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Chapter 20 Grammar

Rules of English

People who are new to the English language frequently encounter rules of grammar that cause confusion, and those struggles are to be expected. But even native English users know that most everyone has issues with grammar sometimes. In this chapter, you will have a chance to review all the basic grammar rules. The first two sections address subject and verb issues. The next three sections cover noun cases and a variety of pronoun rules. The final section presents guidelines for using adverbs and adjectives.

20.1 Making Sure Subject and Verbs Agree

Learning Objectives

  1. Recognize typical subject/verb agreement.
  2. Learn how to match the subject and verb when other words come between them, how to work with compound subjects, how to use titles involving collective subjects, and how to use indefinite subjects.
  3. Learn the rules for matching subjects coming after the verb, relative pronouns, gerunds, infinitives, and singular subjects that look plural.

Subjects and verbs must agree in two ways: number (singular or plural) and person (first, second, or third). These two general rules hold through all the different subject/verb guidelines. As a rule, plural subjects end in -s and plural verbs do not end in -s. In this section, the noun is in bold and the verb is in italic.

Pairing Verbs with Singular and Plural Subjects

Many sentences have subjects and verbs that appear side by side. The subjects in these sentences are often clearly singular or plural, and they clearly determine the needed verb form.

Situation Example Watch Out For
Typical singular subject followed directly by the verb The US government establishes national parks on an ongoing basis, such as the six parks formed in Alaska in 1980. Don’t get confused into thinking that a singular subject needs a verb without an -s. The plural version would be “governments establish.”
Typical plural subject followed directly by the verb National parks provide wonderful opportunities for people to commune with nature. The subject “parks” is plural and it agrees with “provide.” The singular version would be “park provides.”

Matching Subjects and Verbs That Are Separated by Other Words

When words fall between a subject and verb, the singular/plural state of the subject is sometimes confusing. Always make sure you are matching the verb to the subject and not to one of the words between the two.

Situation Example Watch Out For
Words fall between subject and verb Six national parks in Alaska were formed in 1980. Mistaking “Alaska” for the subject would make it seem as if the verb should be “was formed.”

Joining Plural Verbs to Compound or Double Subjects

Compound subjects joined by the word “and” are plural since there is more than one of them. Double subjects joined by “or” or “nor” match to a verb based on the status of the subject closest to the verb.

Situation Example Watch Out For
Compound subject with plural verb Rock and grass combine to make Badlands National Park amazing. “Rock and grass” is a plural subject formed by two singular words. Don’t get confused and use “combines” for the verb because the individual subjects are singular.
Noncompound double subject functioning as a singular subject Depending on where you look, rock or grass dominates your view. Since the subjects are joined by “or,” they do not automatically become plural because there are two of them.

Pairing Singular Verbs with Titles and Collective Subjects

Regardless of the singular or plural nature of the words within a title, the title is considered one unit; thus it is a singular noun. Similarly, collective nounsA noun that includes two or more persons or things but is considered singular because it represents one group or one unit (e.g., audience)., such as “committee,” function as singular nouns regardless of how many people or things might actually make up the collective noun.

Situation Example Watch Out For
Title with singular verb Everglades National Park preserves thousands of acres of wetlands. This title isn’t plural just because word “Everglades” is plural. The park is one thing and, therefore, is singular.
Collective subject with singular verb The team meets twice a year at Far View Lodge in Mesa Verde National Park. Although you know that the “team” is made up of more than one person, you must view “team” as a single unit.

Teaming Singular Verbs with Indefinite Subjects

Whether an indefinite subject is singular or plural depends on whether the indefinite nounA noun that can be singular sometimes and plural other times. has a singular or plural meaning on its own or based on the rest of the sentence.

Situation Example Watch Out For
Indefinite subject with singular meaning on its own Each of the fossils in the Petrified Forest National Park tells a story. Even though there is more than one fossil, the word “each” is always singular. Many indefinite subjects are always singular. Examples include another, anyone, anything, each, everybody, everything, neither, nobody, one, other, and something.
Indefinite subject with singular meaning based on the rest of the sentence All of Arizona was once located in a tropical region. Since “Arizona” is singular, “all” is singular. Some indefinite subjects can be singular or plural. Examples include all, any, more, most, none, some, and such.
Indefinite subject with plural meaning based on the rest of the sentence All the petrified trees in the Petrified Forest National Park are millions of years old. Since “trees” is plural, “all” is plural.
Indefinite subject with plural meaning on its own Both scrubland and rock formations are common in desert settings. Some indefinite subjects are always plural. Examples include both, few, fewer, many, others, several, and they.

Choosing Verbs When the Subject Comes after the Verb

The standard sentence format in English presents the subject before the verb. In reversed sentences, you need to find the subject and then make sure it matches the verb. To find the subject, fill the following blank with the verb and then ask the question of yourself: who or what _____?

Situation Example Watch Out For
Subject comes after the verb Throughout Mammoth Cave National Park run passages covering over 367 miles. Who or what runs? The passages do. Even though you might be tempted to think “Mammoth Cave National Park” is the subject, it is not doing the action of the verb. Since “passages” is plural, it must match up to a plural verb.

Deciding If Relative Pronouns Take a Singular or Plural Verb

Relative pronounsA pronoun that is singular or plural based on the pronoun’s antecedent (e.g., who, that)., such as who, which, that, and one of, are singular or plural based on the pronoun’s antecedentA noun or pronoun that is represented by a pronoun.. You have to look at the antecedent of the relative clause to know whether to use a singular or plural verb.

Situation Example Watch Out For
Relative pronoun that is singular The Organ, which rises up seven hundred feet, is so named for its resemblance to a pipe organ. The word “organ” is singular and is the antecedent for “which.” So the word “which” is also singular. The word “which” is the subject for the relative clause “which rises up seven hundred feet” and, therefore, requires a singular verb (rises).
Relative pronoun that is plural Arches National Park in Utah offers sites that mesmerize the most skeptical people. The word “sites” is plural and is the antecedent for “that.” The word “that” is the subject for the relative clause “that mesmerize the most skeptical people.” So “that” is plural in this case and requires a plural verb (mesmerize).

Matching Singular Subjects to Gerunds and Infinitives

GerundsNoun form of a verb created by adding -ing to the base verb (e.g., laughing). are nouns formed by adding -ing to a verb. Gerunds can combine with other words to form gerund phrases, which function as subjects in sentences. Gerund phrases are always considered singular.

InfinitivesNoun form of a verb created by adding to before the base verb (e.g., to laugh). are the “to” forms of verbs, such as to run and to sing. Infinitives can be joined with other words to form an infinitive phrase. These phrases can serve as the subject of a sentence. Like gerund phrases, infinitive phrases are always singular.

Situation Example Watch Out For
Gerund phrase as singular subject Veering off the paths is not recommended on the steep hills of Acadia National Park. Don’t be fooled by the fact that “paths” is plural. The subject of this sentence is the whole gerund phrase, which is considered to be singular. So a singular verb is needed.
Infinitive phrase as singular subject To restore Acadia National Park after the 1947 fire was a Rockefeller family mission. All words in an infinitive phrase join together to create a singular subject.

Recognizing Singular Subjects That Look Plural and Then Choosing a Verb

Some subjects appear plural when they are actually singular. Some of these same subjects are plural in certain situations, so you have to pay close attention to the whole sentence.

Situation Example Watch Out For
Singular subjects that look plural Politics plays a part in determining which areas are named as national parks. Many subjects are or can be singular, but look plural, such as athletics, mathematics, mumps, physics, politics, statistics, and news. Take care when matching verbs to these subjects.
Subject that looks plural, and is sometimes singular and sometimes plural State and national politics sway Congress during national park designation talks. Just because words such as “politics” can be singular doesn’t mean that they always are. In this case, the adjectives “state and national” clarify that different sources of politics are involved (“state politics” and “national politics”), so “politics” is plural in this case.

Key Takeaways

  • A typical English sentence has a clear singular or plural subject followed by an equally clear singular or plural verb.
  • Take extra care to match subjects and verbs when other words come between them by not using those extra words in your determination.
  • Compound subjects always use a plural verb.
  • Titles and collective subjects always require singular verbs.
  • Indefinite subjects are singular or plural based on their own meaning, the rest of the sentence, or both.
  • When a subject comes after the verb, locate the subject by identifying who or what completed the action. Then apply the appropriate subject/verb agreement guideline.
  • Use antecedents to decide whether relative pronouns are singular or plural. Then match them to verbs.
  • Gerunds and infinitives are always singular and take singular verbs.
  • Some subjects look plural whether they are singular or plural. With such subjects, take special care when making sure the subjects and verbs agree.

Exercise

  1. Write sentences to meet each of the following criteria. For each sentence, be sure that the subjects and verbs agree.

    1. Write a sentence that has words between the subject and verb.
    2. Write a sentence with a compound subject.
    3. Write a sentence that has a title of a song, movie, television show, or national park for a subject.
    4. Write a sentence that has a collective noun for a subject.
    5. Write a sentence that has an indefinite subject (another, anyone, anything, each, everybody, everything, neither, nobody, one, other, or something).
    6. Write a sentence where the subject comes after the verb.
    7. Write a sentence that uses a relative pronoun as a singular subject.
    8. Write a sentence that uses a relative pronoun as a plural subject.
    9. Write a sentence that has a gerund phrase for the subject.
    10. Write a sentence that has an infinitive phrase for the subject.
    11. Write a sentence that has a subject that looks plural but is actually singular.
    12. Write a sentence that has a subject that looks plural and is sometimes singular but is plural in this situation.

20.2 Avoiding General Verb Problems

Learning Objectives

  1. Understand the difference between regular verbs and irregular verbs and use both versions correctly.
  2. Use verb tenses accurately and completely.
  3. Match infinitives and participles to verb tenses.

What if all coffee makers worked the same way, all vehicles had the exact same dashboard setup, and all verbs followed the exact same format? Life would simply be easier all the way around! But we live in a world of variety, and just as you take the needed steps to become familiar with the coffee maker and car you own, you should also take the effort to become familiar with the language you speak. This section presents an overview of common issues that impede the proper use of English verbs. To get ready to understand the possible problems, study the following chart that shows the five main forms of verbs. Notice that for verbs other than be, the present tense for all but third-person singular pronouns is the base verb (third-person singular uses the base verb + -s). The present participleA verb form created to indicate continuing action by adding present tense form of “to be” to the base verb + -ing (e.g., “We are laughing”). is usually a form of “to be” + the base word + -ing, and the past tense and past participleA verb form created to indicate completed action by adding past tense form of “to have” to the conjugated base verb (e.g., “They had eaten”). follow irregular patterns.

Table 20.1 Five Forms of English Verbs

Base Present Tense (+ -s for Third-Person Singular) Past Tense Past Participle (Preceded by Form of “to Have”) Present Participle (Preceded by Form of “to Be”)
run run ran run running
smile smile smiled smiled smiling
sing sing sang sung singing
beat beat beat beaten beating
see see saw seen seeing

Using Irregular Verbs Correctly

Since the present tense of irregular verbs is almost always the same as the base and since the present participle is almost always a form of “to be” + the base + -ing, those two columns are not included in this table. Take note of some underlying patterns in the other three main verb forms for each set of irregular verbs.

Regular Verbs
Base Past Tense Past Participle (Preceded by Form of “to Have”)
accept accepted accepted
bump bumped bumped
dry dried dried
hop hopped hopped
observe observed observed
print printed printed
shrug shrugged shrugged
wobble wobbled wobbled
Irregular Verbs
Base Past Tense Past Participle (Preceded by Form of “to Have”)
break broke broken
bite bit bitten
catch caught caught
teach taught taught
awake awoke awoke/awakened
arise arose arisen
bear bore borne
bring brought brought
choose chose chosen
come came come
do did done
eat ate eaten
fall fell fallen
freeze froze frozen
get got got/gotten
give gave given
go went gone
run ran run
drink drank drunk
ring rang rung
have had had
hear heard heard
know knew known
lay laid laid
lead led led
lie lay lain
ride rode ridden
rise rose risen
say said said
see saw saw
shine* shone shone
shine* shined shined
take took taken
*Note that some words have more than one conjugation based on meaning. For example, the sun and lights shine/shone/shone, but when we deal with shoes, we shine/shined/shined.

Check out Table 15.1 "Verb Tenses for the Regular Verb “Look” and the Irregular Verb “Eat”" in Chapter 15 "Sentence Building", Section 15.2 "Choosing Appropriate Verb Tenses" for an overview of how to use these verb forms.

Handling Specific Problematic Verbs

Some verbs are especially problematic either because their meanings are confused or because some of their forms sound alike. Handle these verbs by knowing which ones give you trouble and then focusing on the conjugation of those specific verbs. Some of these most commonly troublesome verbs are in the following table. You need to know two key verb types to read this table: transitiveA type of verb that acts on a direct object (e.g., “He hit the ball”). (when an object receives the action of the verb; in other words, something is done to something) and intransitiveA type of verb that does not take a direct object (e.g., “He laughs”). (a verb that does not act on an object).

Problematic Verb Set (Base, Past, P. Part.) Guidelines Examples
borrow…lend The verb borrow means “to temporarily get from someone else,” and lend means “to temporarily give to someone else.” I borrowed Kyle’s backpack since I had lent mine to Alice.
borrow, borrowed, borrowed
lend, lent, lent
bring…take The starting point of the action causes the confusion between these two verbs. If you bring something, you have to start somewhere else and end up at the common location. If you take something, you have to start at the common location and end up somewhere else. He brought his clean life jacket to the river and took away a filthy life jacket.
bring, brought, brought
take, took, taken
feel…think The verb feel is emotion based and the verb think is logic based. I feel excited about the tree-top ride, but I think it might cost more than I can afford.
feel, felt, felt
think, thought, thought
lay…lie The verb lay is transitive and means “to put,” so whenever you put something down, use lay. If you could replace the verb with put or place, you should use lay. The verb lie means “to rest” or “to tell a falsehood.” I laid my sunglasses down on a rock.
lay, laid, laid I lay on the rock myself for twenty minutes.
lie, lay, lain (rest) The ranger jokingly lied about the trail being a short one.
lie, lied, lied (fib)
learn…teach The verb learn always means to “take in information” and to teach always means to “give out information.” I learned that Yellowstone was the first national park in the United States. When we go there this summer, I’m going to see what Old Faithful can teach me about geysers.
learn, learned, learned
teach, taught, taught
raise…rise The verb raise is transitive, so you always have to raise something. The verb rise means to “go up” or “get up.” We are planning to rise early so that we are ready to start hiking when the sun rises, so raise your hand now if you have a problem with that plan.
raise, raised, raised
rise, rose, risen
set…sit The verb sit is always intransitive and set usually transitive. The most common confusion is when referring to putting something down. Whenever the meaning is to put, use set. The squirrel set his nut on the ground and sat looking at me.
set, set, set
sit, sat, set

Adding -s and -es for the Third Person

Many verbs require the addition of -s or -es when used in the third-person singular present tense. Although these verbs are slightly different from the present tense form of the verb, they are not considered a separate verb form.

Example

Present tense verb: walk

Present tense verb used in first person: I walk for hours looking at the trees and plants.

Present tense verb used in second person: You walk too quickly for me.

Present tense verb used in third person: He walks around as if he knows where he’s going.

Using Verb Tenses Accurately and Completely

Verb tenses allow you to attach timing to sentences you write and say. To make your meaning clear, you need to choose the correct tense for the timing and you need to be sure to include all the needed words for that tense.

Verb Tenses Timing of Action Additional Words and Endings Needed to Complete Verb Examples
Simple present Taking place right now None I hike.
You hike.
She hikes.
Simple past Started and finished in the past Add -ed to verb. I hiked.
You hiked.
She hiked.
Simple future Will take place after now Add will or shall to the present-tense verb I will hike.
You will hike.
She will hike.

Present progressiveShows continuing action.

Taking place right now and will continue to take place Add am, is, or are to the verb + -ing I am hiking
You are hiking.
He is hiking.
Past progressive Took place in the past at the same time that another action took place Add was or were to the verb + -ing I was hiking.
You were hiking.
He was hiking.
Future progressive Will take place in the future and will continue on indefinitely Add will be or shall be to the verb + -ing I will be hiking.
You will be hiking.
He will be hiking.
Present perfect Happened at an indefinite time in the past or started in the past and continues now Add has or have to the past participle of the verb (usually-ed) I have hiked this trail before. (in the past)
I have hiked this trail since I was five years old. (in the past and continues)
Past perfect Took place before some other past action Add had to the past participle of the verb (usually -ed) By the time I saw Jenny, I had hiked past the food station.
Future perfect Will take place some time in the future before some other action Add will have to the past participle of the verb (usually-ed) I will have hiked for two hours before you even wake up.
Present perfect progressive Began in the past, continues now, and might continue into the future Add has or have been to the verb + ing I have been hiking for a while.
Past perfect progressive Took place on an ongoing basis in the past and was completed before another past action Add had been to the verb + -ing You had been walking for an hour when you saw the swans.
Future perfect progressive Takes place in the future on an ongoing basis Add will have been to the verb + -ing They will have been hiking once a week by then.

Matching Infinitives and Participles to Verb Tenses

Verbals are words formed from verbs that function as other parts of speech. One type of verbals, gerunds (laughing, eating), always function as nouns (e.g., “Laughing is good for you”). Present, past, and present perfect participles are verbals that function as adjectives (e.g., “The sound of laughing children always cheered him up,” “The sight of the broken tricycle left in the rain made him gloomy”). Infinitives (to laugh, to have eaten) are another main type of verbals that function as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs. When using any of these verbals, make sure you match the tense of the verb in the sentence.

Infinitives

When the action of the infinitive takes place after or at the same time as the action of the main verb, use the present tense:

We plan to camp in the National Redwood Forest this week.

When the action of the infinitive takes place before the action of the main verb, present the infinitive in perfect tenseShows action that took place before some other action.:

We planned to have been camping in the National Redwood Forest last week.

Participle Phrases

Participle phrases can begin with the present participle, past participle, or present perfect participle.

The present participle is the correct choice when the action of the participle is happening at the same time as the action of the main verb:

Resulting in large openings called goosepen scars, fire ravages redwood trees without killing them.

When the action of the participle takes place before the action of the main verb, you can use either a past participle or a present perfect participle:

Scarred by a fire years ago, the large redwood tree still stands tall and awesome. (past participle in participle phrase)

Having posed for several pictures inside the redwood trunk, we climbed out and previewed the shots.

Key Takeaways

  • The present and past participles of regular verbs are formed by adding -ing and -ed to the base verb. Irregular verbs do not follow a set pattern, so you have to fix them in your mind so you use them correctly.
  • Verbs have twelve tenses that indicate different timings. Due to the complexity of the complete set of tenses, you simply have to memorize the uses for the different tenses and the methods of constructing each.
  • You should match both infinitives and participle phrases to the main verb in a sentence.

Exercises

  1. Write a set of three sentences each using one of the verbs go, went, and gone.
  2. Write a sentence using the verb freeze in present progressive tense.
  3. Write a sentence using the verb ride in past perfect progressive tense.
  4. Write a sentence using the verb lie in simple future tense.
  5. Write a sentence using the verb learn in past perfect tense.
  6. Write three sentences using each of the following verbs as gerunds, infinitives, and participle phrases. Identify the part of speech in each case.

    1. love
    2. kick
    3. play
    4. eat
    5. drive

20.3 Choosing the Correct Pronoun and Noun Cases

Learning Objectives

  1. Recognize pronoun cases.
  2. Recognize noun cases.
  3. Learn tips for handling pronoun case situations that confuse you.

One feature that is easier in English than in many other languages is noun casesThe designation of a noun as a subject, object, or possessive.. While other languages have changes for the objective case as well as changes based on gender, English nouns do not change form except for the formation of plurals and possessives.

Pronouns in English, on the other hand, have different forms for the subjective, possessive, and objective cases. The subjective case refers to words as they are used in the subject position, while the possessive and objective cases designate words that are used in the possessive and object positions, respectively. Study the following table for an overview of the noun and pronoun cases.

Subjective Case Possessive Case Objective Case
Nouns
Singular
car car’s car
Jordy Jordy’s Jordy
Plural
apples apples’ apples
children children’s children
Pronouns
Singular
First person I my me
mine
Second person you your you
yours
Third person he his him
she her, hers her
it its it
Plural
First person we our, ours us
Second person you your, yours you
Third person they their, theirs them
Indefinite PronounsA pronoun that can be singular or plural.
anybody anybody’s anybody
everybody everybody’s everybody
someone someone’s someone

Relative and Interrogative PronounsA pronoun that is used to ask a question.

that that
which which
who whose whom
whoever whoever’s (slang) whomever

Tips for Avoiding Pronoun Case Problems

  • If you have trouble choosing between “I” and “me” in compound subject and object situations, remove the other subject or object, and try “I” or “me” alone.

    Example: Which of these two choices are correct?

    At Bryce Canyon, Carol took thirty pictures of Anna and I.

    OR

    At Bryce Canyon, Carol took thirty pictures of Anna and me.

    Test: At Bryce Canyon, Carol took thirty pictures of (I, me).

    Result: Since the correct choice alone is “me,” the correct choice within the compound object is also “me”—At Bryce Canyon, Carol took thirty pictures of Anna and me.

  • If you are confused about whether to use who or whom in a dependent clause, try isolating the clause that includes who or whom. Then reword the clause as a sentence and substitute a personal pronoun (subjective case: he, she, they; objective case: him, her, them) for who or whom. If he, she, or they sounds right, use who. If him, her, or them sounds right, use whom.

    Example: I don’t know (who, whom) to ask about where to stay at the Grand Tetons.

    Test: Possible rewording—I don’t know if I should ask (he, she, they, him, her, them).

    Result: Since him, her, or them are the choices that work, the correct choice in the first sentence is whom—I don’t know whom to ask about where to stay at the Grand Tetons.

  • If you are confused about whether to use who or whom at the beginning of a sentence, think of an answer for the sentence using a personal pronoun. Then mimic the case of the answer pronoun in the original sentence.

    Example 1: (Who, Whom) is getting up at sunrise to watch the sun come up over these magnificent trees?

    Test: They will get up.

    Result: Since they is subjective case, you should use who, which is also subjective case.

    Example 2: (Who, Whom) did you ask to watch the fire?

    Test: I asked her to watch the fire.

    Result: Since her is objective case, you should use whom, which is also objective case.

  • In casual usage, some words are sometimes left out, thus requiring a pronoun to do extra work. If you are confused about which pronoun case to use in these situations, think about how the sentence would be written if it were totally complete. Considering the whole sentence meaning should help clarify the pronoun choice.

    Example 1: Harry likes camping more than (her, she).

    Test: Harry likes camping more than she (likes camping).

    Result: The pronoun she is the subject of the assumed verb likes. So subjective case is needed.

    Example 2: Harry likes camping more than (her, she).

    Test: Harry likes camping more than (he likes) her.

    Result: The pronoun her is the object of the assumed verb likes. So objective case is needed.

  • If you are unsure whether to use we and us before a noun or noun phrase, say the sentence without the noun or noun phrase in place. Whichever pronoun works without the noun or noun phrase is also the correct pronoun to use with the noun.

    Example 1: Even (us, we) people who like our creature comforts fall in love with nature when viewing the Grand Tetons.

    Test: Even we fall in love with nature when viewing the Grand Tetons.

    Result: Once people who like our creature comforts is dropped out, it becomes clear that the pronoun needs to be subjective case.

    Example 2: Don’t wait for (us, we) creature-comfort people to come up with a plan.

    Test: Don’t wait for us to come up with a plan.

    Result: Once creature-comfort people is dropped, it becomes clear that the pronoun needs to be objective case.

Key Takeaways

  • The correct pronoun choice changes based on the usage in the sentence because pronouns have subjective, objective, and possessive cases.
  • In English, nouns are the same in the subjective and objective case. So all you have to know to write a noun correctly is whether it is singular or plural and possessive or not.
  • You can memorize tips and clues to help you remember pronoun case issues with which you struggle.

Exercise

  1. Choose the correct pronoun for each sentence. Then, for each choice, indicate whether it is subjective, objective, or possessive case.

    1. I don’t know (her, she).
    2. (Us, We) girls are meeting at 7:00 p.m.
    3. (Who, Whom) do you think will show up first?
    4. That car is (theirs, their’s).
    5. We aren’t sure (who, whom) got here first.
    6. (Its, It’s) about time we clear the air.
    7. The jacket fits him better than (I, me).

20.4 Making Pronouns and Antecedents Agree

Learning Objectives

  1. Understand the different types of pronouns.
  2. Recognize pronoun antecedents.
  3. Make sure pronouns and antecedents are relatively close together and match in person, number, gender, and human versus nonhuman state.

Pronouns can be somewhat confusing, but they can help make your use of language smoother and more compact. For example, if your name were Pete Rando, you could write, “Pete Rando is going back to wait to go back to Pete Rando’s camper until Pete Rando’s friends have seen the sunset at the Grand Canyon.” Or you could say, “I’m going to wait to go back to my camper until my friends have seen the sunset at the Grand Canyon.” A first step in understanding how and when to use pronouns properly is having an overall picture of pronouns. Study the following table for an overview of the different types of pronouns. Note that some pronouns, such as possessive pronouns and interrogative pronouns, show up on more than one list.

Demonstrative pronounsOne of four pronouns (that, these, this, those) that points out an intended referent (e.g., that house, where the pronoun that points out which house). Refer to things

that

these

this

those

This trail is the longest one.
Indefinite pronouns Refer to nonspecific people or things

Singular:

anybody

anyone

everybody

everyone

everything

nothing

one

someone

somebody

Singular or plural:

all

any

more

most

none

some

Do you know anyone who has hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon?

Plural:

both

few

many

Interrogative pronouns Are used in questions

that

what

whatever

which

whichever

who

whoever

whom

whose

Who wants to sign up to ride the mules down into the Grand Canyon?
Personal pronounsA pronoun that refers to people or things (e.g., I, me, it). Refer to people or things

Subjective case:

he

I

it

she

they

we

you

Objective case:

her

him

it

me

them

us

you

If you ask Alicia, she will tell you that I am too chicken to ride the mules even though none of them has ever gone over the edge.

Possessive case:

his

her(s)

its

my

mine

our(s)

their(s)

your(s)

Possessive pronouns Show ownership without using an apostrophe

his

her(s)

its

my

mine

our(s)

their(s)

your(s)

Regardless of the expense, a helicopter ride is my choice for seeing the Grand Canyon.
Reciprocal pronounsEither of the pronoun pairs each other or one another, which are used to refer to separate parts of a plural antecedent. Refer to separate parts of a plural antecedent

each other

one another

The mules calmly follow each other all the way up and down.

ReflexiveA pronoun that ends in -self or -selves and is necessary for a sentence to make sense. and intensive pronounsA pronoun that ends in -self or -selves and is not necessary for a sentence to make sense.

End in -self or -selves. Reflexive pronouns are needed for a sentence to make sense, and intensive pronouns are optional within a sentence

herself

himself

itself

myself

oneself

ourselves

themselves

yourself

yourselves

The guides themselves put their lives in the hands, or rather hooves, of the mules every day.
Relative pronouns Show how dependent clause relates to a noun

that

what

whatever

which

whichever

who

whoever

whom

whomever

whose

As long as I get to see the Grand Canyon from a vantage point other than the edge, I am happy to choose whichever option you want.

Another step in properly using pronouns is to recognize a pronoun’s antecedent, which is the noun or pronoun to which a pronoun refers, and make sure the pronoun and antecedent match in number, person, gender, and human versus nonhuman state. Also, to make the antecedent-pronoun match clear, the pronoun should follow relatively soon after the antecedent, and no other possible antecedent should fall between the antecedent and the pronoun.

Antecedent Situations Example in a Sentence Pronoun Antecedent Guidelines
Compound antecedents Joey and Hannah spent the weekend with their parents at the Grand Teton National Park. As an antecedent, “Joey and Hannah” is plural, non-gender-specific, human, and third person, so the pronoun must match. Hence their works, but, for example, our, his, her, and them would not work.
Indefinite pronouns that act as an antecedent for other pronouns Some of the moose left their footprints in our campsite. Since “of the moose” is a nonessential phrase, the antecedent for their is some. The pronoun some can be singular or plural, so it agrees with their, which is plural.
Collective noun antecedents The Teton Range is quite regal as it protrudes upwards nearly seven thousand feet. Teton Range is a collective noun and, therefore, is considered single (multiple mountains within the range, but only one range). It is nonhuman, so it agrees with it. Collective nouns are sometimes an exception to the human versus nonhuman guideline since a noun, such as “crew” or “audience,” can match to the pronoun its.
Antecedents and gender-biased pronouns Everyone should make his or her own choice about hike lengths. Years ago, acceptable writing included using male pronouns to refer to all unknown- or collective-gender antecedents. Today such usage is considered sexist (see Chapter 16 "Sentence Style", Section 16.5 "Avoiding Sexist and Offensive Language"). Some people opt to use their with singular antecedents instead of using his or her. Such usage should never be used in formal writing because it is technically incorrect since everyone is singular and their is plural.
Ambiguous antecedents Ambiguous: The trails wind high into the mountains where they seem to disappear into the sky. When a pronoun antecedent is unclear, such as in this situation where readers do not know if the trails or the mountains seem to disappear into the sky, you should reword the sentence by either (1) eliminating or (2) moving the pronoun (and probably other words).
Example #1: The trails wind high into the mountains where the trails seem to disappear into the sky.
Example #2: High in the mountains, the trails wind as they seem to disappear into the sky.
Vague or implied antecedents Vague or implied: The Grand Teton park wetland trails go past areas where deer, elk, and moose are often seen, so it should be a lot of fun. The antecedent of it is not clear because the writer used a shortcut. Instead of referring to any of the nouns that preceded it in the sentence, it refers to an unstated antecedent, such as the experience or the hike. A better way to write the sentence: The Grand Teton park wetland trails go past areas where deer, elk, and moose are often seen, so the hike should be a lot of fun.
Antecedents in previous sentences The Grand Teton National Park was formed in 1929. In 1950, it was sort of re-formed when additional land was added. Antecedents should be present within the same sentence unless the flow of the sentences is such that the antecedent/pronoun connection is very clear.

Key Takeaways

  • Take care to use these eight types of pronouns correctly: demonstrative, indefinite, interrogative, personal, possessive, reciprocal, reflexive/intensive, and relative.
  • For every pronoun, you should be able to easily identify a matching antecedent.
  • As a rule, a pronoun’s antecedent should be nearby, in the same sentence, and matching in person, number, gender, and human versus nonhuman state.

Exercise

  1. For each sentence, fill in the blank with an appropriate pronoun(s) and circle the antecedent.

    1. Everybody heard us sing _______________ version.
    2. The pit crew did _______________ job like clockwork.
    3. A small child should not be left to fend for _______________.
    4. Beagles and Labradors often show off _______________ natural hunting tendencies.
    5. Allie and Bethany are planning to help _______________ with their projects.
    6. Ask each student to upload _______________ papers into the drop box.
    7. Anyone can get _______________ transcripts by filling out the proper form.

20.5 Using Relative Pronouns and Clauses

Learning Objectives

  1. Recognize noun and adjective clauses that begin with relative pronouns.
  2. Use appropriate relative pronouns in noun and adjective clauses.

Noun clauses can serve as subjects or objects and often begin with one of these relative pronouns: that, what, whatever, which, whichever, who, whoever, whom, whomever, whose. Logically, you should use subjective case pronouns in noun clauses that function as subjects and objective case pronouns in noun clauses that function as objects. See Chapter 20 "Grammar", Section 20.3 "Choosing the Correct Pronoun and Noun Cases" for a review of pronoun cases.

Examples

Subjective Case Example: Joshua Tree National Park, which is in California, is named after a tree that is actually a member of the lily family.

Objective Case Example: A Joshua tree looks like neither its relative, the lily, nor the biblical figure, Joshua, whom the tree is said to be named after.

Adjective clauses modify nouns and pronouns that usually immediately precede the clauses. Adjective clauses often begin with these relative pronouns: that, which, who, whom, whose.

Example

The Mohave and the Colorado are the two deserts that meet in Joshua Tree National Park.

Often adjective clauses leave the relative pronoun implied, as in the following example: I couldn’t get the stain out of the pants (that) I wore to the party.

For more on how to punctuate clauses properly, see Chapter 18 "Punctuation", Section 18.1 "Using Commas Properly".

Key Takeaways

  • Many noun clauses begin with these relative pronouns: that, what, whatever, which, whichever, who, whoever, whom, whomever, whose.
  • Noun clauses that begin with relative pronouns can serve as subjects or objects and require subject and object pronouns, respectively.
  • Many adjective clauses begin with these relative pronouns: that, which, who, whom, whose.

Exercise

  1. Complete these steps for the following sentences:

    • Use one of these relative pronouns to fill in each of the following blanks: that, what, whatever, which, whichever, who, whoever, whom, whomever, whose.
    • Determine whether the clause that each relative pronoun introduces is a noun clause or an adjective clause.
    • For each noun clause, indicate whether it is subjective or objective case.
    1. The swimmer _______________ won the race had been sick all last week.
    2. Caley, _______________the coach thought would win her race, defaulted in the first lap.
    3. The dog _______________ ate your hot dog is behind the hose.
    4. The boy _______________ you saw is my brother.

20.6 Using Adverbs and Adjectives

Learning Objectives

  1. Use general adverbs and adjectives correctly.
  2. Use comparatives and superlatives correctly.
  3. Recognize how incorrect usage of adverbs and adjectives can result in double negatives.
  4. Learn the correct use of good and well and bad and badly.

Many adverbs and adjectives are paired with slight changes in spelling (usually adverbs are formed by adding -ly to the adjective). A few adverbs and adjectives have the same spelling (like best, fast, late, straight, low, and daily), so it is only their use that differentiates them.

Table 20.2 Common Adverb and Adjective Pairs

Adjectives Adverbs
bad badly
beautiful beautifully
quick quickly
quiet quietly
slow slowly
soft softly
sudden suddenly

Using Adverbs to Modify Verbs, Adjectives, and Adverbs

Adverbs tell when, how, why, where, under what condition, to what degree, how often, and how much. Many adverbs end in -ly, but certainly not all them. Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. In the following sentences, the adverbs are in bold font and the words they modify are in italic font.

  1. About a quarter million bats leave Carlsbad Caverns nightly.

    When do they leave? nightly; modifies a verb

  2. The bats flew above our heads.

    Where did they fly? above; modifies a verb

  3. The bats are incredibly dense.

    To what degree are they dense? incredibly; modifies an adjective

  4. Each little bat can change directions amazingly fast!

    How do they change directions? fast; modifies a verb

    AND To what degree do they change directions fast? amazingly; modifies an adverb

Using Adjectives to Modify Nouns and Pronouns

Adjectives modify nouns and pronouns and answer the questions what kind? how many? and which one? In the following sentences, the adjectives are in bold font and the words they modify are in italic font.

  1. It takes crazy people to go to a cave at 4:00 a.m. to wait for the bats to leave!

    What kind of people? crazy ones; modifies a noun

  2. A few bats seemed to circle above as the rest flew off.

    How many bats? a few; modifies a noun

  3. That one almost got in my hair.

    Which one? that one; modifies a pronoun

Using Comparatives and Superlatives

Most adjectives and adverbs have three levels of intensity. The lowest level is the base, or positive, level, such as tall. The second level is the comparativeA word used to compare two things (e.g., taller, better). level (taller), and the top level is the superlativeA word used to compare three or more things (e.g., tallest, best). level (tallest). You use the base, or positive, level when you are talking about only one thing. You use the comparative level when you are comparing two things. The superlative level allows you to compare three or more things.

With short adjectives, the comparative and superlative are typically formed by adding -er and -est, respectively. If an adjective has three or more syllables, use the words more or less (comparative) and most or least (superlative) in front of the adjectives instead of adding suffixes. When you are unsure whether to add the suffix or a word, look up the word.

Table 20.3 Sample Comparative and Superlative Adjectives

Formed with -er and -est
big bigger biggest
old older oldest
wise wiser wisest
Formed by Using More or Less and Most or Least
ambitious more ambitious least ambitious
generous less generous least generous
simplistic more simplistic most simplistic

With adverbs, only a few of the shorter words form superlatives by adding the -er or -est suffixes. Rather, most of them use the addition of more or less and most or least.

Table 20.4 Sample Comparative and Superlative Adverbs

Formed with -er and -est
early earlier earliest
fast faster fastest
late later latest
Formed by Using More or Less and Most or Least
happily more happily most happily
neatly more neatly most neatly
quickly more quickly most quickly

Some adjectives and adverbs form superlatives in irregular patterns instead of using the -er or -est suffixes or adding more or less and most or least.

Table 20.5 Sample Adjectives That Form Superlatives Using Irregular Patterns

good better best
bad worse worst
far farther farthest
many more most

Table 20.6 Sample Adverbs That Form Superlatives Using Irregular Patterns

badly worse worst
little less least
much more most
well better best

Avoiding Double Negatives

One negative word changes the meaning of a sentence to mean the opposite of what the sentence would mean without the negative word. Two negative words, on the other hand, cancel each other out, resulting in a double negative that returns the sentence to its original meaning. Because of the potential for confusion, double negatives are discouraged.

Example

Example of a sentence with one negative word: I have never been to Crater Lake National Park.

Meaning: Crater Lake is a place I have not visited.

Example of a sentence with two negative words: I have not never been to Crater Lake National Park.

Meaning: I have been to Crater Lake National Park.

Using Good and Well and Bad and Badly Correctly

Two sets of adverbs and adjectives that are often used erroneously are good and well and bad and badly. The problem people usually have with these two words is that the adverb forms (well and badly) are often used in place of the adjective forms (good and bad) or vice versa. In addition, well can be used as an adjective meaning “healthy.” If you have problems with these two sets of words, it could help to keep the following chart taped to your computer until you change your habits with these words.

Situations Correct Examples Explanation
The word well is typically used as an adverb. I wasn’t feeling very well on the day we first drove through Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The words very and well are both adverbs. The word very modifies well, and well modifies feeling.
Sometimes forms of the verbs feel, be, and look can be used to describe a person’s health. In such cases, the word well can serve as an adjective that means “healthy” and refers back to the noun. Watching buffalo roam always makes me feel strong and well. The word well is used as an adjective just like strong. Both words modify me. The four sentences with well refer to physical health.
I am well.
I feel well.
I’m feeling well.
The buffaloes looked well.
I am good. The four sentences with good refer to emotional state but not physical health.
I feel good.
I’m feeling good.
The buffalo looked good with the cliffs behind them.
The word good is an adjective. It is never used as an adverb. A trip through Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a good chance to see herds of buffalo in their natural state. The word good is an adjective modifying chance.
People often make statements such as “I run real good.” In reality, “real good” is never a really good combination of words! I run really well. In the first sentence, the word really is an adverb modifying another adverb. Since adjectives modify neither adverbs nor adjectives, you cannot use the combination real well or real good.
My running is a really good example of my ability to dedicate myself to an activity. In the second sentence, really is an adverb modifying good, which is an adjective that is modifying example.
The word bad is an adjective. That’s a bad picture of me with the buffalo since I look like I am afraid for my life. The adjective bad modifies the noun picture.
Sometimes a sentence seems like it should take the adverb badly when it actually needs the adjective bad. The linking verbs be, feel, look, and sound can all be followed by the adjective bad. I am bad when it comes to being on time. Each of these sentences uses bad correctly since their verbs are linking verbs.
I felt bad about missing the first herd of buffalo.
The land looks bad, but the buffalo seem to be able to find food.
Buffalo might sound bad, but they are really calm animals.
The word badly is an adverb. I chose badly when I walked between a mother buffalo and her baby. The adverb badly modifies the verb chose. The adverb badly usually answers the question how?, as it does in this case—How did I choose? (badly)

Key Takeaways

  • The key to using adverbs and adjectives correctly is paying attention to standard adverb and adjective rules, such as the fact that adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs and adjectives modify only nouns and pronouns.
  • The comparatives and superlatives of most one- and two-syllable adjectives are formed by adding -er and -est. For adjectives with three or more syllables, the words more, less, most, and least are used with the adjective. Some smaller adverbs form comparatives and superlatives by adding -er and -est, but most of the comparative and superlatives of adverbs are formed by using the words more, less, most, and least with the adverbs. Some adjectives and some adverbs have irregularly formed comparatives and superlatives that you simply must learn, such as good, better, and best.
  • Double negatives within a sentence reverse the negative state and turn the negative connotation into a positive one.
  • It is wise to pay close attention to the guidelines for using the adverbs and adjectives good, well, bad, and badly since their use is both irregular and somewhat ambiguous.

Exercise

  1. Use each of the following words in a sentence and identify the usage as adjective or adverb:

    1. beautiful
    2. quietly
    3. low
    4. luckily
    5. sweetly
    6. better
    7. finest
    8. never
    9. good
    10. well
    11. bad
    12. badly