Category: Grammar and Mechanics

Modal Verbs – an Overview

Modal verbs can be used for a number of purposes, including giving advice, making requests, and expressing degrees of certainty. The grammar of modals is fairly simple, but the vocabulary can be confusing, because many of the same modals are used for several different purposes.

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Was/Were

Hypothetically speaking, if you were to write about something that might possibly happen in the future, you would use the verb “were” and not the verb “was.” Incorrect: “I know I would if I w[as] free—only I don’t want to be...

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Subject/Verb Agreement

Ensuring that verbs agree with their subjects is a problem that less-experienced writers frequently have and, while it sounds complicated at first, the truth is that it’s a fairly simple problem to fix. In English, (and Latin...

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Punctuation: The Basics

Punctuation doesn’t have to be complicated. If you can put periods at the ends of declarative sentences, question marks at the ends of questions, and the occasional comma between dependent and independent clauses, then you’ll be...

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Article Use (a, an, the…)

Using articles appropriately is one of the most difficult grammatical points in English to master. It is not necessarily essential in speech, but it’s something that should be checked for when writing.

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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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