1. Introduction of Book
The Thirteen Gremlins of Grammar
What is Grammar? Why use it?
You know more about grammar than you think: Test
Grammar Test Answers and Scorecard
Let's look at Sentences
The building blocks of sentences: Parts of Speech
Naming things: Nouns
You, me and other Pronouns
It's a plane! It's a bird! No! It's Superverb!
Describing things: Adjectives and Adverbs
Grammatical glue: Determiners, Conjunctions, Prepositions
Punctuation: What's the point?
Punctuation: Devices for separating and joining
Punctuation: Symbols of meaning
Writing good English: The Elements of Style
About the Author
Writing Guides by Graham King
About the Publisher
The Thirteen Gremlims of Grammar 1 Correct speling is essential. 2 Don't use no double negatives. 3 Verbs has got to agree with their subjects. 4 Don't write run-on sentences they are hard to read. 5 About them sentence fragments. 6 Don't use commas, that aren't necessary. 7 A preposition is not a good word to end a sentence with. 8 Remember to not ever split infinitives. 9 Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided. 10 Alway's use apostrophe's correctly. 11 Make each singular pronoun agree with their antecedents. 12 Join clauses good, like a conjunction should. 13 Proofread your writing to make sure you don't words out. And, above all, avoid clichés like the plague. “The greatest and most necessary task remains, to attain a habit of expression, without which knowledge is of little use.”
– Dr Samuel Johnson, LLD
Introduction: How to wrestle with grammar – and win! It takes courage to pick up a book on grammar when schooldays are over. Real courage, if only distant (and probably unpleasant) memories survive of what the subject was all about.
But you have picked this one up. And take heart. Charlotte Bronte, author of Jane Eyre and one of the greatest exponents of the language, was hopeless in English at school. Her teachers complained that ‘she knew nothing of grammar', and could read only ‘tolerably' and write ‘indifferently'.
More recently, millions of young people have been denied even basic instruction in how to write good English – victims of the quarter-century blackout when the fashionable view of the education establishment was that a knowledge of how the parts of speech work was unnecessary. The acquisition of language skills happened naturally, they preached.
And so it does, to a point. Learning and obeying all the rules of grammar won't automatically bestow excellence on your speech and writing; but completely ignoring them will almost certainly consign you to inarticulate semi-literacy.
Does being good at grammar help you in life? Thousands of people who hold down highly-paid top jobs can hardly spell or compose a coherent letter without help. Even The Times, regarded as a paragon of grammatical certitude, slips up with comforting regularity: ‘According to the Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Unit,' it reported recently, ‘one in four 16- to 20-year-olds have reading problems and more than one third have trouble with spelling.' (the first have should be has, to agree with its antecedent one in four). Embarrassingly, the slip-up occurred in an editorial on the need for the rigorous teaching of grammar.
Are we being picky, or what? The danger is, if we allow seemingly minor transgressions to go unnoticed, we could find ourselves grappling with a leaky language system reeking of confusion and ambiguity.
Surely computer technology can help us with grammar. It can go some of the way, yes, but over-reliance on corrective software can be dangerous. An English student, writing a character study of Bottom from A Midsummer Night's Dream for a drama exam, ran the essay through the word processor's grammatical check tool. Her sentence, ‘Puck thought it would be fun to place an asses's head on Bottom' was highlighted with the instruction: Avoid this offensive term. Consider revising.
Just as it's considered necessary to accept some basic instruction before driving a car, pretty much the same applies to writing. Before driving a car you learn to recognise some of its more important parts: the ignition and lights, the steering wheel, clutch, gears, brake, petrol tank, windscreen wipers and so forth. It's also necessary to know just what each part does, and what
happens when you press it, turn it, pull it or push it. You also need to learn some rules – about speed, signalling, red and green lights, traffic and road signs. When you do all this, you can drive. When you do it all well, you might even drive well. Of course many people learn to drive a car without professional instruction, but, insufficiently equipped, they are often a danger to themselves and others.
It's not too different with reading, speaking and writing. Yes, we get by. But learning or relearning the rules and principles that govern the use of the language can only improve our communication skills. And more than ever, effective communicating is vital to our lives, our success, our enjoyment.
By picking up this book you've recognised that to improve your communication skills you probably need to return to basics. You've picked up the right book. Collins Good Grammar is designed to explain, step by practical step, authoritatively but entertainingly, the workings of our language, and to help you wrestle with its grammar – and win!
What is Grammar? Why use it?
This won‘t take long.
A language requires two elements to fulfil man's need to communicate effectively: a vocabulary and a grammar.
The vocabulary is the language's stock of words: combinations of symbols, signs or letters that have evolved to identify things and ideas. But words by themselves can never constitute a language. Imagine someone possessing all the words required to express the message in the first three sentences, but no method of putting them together to make sense. An attempt might look like this:
Grammar about what duration of the clock will not take much duration not take small duration reasons to tell.
It would be like trying to build a solid wall with tennis balls. What's needed is some cement or glue to stick them together, to create a structure that others will recognise. In the case of a language this glue is a system of rules called grammar.
Languages aren't created in a day; some have evolved over hundreds, even thousands of years, and are still evolving. The users of any language must constantly invent to adapt to fresh circumstances, and when invention flags they must borrow.
Not only words, but rules, too. English grammar contains rules that can be traced back to the Greeks and Romans: rules that helped the early users of our language to string their words together to create increasingly clearer and more complex messages. They enabled that meaningless jumble of words to take shape as a recognisable sentence:
To tell what grammar is and that grammar should be used will need not little time not long time but some little long time.
A big improvement, but still clumsy and vague. Obviously the language still required some more words and rules. The speaker needed a word more precise than tell, such as explain. Also needed was a system for building phrases with their own meanings, and another system for adding inflections to basic words to indicate time and sequence: explain, explaining, explained. With such improvements the sentence not only becomes shorter but also expresses the speaker's intentions with greater accuracy.
Explaining what grammar is and why you should use grammar will not take a long time.
Then users began to get clever by inventing idioms such as not too long to say in three words what it took nearly a dozen to say in an earlier version. They also learned about ellipsis. To avoid repetition they created pronouns to substitute for nouns, phrases and whole sentences. Here, this stands for the two questions:
What is Grammar? Why use it?
This will not take long.
And then, finally, in the quest for even greater economy, the newly-invented apostrophe was brought into play, saving yet one more word:
What is Grammar? Why use it?
This won't take long.
And, having recognised that the promise following the original question is now history – in the past – our grasp of grammar's immense potential allows us to write:
It hasn't taken long, has it?
None of this should really surprise you, because if you are a native user of English you are also an intuitive user of its grammar. Although you may have either never known or have forgotten the difference between a common noun and a proper noun; are a little uncertain about using semi-colons and possessive apostrophes; are sublimely unconscious of piling on clichés and couldn't recognise a split infinitive even if you were offered a fortune, you have always managed to be understood, to get your point across, to enjoy reading newspapers and magazines, to write letters and cards to your family and friends, to deal adequately with the demands of the workplace.
But ask yourself: am I cringing along in the slow lane, grammatically speaking, aware of the ever-increasing traffic in the faster lanes?
More than at any time in history, you are judged on your communication skills, whether in speech or in writing. The successful development of your personal life, your relationships and your career is now more and more dependent upon the way in which you express your thoughts, your insights, knowledge and desires into language. How well you accomplish this is just as dependent upon your understanding of grammar. In so many ways you are only as good as your grammar.
Few would dispute that this is the Age of Communication. Its message is that the media are expanding exponentially. You can respond to the challenges and demands, or you can allow it to pass you by.
By reading this far, you appear to have chosen the former course. That's courageous, and you should feel encouraged. If, however, you remain unsure or sceptical, proceed to the next section which should demonstrate to you that you probably know quite a bit more about grammar than you ever imagined.
And that will be a great start to mastering this essential and exciting skill.
You know more about grammar than you think Yes, you really do know more about grammar than you think. You may not know what a prepositional complement is or what it does, and may never have heard of subordinator conjunctions or modal auxiliaries – and why on earth should you?
But from an early age you acquired a knowledge of grammar that saw you through your elementary and primary schooling. Whether your memories of what you were taught about grammar are fresh or distantly hazy, pleasant or mordantly painful, a surprising amount of grammatical know-how is parked somewhere in your memory. By reading and listening to others, you added to your knowledge and developed further grammatical skills. Thus you will find that this book will often merely explain and clarify what you already intuitively know about the principles and usage of grammar.
To prove this to yourself, try the following test, consisting of twenty examples of right and wrong use of the language. Record your answers by ticking the appropriate boxes. And here's a tip before you begin: although some grammar rules may seem harebrained, most follow logical, commonsense principles. Rather than try to analyse the examples, try to ‘listen' to what is being said.
One of these isn't a proper sentence. Which one is? A. Any failure of the buyers to comply with the sale conditions, the damages are recoverable. B. Any failure of the buyers to comply with the sale conditions may result in damages being recovered. 2. Here's another pair of sentences. One contains a fairly common mistake. Which one is correct? A. On Sunday we heard the first chaffinch sing, we have several that come into our garden for crumbs. B. On Sunday we heard the first chaffinch sing; we have several that come into our garden for crumbs. 3. There's something jarring in one of these sentences because in it there's an inconsistency. Which one is the correct sentence? A. The Prime Minister, accompanied by several aides, were entertained by President Clinton at the White House. B. The Prime Minister, accompanied by several aides, was entertained by President Clinton at the White House.
Oh, dear! There are some unwelcome and unnecessary marks in one of these statements. Which one is correct? A. The three shops supplied all Jim's shirts and suits. B. The three shop's supplied all Jim's shirt's and suit's. 5.
Do you have an ear for good grammar? If you do you'll quickly spot the mistake. But which sentence looks and sounds right? A. The public always expects us firemen to be at the scene of a fire within minutes. B. The public always expects we firemen to be at the scene of a fire within minutes. 6.
Although you may not know the difference between an adjective and an adverb you should easily pick the sentence that uses adverbs correctly. A. Bert always drove real careful, and was proud of his record. B. Bert always drove really carefully, and was proud of his record. 7. Many of us aren't sure about using among and between. Can you pick the correct usage? A. The ice cream was shared among the three of them. B. The ice cream was shared between the three of them. 8.
Something weird is happening in one of these sentences. Which one avoids a rather bizarre atmospheric condition? A. Tearing down the motorway at 80mph, the fog suddenly enveloped the car, forcing me to pull over. B. As I was tearing down the motorway at 80mph, the fog suddenly enveloped the car, forcing me to pull over.
If you read these sentences carefully, you'll see that one doesn't make sense. Which one is clear and correct? A. The judge remained both unimpressed by evidence and argument. B. The judge remained unimpressed by both evidence and argument. 10.
Don't get carried away by the racy prose; there's a fundamental error in one of these sentences. Which is the sentence without the error? A. Then, as he lay silently beside her, she cried: A broken, hoarse cry that sprang from a buried memory of adolescence. B. Then, as he lay silently beside her, she cried: a broken, hoarse cry that sprang from a buried memory of adolescence. 11. One sentence uses a word correctly; the other abuses it. Which is correct?
A. I gazed in wonder at the diamond, one of the most unique in the world. B. I gazed in wonder at the diamond, thought by many to be unique. 12. In which sentence is the question mark used correctly? A. Her mother was always asking? ‘When are you going to get married'. B. Her mother was always asking, ‘When are you going to get married?' 13. Frank was confused in the following sentences, but do you get confused by drink, drank and drunk? Which is correct?
A. It was pretty obvious that Frank had drank rather too much. B. It was pretty obvious that Frank had drunk rather too much. 14. One of these sentences contains a very common error – so common, in fact, that many now regard it as acceptable usage. But if you were a careful user of English, which sentence would you say was correct? A. The teacher asked Judy to try and do better. B. The teacher asked Judy to try to do better. 15. If you know the rule here, fine; but if not, your ear should tell you which sentence is grammatically correct. Well, which one? A. Every man, woman and child is requested to assemble in the departure lounge. B. Every man, woman and child are requested to assemble in the departure lounge. 16. Because it asks you to decide between who and whom, this question is one of the toughest in the test. But try, anyway, to pick the correct usage: A. The Foreign Secretary, whom we are pleased to see is now fully recovered, will speak tonight. B. The Foreign Secretary, who we are pleased to see is now fully recovered, will speak tonight. 17. Haven't had much to do with gerunds? Never mind – use your ear to choose the sentence which is strictly correct. A. I hope she won't take exception to me calling in unannounced. B. I hope she won't take exception to my calling in unannounced.
18. These sentences are worth thinking about. Which one do you think is correct? A. A thousand visitors is not unusual on an average weekday. B. A thousand visitors are not unusual on an average weekday. 19. If you listen carefully to what is being said here, one sentence will be quite clear in its meaning while the other could confuse you. Which is the unambiguous sentence? A. After the game he talked at length to the captain and the manager. B. After the game he talked at length to the captain and manager. 20. There are some discordant notes in one of these sentences. Which one is consistent and harmonious? A. If one is to live happily among one's neighbours, you must learn to mind your own business. B. If you are to live happily among your neighbours, you must learn to mind your own business. If you are interested to know where you stand in your knowledge and use of English grammar, you should have attempted to answer all 20 questions. If you've made a guess at some of them, don't feel too guilty; some guesses will be right while others will be wrong.
Answers Now turn to page 20 for the answers and explanations. The correct answers to questions considered to be more difficult receive more marks than those to easier questions.
Answers to the Grammar Test 1. B is a proper sentence. A is not because it is incomplete, having no active verb, and makes no sense. See Let's Look at Sentences, page 25.
2. B is correct.
A is what is called a ‘run-on' construction – two sentences spliced by a comma. The first sentence should have ended after sing and the second sentence begun with We. But as the two thoughts are related a better idea is to keep them in the same sentence and separated by a longer pause – a semi-colon. See The Semi-colon, page 164.
3. B is correct.
Although the PM was accompanied by several aides, we don't know whether they were entertained or not. However the sentence makes clear that President Clinton entertained the PM, singular, so the use of the singular was and not the plural were is correct. If sentence A read: ‘The Prime Minister and several aides were entertained . . . ' the use of were would be correct. See Singular and Plural Nouns, page 66.
4. A is correct.
The apostrophes in shop's, shirt's and suit's serve no grammatical purpose and are redundant. The apostrophe in Jim's is correct because it tells us that the shirts and suits are possessed by Jim.
5. A is correct.
Us is the objective form of the pronoun we and is used here to include the speaker and others – other firemen. We would be correct if the sentence were written We firemen are expected by the public to be at the scene of a fire within minutes.
6. Sentence B is correct because it calls for the adverbs really carefully to describe how Bert drove. See How adverbs work, page 128.
7. You share between two, or among three or more, so A is correct.
8. The ‘something weird' in sentence A is the bizarre spectacle of an 80mph fog tearing down the motorway (Tearing down the motorway at 80mph, the fog)! Sentence A contains what is known as a dangling or unattached participle, but B is quite correct. See The Dangling, or Misplaced Participle, page 109.
9. Sentence B is clear and correct. If you study A closely you'll see that it makes no sense. The only way that both would work in that position would be in a sentence such as The judge remained both unimpressed and bemused by the evidence and the argument.
10. A simple error but perhaps difficult to spot. In sentence A the colon after cried is followed by a capital A. A colon is not a full stop so what follows should not be capitalised. Sentence B is correct.
See The Colon, page 168.
11. The word unique means ‘one of a kind', so it follows that you cannot have something or someone that is most unique, quite unique or almost unique. Either it is or it isn't. Sentence B is correct.
12. B is correct.
The question mark does not precede a question, it follows one.
13. B is correct.
To indicate the correct sense of lapsed time the past perfect tense of the verb drink is called for: had drunk.
14. B is correct.
While both try and and try to are generally considered to be acceptable, the
careful user will regard try and as idiomatic and prefer the grammatically correct try to in sentence B. See Prepositions, page 141.
15. A is correct, because every refers to each individual. So regardless of how many men, women and children there are, the singular verb is is called for.
16. B is correct.
In this case, apply the he = who, him = whom rule (see discussion of who/whom in the section on Pronouns, page 82). As the Foreign Secretary (he, the subject) is fully recovered, and will speak (the object), who is appropriate.
17. B is correct.
Here, the pronoun me is converted to a verb which can be used like a noun and which can be possessive, hence my calling. See Gerunds, page 110.
18. A is strictly correct. Although visitors is plural, a thousand visitors here is short for ‘to have a thousand visitors'. In other words the number of visitors has become a single unit (you could say, ‘to have a big crowd') which requires a singular verb – is and not are. See Singular and Plural Nouns, page 66.
19. A is the unambiguous sentence because it makes clear that he talked to the captain and the manager – two people. B is unclear and could confuse, because he could have talked to the captain/manager – one person.
20. B is consistent and correct. The pronouns in sentence A lack concord: it begins with one's but then moves on to you and your. It would be correct if it were written as ‘ . . . one must learn to mind one's own business.' Grammar Test Scorecard
Check your answers to the Grammar Test on pages 20-22 with the correct versions and explanations and enter the results on the scorecard below. Award the appropriate points for every correct answer.