comma has to precede the conjunction because the sentence is compound.

The big dog licked his paw, or he licked his leg.

The big dog did not lick his paw, nor did he lick his leg.

The big dog sat on her foot, for he loved her.

The big dog ate too much, so he was rotund.

The big dog sat on her foot, but he didn’t put his full weight on it.

The big dog sat on her foot, yet he still felt insecure.
Sometimes a compound sentence does not have a coordinating conjunction joining the two sentences.

Instead, it has a semicolon. Example: The big dog sat on her foot; it then licked her knee.

A compound sentence does not occur when the word “that” is included or implied after the word “so.” “So

that” is a subordinating conjunction of a subordinate clause. If a subordinate clause comes at the end of a

sentence, there is no comma.

She grabbed the bone so that the other dog could not get it. (So that the other dog could not get it, she grabbed the bone.)

She gobbled her food so the other dog could not get it. (“That” is implied)

A compound imperative sentence does not take a comma because the subjects, while implied, are not


Examples: Get off my feet and go lie down elsewhere. (to the dog)

Stop clawing my legs and settle down. (to the cat)
(See Conjunctions, Imperatives, Subordinate Clauses, and Subordinating Conjunctions.)
Rule 29 Compound Subjects and Compound Predicates
These should be recognized if only to ensure that the students know the meanings of the words

“compound,” “subject,” and “predicate.” These words appear on the standardized tests. I usually taught these

in my diagramming unit. Diagramming makes compound subjects and predicates much clearer.
29A 1. A compound subject is simply more than one thing or person doing the action.

Example: Rottweilers and Dobermans make wonderful pets.
29B 2. A compound predicate is more than one verb supplying the action.

Example: Rottweilers love to eat and enjoy being petted.
Rule 30 Conjunctions

A conjunction is a word that joins words or groups of words together. Do not capitalize a conjunction in a title. Example: The dog and the cat are friends.

30A 1. Coordinating conjunctions: These are the conjunctions (joiners) which join two complete

thoughts (independent clauses) together to form a compound sentence.

List of coordinating conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. I call these FANBOYS.


Example: She loves ice cream, and she loves candy, too. Do not begin a sentence with a coordinating conjunction since they are supposed to join, not begin.

Many authors of fiction ignore this rule. This is fine, and it can make for very effective writing. I had to enforce this rule with those students who began almost every sentence with a conjunction.

30B 2. Correlative conjunctions: These are used to join words or word groups. They appear in pairs.

Examples: Either you do your homework, or your grade will suffer.
Both Dobermans and Rottweilers make good companions.
List of correlative conjunctions: either/or, neither/ nor, not only/but, both/and, just as/so.
30C 3. Subordinating conjunctions: These conjunctions make a clause that was a complete sentence into a

clause that cannot stand on its own. In other words, if a subordinating conjunction is placed before an

independent clause (complete sentence), the clause becomes a dependent clause (subordinate clause).
Complete sentence: The dog licks the rug.
Dependent clause: When the dog licks the rug (no longer a complete sentence).
Subordinating conjunctions begin subordinate clauses. Always set off an introductory adverb clause (another

word for a subordinate clause since subordinate clauses act as adverbs) with a comma.

Examples: After the cat fell asleep, he twitched his whiskers. As the man shouted, the two dogs cringed.
Common subordinating conjunctions: after, although, as, as if, as long as, as soon as, as though,

because, before, even though, if, in order that, provided that, since, so that, than, till, unless, until, when,

whenever, where, whereas, wherever, while.

To make it easier for students to learn the subordinating conjunctions, I call them “A White Bus”

words, and we memorize them. They are: After, although, as; When, while, where; How; If; Than; Even

though; Because, before; Until, unless; Since, so that.

(See Adverb Clauses, Subordinate Clauses, and Subordinating Conjunctions.)

Rule 31 Continued Quote

This is a sentence in a quote that is interrupted by identifying the speaker. It is important to recognize

that when the quoted sentence continues, quotation marks are necessary, but the first letter should not be

capitalized. This is also called an interrupted quote.

Example: “My Doberman is a lazy dog,” she said, “but my Rottweiler is even lazier.”
Rules 32 Contractions

A contraction is a word made by the shortening of two words into one, eliminating some letters in the process.

The two words are then joined by an apostrophe.
32A 1. Contractions can be made by shortening “not” to “n’t” and adding to a verb. Sometimes the spelling

of the verb changes as when “n’t” is added to “shall,” “will,” or “can.”

Examples: is not/isn’t; does not/doesn’t; cannot/can’t; shall not/shan’t; will not/won’t.
32B 2. It’s and its

“Its” is a possessive pronoun that shows that “it” owns something.

Example: The dog ate its food. “It’s” is a contraction for “it is.”
Example: It’s a shame that she has so many animals to feed.
32C 3. Contractions are also formed by joining nouns or pronouns with verbs.
Examples: I am/I’m; he is/he’s; he had/he’d; you are/ you’re; she has/she’s, let us/let’s, they are/they’re.

Avoid contractions in formal writing. Contractions render writing informal, and unless a writer is

using dialogue or a truly informal style, the use of contractions probably should be avoided.

Rule 33 Dangling Participle

A dangling participle is a participle (present or past form of a verb) used as an adjective that is not adjacent

to the noun that it modifies. Dangling participles should be avoided.

Example: Snoring, the dog’s nose twitched. (The dog’s nose did not do the snoring, the dog did. The

word “dog” needs to follow the participle “snoring.”)

Snoring, the dog twitched his nose.
Rule 34 Dashes

A dash can be used to show a break or a shift in thought or structure. It also can signal an afterthought.


  • Now, when I was a boy — (break)

  • I found her most — well, I didn’t like her manner. (shift in structure)

  • The big Doberman — the one with the floppy ears — leans against walls and people. (break)

  • My floppy-eared Doberman often leans — you know, all Dobermans lean like that. (shift in thought)

It is important to limit the use of dashes when writing. Too many dashes make the writing seem confused and jerky.

Rule 35 Diagramming Sentences

Sentence diagramming takes every word in a sentence and places it, according to its use, in a diagram-like chart. It is a graphic picture of a sentence.

Rule 36 Dialogues

Begin a new paragraph every time a different person speaks. If a person’s speech includes more than one

paragraph at a time, do not put quotation marks at the end of the first paragraph. Begin the next paragraph

with quotation marks.


(end of paragraph) “ . . . and the teacher is always there.”

(new paragraph and speaker) “Students, on the other hand . . . ”
Punctuation of quotes: Put quotation marks around what is said aloud. Capitalize the first letter of a quote unless the quote is a continued one. Set off the quote by commas or by end punctuation. Always put all punctuation inside the quotation marks.


“Close the window, you outdoor fanatic,” she whimpered.

“I’m freezing in here.”

“Please close the window,” she said, “or I’ll become an icicle.”

She pleaded again, “Close that window.”

“Will you please close the window?” she asked.

“Close that window!” she yelled.

Rule 37 Direct Address

A direct address occurs when the writer is speaking directly to someone, telling someone something, and

naming that someone. Direct addresses also are called interrupters because they interrupt the flow of a sentence. Always set a direct address off by commas.

Dog, get off my foot. (talking to the dog)

If you don’t get off my foot, dog, you are in big trouble.

Get off my foot, dog.
Rule 38 Direct and Indirect Objects

38A 1. Direct objects are nouns or pronouns that directly receive the action of the verb. They, therefore, follow

only transitive verbs. Direct objects answer the question “Whom or what receives the action of the


The dog licked the teacher. (“Teacher” answers the question “Whom?”)

Students should do all their homework. (“Homework” answers the question “What?”)

The dog licked me. (whom)
38B 2. Indirect objects are nouns or pronouns that indirectly receive the action. The action happens to

them or for them, but the indirect object does not receive the action. This is an important concept to learn if anyone wants to learn a second language. Indirect objects follow only transitive verbs. You must have a direct object before you can have an indirect object. An indirect object answers the question “To whom or for whom is the action done?” (In English, “to” usually is implied for an indirect object, making it more difficult to identify.)


The teacher gave [to] the children (indirect object) a short homework assignment (direct object).

The dog gave [to] me (indirect object) his paw (direct object).

39 End Marks (Punctuation)

Make sure each sentence has one!

39A 1. Use a period at the end of a statement (a sentence that tells something).
Example: Dobermans can be sweet dogs.
39B 2. Use an exclamation mark at the end of a sentence that expresses powerful emotion or strong feeling.

You also can use an exclamation mark after an interjection of strong emotion so that the interjection stands all by itself.

Examples: Get out of here! Wow! I really like that.
39C 3. Use a question mark at the end of an interrogative sentence (a sentence that asks a question).

Example: Will you please get out of here?
Except (See Accept/Except)
Exclamation Marks (See End Marks)
Rule 40 Rules Extraneous Capital Letters

Make sure that students eliminate them. Some students throw capital letters around in their writing without

any rhyme or reason. If any students do this, put a stop to it.
Rule 41 Farther/Further

These two words are sometimes used incorrectly, but it is really very easy to tell the difference between the two

and, therefore, an easy mistake to correct. Farther talks about physical distance. Further talks about everything


Mark can throw a ball farther than Jesse can.

We will discuss this further after dinner.

Rule 42 Fewer and Less

Few, fewer, and fewest should be used with things that can be counted. Little, less, and least should be used

with things that cannot be counted.

Fewer students are interested in literature these days. (You can count students.)

I have less interest in Poodles than I do in Dobermans. (You cannot count an abstract concept like interest.)

Rule 43 Finding and Identifying

It is extremely important that students be able to find and identify the following:

43A 1. Eight parts of speech: Noun, verb, adjective, adverb, conjunction, interjection, preposition,

pronoun. (See each part of speech under its own heading.)

43B 2. Predicates

Simple — The main verb or the main verb with a helping verb

Complete — the verb and its complements or modifiers (adverbs, adverb phrases)
43C 3. Subjects

Simple — the noun or pronoun that does the action

Complete — the noun or pronoun that does the action and its modifiers (adjectives, adjective phrases)
43D 4. Synonyms for better writing

Encourage students to use in their writing the vocabulary words of the Caught’yas and to consult a

thesaurus when they write.
Rule 44 Footnotes

Today, when a quote is used or referred to in the body of a paper, the trend is to list such a source in the

bibliography rather than in footnotes or endnotes (footnotes at the end of a paper). The quote or

reference in the text is followed by parentheses containing the author’s name and the date of

publication. When an author has published two sources within one year, list the title also.

The section on footnotes in Kiester’s book says that the trend is not to have footnotes or endnotes in a

paper (Kiester, 1992).

Rule 45 Fragments

A sentence fragment is an incomplete thought (either lacking in subject or verb) that is used and punctuated

incorrectly as a complete sentence. This is an egregious error. Help students overcome this habit. If students

write fragments, then they probably don’t understand what a subject and verb are. Frame your discussions



A rather chubby dog on the floor. (no verb)

Slept on the floor by her side. (no subject)

Sticking his paws into the air. (no verb or subject)

Rule 46 Friendly Letters (Correct Format)
Sender’s address

Sender’s city, state zip

Dear Jane,
The bulk of the letter goes here written without skipping lines between paragraphs.
With love,

Sign name here

Further (See Farther and Further)
Rule 47 Gerund

A gerund is a verb form that ends in “ing” and is used as a noun. A gerund can be used in any way that a noun

can be used. Sometimes a gerund serves as the simple subject, direct object, or as the object of a preposition.

Snorkeling is my favorite sport. (subject)

I like snorkeling. (direct object)

I think of snorkeling a lot when I daydream. (object of the preposition)
Rule 48 Gerund Phrases

Depending on your point of view, gerund phrases are either fun or useless to learn. I believe that the

understanding and recognizing of them serves no purpose since no placement of commas is involved.

One of my colleagues, on the other hand, maintains that gerunds and gerund phrases are fun. She uses art

work to teach the concept to her students. She may well be right.
A gerund phrase is a group of words that includes a gerund and other words that complete its meaning. It

can be accompanied by an adjective, an adverb, a direct object, or a prepositional phrase. A gerund phrase functions as a noun in a sentence. The gerund phrase can be a subject or an object.


Speaking softly was one of the rules. (subject)

She made speaking softly a requirement in her class. (object)

Rule 49 Good and Well

These two words often are confused.

49A 1. “Good” is an adjective; it tells about the noun that must follow it.

Example: The good dog sat at her feet instead of on them. (adjective — tells what kind of dog)
49B 2. “Well” is the adverb that modifies a verb; it often appears at the end of the sentence.


He did it well. (adverb — tells how he did it)

He did well on the test. (adverb — tells how he did)
You can, however, “feel good” because “feel” acts as adverb of being and thus “good” is a predicate adjective.
Example: I feel good when I pet my cat.
Rule 50 Helping Verbs

These verbs accompany a past or present participle in a sentence. My students and I called them “dead verbs”

or “weak verbs.” Help students limit them in their writing.
Common helping verbs: am, are, be, is, have, had, had been, has been, have been, was, were, will, and any

form of “be” (such as could be, would be, might be, etc.).

Good writing uses strong, active verbs (“screamed” instead of “was screaming”). Look at literature!

Sense verbs (look, see, smell, feel, taste) can function as verbs of being or as action verbs.


I feel loving today. (verb of being)

The boy felt the dog’s broken leg. (action verb)

When a sense verb functions as a verb of being, it is often followed by a predicate adjective.

Example: I feel bad. (Not “I feel badly” since one would not say “I am badly.”)
Rule 51 Homophones

Students need to be able to correctly use the most common ones.

Common homophones: there/their/they’re; to/too/ two; your/you’re; no/know; its/it’s; right/rite/write;

threw/through; quiet/quit/quite; all ready/already; all together/altogether; hole/whole; pair/pare/pear;


Rule 52 Hyphens
52A 1. Use a hyphen to divide a word at the end of a line. Divide only at syllables. Check a dictionary for syllables. Example: The two huge dogs ran around the yard, terrifying the little girl.
52B 2. Use a hyphen to separate the words in compound numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine and in

fractions that are used as adjectives.

Examples: The teacher had thirty-five pupils in the class. They ate ten and one-half pizzas for lunch.
52C 3. Use a hyphen in a compound noun that serves as an adjective. More simply stated, use with two or more

words that express one thought and serve as one adjective. To test whether a hyphen is needed, simply see if each word alone makes sense in describing the noun.


an up-to-the-minute report

two star-crossed lovers

a very well-known man

bell-bottom trousers
52D 4. Use a hyphen after the following prefixes: all-, ex-, self-.

Examples: all-knowing, ex-husband, self-deprecating
52E 5. Use a hyphen to separate any prefix from a word that begins with a capital letter.

Example: pre-Civil War
Rule 53 Imperatives

Imperatives are sentences that are orders. The subject is omitted.


Get off my feet. (The subject of the dog has been left out.)

Do your homework now! (Again, the subject has been omitted.)

Compound imperative sentences do not take a comma because the subjects are not stated.

Example: Get off my feet and go lie down elsewhere.

Rule 54 Independent Clauses

An independent clause is a sentence within a sentence.

Example: She petted the dog, and she kissed the cat.
Indirect and Direct Objects (See Direct and Indirect Objects)
Rule 55 Indirect Quote

An indirect quote is really a reference to a direct quote. The use of the word “that” turns a direct quote into an indirect one. In an indirect quote, no quotation marks are necessary because a direct quote is being paraphrased. No comma is necessary either.


The student said that she was hot.

He told me that he had a lot of homework to do.

We shouted to her that we didn’t want to walk the dogs.

Rule 56 Infinitive

An infinitive is formed from the word “to” together with the basic form of a verb.

Examples: to go, to snore, to eat, to type
Do not split an infinitive with the adverb as in the introduction to the television show Star Trek.
Example of what to avoid: “ . . . to boldly go where no man has gone before.” (Star Trek)

Correction: “ . . . to go boldly where no man has gone before.”
Rule 57 Infinitive Phrase

This is an infinitive and the words that complete the meaning. An infinitive phrase can serve as a noun, an

adjective, or an adverb.
Noun — To teach grammar is sometimes fun. (noun, subject)

Most students hate to study grammar. (object)

The goal of my first book was to make grammar fun. (predicate noun)
Adjective — It is now time to learn your grammar.

Adverb — The dog turned around six times to get ready for his nap.


An intensifier is an adverb that tells to what extent an adjective or another adverb is true. The most common

intensifiers are “very” and “extremely.”


an extremely angry (adjective) cat

a very placid (adjective) dog

The cat wanted to sit on his mistress’s lap very badly. (adverb)

She spoke extremely softly (adverb) because she was afraid to awaken the cat.
Rule 58 Interjection

An interjection is a word or group of words that expresses feeling (anger, surprise, happiness, pain,

relief, grief).
Common interjections: ah, aha, awesome, bam, boom, bravo, good grief, goodness, hey, hooray,

hurrah, oh, oh boy, oh dear, oh my, oh yes/no, okay, ouch, ow, phew, pow, shhh, ugh, uh-oh, well, whee,

whoopee, whoops, wow.
Rule 59 Interjections

Interjections that are at the beginning of the sentence can be followed either by a comma or by an

exclamation mark. If an interjection is followed by an exclamation mark, the next word must begin with

a capital letter.

Examples: Well, what are you doing there?

Okay, let’s finish going over your homework.

Wow! Those dogs are big.
Interrupted Quote (See Continued Quote)
Rule 60 Interrupters

An interrupter is any word, expression or phrase that interrupts the flow of a sentence. These can be

appositives, direct addresses, parenthetical expressions, or any word, phrase, or clause that breaks the flow of a



The dog, however, refused to get off her foot.

The dog, I think, is stubborn.

The black and white cat, by the way, is obstreperous.

She loved her only cat, Skeeter, very much.

Rule 61 Intransitive Verbs

An intransitive verb never has a direct object. In a sentence where the verb is intransitive, the subject does

the acting and does not do anything to anything or anyone else.


Dogs bark.

The teacher sits in the chair.

The class sleeps during long messages on the loud speaker.

The class rises with respect (dream on, fellow teachers) when the teacher enters the room.

The dog lies on the floor.

Rule 62 Introductory Words and Phrases

These are simply words and phrases that begin a sentence. The comma after some of these is hotly

debated. Using commas makes sentences easier to understand because they signal a separation or a pause

between parts. It sounds better to put a comma after an adverb that comes at the beginning of a sentence if that

adverb has to do with time. It also helps clarify a sentence if one puts a comma after an introductory

prepositional phrase that acts as an adverb and refers to time that has passed in some way.

62A 1. Adverb (one-word adverbs): We commonly use a one-word adverb that indicates when the action (the

verb) took place. Put a comma after it if you hear a pause when the sentence is spoken aloud.

Examples: Meanwhile, the dog’s stomach growled. Tomorrow, she will be fed again.
62B 2. Adverbial clauses (subordinate clauses): A comma is needed after an adverbial clause that introduces a


Example: After I feed the chubby Rottweiler, I will feed the rotund Doberman.

62C 3.

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