Category: Grammar and Mechanics

Names of Nationalities and Languages

Be careful to use the correct adjective and noun forms to describe nationalities and languages. These are more complicated in English than in many languages. See the lists here: https://www.espressoenglish.net/english-vocabulary-countries-nationalities-and-languages/.

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Commas

A writer can get by in most circumstances with only the most basic punctuation. Periods need to follow declarative sentences, question marks follow questions, exclamation points follow excited or shouted sentences, and quotation...

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Noun Usage: Countable and noncountable nouns

All nouns in English are either countable or noncountable, and this affects how they are quantified and whether they can be made plural. Many abstract nouns, used to talk about ideas, are noncountable. This issue relates to subject-verb agreement, rules of article use, and the vocabulary used for quantifiers.

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Homophones

Because English is a hybrid language of Old German, Latin (via French), some Greek, and a smattering of others, there are a few words that have different meanings, but sound the same. We call these words “homophones” and they...

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Hyphens

Hyphens are used to combine two words into one, as in compound adjectives. Example: Not hyphenating compound adjectives is an all-too-common error. Here the words “all,” “too,” and “common” are working together to modify the...

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Homonyms

In 1968, a band known as The Yardbirds decided to change their name to Led Zeppelin and people have commented on the spelling of “Led” ever since. The problem was that the word “lead” (atomic element 82) and the word “lead” (the...

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Em-Dash

The em-dash (which is different from a hyphen), ironically, has a hyphen in its name. Em-dashes are used in place of parentheses or as an alternative to a comma, semicolon, or colon. If that sounds confusing, that’s okay—you’re...

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Verb Usage: Subject-verb agreement

Subject-verb agreement can be an issue in any sentence in English. Verbs need to be conjugated to their nouns, and this can become more complicated when grammatical subjects become longer and more complicated. Additionally, some nouns can cause confusion about whether they are singular or plural.

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Who/Whom

To Whom it May Concern, When in the course of human events it becomes necessary to refer to a person by way of an indefinite pronoun as the object of a verb or prepositional phrase, the correct pronoun to use is “whom.” For all...

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Semicolons

Kurt Vonnegut once wrote that writers should “not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.” He might have been right. It seems...

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Adverbs

Few things do more to distinguish skilled writers from amateurs than the way in which they use adverbs (words that modify verbs and usually end with -ly). The following examples demonstrate why: Example 1: Jane ran quickly past...

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Run-On Sentences

Understanding sentence boundaries is essential to writing. A sentence (at its most basic) requires a subject (a noun) and a verb (an action). Example: He ran. The subject here (he) did an action (ran) and so we have a complete...

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Verb Usage: Simple past vs. present perfect

Both of these tenses are used to focus on the past, but the meaning is different. The simple past is used to describe things in the past that are completed and happened at a known time, while the present perfect is used to describe: 1) things that happened in the past at an unknown or nonspecific time, and 2) things that began in the past and have continued until the present.

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Pronouns

Pronouns are words that are used in place of nouns. Example: The most common pronoun error involves placing the pronoun too far away from the noun that it is replacing (the antecedent). Example: The room spun and she had to prop...

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