grammar by -Uchinx_Athi-


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
2.   Two or more subjects joined by and take a plural verb.
                                                                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.
                                                                   Wearing high boots, the supervisor was protected from the
NOTE: Since frequent use of his or her could sound awk-
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
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.
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:
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)
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)
Compare contractions versus possessive pronouns here:               •   Peer Helpers from a variety of disciplines offer indi-
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They’re hoping to increase their budget.                                students. And all University of Guelph students – un-
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You’re having trouble with your car.
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                                                                        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
It’s almost time to give the cat its medication.
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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-
                                                                        ing Commons website.
Several students’ went to the meeting.

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                                                                        pers can be found in our Learning Commons publi-
The Smith’s are on vacation.
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                                                                        mons reception desk or the campus bookstore.
5.   Use an apostrophe for plurals of numerals, letters, and
     words being named. e.g.,
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All she heard were no’s in response to her proposal.                    details.
Exception: Technology advanced greatly in the 1990s.

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