Cheat Sheet

English Grammar Workbook For Dummies

Writing proper English — and deciding how proper you want to be in a given situation — isn't as easy as they make it look on TV, but it's not brain surgery either. Check out these tips on punctuation, sentence completeness, capitalization, singular/plural issues, pronouns, and the words voted "Most Likely to Be Misused" (just kidding about the voting, but these words really are a pain). Also, take a look at some style suggestions that add variety to your sentences, and find out how to avoid grammar mistakes in PowerPoint-style presentations and bulleted lists.

Tricky Grammar: Is It Singular or Plural?

Usually, it's pretty clear whether a noun is singular or plural. Some words, however, can be tricky — and figuring out if you should pair a singular or plural verb or pronoun with them is essential. Follow these guidelines for help with singular and plural situations:

  • Each and every create a singular subject, no matter what they precede, and therefore take a singular verb.

  • Pronouns containing -body, -thing, and -one (such as everybody, anything, and someone) are singular. They match up with singular verbs and shouldn't pair with the plural pronoun their (a plural).

  • 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.

Possessive Rules of English Grammar

Who owns what? An apostrophe helps answer that question. Here's how to place an apostrophe in the right spot to show possession:

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

  • 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 that is being used as a noun (my swimming, Arthur's dancing, and the like).

Creating Grammatically Correct Bulleted Lists

How did we live without presentation slides and bulleted lists? They're everywhere, but their grammar may be confusing. Follow this guide to keep your bulleted lists looking good:

  • If the introduction ends in a form of the verb to be, don't place a colon at the end of the introduction.

  • If the introduction is a complete thought or if it concludes with the following, a colon should appear at the end of the introduction.

  • Items in a list should have the same grammatical structure — all nouns, all sentences, all adjectives, and so forth. Don't mix and match.

  • If the items in a list are complete sentences, each item needs an endmark.

  • If the items in a list aren't complete sentences, no endmarks appear.

  • Always capitalize proper names. Also capitalize the first word of a bullet if the item is a complete sentence.

  • If the items in a list aren't complete sentences, you may capitalize them or use lowercase (your choice!) unless they combine with the introduction to create a complete sentence. In that situation, don't capitalize the first word in the bullet item.

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