Grammar tips


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Jan 15, 2021
Grammar is often talked about to write well, so I thought I would post a good reminder of some grammar things that I found useful! Grammar might come as second-nature to you but it's always good to go back and look for any mistakes :)

Subject-verb Agreement: words between subject and verb

Problems usually occur when there are words separating the subject and the
verb, usually (but not always!) a prepositional phrase.
Example: Winners of the state contest (go or goes?) to the national finals.

Take out the prepositional phrase of the state contest, and the answer is easy:
Winners go to the national finals.

Your red-flag word is "of," which signals the beginning of a prepositional phrase.
Some of the most common prepositions that begin prepositional phrases are: to, of, about, at, before, after, by, behind, during, for, from, in, over, under, with.

Other examples:
One of the problems (is or are?) broken equipment.
One of the problems is broken equipment.

Other words that can get in the way of easily matching the verb to the subject are: including, together with, along with, accompanied by, in addition to, except and as well as.
These are also discounted in subject-verb agreement.

For example:
The moon, as well as Venus, (is or are?) visible in the night sky.
The moon, as well as Venus, is visible in the night sky.

Collective Nouns: A collective noun names a group of people or things, such as family, group, audience, class, number committee, team, etc.
The rule is when the group acts as one unit, use a singular verb. When the members of the group act individually, use a plural verb.

The senior class nervously awaits final exams. (senior class acting as a unit)
The senior class were fitted for their graduation robes today. (senior class acting as individuals)
The couple in blue is engaged. (Couple is a single unit.)
The couple say their vows tomorrow. (Separate actions for each person in the couple.)

Common indefinite pronouns
Always use plural verbs:
  • both
  • many

Always use singular verb:
  • another
  • anybody
  • anyone
  • anything
  • each
  • either
  • every
  • everybody
  • everyone
  • everything
  • neither
  • nobody
  • no one
  • nothing
  • one
  • somebody
  • someone
  • something

Singular or plural depending on context:
  • all
  • any
  • more
  • most
  • none
  • some

Plural Nouns That Look Singular
Some words look as though they are singular when they are in fact plural, especially words ending in -a (eg. criteria, bacteria, and phenomena, etc.)
The singular forms for these are criterion, bacterium, and phenomenon.

Use plural verbs:
The bacteria multiply rapidly (not multiplies)
These are important criteria (not This is an important criteria).

In Latin, data and media are plural nouns. Although in spoken words, it is common to make them into singular nouns, in formal writing, they should be plural nouns with a plural verb.

Dangling Participles
A participial phrase that comes at the beginning of the sentence is always followed by a comma and modifies the subject of the sentence.
Example: Removing his coat, Jack rushed to the river.

Participial phrases sometimes appear to modify a word that they cannot logically modify.
The word it should modify does not appear in the sentence, thus causing what is known as a dangling participle.

A dangling participle is one that the speaker really intends to describe something other than the grammatical subject of the sentence.

DANGLING: "Riding along on my bicycle, a dog knocked me over." (A dog was riding?)
In this sentence it appears that the participle riding must relate to dog, so we end up with a dog that has first stolen a bicycle and then ridden it carelessly! The speaker really means riding to relate to me.
CORRECTED: "A dog knocked me over as I rode my bicycle."

Modifying the wrong subject or actor is a common mistake. Check your sentences to be sure you're not "dangling"!

Using Active Versus Passive Voice
Passive voice is more appropriate in certain instances, especially in business communications. We use passive voice to purposefully leave out the actor or subject of the sentence in an effort to sound more diplomatic.
For example, if you are communicating bad news or negative feedback, use of passive voice can take the sting out of the message.

Active: You are past due on your registration payment.
Passive: Your registration payment is past due.

The passive example is less confrontational. It takes the actor out of the sentence so that the message does not appear to blame someone.

Use passive voice:
  • When you don't know the actor (eg. The door was left unlocked.)
  • When the actor is unimportant to the point you're making (eg. The office will be open on Monday.)
  • When the emphasis is clearly not on the actor but on the acted upon (eg. What happened to the employee who took that money from Petty Cash? The employee was fired.)

Hope this was useful! Maybe we could make this thread a grammar tip one?
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James Carrabino

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Oct 12, 2021
This is an incredible thread @lawnoob which is why we have recognised you with our weekly forum winner award!! Massive congratulations! :D

In fact, this will be of such use to the wider TCLA community that I have turned your thread (once again!) into a Starred Thread, meaning that there will be an award up for grabs to whomever contributes the most exceptional piece of grammar or writing advice over the coming week. @lawnoob we will aim to present this award to another member since you are receiving the forum award, but your contributions would certainly be enough to be deserving of both (and as it happens, you have now already won both)!

Thanks again for this excellent post :)

Alison C

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  • Nov 27, 2019
    The thing about grammar in our native language is that we are so accustomed to using sentence structures automatically it can be difficult to change poor habits. However, there are generally lots of English as a foreign/additional language (EFL/EAL) teaching sites that tackle the technical elements.

    1 – BBC Learning English – an outstanding free online course from beginner right up to complex language, which uses BBC footage and additional materials. This is the ‘towards advanced’ course link:

    This is the course overview for that level:

    Apostrophes (see below) recur at different levels, here in the ‘upper intermediate’ course:

    2 – mmmEnglish – an Australian EFL teacher called Emma who smiles her way through all sorts of linguistic points including the passive voice, as referred to above:

    3 – English with Lucy – a London-based EFL teacher who specialises in idioms and all things British. Here she is on ‘apostrophes’ (skip the first 2mins 30)

    Now for that niggling grammatical concern, the RANDOM APOSTROPHE!

    It may help to indulge in a little grammatical anthropomorphism.

    Meet Bertha (or Bruce/Beatrice/etc) the Belonging Apostrophe. Bertha’s only job in life is to tell you that there is possession involved. If you find it easier, consider this possession in the spiritual sense, but it is just about something belonging to someone/something.

    The cup belongs to Simon. It is Simon’s cup.

    The cup belongs to Maria. It is the cup of Maria. It is Maria’s cup.

    The cup belongs to James. It is the cup of James. It is James’s cup. (It can also be James’ cup. This is also fine but choose one and stick with it.)

    The (sports) cup belongs to the class. It is the cup of the class. It is the class’s cup.

    The (drinking) cups belong to the class. They are the cups of the class. They are the class’s cups.

    Things can get a bit more complicated when there is already a double 's', but if you look for Bertha, she is right there.

    The cup belongs to the boss. It is the boss’s cup.

    The cups belong to the bosses. They are the bosses’ cups.
    Bertha realises that "the bosses's cups" would be overkill. That's not her style.

    The (drinking) cups belong to the classes. [There are 500 drinking cups that belong to many different classes.] They are the classes' cups.


    If the item (cup, etc) belongs not to him or her but to 'it', THERE IS NO APOSTROPHE!
    You will see this mistake A LOT.

    The door of the car was scratched. Its door was scratched.
    The leg of the table is broken. Its leg is broken.


    CONTRAST THIS with Connie/Connor/etc the CONTRACTION apostrophe. Connie’s role is to save space – to replace missing letters. She’s busy when you “won’t or don’t or can’t”. She works when “it isn’t (sunny/rainy/possible/etc)”.

    She also works, and this is the key one, when it ‘IS’.

    It is sunny. It’s sunny.
    Also, ‘HAS’.

    It has been sunny all week. It’s been sunny all week.


    Who is at the door? Who’s at the door?

    Who would have thought it? Who'd've thought it? [This is more complex!]


    Whose cups are these? (It makes no sense to use an apostrophe because there is no belonging and no contraction.)


    The “ ’s ” is NOT used for plurals. There is nothing missing so no need for Connie. There is no possession/belonging involved, so no Bertha. There is no need for a random apostrophe. It’s just wrong. See photo below taken this morning at Westminster tube station.

    The rare exception to this is for abbreviations. One way to remember this is that there are some letters missing so Connie (who deals with contractions/missing letters) steps in to help:

    He received four A’s and two B’s.

    We hired three M.D.’s and two F.O.’s.

    Be sure to cross your t’s and dot your i’s.

    Our M.P.’s are being wrongly instructed in grammar on the daily commute. See photo below...

    Happy scribbling!


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