English Grammar All-in-One For Dummies
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If you're learning English grammar or trying to brush up on some of it, this Cheat Sheet will come in handy. It includes the parts of speech, sentence essentials, tips on using pronouns and punctuation, adding style to your writing, and more.

Parts of speech

Parts of speech are the building blocks of the English language. If you know how to use them properly, you can communicate more effectively. Here they are, with a few examples in parentheses:

  • Noun: Names a person, place, thing, idea (Lulu, jail, cantaloupe, loyalty)
  • Pronoun: Takes the place of a noun (he, they, who, I, what)
  • Verb: Expresses action or being (scrambled, was, should win, must study)
  • Adjective: Describes a noun or pronoun (messy, strange, alien, hilarious)
  • Adverb: Describes a verb, an adjective, or another adverb (willingly, woefully, very, soon, here)
  • Preposition: Relates a noun or a pronoun to another word in the sentence (by, for, from, according to, of)
  • Conjunction: Ties together two words or groups of words (and, but, after, although, because)
  • Interjection: Not grammatically connected to the sentence, generally expresses strong emotion (yikes! wow! ouch!)

Sentence essentials

The smallest writing unit that reflects your personal style, a sentence is the vehicle that drives your message home to the reader.

Here’s what you need in a sentence, according to the rules of Standard English:

  • Complete thought: Don’t leave the reader hanging, wondering what comes next. Long or short, the sentence must express at least one complete idea.
  • Subject–verb pair: The verb expresses action or state of being, 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.
  • End mark: A period, a question mark, or an exclamation point must appear at the end of a sentence.

Here’s what to avoid:

  • Run-ons and comma splices: Don’t jam together two or more subject-verb expressions with no punctuation or just a comma. Link them with a conjunction (and, or, but, nor, for, since, although, because, and similar words) or a semicolon ( ; ).
  • Fragments: Don’t spool out a string of ideas with no matching subject-verb pair or complete thought, as this fragment does: Because Pete, moving sheets of paper on his desk, everyone thinking he was working. It looks important and official, right? It’s a fragment, though. The correct version: Because Pete was moving sheets of paper on his desk, everyone thought he was working.

Pronoun tips

Pronouns have undergone some changes in recent years — just as they have for centuries. (That’s why this isn’t thy book.) Pronouns streamline expression, show possession, and unify ideas. Here are different types of pronouns:

  • Pronouns that may be used only as subjects or subject complements: I, he, she, we, they, who, whoever
  • Pronouns that may be used only as objects or objective complements: me, him, her, us, them, whom, whomever
  • Common pronouns that may be used as either subjects or objects: you, it, everyone, anyone, no one, someone, mine, ours, yours, theirs, either, neither, each, everybody, anybody, nobody, somebody, everything, anything, nothing, something, any, none, some, which, what, that
  • Pronouns that show possession: my, mine, your, yours, his, her, hers, its, our, ours, their, theirs, whose

Adding style

To liven up your writing, consider these elements:


Add some adjectives (describing nouns and pronouns) or adverbs (describing verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs). Throw in some single-word descriptions (solid, slowly), a few phrases (by the sea, in the sky), and maybe a longer, subject-verb statement (that Henry wrote, where Julie paddles).

Take your descriptive powers to the next level with verb forms that also act as descriptions (running around in circles, having joined the circus).


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).

Active voice

When you can, opt for active voice (Juliet spoke from her balcony), which is generally stronger and more fluid than passive (Romeo was spoken to by Juliet).

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? Snoozefest!

Play around with long and short sentences. Move some elements around to create interest (All day and all night worked Luke instead of the more common Luke worked all day and all night).

Tips for subject-verb agreement

Grammarians argue a lot, but they agree that grammatical elements should agree: Singular subjects pair with singular verbs, and plural subjects with plural verbs. Consider these tricky points:

  • Amounts of time and money are usually singular. (Ten dollars is . . . three years was . . .)
  • For either–or and neither–nor, match the verb to the closest subject. (Neither the boys nor the girl is. . . Either the girl or the boys are . . .)
  • Either and neither, without their partners or and nor, always take a singular verb. (Either of the apples is . . . Neither of the boxes was . . .)
  • All subjects preceded by each and every take a singular verb.
  • Both, few, several, and many are always plural.
  • Any, some, none, most, and all may be either singular or plural. If you’re talking about something plural, use a plural verb. (All of the shoes are . . .) If you’re talking about something singular, use a singular verb. (Some of the land is . . .)

Punctuation tips

Punctuation can express emotion, create questions, indicate quoted material, and do all sorts of other useful tasks, such as these:

  • Comma
    • Sets apart the name of a person being addressed
    • Follows an introductory expression
    • Separates extra, nonessential statements from the rest of the sentence
    • Follows the greeting (Dear Aunt Janet, for example) in an informal letter
  • Semicolon
    • Joins two complete sentences without using and, but, or similar words
    • Separates items in a list when at least one item contains a comma
  • Colon
    • Introduces a long quotation
    • Introduces a long list
    • Follows the greeting (for example, Dear Mr. Jones:) in a formal letter
  • Dash
    • Separates and adds emphasis to an extra comment in a sentence
    • Shows a range (numbers 1–64)
  • Apostrophe
    • Shows possession (Herman’s hermit, the girls’ gym class)
    • Substitutes for missing numerals (’07)
    • Substitutes for missing letters in contractions (isn’t, what’s, and he’s)
  • Hyphen
    • Divides words or syllables at the end of a line
    • Links two descriptions of one word (second-string violinist)
    • Attaches prefixes to words that start with capital letters (anti-Nazi)

Verb tense

Verbs change in form to tell the time period, or tense. You use different verb forms to indicate whether an action has already happened, is happening now, will happen in the future, and several different variations:

  • Present: Happening at the current time (I talk, he talks, they talk)
  • Present progressive: In the process of happening (I am talking, he is talking, they are talking)
  • Past: Happened before now (I talked, he talked, they talked)
  • Past progressive: Happened over a period of time before now (I was talking, he was talking, they were talking)
  • Future: Will happen after the present time (I will talk, he will talk, they will talk)
  • Future progressive: Will happen over a period of time after the present time (I will be talking, he will be talking, they will be talking)
  • Present perfect: Started in the past and continues in the present (I have talked, he has talked, they have talked)
  • Past perfect: Happened in the past before another event in the past (I had talked, he had talked, they had talked)
  • Future perfect: Will happen in the future before a deadline (I will have talked, he will have talked, they will have talked)

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Geraldine Woods has taught every level of English from 5th grade through AP. Her more than 50 books include English Grammar For Dummies and many children's books. At www.grammarianinthecity.com, Woods blogs about current language trends and amusing signs she spots around New York City.

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