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Cheat Sheet

1,001 Grammar Practice Questions For Dummies

As the old cliché says, "practice makes perfect," and while you're on the road to grammar perfection, a quick glance at the rules for proper grammar usage may help. Review some basic — and important — points related to sentence creation, common errors in new media communication, and overall polished grammar.

Putting Together Sentence Essentials

The basic unit of expression, a sentence is more than just a string of words. Here's what you need to put together a proper, complete sentence:

  • Complete thought: Don't leave the reader wondering what comes next. Long or short, the sentence must express at least one complete idea.

  • Subject-verb pair: The verb expresses action (goes, for example) or state of being (has been, perhaps), and the subject is the person or thing performing that action or existing in that state of being. The pair must match: Gene is marching (subject = Gene, verb = is marching) matches, but Gene marching doesn't.

  • Endmark: A period, question mark, or exclamation point must mark the end of your sentence.

The preceding bulleted list explains what you need, but you should also know what to avoid when you're constructing a complete sentence:

  • Run-ons and comma splices: Joining more than one subject-verb statement or question is fine, as long as you link them up correctly with a conjunction (and, or, but, nor, for, since, although, because, and many more) or a semicolon (;).

  • Fragments: A string of ideas, no matter how many ideas it contains, doesn't add up to a sentence unless a complete thought and a matching subject-verb pair are present. Check out this fragment: Because Pete, moving sheets of paper on his desk, everyone thinking he was working. Looks important and official, right? It's a fragment, though. Take a look at the correct version: Because Pete was moving sheets of paper on his desk, everyone thought he was working.

Nobody wants to settle for just the basics, in life or in grammar. The extra ingredients that add flavor to your sentences are these:

  • Descriptions: These divide into two huge categories: adjectives (which describe nouns and pronouns) and adverbs (which describe verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs). Descriptions can be a single word (solid, slowly), a phrase (by the sea, in the sky), or a longer, subject-verb statement (that Henry wrote, where Julie paddles). Some verb forms also act as descriptions at times (running around in circles, having joined the circus).

  • Complements: Objects (nouns or pronouns that receive the action of a verb) and subject complements (nouns, pronouns or adjectives that complete the linking verb statement) allow you to scold the dog (dog = direct object) and notice that the room is bright (bright = subject complement).

Writing Stylish Sentences

When it comes to writing stylish sentences, you have many choices. You can go vintage or opt for the latest thing to hit the runway as long as you don't violate the rules of grammar. Here are some points to consider:

  • Voice: Active voice (Juliet spoke from her balcony) is generally stronger and better than passive (Romeo was spoken to by Juliet).

  • Parallelism: By the rules of grammar, everything performing the same function in a sentence or list must have the same grammatical identity (all nouns, all phrases, and so forth, as in writing, erasing, printing or to write, to erase, to print). Parallel elements have the same level of importance — a quality you can exploit when you want to emphasize equality.

  • Sentence length and pattern: Have you ever read a paragraph in which all the sentences are long and boring, following the same pattern (usually subject-verb-complement) without a single change? If you have, you probably hate those paragraphs. Everyone does! A small deviation (like the two-word sentence, everyone does) adds interest. To mix things up a bit, drop in some reverse-order sentences (Down the hall ran Bobby!), introductory verb forms (Running blindfolded, did Bobby hit a tree?), and other variations.

New Media, New Grammatical Errors

Texts, tweets, instant messages, e-mails, and visual presentations featuring bulleted lists are relatively new on the scene, and the grammatical rules governing them are still evolving. Nevertheless, most people agree that you should avoid these mistakes:

  • Unclear abbreviations: Especially when you're "typing" on a keyboard the size of a fingernail, it's tempting to abbreviate. Go for it, as long as you're sure the person reading your message will understand what you're trying to say. Remember cao. (See how this works? Cao is a made-up abbreviation, used nowhere but here, for "common abbreviations only.")

  • Dropping elements essential to your meaning: Don't drop a word or punctuation mark that adds an important fact. Dinner 8 p.m. may be a command or an assumption. Dinner 8 p.m.? is an invitation.

  • Inappropriate level of formality: Powerful people can break as many grammar rules as they want, as long as the meaning is clear. If you're writing or presenting information to someone with more power, however, be careful. Bulleted lists should be parallel, capital letters should be in their proper place, and punctuation should be inserted as needed.

5 Things to Check for Grammatical Perfection

Looking over a piece of writing before you sign off on it is a good habit to form. Remember to check these common spots that attract trouble:

  • Verbs: Are they in the correct tense, shifting only if the meaning requires a change? Do they agree with the subject (singular with singular, plural with plural)?

  • Pronouns: Do they agree with the word they represent (a singular pronoun replacing a singular noun or another singular pronoun, a plural pronoun standing in for a plural noun or pronoun)? If a pronoun is a subject, does it agree with the verb? Is the pronoun in the proper case (subject, object, possessive)?

  • Descriptions: Are they located near the word they describe? Have you attached adjectives to nouns and pronouns and adverbs to verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs?

  • Comparisons: Have you checked irregular forms? Are all your comparisons complete and clear?

  • Mechanics: Are capital letters in the right place? Does every sentence include an endmark? Have you placed quotation marks and commas where they're needed? Have you removed apostrophes from plurals and possessive pronouns (where they don't belong) and inserted them in contractions and possessive nouns (where they do)?

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