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Cheat Sheet

English Grammar Workbook For Dummies (UK Edition)

Grappling with English grammar problems, clearing up confusion caused by similar-sounding words, and improving your writing skills in general is made easier with this handy Cheat Sheet.

Punctuating Sentences Correctly

Here are some quick tips and handy hints for when and how to use the grammatical marks that most often trip people up when they’re writing, plus some guidance on improving your writing.

Comma:

  • To set apart the name of a person being addressed

  • After an introductory expression

  • To separate extra, nonessential statements from the rest of the sentence

  • Following the Dear Sir or Madam line in a business letter

Semicolon:

  • To join two complete sentences without using and, but and similar words

  • To separate items in a list when at least one item contains a comma

Colon:

  • To introduce a long quotation

  • To introduce a list

Dash:

  • To separate and add emphasis to an extra comment in a sentence

  • To show a range (numbers 1 – 64)

Apostrophe:

  • To show possession (Herman’s hermit, the girls’ gym class)

  • To substitute for missing numerals (’07)

  • To substitute for missing letters in contractions (isn’t, what’s and he's)

Hyphens:

  • To divide words or syllables at the end of a line

  • To link two descriptions of one word (second-string violinist)

  • To attach prefixes to words that start with capital letters (anti-Nazi)

Add interest to your writing with these tricks:

  • Start with a description (Dangling over the cliff, Martha considered her options)

  • Combine sentences by inserting one idea into another (Martha, who hated heights, looked at the ground)

  • Occasionally reverse the usual subject-verb order (Onto the valley floor thumped Martha)

  • Cut unnecessary words (The mountain was 3,000 feet high in altitude. No need for in altitude.)

  • Look for strong verbs (Strolled or rushed instead of went, for example)

Commonly Confused Words and Descriptions

It’s easy to mix up similar sounding words. Refer to this handy list to help you out if you need a helpful reminder of the most commonly confused words:

Affect: Generally a verb meaning ‘to influence’
Effect: Usually a noun meaning ‘result’

Good: Describes a person, place, thing or idea
Well: Describes an action

Lie: As a verb, ‘to rest or recline’
Lay: As a verb, ‘to place in a certain position’

Its: Shows possession
It’s: Contraction of ‘it is’

There: Indicates a position or place
Their: Shows possession
They’re: Contraction of ‘they are’

Like: As a preposition, means ‘similar to’
As: Precedes a subject/verb statement

That: Preceding a subject/verb statement, usually introduces essential information and isn’t preceded by a comma
Which: Preceding a subject/verb statement, indicates extra information and is preceded by a comma

Between: For two choices
Among: For a group of three or more

Farther: Used for distance
Further: Used for time or intensity

Who’s: A contraction meaning ‘who is’
Whose: A possessive pronoun (belonging to who)

You can’t really compare words that express absolute states. Take the following, for example:

  • Unique (not really unique or very unique)

  • Round (never rounder or the roundest)

  • Perfect (not more perfect or extremely perfect)

  • True (stay away from most true)

  • Dead (deader or deadest? Neither!)

Sorting Out the Finer Points of English Grammar

The finer points of English grammar can be tricky to get your head around but use the following reminders to brush up your writing skills.

Tricky singular/plural situations:

  • Companies are singular; they take a singular verb and pronoun (it, not they or their).

  • In sentences that contain neither/nor or either/or, match the verb to the closest subject.

What to capitalise:

  • Proper names

  • The first word in a sentence

  • Titles before and attached to names

  • Titles used as substitutes for names

  • The first word and all other important words in a title or subtitle

  • Each letter in an acronym

  • Some abbreviations

What to put in lower case:

  • Years in school (primary 4, second year, and so forth)

  • School subjects, except for languages (history, science and algebra, for example)

  • Titles not attached to or used as names (she’s a professor)

  • Directions (north, south, inward, up and so on)

  • General terms for geographical features (canyon, river, mountain and the like)

  • Academic degrees (a master’s, a bachelor’s degree)

To use possessive nouns and pronouns properly, follow these rules:

  • Make a possessive noun by adding an apostrophe and the letter s to a singular noun

  • Add an apostrophe to a plural noun that ends in the letter s to create a possessive

  • To show possession, add an apostrophe and the letter s to a plural noun that doesn’t end in the letter s

  • Possessive pronouns (my, his, theirs, whose and so forth) never contain apostrophes

  • Place a possessive noun or pronoun in front of an -ing verb form used as a noun (her drawing, Kate’s running, and the like)

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