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Old Wednesday, October 15, 2014
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Default Useful grammar tips

Apostrophes

Don't use an apostrophe to form a plural. A sentence like Please keep the gate's clear is wrong. Use an apostrophe to indicate possession or to show that a word has been contracted
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Dangling Participles

Dangling participles often make good jokes. But they can be confusing and it's best to avoid them. A participle should describe the grammatical subject of the main clause, as in the sentence Walking down the road, I bumped into a friend. A dangling participle is one that the speaker really intends to describe something other than the grammatical subject of the sentence. If we interpret Riding along on my bicycle, a dog knocked me over grammatically, the participle riding must relate to dog, so we end up with a dog that has first stolen a bicycle and then ridden it carelessly! The speaker really means riding to relate to me, and anyone reading or hearing the sentence would understand this. As a rule, however, it's best to construct sentences so that they say what you really mean them to.
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As and like

Use like before a noun, as in:

She's very like her mother.

Where a clause follows, you should use as or as if, e.g.

He's behaving as if he owns the place. ---- This sentence is a right one.
Heís behaving like he owns the place. ---- This sentence is a wrong one.

Or

You don't know him as I do. ---- This sentence is a right one.
You donít know him like I do. ---- This sentence is a wrong one.
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Commas

Why does the sentence 'People, who lived in the neighbourhood, were opposed to the building plans' sound funny?

If you are using a relative clause to identify the person or thing you are talking about, you should not separate it from the main clause with a comma.

The man who lives next door is very helpful.

In the above sentence, the words who lives next door tell us which man is being talked about.

You could only say:

The man, who lives next door, is very helpful.

If you had already identified the man in some other way, use commas to separate off a relative clause that gives more information, which may be interesting but is not essential if someone is to understand what you are saying, but don't use a comma if the relative clause is essential to the meaning of the sentence.
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He or She or They

People are increasingly using the plural pronoun they to refer to one person if they do not know whether that person is male or female. Until quite recently, he was generally used to refer to a person of either sex as in: Every child needs to know that he is loved. But nowadays many people feel that such a use is sexist.

He or she is possible, but is rather awkward. They is generally accepted in sentences using words such as someone or anyone.

Example:

Anyone can join if they are a resident.

More people object to they being used after a single noun as in:

Ask a friend if they can help.

Interestingly, use of they in this way is not a modern invention. It was first recorded in the 16th century.
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Less or Fewer

Use the comparative form fewer with plural nouns.

Example:

There are fewer people here than there were yesterday. --- This is a wrong sentence.

There are less people here than there were yesterday. --- This is a right sentence.

Use less with uncountable nouns - that is, ones with no plural form.

Example:

He has less money than I have.
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Haves and Have-Nots

Remember the had in sentences like I had better go now. Because I had can be contracted to I'd. People often hear it as I and leave out had altogether. I better go is not correct in Standard English.

Always use I'd or I had.

Avoid Should of.

In sentences like I might have known them.

You should have gone.

Many people use of instead of have.

This is wrong.

Remember to use have.
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Double Negatives

Be sure that you know what you are trying to say if you use two negative words in a sentence. In English, two negatives cancel each other out rather than double the negative force of your sentence. I didn't see no one is a rather strange way of saying that you saw someone rather than an emphatic way of saying that you saw no one.

It is also wrong to say something like There wasn't hardly anyone there.

Hardly and scarcely should not be used with negatives.

Similarly, the verb miss already has a negative meaning and doesn't need to have a negative added:

Right Sentence : I miss seeing her.

Wrong Sentence : I miss not seeing her.
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Lying and Laying

Don't mix up lie and lay. You lay something as in:

They are going to lay the carpet.

But you lie down on a bed or other flat surface.

Sentences such as the following ones are wrong.

He is laying on the bed or why don't you lie it on the bed?

Correct forms are:

He is lying on the bed and why don't you lay it on the bed?

The past tense and past participle of lay is laid.

They laid the groundwork.

She had laid careful plans.

The past tense of lie is lay and the past participle is lain.

He lay on the floor.

She had lain on the bed for hours.
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I or me

Be careful to use the pronouns I and me, he and him, she and her, we and us and they and them in the right place.

Use I, we, etc. when you are talking about someone who has done something (i.e. who is the subject of the sentence).

Use me, us, etc. when you are talking about someone who has had something done to them (i.e. who is the object of the sentence).

People most often make mistakes over this when they are talking about more than one person:

Me and Annie had a dog once.

Adrian and me were going out.

Both these sentences are wrong.

In these sentences you should use I, not me. Because the two people are the subject in both.

Annie and I had a dog once.

Watch Helen and I while we show you.

The above sentence is a wrong one. You need me here as the object of watch.

Watch Helen and me while we show you.

The above sentence is the right one.

Everything depends on you and I.

The above sentence is a wrong one. Use me, us, etc. after prepositions.

Everything depends on you and me.

The above sentence is the right one.

A good guide in cases like these is to see whether the sentence sounds right with only the pronoun.

If Me had a dog is wrong, then so is Annie and me had a dog.

If you wouldn't say Watch I while I show you, you shouldn't say Watch Helen and I.

It's right to say between you and me and wrong to say between you and I. This is because a preposition such as between should be followed by an object pronoun such as me, him, her and us rather than a subject pronoun such as I, he, she and we.
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