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IMPROVING YOUR GRAMMAR By brushing up on a few of the basic grammar rules you Everyone involved in implementing the company’s new may have forgotten, you can remove from your writing policies and procedures is here. those errors that distract and frustrate the reader. 6. The agreement of pronouns such as any, most, all, many, more, some, who, that, and which depends on the A. SUBJECT-VERB AGREEMENT countable nature of the word or phrase to which the pronoun refers. e.g., A verb should always agree with its subject. Most of the sugar is in the cup. (uncountable noun) 1. Subject and verb agree even when words come between Most of the apples are ripe. (countable noun) them. e.g., The teacher, as well as her students, was pleased with the 7. Collective nouns can take singular or plural verbs, results of the test. depending on whether the sentence is referring to the group as a unit or as individuals. e.g., The design with its intricate patterns is especially clever. The group of students is meeting now to discuss the tuition The jury is announcing its verdict. (as a unit) increase. The faculty were in disagreement over their options. (as individuals) 2. Two or more subjects joined by and take a plural verb. e.g., 8. When a sentence begins with there or here, or when The teacher and the students were pleased with the results the sentence is in inverted word order, the verb still of the test. agrees with the subject, which follows the verb in these arrangements. e.g., 3. Singular subjects joined by or or nor take singular There are several answers to the problem. verbs; plural subjects joined by or or nor take plural verbs. e.g., There is one reason for his anger. Neither the professor nor her spouse was happy with the Driving along the highway were several tanker trucks. salary adjustment. Neither the students nor their friends were pleased with B. PRONOUN-NOUN AGREEMENT the tuition increase. 1. A pronoun must agree in person (I, he, it, they, etc.) 4. When a singular subject and a plural subject are joined and number (singular or plural) with the noun to by or or nor, the verb agrees with the subject closer to which it refers. Remember that who and whom are it. e.g., used to refer to people, and that and which refer to everything else. e.g., Neither the professor nor the students were happy with the results. Mr. Smith took his work home with him. Neither the students nor the professor was happy with the Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones worked hard on their projects. results. Neither John nor his parents enjoyed their afternoon. (The pronoun agrees with the subject closest to it – as with 5. Words ending in one, thing, or body (such as everyone, subject-verb agreement with or and nor [see A.4. in this anyone, anything, nobody, somebody, etc.) and words such handout].) as each, either, and neither take singular verbs. e.g., The woman who voted for an increase in pay looked happy. Learning Commons Fastfacts Series ©2004 The women who voted for an increase in pay looked happy. Confusing: Wearing high boots, the snake failed to injure the supervisor. Each apple was chosen for its rosy appearance. (the snake is wearing high boots) Everyone must ﬁnish his or her work by Friday. Better: Wearing high boots, the supervisor was protected from the NOTE: Since frequent use of his or her could sound awk- snake. ward, as in the previous example, it may be preferable to substitute plurals. e.g., Or: Because the supervisor was wearing high boots, the snake Students must ﬁnish their work by Friday. did not injure him. 2. All pronouns must clearly refer to the noun they replace. e.g., D. USE OF APOSTROPHES NO: Our patients are enjoying the warm days while they last. The apostrophe is used to indicate either (does they refer to patients or days?) a contraction or possession. YES: While the warm days last, our patients are enjoying them. 1. When two words are shortened into one, the apostro- phe replaces the missing letter. The rule for using an apostrophe with a contraction always holds. (e.g., it 3. Do not mix “persons” (i.e., second person “you” with is or it has = it’s; who is or who has = who’s; they are = third person “he/she/it”) unless meaning requires it. e.g., they’re; will not = won’t [note change in spelling]; is not NO: = isn’t, etc.) To improve one’s stroke, you have to learn the basics. 2. When showing possession, add ’s to the owner word. YES: Then, if the word ends in a double or triple s, erase the To improve one’s stroke, one has to learn the basics. one after the apostrophe and leave the apostrophe in YES: place. e.g., To improve your stroke, you have to learn the basics. one table’s leg OR several tables’ legs C. PLACEMENT OF MODIFIERS one student’s name OR several students’ names one day’s work OR several days’ work Always place modifiers as close as possible one woman’s job OR several women’s jobs (note the plural to the words they modify. form women does not use an s) Confusing: one boss’ house OR several bosses’ houses The supervisor told me they needed someone who could type badly. NOTE: Some grammar textbooks recommend keeping the -s’s or -ss’s ending for words such as the Jones’s party, Better: boss’s house, class’s work, congress’s motion, and Jesus’s life for The supervisor told me they badly needed someone who easier pronunciation. could type. 3. The exception to the possessive rule is that pronouns Confusing: show possession without the use of ’s (e.g., my, mine, The ﬁsh was found by a ﬁsherman ﬂoating in the river. your, yours, his, her, hers, our, ours, their, theirs, its, (who was ﬂoating?) whose, etc.). Compare the use of apostrophes here: Better: The ﬁsh was found ﬂoating in the river by a ﬁsherman. That is my book. That book is mine. (no apostrophe for the possessive pronoun mine) Or: A ﬁsherman found the ﬁsh ﬂoating in the river. That is Bob’s book. That book is Bob’s. (apostrophe for the possessive noun Bob’s) www.learningcommons.uoguelph.ca 2. Compare contractions versus possessive pronouns here: • Peer Helpers from a variety of disciplines oﬀer indi- vidual writing assistance to ﬁrst-year students and ESL They’re hoping to increase their budget. students. And all University of Guelph students – un- dergraduate and graduate – are entitled to three free You’re having trouble with your car. individual writing consultations per semester with our professional staﬀ. Appointments are recommended. NOTE: To test whether to use it’s or its in a sentence, read your sentence replacing it’s with it is. If it is doesn’t ﬁt, the word you need is its. Note that there is no such word as its’ • Visit the Learning Commons home page to ﬁnd out about all our writing programs and services, or e-mail with an apostrophe following the s. e.g., questions to email@example.com. It’s almost time to give the cat its medication. • Fastfacts handouts (like this one) provide information on a range of learning, writing, and academic com- 4. Don’t use an apostrophe for plurals of regular nouns. puting issues and are free to registered students. The complete range of Fastfacts is available on the Learn- NOT: ing Commons website. Several students’ went to the meeting. NOT: • More detailed information on writing university pa- pers can be found in our Learning Commons publi- The Smith’s are on vacation. cations, available for purchase at the Learning Com- mons reception desk or the campus bookstore. 5. Use an apostrophe for plurals of numerals, letters, and words being named. e.g., • Workshops, seminars, and short courses on learning, He received mostly A’s on the papers marked by TA’s. studying and writing topics are oﬀered regularly each semester. Please contact the Learning Commons for All she heard were no’s in response to her proposal. details. Exception: Technology advanced greatly in the 1990s. Additional Relevant Fastfacts Please note that this material is protected by copyright. For permission to reproduce this document in any form, • Improving Your Punctuation contact Writing Services, The Learning Commons, University of Guelph. This document has links which are • Improving Your Sentence Structure active when the handout is viewed on our website: www. learningcommons.uoguelph.ca/ByFormat/OnlineResourc- • Improving Your Style es/Fastfacts/index.html • Improving Your Writing Need Advice or More Information? Writing Services, located in the Learning Commons on the 1st ﬂoor of the Library, is the best source on campus and online for advice and information on writing issues. Writing Services The Learning Commons, 1st Floor, Library www.learningcommons.uoguelph.ca firstname.lastname@example.org (519) 824-4120 ext. 53632 3.
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