Sentence Structure - Understanding Grammar

Indepenent & Dependent Clauses - Subordination & Coordination

This lesson is about independent and dependent clauses, and how they make up a sentence. Dependent clauses, like the name suggests, rely on other elements in a sentence. Independent clauses, on the other hand, can stand alone. Learn more in this lesson.

Independent Clauses

An independent clause is the simplest sentence you can write.

I love you.

My uncle is in jail.

Don't eat that pinecone.

At minimum, an independent clause consists of a subject and a verb that can stand alone as a sentence. Quick refresher: A subject is the person, place, idea, or thing that is either doing something or being something in the sentence. Find it by finding the verb (that's the part of the sentence that creates the action) and then seeing what is the thing that is doing the action of the verb. If that makes no sense, hang in there: In the first sentence, the verb is 'love' and the thing that is loving is 'I,' so I is the subject.

However, just because two independent clauses can stand alone as their own sentence, that doesn't mean they have to. If you want to suggest that independent events are closely related to each other, you can join two independent clauses by a comma and a coordinating conjunction or with a semicolon and a conjunctive adverb. (Stick with me here.) The coordinating conjunctions are easily remembered by the acronym FANBOYS, or for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.

For example:

I am at the front door, but I am not with the police.

'I am at the front door' and 'I am not with the police' are two independent clauses joined by the coordinating conjunction 'but.'

You can also join two independent clauses with a semicolon and conjunctive adverb - which is just an adverb that's able to connect two thoughts. For instance:

I am at the front door; incidentally, I've swallowed my key.

Or leave the adverb out:

I am at the front door; I am the pizza deliveryman.

Both of these joined independent clauses could function fine as separate sentences, but the semicolon connects the action to suggest a more intimate relationship. If you don't have anything to connect the two - a conjunction or a semicolon - you end up with a run-on sentence. Like so:

I am at the front door I am the pizza deliveryman.

Dependent Clauses

A dependent clause, on the other hand, isn't a complete sentence on its own. It has to be added to an independent clause, which is what gives it its other name - the subordinate clause - because it's subordinate to the independent (or main) clause. It, too, has a subject and a verb. Take this example:

I love you because I am blind.

The dependent clause here is 'because I am blind.' The verb is 'am' and the subject is 'I,' but 'because I am blind' cannot function as an independent sentence. Thus, it is subordinate to our independent clause, 'I love you.' 'Because' connects the dependent clause to the independent clause and is called a subordinating conjunction. (Subordinating conjunctions can also connect to independent clauses, but we'll get to that later.)

Here are a couple of other examples of sentences comprised of an independent and dependent clause linked by a subordinate conjunction. (A full list of all the subordinate conjunctions is at the end of the text of this lesson.)

I survived the shipwreck, although I lost all my luggage.

I survived the shipwreck, as I am Aquaman.

You can see how 'I survived the shipwreck' is the most important idea in the sentence, and yet they each change the meaning of the sentence in slightly different ways. Neither dependent clause - 'as I am Aquaman' or 'although I lost all my luggage' can stand on its own (even if he is Aquaman).

One important thing to note here is that the dependent clause doesn't always have to follow the independent clause - it can precede it too. For instance:

As I am Aquaman, I survived the shipwreck.

That's still a valid sentence, but the dependent clause comes first. But again, crucially, it couldn't be there by itself. Like Jerry Maguire, it still needs the independent clause to complete it.

Dependent clauses can also be connected by relative pronouns. Your relative pronouns are who, whom, whoever, whomever, whose, that, which, whichever, and whosever. For instance:

The man who was in jail confessed.

In this case, 'who was in jail' is the dependent clause - a kind called an adjective clause because it functions like an adjective. 'The man confessed' would be the independent clause here, while 'who was in jail' adds describing detail. Adding describing detail is what adjectives do, after all. So, that's to say: What kind of man is this? It's the man who was in jail.

The other types of clauses are noun clauses and adverb clauses, which do the same things that nouns and adverbs do but in full clause form. In the sentence 'I drink soda when I'm sad,' for example, 'when I'm sad' is a dependent adverb clause, as the whole clause describes the verb 'drink,' with 'I' as the subject.

These distinctions are less immediately important than understanding what independent and dependent clauses are, however, so we're going to gloss over them. But know that they exist, in case you want to learn more.

Style

Proper grammar aside (and we try to avoid using the word, since everyone hates it), the reason you need to know your clauses and how they work is so you can write with style, since how you connect clauses together changes the way a sentence feels to the reader. For instance, I mentioned earlier that you can use a subordinating conjunction to connect two independent clauses, not just independent and dependent clauses, but it might not be clear why. Well, here's why.

Jason raised his machete. Suzy Rae screamed.

That works fine, but it's a little disjointed. Add a subordinating conjunction like 'as' or 'while,' however, and suddenly, the scene works.

Jason raised his machete while Suzy Rae screamed.

See? Much better!

Lesson Review

  1. Remember that both independent and dependent clauses have a subject and a verb.
  2. Only an independent clause can function on its own as a sentence.
  3. Dependent clauses by themselves are sentence fragments; they need an independent clause to make them whole.
  4. Independent clauses are connected by coordinating or subordinating conjunctions.
  5. Remember FANBOYS to memorize your coordinating conjunctions.
  6. Because they can function as independent sentences, two independent clauses can also be connected by a semicolon, followed by a conjunctive adverb - or just a semicolon by itself.
  7. Generally, dependent clauses are connected to main clauses by subordinating conjunctions or relative pronouns.

Lesson Objectives

After watching this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Compare and contrast independent and dependent clauses
  • Give examples of coordinating conjunctions, subordinating conjunctions, and relative pronouns
  • Understand how and when to use conjunctions and relative pronouns
  • Differentiate adjective clauses, noun clauses, and adverb clauses

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Sentence Fragments, Comma Splices and Run-on Sentences
Sentence fragments, comma splices, and run-on sentences are grammatical and stylistic bugs that can seriously derail an otherwise polished academic paper. Learn how to identify and eliminate these errors in your own writing here.

Sentence Fragments

A sentence fragment is just another term for 'incomplete sentence.' As the name indicates, it's merely a piece of a sentence that can't stand on its own. As you might remember, all sentences need to have at least one independent clause - that's a clause with at least one subject and one verb that can stand on its own as a sentence. So the best way to determine if your sentence is a fragment is to try to find this independent clause. If there isn't one, voila - an undercooked egg of a sentence.

Okay, so how to find the independent clause? Remember that the subject is the person, place, idea, or thing that is either doing something or being something in the sentence. Find the main subject first by finding the verb - that's the part of the sentence that creates the action - and then determine what that verb is relating to. For instance, Desmond was haunted by a small, sword-wielding ferret. The action here is 'was haunted' - the main verb being 'haunted' - while the thing being haunted is Desmond - that's the primary subject. Here's the same sentence in fragments.

Desmond was haunted. Okay, that part's a complete sentence.

By a small, sword-wielding ferret. The second sentence is a fragment because it no longer contains a main verb or subject. We have the subject of 'sword-wielding ferret,' but it's hanging out on its own. Sentence fragments usually lack either a main verb or a subject (or both).

Here's an example of a fragment missing its subject:

Withholding his allowance for blowing up the car.

To correct it, we need to explain who is withholding what. The parents were withholding his allowance for blowing up the car. would be one example, because you've added both the subject ('parents') and verb ('were') to make the sentence complete.

What's particularly confusing about sentence fragments is that you see them all the time when reading news stories or fiction because a sentence fragment can be very effective for conveying a certain style or mood. Take this paragraph from a short story by contemporary fiction writer George Saunders, which contains a mix of sentence fragments and short sentences to help give the reader a certain impression of the narrator:

Oops. Missed a day. Things hectic. Will summarize yesterday. Yesterday a bit rough. While picking kids up at school, bumper fell off Park Avenue. Note to future generations: Park Avenue = type of car. Ours not new. Ours oldish. Bit rusty.

Here's the same paragraph now with all the fragments made un-fragmented:

Oops. I missed a day. Things got hectic. I will summarize yesterday. Yesterday was a bit rough. While I was picking kids up at school, bumper fell off Park Avenue. Note to future generations: Park Avenue = type of car. Ours is not new. Ours is oldish. It's a bit rusty.

Notice how making the sentences grammatically correct gives the paragraph a completely different tone and changes the way the reader perceives the narrator. I'm bringing this up because I don't want you to distrust me when you see sentence fragments in the wild. The rule is: when you're writing academic essays, stay away from fragments; when writing fiction, then you can feel free to experiment a little bit more.

Run-On Sentences

Let's check out run-ons. A run-on sentence, or fused sentence, is a sentence that's missing the right punctuation to make it flow properly. A run-on occurs when what could be two complete sentences - that is, two independent clauses - are connected in one sentence without being punctuated. In other words, they're fused together instead of each clause being distinguished from the other. Here's an example of a run-on:

Clark had vanished he left his eyeglasses and coat in the telephone booth.

You have two independent clauses here, Clark had vanished and He left his eyeglasses and coat in the telephone booth. To make this a proper sentence and not a run-on, you must add proper punctuation. You have several different options - which you choose is a matter of your personal style and how you want to make the sentence look and feel to your reader.

You can add a comma and a coordinating conjunction. You can remember coordinating conjunctions by the mnemonic FANBOYS - that's for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. So:

Clark had vanished, but he left his eyeglasses and coat in the telephone booth.

You can make the run-on into two separate sentences:

Clark had vanished. He left his eyeglasses and coat in the telephone booth.

Or you can add a semicolon:

Clark had vanished; however, he left his eyeglasses and coat in the telephone booth.

The choice is yours, and it doesn't really matter which you choose as long as you've fixed the run-on.

One other thing to remember is that even though we tend to think of run-ons as sentences that are too long, a run-on is really defined by improper punctuation. I sang I danced. - despite being just four words - is a run-on sentence.

Comma Splices

Technically, a comma splice is a kind of run-on sentence, but they're harder to spot, so we're giving them their own section. A comma splice occurs any time a comma is inserted between two main clauses without a coordinating conjunction to connect them. For instance:

Most of us liked to eat fish, Jerry preferred to devour the still-beating hearts of fresh artichokes.

A sentence like this sounds fine when you read it out loud and it even looks pretty okay when you see it on the page, but it's wrong. If you're going to use a comma to separate these two independent clauses, you need to insert a coordinating conjunction (that's FANBOYS like we talked about a little bit earlier) after the comma, making the sentence, for instance:

Most of us liked to eat fish, but Jerry preferred to devour the still-beating hearts of fresh artichokes.

Because a comma splice occurs between two independent clauses, you can also remove the comma and replace it with a period (making two separate sentences) or a semicolon, like so:

Most of us liked to eat fish; Jerry preferred to devour the still-beating hearts of fresh artichokes.

The most basic thing to remember about comma splices is that they're really just a misused comma where other punctuation would be more appropriate.

Lesson Review

  • Remember that a sentence fragment is just another term for 'incomplete sentence.'
  • Sentence fragments usually lack either main verb or subject (or both). If you're not sure if a sentence is a fragment, check that it has at least one main verb and subject.
  • Run-on sentences consist of at least two independent clauses that are connected in one sentence without proper punctuation.
  • A comma splice is a kind of run-on sentence where a comma is inserted between two independent clauses without a coordinating conjunction to join them.

Learning Outcome

After watching this lesson, you should be able to identify and fix sentence fragments, run-on sentences, and comma splices in your written work.

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How to Identify the Subject of a Sentence
Don't pass over this lesson! You may think you know how to find subjects and verbs in a sentence, but picking them out can be harder than you think. Identifying subjects and verbs is the first step to unlocking nearly everything else about English composition.

How to Identify the Subject of a Sentence

You probably think you know what a subject and a verb is, since you can't have a sentence without at least one of each. But can you pick them out of a lineup? Let's try - in the style of a 1940s crime noir drama.

The stubborn case had busted wide open again.

When looking for the subject in a sentence, look for the verb first. Remember that a verb is a word that either helps a subject perform an action (ran, drank, fights, swims) or shows a state of being (is, was, are, were) that connects the subject to the action. In the sentence here, the main verb is 'busted.' What is the thing being busted? The case.

When we talk about subjects we'll talk about simple subjects, complete subjects, and compound subjects.

Simple Subject

A simple subject is just the subject without any of its modifiers (adjectives, adverbs - that is, any explanatory details). So the simple subject here is 'case,' while the complete subject contains all of the verb's descriptors - that would be 'stubborn case.' Let's try another example.

The husband wasn't dead.

Put 'who' and 'what' in front of the verb to see if you can find the subject. Here, the verb is a linking verb - 'was.' Linking verbs link the subject ('The husband') to the subject's state of being. Who was not dead? The husband. That's your subject.

Let's keep going.

He was walking down Royal Street in a three-piece suit!

Here we have a past participle form in verb phrase 'was walking.' So again you have 'was,' and we know he 'was walking.' But you can use the same formula. Who was walking? 'He' was. So the pronoun 'he' is the subject of the sentence. We'll talk more about pronouns a little bit later.

Multiple Subjects and Verbs in a Sentence

Sentences can also have more than one verb, more than one subject, or multiple pairs of subjects and verbs.

Johnny shot someone else that night, and the husband played along.

Here you have two subjects, 'Johnny' and 'the husband,' and a verb for each: Johnny 'shot' someone and the husband 'played along.' Each subject and verb pair forms its own independent clause joined by a conjunction in this sentence but could just as easily be two separate sentences, because each has its own subject and verb.

Conjunctions can join multiple subjects or verbs as well as independent and dependent clauses. Only independent clauses - again, that's a clause that contains both a subject and verb - can form their own sentences, however. Take this counter-example:

Johnny and Mr. Violet settled their debts, at least.

Here you have a compound subject - 'Johnny and Mr. Violet' - and the verb 'settled.' Two subjects are joined by a conjunction, but this cannot be broken into more than one sentence since just one verb is helping both parties perform the action.

On the flip side, you can have multiple verbs and just one subject performing the actions of those verbs:

The detective pulled down the brim of his hat and walked home.

Here we have the subject ('the detective'), and 'pulled' and 'walked' are the two verbs, so he's performing multiple actions. This is something you do every day when you're writing - you talk about the different actions that you are doing or somebody else is doing, so the idea of one subject and multiple verbs should be familiar to you.

Personal Pronouns

Back at my desk, I poured myself a rattlesnake, grabbed it by the tail, and gulped it down.

When you see a personal pronoun - 'I,' 'you,' 'he,' 'she,' 'it,' 'we,' and 'they' - a verb will follow. In this case, the verb that follows is 'poured,' followed later by 'grabbed' and 'gulped.'

One exception to this rule is when the pronoun refers to the earlier subject. Take this example:

The lady led him on a wild goose chase, didn't she?

Using the same formula as before, we see that 'led' is the main verb. What 'led'? 'The lady.' No verb follows 'she' in this special case because its function is to ask a question related to the clause preceding it. That is, 'The lady led him on a wild goose chase.' The 'she' is 'the lady,' so it doesn't need a verb to follow after it. But in general, when you see a personal pronoun, a verb will follow, and that personal pronoun is the subject of the sentence.

Passive Constructions: Where's the Subject?

In a passive sentence, the subject does not 'do' the action; the action instead happens to the subject. Let's return to our floundering P.I.

That, or the death had been faked by the husband for some more mysterious reason.

You're right if you think that 'death' is the subject here. After all, what was faked? The death 'had been faked.'

Hidden (Implied) Subjects

In the case of a command - that is, when someone is telling you to do something - there won't be any clear subject in the sentence. Instead, the subject is implied - the subject is you!

So the sentence, Wait! Don't be a fool. is really, (You) Wait! Don't (you) be a fool. Keep an eye out for those implied subjects, especially in a sentence where it's not exactly clear where the subject is. The same thing is true of passive sentences.

Relative Pronouns

The relative pronouns 'which,' 'that,' 'who,' 'whom,' and 'whose' can be used to create an adjective clause that describes something about the subject. Remember before, when we were talking about a simple subject versus a complete subject - 'case' versus 'stubborn case?' Relative pronouns kind of do the same thing on a larger scale; they explain something about the subject. You'll see here.

The husband and the lady who hired him were the same person all along!

Okay, that's not a great twist ending, and I'm no Dashiell Hammett, but can you pick out the subject and verb in this sentence? You have a couple of verb candidates here: 'hired' and the linking verb 'were.'

The relative pronoun 'who,' however, begins an adjective phrase that describes something about the main subject - 'who hired him' - but is not essential to the sentence, which could just as easily read, The husband and the lady were the same person all along. See, that's what an adjective clause does - it describes something about the subject ('The husband and the lady'), but something that's not essential. Hence, the linking verb 'were' is the main verb in this sentence.

Lesson Summary

So remember, when looking for the subject in a sentence, first:

  1. Look for the verb.
  2. Ask 'who' or 'what' is 'verbing' the 'verb.' (For example: 'Who ran? The killer ran.')
  3. If the agent of the action isn't clear, ask if the action is happening to the subject instead.
  4. Remember that commands and declarative statements have implied subjects, and that subject is you.
  5. Remember that sentences can have more than one subject and more than one verb.

Lesson Objectives

After watching this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Identify the subject(s) and verb(s) of a sentence
  • Explain the difference between simple subjects, complete subjects, compound subjects and implied subjects

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Selecting Subject & Object Pronouns: Rules & Examples

Discover the difference and usefulness of two different types of pronouns. Learn how to use subject pronouns and object pronouns effectively in writing.

What Are Personal Pronouns?

Our writing is full of nouns. Buildings, cars, computers, cell phones, ideas, and even people are all examples of nouns. We need them in order to have anything at all to write about. In order to keep from repeating the same nouns over and over again in writing, we use pronouns. Pronouns are words that replace specific names of nouns.

Let's look at an example in the following two sentences. ''Jamie threw the paper ball. He didn't mean for it to hit the teacher.'' In the first sentence, we have two nouns, 'Jamie' and 'ball.' In the second sentence, what words replaced 'Jamie' and 'ball?' You should see that 'he' and 'it' replaced those nouns. 'He' and 'it' are pronouns.

When a pronoun is replacing a specific person or object, it is called a personal pronoun. Here is the list of all the personal pronouns: I, me, you, he, him, she, her, it, we, us, they, and them. In order for you to use pronouns effectively, you need to understand the two categories for personal pronouns.

Subject Pronouns

The first type is the subject pronoun. This gets its name from the fact that the subject pronouns are pronouns that take the place of the subject of the sentence. Remember that a subject is the main noun doing the action in the sentence.

Not all pronouns can take the place of a subject. For example, can you say, ''Me drove to the store?'' No, of course you can't. This is because 'me' is not a subject pronoun. The correct pronoun in that sentence is 'I.' ''I drove to the store.'' 'I' is a subject pronoun and can take the place of the subject in a sentence.

Look again at the example from earlier: ''Jamie threw the paper ball. He didn't mean for it to hit the teacher.'' What is the subject of the sentence? 'Jamie' did the action and is the subject. In this second sentence, 'he' has replaced Jamie. 'He' is, therefore, a subject pronoun.

The subject pronouns are I, he, she, you, it, we, and they. These are the only ones that can stand in for the subject of a sentence.

Object Pronouns

The other type of pronoun is the object pronoun. An object pronoun is a word that stands in for a noun that is the object of a sentence. So, what is an object? An object in a sentence is any noun that receives the action. This means objects usually fall within the predicate of the sentence.

Remember, the predicate includes the verb and all the words that follow it. Simply put, the predicate is anything not attached to the subject. Thus, an object is any noun receiving the action or a noun that is not the subject. Once you find the subject of the sentence, all other nouns are objects.

Look at the sentence from earlier: ''Me drove to the store.'' We now know this is incorrect because 'me' is not a subject pronoun. In fact, 'me' is an object pronoun. It needs to fall in any other spot in the sentence besides the subject. For instance, ''He threw the paper ball at me.''

Furthermore, you can even replace the paper ball in that sentence. ''He threw it at me.'' So, 'it' in this case is also an object pronoun. Notice that 'it' was in the list of subject pronouns, too. Depending on where it occurs in the sentence, 'It' can be both a subject and object pronoun. Another pronoun that can fall in both categories is 'you.' For example, ''You threw the paper ball,'' and ''I gave you a detention.''

The object pronouns include me, you, him, her, them, us, and it. Remember that objects are the nouns receiving the action whereas subjects are the nouns doing the action.

Lesson Summary

To review, pronouns are words that replace nouns in sentences in order to help reduce repetition and redundancy. The personal pronouns include I, me, you, he, him, she, her, it, we, us, they, and them.

One type of pronoun is the subject pronoun. A subject pronoun takes the place of the subject of the sentence, which is the noun doing the action. The subject pronouns include I, he, she, you, it, we, and they.

The second type of pronoun is an object pronoun, which takes the place of a noun that receives the action. Objects in sentences usually occur in the predicate of the sentence. The object pronouns include me, you, him, her, them, us, and it.

Pay close attention to the role of pronouns when you use them in writing. Remember that 'it' and 'you' can be either a subject or an object pronoun. The others, however, must be used in the correct spot in order for your writing to effectively communicate.

Learning Outcomes

After this lesson, you'll have the ability to:

  • Define pronouns
  • List the personal pronouns
  • Differentiate between subject and object pronouns and provide examples of each
  • Explain how to use pronouns in a sentence

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Point of View: First, Second & Third Person

Just who is telling this story? In this lesson, we'll look at point of view, or the perspective from which a work is told. We'll review first person, second person and third person points of view.

Point of View

Everywhere I go, people ask me for my point of view. Wait, no, I mean: everywhere you go, people ask you for your point of view. Hmm, still not right. Everywhere they go, people are asked for their points of view.

Me, you, them - what's it all about? Of course, I'm talking about those surveys that fill our inboxes and are at the ends of seemingly every receipt. I'm just buying a pack of gum; I'm not interested in answering 30 questions about the experience. I really don't have a point of view on the matter.

But, even if I don't have a point of view in terms of an opinion, there's always a point of view in terms of how I write. This point of view can be defined as the perspective from which a work is written. There are three types of point of view: first person, second person and third person.

You'll use different ones depending on what type of work it is, as well as what you're trying to do with it. In this lesson, we'll define each type of point of view, look at examples and cover the situations in which each is useful. There will be no survey at the end for you to complete. Or will there?

First Person

If you're like me, it makes sense to start with me. I mean, why shouldn't I be first? Okay, I'm not really talking about me. I'm talking about our first point of view: first person. This is when the narrator is referring to him or herself. You will see 'I,' 'me,' 'my' and 'mine' in first person.

Color Me Mine? First person. First person shooter games? Yep, first person (though kind of violent). The Beatles' song I Me Mine? Super-duper first person. First person point of view can also involve 'we,' 'us' and 'our.' Really, as long as the narrator includes him or herself, it's first person.

Many novels are written in the first person. For example, there's F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Here's the opening line: 'In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.' My, my, me, I've, my... this is clearly first person point of view. Same goes for Herman Melville's Moby Dick: 'Call me Ishmael.' Ishmael is our narrator, and he's in the story talking about himself.

Other than fiction, when would you use first person? Anything autobiographical, like a memoir or personal essay; if it's you writing about you, then first person is the way to go. I wouldn't write about myself, 'Jeff went on to win the unprecedented Nobel Prize, Super Bowl MVP and World Karaoke Championship trifecta.' That would be weird.

First person point of view is rarely seen in academic writing. It's considered less objective than third person, which we'll discuss later.

Second Person

But first, we need to talk about you; and by you, I mean second person point of view. This is when the reader is directly addressed with 'you,' 'your' and 'yours.'

You don't see this in many novels. It's very strange in fiction. Here are the opening lines from one of the few examples, Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City: 'You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy.' How do you feel being the main character? It's strange, right?

You know where it's less strange? How about this: 'Listen, I have an idea. If you do not turn any pages, we will never get to the end of this book. And that is good, because there is a monster at the end of this book.' That's a very frightened muppet, Grover, using the second person point of view in The Monster at the End of This Book. Kids' books often address the reader using second person. It's useful if you're telling someone how to do something - maybe it's an advice column or a how-to guide.

Again, this isn't a style you'll see in academic writing. In fact, it's really not seen very often.

Third Person

You know what is common? Our final point of view: third person. This is where the narrator doesn't refer to him or herself - as in first person - and isn't addressing the reader - as in second person. Instead, you get an observer's perspective and lots of 'she,' 'he,' 'her,' 'his,' 'their' and 'theirs.'

If first person is someone telling you his or her story, and second person is you being told how you should do something, then third person is more like a camera recording events. That's not to say it's necessarily an objective point of view. A third person narrator can be highly subjective. The narrator just doesn't directly inject him or herself into the story by using 'I.'

There are myriad examples of third person point of view in literature. Here's one, the opening of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice: 'It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.' Note that the narrator doesn't say, 'I want a wife' or 'you want a wife.' No, the narrator is not a character in the story.

Aside from fiction, third person point of view is used in biographical works. This is someone telling someone else's story. I wouldn't write, 'And then I was elected as the first President of the United States.' Nor would I write, 'And then you were elected...' I'd write, 'And then George Washington was elected...' That's third person.

This is also the most common point of view in academic writing. It's considered the most formal, impartial point of view. Though, again, it's not inherently impartial. It just seems more unbiased if you don't talk about yourself.

Using and Identifying

For your own writing, it's critical that you're consistent with your point of view within a work. In Moby Dick, if Ishmael stopped narrating the story, it would be jarring.

Likewise, what if we rewrote the opening of Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea to shift point of view. It starts: 'He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and you had gone 84 days now without taking a fish. In the first 40 days a boy had been with me.' Wait, what? It's confusing, right? That 'you' should be 'he,' and that 'me' should be 'him.'

As for identifying point of view, it's important to note that first and second person works can contain third person pronouns. For example, you could say, 'I bought him a biscuit.' That 'him' doesn't make it third person. But third person works will usually only contain 'I' or 'you' in dialogue or quotations.

Focus on the narration, and the pronouns will guide you. If there's any 'I,' 'me' or 'mine,' then it's first person. If there's any 'you' or 'yours,' it's second person. There's no 'I' or 'you' in third person. There's just 'he,' 'her,' 'his,' 'hers' and 'their.' Well, ok, technically there is an 'I' in third person, but it's a little 'i.'

Lesson Summary

In summary, we defined point of view as the perspective from which a work is written. We looked at the three types of point of view: first person, second person and third person.

First person, which uses 'I,' 'me' and 'mine,' is common in fiction and autobiographical works, like personal essays. Second person, which uses 'you' and 'yours,' is not common in fiction. You'll find it in how-to guides and works addressing the reader directly. Finally, third person, which uses 'he,' 'her,' 'his,' 'hers' and 'their,' is common in fiction, biographies and academic writing.

Learning Outcomes

After this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Define point of view
  • Describe the three points of view in writing: first, second and third person
  • List examples of and explain how to identify each type

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Verb Tense & Subject-Verb Agreement

Learn all about verb tense and subject-verb agreement in our first lesson on this tricky topic. We'll look at examples to help you understand this concept.

Subject-Verb Agreement

When writing, it's important to make sure that your subjects and verbs 'agree' with each other. That means that plural subjects should be matched to plural verbs and singular verbs should be matched to singular subjects. If you don't do this, the sentence is not only grammatically incorrect but confusing to boot.

Singular and Plural Subjects

Present Tense

Let's look at subject-verb agreement in the present tense.

The valet crash the car. The owners is upset.

Both of those sentences probably look and sound funny to you, but let's examine why. In the first sentence, we have a singular subject - that's 'the valet' - and in the second sentence, we have a plural subject - that's 'owners.' Quick refresher: to find the subject, first find the verb, and then find the thing the verb is connected to - usually the noun to left of the verb but not always. In the present tense, to make a verb singular, you usually add an '-s' or '-es', while to make a noun singular you remove the '-s'.

So, to make the subjects and verbs agree in the first sentence, we would either have to change the subject to make it plural (since the verb is plural) like so - The valets crash the car. or, more sensibly, change the verb to make it singular by adding '-es', making it - The valet crashes the car. Likewise, in the second sentence, you must change the form of the verb 'to be' to its plural form or change the subject to its singular form, making it either - The owner is upset. or The owners are upset.

To remember where to put your plurals, think of subject-verb agreement in the present tense as a little bit like a see-saw: When the subject is plural, it gets the plural form (usually an an '-s'), and when the subject is singular, the plural drops off the verb and gets the '-s' or '-es' this time.

Past Tense

In the past tense, however, subject-verb agreement is a little less complicated. Why? Because in the past tense, regardless of whether your subject is singular or plural, the verb form stays the same.

So, The robot menaced me from across the bar. and The robots menaced me from across the bar. keep the same verb form, though the first sentence has a singular subject ('robot') and the second sentence has a plural subject ('robots').

Of course, there are some exceptions! (This is English; there are always exceptions.) When certain helping verbs are used as the main verb, then you have to pay attention to your subject-verb agreement again. The most common are 'has'/'have' and 'was'/'were.' Take this example:

The robot has destroyed the village. Both 'has' and 'robot' are singular, and 'has' is the main verb here. If the main subject is plural, then you must also pluralize 'have', as in, The robots have destroyed the village.

Or, The photo was plastered all over campus. compared to The photos were plastered all over campus. 'Photo' - 'was.' 'Photos' - 'were.'

Conjunctions

When two singular subjects form a compound subject joined by the conjunction 'and,' that makes the subject plural, and so, like our earlier examples, you'll need to make sure your verb is plural to match. Here are a couple of a examples.

The alligator and the crocodile are basically living dinosaurs. Here, 'the alligator and the crocodile' is the compound subject joined by 'and,' and therefore the main verb is plural - in this case 'are' instead of 'is.' Let's look at another.

Laughing nervously, the tourist and his guide wade into the reptile-infested swamp. Here the compound subject is 'the tourist and his guide,' and the main verb is 'wade' (that's the plural; remember the singular would be wades, adding the '-s').

As for other conjunctions, 'or' and 'nor' are also used between two subjects, but instead of bringing them together, they provide contrast - in other words, they keep them separate, singular subjects. In these cases, the subject closest to the verb determines whether it's plural or singular. So, Neither the band nor the singers are going on tonight. In this case, because the plural noun 'singers' is closest to the verb, we use the plural form of the verb - that's 'are.' Switch it around and we need to use the singular. Either the singers or the band is going on tonight. Singular 'band' is matched to singular verb 'is.'

Prepositional Phrases

Sometimes your subject isn't directly to the left of the verb, and this can lead to confusion in subject-verb agreement. For instance, say you have a prepositional phrase - that's a phrase connected to a noun by a preposition - that describes something about your subject. In these cases, you have to be careful to identify what the sentence subject is before deciding whether your verb should be singular or plural.

For instance: A team of horses races through the main street daily. Because 'horses' is next to the verb 'races,' you might be tempted to think the subject is plural - that is, 'horses.' However, 'horses' is actually part of the prepositional phrase that describes 'team' (what kind of team is it? It's a team of horses). Therefore, 'team' is the main subject, and it's singular, so the verb must be singular to match - hence, 'the team races.'

Here's another example: The streets at night are full of dangerous characters. 'Night' is to the left of the verb, but the prepositional phrase here describes the streets (what kind of streets? The streets at night), and so the main subject is 'streets,' which calls for the plural form of the verb 'to be,' which is 'are.'

Lesson Summary

Let's review. Remember that:

  • Your subjects and verbs always have to agree with each other. Plural subjects should be matched to plural verbs and vice-versa.
  • Plural subjects usually have an '-s' or '-es' added on to the end of the word, while plural verbs drop the '-s' if they have one. Likewise, singular subjects don't have an '-s,' while singular verbs do. Remember the see-saw.
  • In the past tense, your verb tense usually gets to stay the same regardless of the plurality of the subjects.
  • Helping verbs do have to shift tense in the past tense, however. Most commonly these are 'has'/'have' and 'was'/'were.'
  • The conjunction 'and' helps form compound subjects that should be treated as plural. With the conjunctions 'or' and 'nor,' however, the tense of the subject closest to the verb tells the verb whether it should be singular or plural.
  • When faced with a prepositional phrase, remember to go back and find the main subject. That will tell you whether the verb should be singular or plural.

Learning Outcome

After watching this lesson, you should be able to identify and understand different examples of subject-verb agreement.

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Subject-Verb Agreement: Using Uncommon Singular and Plural Nouns and Pronouns
Subject-verb agreement is a tricky beast. Learn which uncommon singular and plural nouns and pronouns are most likely to trip you up when trying to craft essays with good grammar.

Subject-Verb Agreement

Even if you've got your basic subject-verb agreement rules down pat, you should know that English is never quite that easy. There are many exceptions just waiting to confuse you. We'll explore a few of them here.

Group Nouns

Take group nouns. Group nouns, or collective nouns (as they're sometimes called), refer to groups of things but are typically themselves singular. This includes words like team, party, or crew - any singular noun that encompasses a group of people or things.

In general, since these group nouns have their own plural forms - you can have a team (singular) or teams (plural) - you should use a singular verb with the singular form of the noun. Don't let the fact that the word contains multiple things confuse you. For example, The party IS getting started at 9 o'clock (that's one single unit of partying). Or if you wanted to make it plural you could say The parties are going on downtown because you're referring to more than one party. In any case, keep in mind that just because a word refers to or contains a number of things doesn't make it plural.

We're not quite finished yet, however. Some group nouns can be either singular or plural depending on the context. For example, in this sentence - The gang are going their separate ways - you use a plural verb ('are') because the sentence is referring to the individual gang members, not the gang as one collective whole. If you were referring to the gang as a collective whole, then you would use a singular verb, as in The gang is going to a big gang meet-up and dance tonight. More often than not, the group nouns will take a singular verb because they're being used to talk about a collective unit, but you need to be aware of the rare cases when they call for a plural verb - when there is discord between the members that make up the unit.

Stealth Singular Nouns

Another type of tricky noun is what I like to call the 'stealth singular noun.' These noun-ninjas look like plural nouns (they have a plural form - either an 's' or 'es' on the end of the word), but they refer to a single thing and thus they demand a singular form of a verb to match up with. Some examples of these stealth singular nouns include politics, gymnastics, mathematics, news, and darts, as well as certain food words when you're referring to a single dish (like eggs benedict).

Some of these are easy to hear because of everyday usage. For instance, you would never say The news are on; you would say The news is on because you know that news refers to a single entity. But with a word like politics, it's a little trickier. Politics seems to contain a lot of different thoughts, ideas, opinions, and disciplines, so it's tempting to say Politics are usually boring, for instance. But 'politics' refers to a single discipline, and so it must be treated as singular. The same goes for other nouns ending in ics. So a proper sentence would read: Politics is boring but mathematics is worse; still, gymnastics is pretty great.

If you think that a plural-sounding noun might actually be singular, ask yourself: Can it be treated as a single entity? If it can, then it's probably a singular noun and therefore requires a singular verb.

Indefinite Pronouns

Like our 'stealth' singular nouns, many indefinite pronouns look like they should be plural but refer to only a singular subject and therefore require a singular verb form. These include the pronouns each, everyone, everybody, anyone, nobody, no one, nothing, everything, anybody, anyone, anything, someone, something, somebody, either, neither, other, and one.

In other words, you would say Everybody is going to the parade, not Everybody are going to the parade, or Someone leaves notes for me in my locker every morning, not Someone leave notes for me in my locker every morning. Why singular? Because while these indefinite pronouns may seem to refer to groups, they actually refer to individual actors - some (one) body or every (one) body or every (individual) thing.

I hope you don't find that too confusing, but if you do, you can always memorize these indefinite pronouns and remember that they call for a singular verb. You'll get the hang of it in no time.

Exceptions to Indefinite Pronouns

Though fewer in number, some indefinite pronouns always require a plural verb just as their brethren require a singular verb. These are few, many, both, others, and several. Remember the group nouns from earlier in the lesson? These indefinite pronouns have something in common with them in that they're singular nouns that are composed of more than one thing. The reason these always require a plural verb is that you can't break them down into their individual parts, nor can you have, say, six fews or a bushel of boths.

Here are a couple of examples of proper usage:

Many enjoy the daily clang of marching bands practicing in the street.

Few have ever tried to climb Certain Death Mountain.

Finally, five indefinite pronouns can be either plural or singular depending on context. These are most, any, none, some, and all, which you can remember by the mnemonic MANSA.

For example, Some of us have been enjoying this grammar lesson uses the plural form of the verb because the context says that you're referring to more than one member (i.e. 'some') of a group (that is, 'of us'). However, Some of the money is missing from the piggy bank requires a singular verb because 'some' is now describing a portion of a singular subject - that is, 'the money.'

Measurement

A similar rule applies when you're describing a percentage or part of something. For instance, the sentence Around 30 percent of football players are also proficient ballet dancers takes a plural verb ('are'), since in context, even though 'percent' looks singular, we're talking about a percent of a larger group of people (the football players), which is still plural. If the thing the percentage is referring to is singular, however, then the verb must be singular, as in Two-thirds of this pie has already been eaten or Three shots of vodka is three too many.

Lesson Review

Group nouns, or collective nouns, refer to groups of things but have singular and plural forms (team has the plural form teams, for instance), with the singular form requiring a singular verb and the plural form requiring a plural verb. The sole exception is when the group noun refers to an action in which the members are doing separate things, as in The couple are getting a divorce (rather than The couple IS getting a divorce). Some nouns that look plural are actually singular, especially when referring to a group or field of study. Physics is a singular noun, for instance.

Many indefinite pronouns sound plural but are also singular. These include pronouns like anybody, everybody, something, either, and neither. However, five indefinite pronouns - few, many, both, others, and several - must always be plural, while another five - most, any, none, some, and all - can be either singular or plural depending on context. Try writing some sentences using these pronouns to help commit their usage to memory.

When describing a percentage or portion of something, whether your verb is singular or plural depends on the thing from which the portion is taken. 90 percent of this cake IS missing, for instance, while 10 percent of these Danishes ARE still here.

Learning Outcome

After watching this lesson, you should be able to classify the different singular/plural nouns and pronouns that come up in academic and creative writing.

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Complex Subject-Verb Agreement: Inverted Order, Compound Subjects & Interrupting Phrases
Learn how subject-verb agreement is essential to written language. Three common problems with subject-verb agreement are discussed with tips for avoiding the most common errors.

Word Order in English

Writing. It is everywhere and serves many functions in our society. However, the written word must follow specific guidelines in order to be effective communication. One such guideline is word order, which simply refers to the order words must fall in a sentence. Imagine that you are reading an article and you come across this sentence: 'Important for is to order written effective be word communication.' Does this make any sense at all? Of course not! This is because the word order is completely messed up. Reorder the words and you can clearly understand the message: 'Word order is important for written communication to be effective.'

One important aspect within word order deals with subject-verb agreement, which means the subject and main verb must always agree based on number. Remember that the subject is the main person or object doing the action, and the verb is the main action or state of being. For example, 'The boy runs to the street corner every morning.' The subject is the 'boy' and the verb is 'runs.' The singular subject 'boy' must be followed by the singular form of the verb, which in this case is 'runs.' Don't get confused and think the singular form is 'run,' since 'runs' ends in the letter 's.' The singular form of 'run' is actually 'runs' because it agrees with singular subjects.

When sentences remain simple, it is usually easy to recognize and fix disagreement between subjects and verbs. You can usually just say the sentence out loud and check to see what naturally comes off your tongue. However, our language is full of many complex sentences, which may make subject-verb agreement more difficult to establish. Let's look at some common problems with subject-verb agreement.

Inverted Word Order

The example sentences from above were in normal word order, which means the subject comes before the main verb. One issue with agreement can be seen if the subject comes after the verb or in between two verbs. This is called inverted word order.

Look at this question: 'What is Katie doing?' What is the subject? 'Katie' is the main person in this sentence. What is the action? The action is actually the verb phrase 'is doing.' The subject, Katie, comes in between these two verbs. You still have to make sure the subject agrees with the verb. Would you say 'Katie is doing' or 'Katie are doing?' 'Katie' is a singular subject, and you would use the first version since 'is' is the singular form of 'to be.'

Here is another example: 'Up the mountain climbs the lion.' What is the subject? The 'lion' is doing the action in the sentence. What is the action? The lion 'climbs.' In this sentence, the subject is coming after the verb, but you still need to make them agree. The lion is singular and so uses the singular form 'climbs.' If the subject was changed to plural, like in 'Up the mountain climb the lions,' then the verb changes to the plural form 'climb.' The important thing to remember with inverted word order is to always find the subject and make the verb agree.

Compound Subjects

Another problem with subject-verb agreement can occur with compound subjects. A compound subject is when a sentence has more than one noun as the subject. Look again at the example from the beginning of this lesson. 'The boy runs to the street corner every morning.' To make the subject a compound subject, put in two names. 'Sam and Steve run to the street corner every morning.' Who is doing the action? Both Sam and Steve are running, and so make up the compound subject.

For compound subjects, you must note the connecting word in order to determine the proper way to make the verb agree. For example, in our sentence, our two subjects are connected with the word 'and.' This means we have a plural subject and therefore need the plural form 'run.' With a compound subject connected by the word 'and,' this means both people are doing the action, and so you need to use the plural form of the verb.

Besides the word 'and,' there is another way of connecting compound subjects. Look at this sentence: 'Sam or Steve runs to the street corner every morning.' The word 'or' has changed the meaning of the sentence. Now we still have a compound subject, but in reality, only one of the boys is doing the running. For this, you use the noun closest to the verb for agreement, 'Steve runs.' We use the singular form 'runs,' since Steve is singular. If Steve was changed to a plural word, then we would need the plural form 'run'. For example, 'Sam or the students run to the street corner every morning.' This same rule applies if the word 'nor' is used instead of 'or.' 'Neither Sam nor Steve runs to the street corner every morning.'

The key to compound subjects is the connecting word. If subjects are connected with word 'and,' then use the plural form of the verb. If connected with 'or' or 'nor,' use the noun closest to the verb to establish subject-verb agreement.

Interrupting Phrases

A final issue with subject-verb agreement occurs when a sentence has an interrupting phrase. An interrupting phrase is any group of words that come in between the subject and the main verb. The biggest problem with interrupting phrases is confusing the extra words for the subject of the sentence. Let's look at an example.

'The fact that Mike and Matt were sick and missed football practice (prevent or prevents) them from being able to start in the game tonight.' Which is it? Prevent or prevents? First, you have to identify the true subject. Here the subject is 'the fact,' and all the words from 'that' up to 'practice' are the interrupting phrase. Now read the sentence skipping the interrupting phrase. 'The fact (prevent or prevents) them from being able to start in the game tonight.' You should be able to see that the subject is singular, and so the singular form 'prevents' is correct.

The key with interrupting phrases is to find the true subject. Do not let the interrupting words fool you. In fact, cross off the interrupting phrases and read the sentence with just the subject and the verb. Then you should be able to identify the correct form of the verb to agree with the true subject.

Lesson Summary

To review, word order, which is the order words must fall within a sentence, is essential for communication. One problem that occurs with word order is ensuring each sentence has subject-verb agreement, which means the subject of the sentence agrees in number with the verb.

To ensure you have subject-verb agreement, beware of inverted word order. This occurs when the subject comes after the verb or in between two verbs. No matter where the subject is, the verb must still agree in number.

Also, watch out for compound subjects. This occurs when you have two subjects for one sentence. If the subjects are connected with the word 'and,' use the plural form of the verb to ensure agreement. If the subjects are connected with 'or' or 'nor,' then use the subject closest to the verb for agreement with the verb.

Last, don't be fooled by interrupting phrases. Any words that come between the subject and the verb should not be considered when determining agreement. Identify the true subject and ignore the interrupted phrase.

Keep these tips in mind and you'll be sure to always have true subject-verb agreement.

Learning Outcomes

After completing the lesson, you should have the ability to:

  • Recognize the importance of word order in sentences
  • Understand the concept of subject-verb agreement
  • Recognize examples of inverted word order
  • Explain how to use proper subject-verb agreement in sentences with compounds subjects or interrupting phrases
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Conjunctions: Coordinating & Correlative
Conjunctions are parts of speech that join together other words, phrases and clauses in sentences. Learn all about two types of conjunctions - coordinating and correlative - in this lesson.

Conjunctions

So, what's a conjunction? Is it one of those grammar terms that you learned long ago but can't quite seem to place? Try to remember what a conjunction is this way: You may know that the scientific term for Siamese twins is 'conjoined twins.' Twins who are conjoined are born stuck together.

The terms 'conjunction' and 'conjoined' have the same word base, and what's most important to remember is that a conjunction joins things together in a sentence. There are a few different types of conjunctions, and they work in slightly different ways, but if you remember that a conjunction is a word that joins other words, phrases or clauses together, then you're off to a good start.

Coordinating Conjunctions

One type of conjunction is the coordinating conjunction, which joins two or more elements of equal importance in a sentence. Coordinating conjunctions can connect words, phrases or clauses, and we'll look at examples of each. There are seven coordinating conjunctions, and they're easy to recall because they're all short, familiar words, and also because there's a catchy acronym to help you remember them. Here's the list:

  • For
  • And
  • Nor
  • But
  • Or
  • Yet and
  • So

Notice that if you look at the first letter of each of these coordinating conjunctions, they spell out 'FANBOYS.'

As I mentioned a minute ago, one thing that coordinating conjunctions do is join words together in a sentence. This is pretty easy, and we do it all the time. For example, when I say, 'I bought bread and apples', I've used the coordinating conjunction 'and' to join two words that are of equal importance in the sentence. The sentence, 'He will call Jim or Kendra' uses the coordinating conjunction 'or' in the same way.

Coordinating conjunctions can also connect phrases in a sentence. (You may remember that a phrase is a group of words.) For example, in the sentence 'Louis enjoys playing the piano and sailing on his boat,' the coordinating conjunction 'and' joins two phrases of equal importance in the sentence.

Finally, coordinating conjunctions can join together two or more clauses in a sentence. Knowing how to do that in the right way will take just a little bit of work. A clause is a group of words that contains a subject and a verb. An independent clause is a clause that can stand by itself as a complete sentence. For example, 'I woke up' is a clause because it contains a subject and a verb. It's an independent clause because it can stand by itself as a complete sentence.

We can use commas and coordinating conjunctions to join independent clauses together. For example, take a look at these two short, simple sentences: 'I was up late studying. I am tired today.' Let's review our list of coordinating conjunctions. There are two that could work well here to join our two simple sentences into one coordinated sentence: and or so.

We could say, 'I was up late studying, and I am tired today,' or 'I was up late studying, so I am tired today.' Note that when you're joining two independent clauses with a coordinating conjunction, you must insert a comma before the coordinating conjunction.

As you work on carrying that rule out, always double check that you are in fact working with two independent clauses. For example, with the sentence, 'I will stay out with friends or go home now,' it would be incorrect to insert a comma before the coordinating conjunction 'or.'

It would be wrong because we're not joining two independent clauses here; part of this sentence is just a phrase. The phrase 'go home now,' which we're trying to join to the rest of the sentence, isn't a complete sentence by itself, so it's not an independent clause.

We don't use a comma in front of the coordinating conjunction when we join phrases like this, just like we wouldn't use a comma when we join just words together with coordinating conjunctions. We wouldn't say, 'I bought bread, and apples.' We'd correct our sentence to say, 'I bought bread and apples' with no comma.

Correlative Conjunctions

Other types of conjunctions include correlative conjunctions, which are pairs of conjunctions that join two elements of equal importance in a sentence. The key to spotting correlative conjunctions is remembering they come in twos. Here are some common correlative conjunction pairs:

  • Not only/but also
  • Either/or
  • Neither/nor and
  • Both/and

These pairs of correlative conjunctions can join words, phrases or clauses within a sentence. Here's an example: 'I will order either chocolate ice cream or apple pie.' Note that each correlative conjunction appears immediately before the word that it's working to connect within the sentence. Here's another: 'Carmen earned not only an A on her math test, but also an award for her English essay.'

When you use correlative conjunctions, watch your sentence construction. Be sure that the conjunction appears right before the element that you're joining to another, equally important element in the sentence. In other words, it wouldn't be correct to say, 'Carmen not only earned an A on her math test, but also an award for her English essay.' This sentence might seem to be just as okay as the earlier one, but there's a key difference. In the second, incorrect version, we have 'not only earned' paired up with 'but also an award.'

Remember that with these pairs of correlative conjunctions, we need to be joining two equal elements. Our first conjunction, 'not only' is placed right before a verb, 'earned,' but the second conjunction in the pair, 'but also,' is right before an article and a noun. We need to make sure that each correlative conjunction is right before the same type of element, or part of speech. That's why the first version of our sentence, 'Carmen earned not only an A on her math test, but also an award for her English essay' is correct. Each correlative conjunction in our pair comes right before an article and a noun.

Lesson Summary

Remember that a conjunction is a word that joins other words, phrases or clauses together. One type of conjunction is the coordinating conjunction, which joins two or more elements of equal importance in a sentence. There are seven coordinating conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet and so, and there's a catchy acronym to help you remember them: 'FANBOYS.' When you use a coordinating conjunction to connect two independent clauses, you must include a comma before the conjunction.

Other types of conjunctions include correlative conjunctions, which are pairs of conjunctions that join two elements of equal importance in a sentence. The main thing to remember is that correlative conjunctions come in twos. Common correlative conjunction pairs include not only/but also, either/or, neither/nor and both/and.

Learning Outcomes

After finishing this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Recall the function of a conjunction
  • Distinguish between coordinating conjunctions and FANBOYS
  • Understand the use of correlative conjunction pairs

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Combining Dependent & Independent Clauses

Clauses are a great mystery to many people when dealing with our written language. Watch this video lesson to discover clauses and also to learn how to combine clauses correctly.

What Is a Clause?

How words fit together is extremely important in written language. One concept you need to understand in order to communicate effectively is a clause. A clause is a group of words that have a subject and a predicate. Remember, the subject is the main person or object doing the action, and the predicate includes the action, or verb, and the rest of the sentence.

Think of a clause as 1-step below a sentence. Many clauses can have just a verb in the predicate, and some clauses cannot stand by themselves. In this way, a sentence can consist of one or more clauses. This is why clauses are different from whole sentences.

In this lesson, we will look at two types of clauses and how to combine them. The first type of clause is called an independent clause. This clause can stand-alone. It has all the components of a complete sentence, which means it has a subject and a verb in the predicate. Thus, if an independent clause is separate from other sentences, it will be a logical simple sentence.

Look at this example: 'I swam.' This is the simplest form of a sentence and is also an independent clause. It has a subject, ('I' is the person doing the action), and a predicate (the action, 'swam', is the verb). The predicate consists only of the verb, which is why this is the simplest form of a sentence. Logically, though, it makes sense and is a grammatically correct sentence.

The second type of clause is a dependent clause. Dependent clauses cannot stand by themselves. They depend on another clause to make it a complete sentence. Dependent clauses do have a subject and a predicate; however, dependent clauses are structured in such a way that they cannot stand-alone. For example, 'Because I didn't do my homework.' This clause is dependent. It does not make sense on its own. If someone said this to you, you'd immediately ask, 'What happened?'

Now that you understand the difference between independent and dependent clauses, let's look at how to combine them to make full sentences. Three ways to combine clauses include using a comma, a comma plus a conjunction, and a semicolon.

Comma

A comma is a very useful punctuation mark. In fact, a comma has so many uses; many people just throw in a comma anywhere they want. In reality, commas are used to show natural pauses or extend ideas. In regards to clauses, a comma can join a dependent clause with an independent one. Look again at the dependent clause we discussed earlier: 'Because I didn't do my homework'. In order to make a full sentence, you must add a comma and an independent clause: 'Because I didn't do my homework, I wasn't prepared for the class discussion.'

Notice that 'I wasn't prepared for the class discussion.' is a complete thought and an independent clause. Here, the comma attached the dependent clause to an independent one. Look at two more examples:

'While Tim was studying, his sister was watching TV.'

'If I didn't stay up late last night, I wouldn't have fallen asleep in class.'

In each of these examples, a comma was used after the dependent clause to combine with an independent clause. One last thing to note is that if the dependent clause comes after the independent one, then no punctuation is necessary at all. For example, 'I wasn't prepared for the class discussion because I didn't do my homework.' A comma is only used when the dependent clause comes before the independent clause.

Comma and Conjunction

Sometimes in our language, independent clauses can be combined with other independent clauses. There are two ways to connect two independent clauses. The first is to insert a comma and a conjunction between the clauses. Look at these two independent clauses: 'Baseball is a great passion of mine. I play every summer.'

These two sentences are independent clauses and simple sentences. Since they are closely related, you can connect them using a comma and a conjunction. Remember, conjunctions are words that connect ideas and phrases. 'And,' 'but,' and 'so' are all conjunctions. Look at how those independent clauses can be combined: 'Baseball is a great passion of mine, and I play every summer.' Only use a comma and conjunction when combining two independent clauses.

Semicolon

A second way to add these clauses would be to use a semicolon. A semicolon is a punctuation mark that indicates two complete thoughts are related. For instance, 'Baseball is a great passion of mine; I play every summer.' As long as both clauses are independent, you can insert a semicolon between them. Note that if you do not use a comma, then there is no need to add a conjunction. Semicolons are a great way to show how two complete thoughts are related.

Lesson Summary

To review, the English language is made up of many dependent and independent clauses. A clause is a group of words with a subject, a person doing the action, and a predicate, the action and the words that follow. Some simple sentences only have a verb as the predicate.

Independent clauses are ones that can stand-alone as simple sentences. Dependent clauses cannot stand-alone and rely on other clauses for logical meaning. To attach a dependent clause to an independent one, simply add a comma. For example, 'Because I didn't do my homework, I wasn't prepared for the class discussion.'

There are two methods of combining two independent clauses. The first is to add a comma and a conjunction. 'Baseball is a great passion of mine, and I play every summer.' The second is to add a semicolon. 'Baseball is a great passion of mine; I play every summer.'

The most important concept to understand from this lesson is that dependent clauses must be attached to another clause, since they cannot stand-alone. This is extremely important in order for your writing to be an effective form of communication.

Learning Outcomes

As you come to the end of the lesson, you should be able to:

  • Recall what a clause is and list the two types of clauses
  • Explain how to use a comma to attach clauses within a sentence
  • Demonstrate how to combine clauses using a semicolon
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Parallelism: How to Write and Identify Parallel Sentences
Sentences that aren't parallel sound funny, even if they look perfectly correct at first glance. Learn what makes a sentence parallel, how to revise a sentence to make it parallel, and how to write beautiful, balanced sentences of your own.

Parallel Sentences

Have you ever been on a flight when an attendant asked you to move your seat to help balance the aircraft? If the attendants didn't do this, the plane would probably still fly, but you'd be in for a rough flight.

A sentence without parallel structure is like an imbalanced aircraft; it'll get you from point A to point B, but no one's going to congratulate the pilot when it lands.

Coordinating Conjunctions

To spot potential parallelism pitfalls, first look for the coordinating conjunctions in a sentence - those are for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so - and then look to either side of the conjunction to see if it's parallel. So here's an example of a sentence without parallel structure:

Deep-fried Oreos are delicious but bad nutrition.

So we have 'delicious' on one side and 'nutrition' on the other of the coordinating conjunction, but the former is an adjective and the latter is a noun. Here's the same sentence with parallel structure:

Deep-fried oreos are delicious but not nutritious.

Now both of the descriptors are adjectives and the sentence is balanced.

Parallel structure is about style. It's about the way that a sentence feels and flows. Yes, it's part of grammar, but it's also part of what makes an essay or a sentence sound good to the reader's ear.

Let's look at another example.

Correlative Conjunctions

Sentences that contain correlative conjunctions must also be parallel. So a correlative conjunction can take the form of either...or, neither...nor, both ... and, and not only ... but also. These pairings highlight a connection, or correlation, between two elements. Here's an example of a sentence that uses correlative conjunctions but is not parallel:

We not only were lost but also broke.

Now the correlative conjunction here is not only ... but also, and if you stick the verb were in the middle of it, it breaks it up and makes it not parallel. So there are two different ways you can balance this sentence.

You could do we not only were lost, but also were broke. You have two verbs and those are on either side of the coordinating conjunction, which is but, or you could stick the verb before the correlative conjunction: we were not only lost, but also broke.

The structures directly following the conjunctions have to match and that's the important lesson about parallel structure.

Items in a Series

One of the most common parallel structure mistakes occurs when writers list items in a series. You're bounding over the hills and dales of a sentence when suddenly, just before you reach your destination, the car hits a ditch. Here's an example:

Sasquatch enjoys taking long walks in the forest, playing with small woodland creatures, and to devour wandering tourists.

Now, instead of all -ing words - called gerunds - in the series, the sentence hits a hitch at the infinitive to devour. Matching the verb-forms restores the balance, so it should be:

Sasquatch enjoys taking long walks in the forest, playing with small woodland creatures, and devouring wandering tourists.

Isn't that better?

Clauses

In general, if you begin with a clause (that's a group of related words that contains a subject and a verb), you need to stick with that clause for the duration of the sentence to keep it parallel. So try this:

On the last night of awesome ninja training, the Master told his students that they must be stealthy, that they must be cunning, and to be quick.

This sentence is unbalanced because the infinitive to be quick is not parallel with the clause that they must be. To fix this, replace to be quick with the same clause as the other clauses in the sentence:

On the last night of awesome ninja training, the Master told his students that they must be stealthy, that they must be cunning, and that they must be quick.

Or, to make it more graceful - but still parallel - in this instance, you can just list the final adjectives of the clause:

On the last night of awesome ninja training, the Master told his students that they must be stealthy, cunning, and quick. That's ninja-esque.

Comparison Sentences

Comparison sentences can also be parallel or not parallel. For instance:

I like to time travel more than flying.

The two comparison elements here (to time travel and flying) aren't in the same grammatical form. To time travel is in the infinitive form, while flying is a gerund. To make the sentence parallel, use the gerund in both cases (those are those -ing words we talked about before).

I like time traveling more than flying.

Or you can use the infinitive form in both cases:

I like to time travel more than I like to fly.

Either way, the sentence is now balanced.

Verb Tenses

When writing parallel sentences, you also want to make sure your verb tenses are the same. As before, remember to look on either side of the conjunction or connecting phrase to make sure the forms match.

So, Jonathan had grabbed the stake and drove it into the vampire's heart is not parallel because had grabbed on the one side of the conjunction (and) is in the past perfect form, while drove is simply in past tense. Balance the verb forms to make the sentence parallel. Can you see it?

You should choose either Jonathan had grabbed the stake and driven it into the vampire's heart, or Jonathan grabbed the stake and drove it into the vampire's heart. Either one is correct.

Lesson Summary

The most important thing to remember about parallel structure is not to mix forms, tenses, or passive and active voices. If you have all gerunds, stick with them; if you have all infinitives, or all adverbs, stick with those.

That way, you get through this lesson writing clearly, intelligently, and efficiently (that's parallel) instead of clearly, intelligently, and with efficiency (not parallel).

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 Sentence Structure: Identify and Avoid 'Mixed Structure' Sentences

A mixed structure sentence is a common error that occurs when a writer starts a sentence with one structure but switches to a different structure in the middle of the sentence. This video will teach you how to spot and avoid this type of error.

Understanding Mixed Sentence Structure

What if I told you that there's a type of sentence error that's exceedingly common, that's a major reason that teachers and professors deduct points from essays, and that is incredibly easy to spot and fix? So easy, in fact, that it doesn't require you to be able to define an independent clause, a coordinating conjunction, or a gerund? Sound too good to be true?

Just keep in mind: because you want your writing to be the best it can be, is why you should avoid mixed structure sentences.

Sounds a little funny, doesn't it? That's an example of a mixed structure sentence, which is a catch-all term for a sentence that starts off being structured one way but switches to a different structure halfway through. And like I said a moment ago, while this type of sentence error is fairly common, it's one of the very easiest sentence problems to identify and fix.

You may know from studying up on how to avoid run-on sentences, comma splices, and sentence fragments, for example, that it's important to understand and be able to identify various types of clauses and conjunctions to fix those errors. When it comes to mixed structure sentences, there's not an absolute rule that applies to fix each one.

Instead, mixed structure sentences can be quite varied, and the term applies to any sentence construction problem where the structure of the sentence changes halfway through. In this lesson, we'll review how good sentences can go off the rails and become mixed structure sentences as well as that aforementioned super easy, surefire way to catch and fix them.

How Mixed Sentence Structure Errors Occur

I get it. You don't have endless hours and hours to perfectly craft your writing assignments or a team of personal editors to comb through your papers before you turn them in. And, of course, standardized tests require that you write essay question responses quickly, which can leave the door wide open to grammatical mistakes.

Sometimes when you're writing, your mind might race as you try to get your sentences out, and the result is a jumble of words. Or, just the opposite, you might have a case of writer's block so terrible that you type out one. . . painful. . . word. . . at a time, and by the time you get to the period at the end of a sentence, you've long forgotten how that sentence started.

So, you might end up writing in a timed essay exam:

Although I'm a busy person, but I love to take time to study.

If you pay attention, you can see where the structure of this sentence implodes. The first half of the sentence is okay, and the structure makes sense up to a point: Although I'm a busy person,

And the second half, taken by itself, is okay, too: but I love to take time to study. But when we put them both together, it's not pretty.

Usually, fixing a mixed structure sentence takes just a bit of rearranging and double checking. We can solve this one by writing:

Although I'm a busy person, I love to take time to study.

Or you could write:

I'm a busy person, but I love to take time to study.

It's not exactly brain surgery, right? So, why do so many standardized exams feature questions requiring students to fix these types of errors? And how come so many English instructors spend sleepless nights grading stacks of papers with dozens of mixed structure sentence errors in them?

Catch and Fix Mixed Sentence Structure Errors

There's something that English teachers know, and that writers of standardized tests know, and that you'll now know, too: students hate proofreading their papers.

Students know they should go back through their papers to look for and correct mistakes, whether it's an essay with a deadline two weeks away, or a timed essay for a standardized test. But a lot of students don't do it, and others do it but kind of halfheartedly and not very well.

If you're guilty of being a bad proofreader of your own work, think about all of the points you could recoup with your grades by cleaning up mixed structure sentences that you might have dropped throughout your essay without realizing it. There are two surefire, easy ways to catch mixed sentence structure errors. The first is to read your finished essay aloud to yourself.

Sometimes, we can lose focus by staring too long at a page we've spent a while writing, so reading back through a paper silently - particularly on a computer screen - can be less than completely effective. But reading our work aloud allows us to really hear the way our sentences are structured. Of course, if you're sitting in an exam room taking an essay test, you probably can't broadcast what you've just written out loud.

There's still an easy method for you to use to catch most mixed structure problems if you give yourself a few minutes before time will be called to methodically read back through your essay silently, sentence by sentence. This second trick is to read your essay backward, one sentence at a time. By doing this, you can focus on sentence structure rather than the meaning of your essay as a whole.

So, when you go back and proofread your paper, you'll be able to spot when you've mixed two sentence structures together. For example, you might have had two ways of expressing the same idea in your head:

The Electoral College offers a way to honor the importance of individual state populations, so it should be preserved.

and

Because the Electoral College offers a way to honor the importance of individual state populations, it should be preserved.

And you might have jumbled them together to read:

Because the Electoral College offers a way to honor the importance of individual state populations, so it should be preserved.

By simply reading carefully back through your work, you should be able to catch your mistake and correctly structure your sentence.

The Electoral College offers a way to honor the importance of individual state populations, so it should be preserved.

or

Because the Electoral College offers a way to honor the importance of individual state populations, it should be preserved.

Lesson Summary

Mixed structure sentences are a little different from other types of sentence errors, in that they're problems that occur when writers jumble together different sentence construction types.

To fix a mixed structure sentence, simply examine the faulty sentence and identify the two different structures that you've erroneously stuck into it, and restructure your sentence accordingly.

Because the Electoral College offers a way to honor the importance of individual state populations, so it should be preserved.

Because the Electoral College offers a way to honor the importance of individual state populations, it should be preserved.

The real trick here isn't really knowing how to fix these types of errors, as they're surprisingly easy to fix. Rather, the real trick is recognizing if you tend to make this type of error and then working on catching mixed structure sentences when you've written them. The two easiest ways to do this are to read your finished essay aloud to yourself and read your essay backward, one sentence at a time.

By employing these simple tricks, you'll be able to avoid mixed sentence structure errors and avoid losing out on valuable points on your essay scores.

Learning Outcomes

After watching this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Define mixed structure sentence
  • Identify and correct mixed structure sentences
  • Recall the two tricks to recognize mixed structure sentences
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Who, Whom, Whose & Who's
Many people misuse 'who', 'whom,' 'whose' and 'who's.' Watch this video lesson to not only learn the difference between these confusing words but also how to use each one correctly.

Sentence Structure

To get to the bottom of the confusing words 'who' and 'whom,' first we have to review basic sentence structure. All sentences are made up of subject and predicate. The subject is the main person or object doing the action. The predicate is the action and everything else that is not attached to the subject. If you can identify the verb, which shows action or state of being, then the predicate will be the verb and all that follows it. Let's look at an example to practice identifying subject and predicate.

Look at this sentence: 'The large dog chased the little girl.' What is the action? You should see the word 'chased' shows the action. 'Chased' is the verb. All the words following 'chased' is what constitutes the predicate. Now ask, 'Who is doing the action?' The dog is doing the chasing. Thus, the dog is the subject. You might be asking, 'What about the words before dog?' 'The' and 'large' are attached to the word 'dog,' and so are considered part of the subject.

So you might be wondering how will subjects and predicates help you decide when to use 'who' and 'whom?' Well, in order to understand the difference, you need to know how to identify the subject and predicate of a sentence. Now that we have reviewed that, let's look at those two words and when to use them.

Who as a Subject Pronoun

The key to knowing when to use 'who' and when to use 'whom' lies in how it is used in the sentence. 'Who' is a subject pronoun. Since you now know what a subject is, what do you think a subject pronoun is? You should know that a pronoun is a word that stands in for a noun, so a subject pronoun is a pronoun being used as the subject of the sentence.

Look at this sentence: 'Her went to the store.' What is wrong? You should have noticed that 'her' is being used improperly. It should be read, 'She went to the store.' This is because 'she' is the subject pronoun, and so needs to be the subject of the sentence. 'Her' is known as an object pronoun. For our purposes, think of an object pronoun as a pronoun being used somewhere in the predicate.

Now that you understand that 'who' is a subject pronoun, you need to remember to only use it when you need a subject for a sentence. 'Who' is usually used in questions, but don't let that confuse you. Questions have subjects and predicates like every other sentence. For example, look at this sentence: 'Who can define the term pronoun?' Can you identify the subject and the action? You should see that the action is 'can define.' Then you can determine that 'who' is the subject, since it is the doer of the action. Since this is a question, you don't know who is really defining the term. Instead, 'who' is the pronoun standing in for a subject of a sentence.

Whom as an Object Pronoun

Now you know that 'who' is a subject pronoun, let's look at 'whom.' 'Whom' is not a subject pronoun; instead, it is an object pronoun. Remember that an object pronoun is being used in the predicate of the sentence and not as the subject. Therefore, the word 'whom' cannot be the subject of your sentence.' That would be like using 'her' when you should use 'she.'

Look at this example: 'Katie can drive with whom to the store?' What is the action of this sentence? You should see 'can drive' is the action. Who is doing the action? 'Katie' is driving, and thus is the subject of the sentence. So 'whom' is the correct usage in this sentence, since it falls in the predicate and not the subject. For 'whom,' remember to identify the subject. If there is a clear subject, then use 'whom' as your pronoun as it falls in the predicate of the sentence.

Who vs. Whom

If you feel you may have trouble identifying subject and predicates in questions, there is another technique to determine when to use 'who' and 'whom.' Simply substitute either 'he' or 'him' in place where you want to use 'who' or 'whom.' If you can tell 'he' is the correct word, then it's a subject pronoun and should use 'who.' If you would use 'him,' then it is an object pronoun and you need to use 'whom.' If it helps, 'him' and 'whom' both end with the letter 'm.'

Let's use this technique with a few examples. Look at this sentence: 'Him went to the store.' Hopefully it is obvious that you should use 'he' instead of 'him.' So if you were making this into a question, you would use the subject pronoun 'who' to replace the word 'he.' It would become 'Who went to the store?' and not 'Whom went to the store?'

Let's look at the other side of this. Look at this question: 'The teacher gave (who or whom) an F on the paper?' Turn the question into a statement and see if you would use 'he' or 'him.' 'The teacher gave (he or him) an F on the paper.' You should see that 'him' is the correct word for that sentence. Thus, the question should use 'whom' and not 'who.' 'The teacher gave whom an F on the paper?' or even 'Whom did the teacher give an F to on the paper?'

Here's a final example. 'Who/Whom did you throw the ball to?' Rephrase this as a statement and determine if you should use 'he' or 'him.' 'You did throw the ball to he/him.' Which is correct? You should see that the sentence should be, 'You did throw the ball to him.' Since you use 'him' in the statement, you should use 'whom' in the question. 'Whom did you throw the ball to?'

Who's vs. Whose

Once you understand 'who' versus 'whom,' 'who's' and 'whose' is going to be a piece of cake. 'Who's' stands for 'who is' or 'who has.' It is simply a contraction, which combines two words. 'Whose' is the possessive form of 'who.' Remember possessive form means showing ownership.

Look at this example: 'Who's/whose going to the ballgame today?' To decide which to use, just try the sentence with 'who is' or 'who has.' Should it be 'Who is going to the ballgame today?' Yes, that makes sense. So you can write it as 'Who's going to the ballgame today?'

Now look at this one: 'Who's/whose baseball glove is this?' Try using 'who is' or 'who has.' Does this make sense? 'Who is baseball glove is this?' No, it does not. This is because you need to show ownership of the glove. 'Whose' needs to be used in this case. 'Whose baseball glove is this?'

So when you are deciding between these, remember 'who's' is the contraction for 'who is' or 'who has,' while 'whose' is the possessive form of 'who.' To determine which to use, put in 'who is' or 'who has' and see if it works in the sentence. If neither of those works, then use the possessive word 'whose.'

Lesson Summary

To review, you need to understand subject and predicate to differentiate between 'who' and 'whom.' 'Who' is a subject pronoun and must serve as the subject of the sentence or the doer of the action. 'Whom' is an object pronoun and occurs in the predicate of a sentence. Decide where your pronoun occurs and you can determine to use 'who' or 'whom.'

Another way to decide between these two is to replace the pronoun with 'he' or 'him.' If you can use 'he' in that place, then you need the subject pronoun 'who.' If you can use 'him' in that place, then you need to use the object pronoun 'whom.'

Finally, to differentiate between 'who's' and 'whose,' you need to test the contraction. Replace the pronoun with 'who is' or 'who has.' If the sentence makes sense, then use 'who's.' If it does not make sense and you need to show ownership, use the possessive 'whose.'

Keep these tips in mind and you will never misuse 'who,' 'whom,' 'who's' and 'whose.'

Learning Outcomes

Subsequent to watching this lesson, you could:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the roles of the subject, predicate and verb in a sentence
  • Distinguish between 'who,' 'whom,' 'whose,' and 'who's'
  • Properly use each word in a sentence

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Gerunds: Are They Verbs? Are They Nouns?

Take a closer look at the verbs and nouns we use in everyday language to help you understand gerunds. Watch this video lesson to learn the exact nature of gerunds and their purpose in writing.

Verbs vs. Nouns

Our language has many different types of words necessary for communication. Gerunds are one of those types, but before we can jump right into their definition and purpose, we need to review verbs and nouns.

Verbs are the words that show action words or state of being. Some examples of actions are 'jump,' 'swim,' and 'walk.' However, not all actions are physical. 'Dreaming,' 'thinking,' and 'wishing' are also verbs, as they are mental actions.

The other type of verb shows state of being. The most popular verb that falls in this category is the verb 'to be.' For example, look at this sentence: ''She is happy.'' 'Is,' which is a form of 'to be,' is the verb in this sentence since it is describing the girl's state of being. Be sure to realize that the 'to be' forms are the verbs in many sentences.

Nouns are commonly defined as people, places, or things. This basic definition is enough for our purposes, but remember that ideas, like freedom or patience, are considered things and thus are nouns.

Now that we have reviewed, see if you can identify the verbs and nouns in the following sentences:

  • ''Jeff hit the baseball over the fence.'' (verb = 'hit,' nouns = 'Jeff,' 'baseball,' 'fence')
  • ''Amy is excited for the dance.'' (verb = 'is,' nouns = 'Amy,' 'dance')
  • ''The boys ran to the street at dawn.'' (verb = 'ran,' nouns = 'boys,' 'street,' 'dawn')

Functions of Verbs & Nouns

Now that we have reviewed the definitions of verbs and nouns, we need to discuss their functions in sentences. We have already discussed how verbs show action or state of being. This is basically the function of verbs: They need to show what the nouns are doing. Verbs serve that one main function. On the other hand, nouns can serve several different functions in sentences.

For example, look at the first sentence from above: ''Jeff hit the baseball over the fence.'' One function of nouns is to represent the person or object doing the action. This is called the subject. What is the action in this sentence? 'Ran' is the verb since it is showing what the subject is doing. Who is doing the action? In this case, Jeff' is the person doing the action and so is the subject of the sentence.

What about the other nouns in that sentence? 'Baseball' and 'fence' are not the subject. They are known as objects, another function of nouns. Objects are nouns that receive the action. There are different kinds of objects, but for this lesson, we don't need to define them. You only need to understand the difference between subjects and objects in order to learn about gerunds.

Gerunds

So, now that we have reviewed verbs and nouns and have learned about their functions in sentences, we can finally look at gerunds. Let's start by looking at an example: ''Running is so much fun.''

Can you identify the verbs and nouns in this sentence? Let's start with the action. What is the verb? Which word shows the action or state of being? In this case 'is' is the verb. But what about running then? Running is obviously an action. Shouldn't that be considered the verb? If so, then what is our subject? Running is not a noun, so do we have no subject?

Every sentence must have a subject. This sentence shows an example of a gerund. A gerund is a verb that is functioning as a noun. In this case, 'running' is functioning as the subject of the sentence. We use the term 'gerund' to show that the word is actually a verb, but for this particular sentence, it is being used as a noun.

You can also have a gerund being used as an object in a sentence. For example, ''I love reading.'' What is the action? 'Love' is the verb of the sentence. Who is doing the action? 'I' is the subject of the sentence. Finally, 'reading' is operating as the object of the sentence since it is receiving the action. 'Reading' is a gerund in this sentence.

Lesson Summary

To review, you need to fully grasp verbs and nouns before you can understand gerunds. A verb is a word showing action or state of being. A noun is a word representing a person, place or thing. Verbs are important to sentences since they show what the nouns are doing. A noun can either be a subject, which is the person or object doing the action, or an object, which is the noun receiving the action.

Gerunds are verbs that are functioning as nouns in a sentence. For example, 'running' is a verb since it shows the action of nouns. However, in this sentence, ''Running is so much fun,'' the verb is actually 'is' and 'running' is a gerund performing the function of the subject.

Knowing the difference between verbs, nouns, and gerunds can greatly help you to effectively communicate both verbally and in writing.

Learning Outcomes

After this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Define nouns and verbs
  • Differentiate between subject and object
  • Describe the functions of nouns and verbs in sentences
  • Explain what a gerund is and understand how to identify them

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The Difference Between Direct & Indirect Objects in Sentence Structure

Mixing up direct and indirect objects could drastically affect sentence structure. Watch this video lesson to finally learn how to differentiate between direct and indirect objects and also how to use each correctly.

Sentence Structure

In our society, writing plays a huge role with communication. Be it street signs, billboards, emails or text messages, you're constantly bombarded with writing. In order for these communications to be effective, writing must follow a specific sentence structure. Basically, sentence structure refers to where words need to go and how you build sentences.

This lesson focuses on two parts of sentence structure: direct and indirect objects. However, in order to fully understand direct and indirect objects, we need to review some of the basics of sentence structure.

Subjects, Predicates and Objects

Three concepts you need to grasp in sentence structure are subjects, predicates and objects. A subject is the main noun doing the action in the sentence. The predicate includes the verb and all the other words not attached to the subject. Objects are the other nouns in the sentence that fall in the predicate and not the subject.

You can think of subjects as doing the action and objects as the noun or pronoun being acted upon. Let's look at an example.

'Katie threw Lisa the baseball.' Who is doing the action? 'Katie' is doing the throwing and therefore is the subject of the sentence. The predicate then is the verb 'threw' and all the words that follow. What are the objects? What are the other nouns or pronouns in the sentence? Both' Lisa' and 'baseball' are objects in this sentence.

Now let's look at two types of objects sentences can have.

Direct Objects

The first type of object is a direct object. A direct object is the noun or pronoun receiving the action. A trick for identification is that direct objects answer the question 'what?'. Look again at the example from above: 'Katie threw Lisa the baseball.' The action is 'threw,' so ask yourself, 'what is being thrown?' The 'baseball' is being thrown, and so the baseball is the direct object.

Here's another example: 'Mike rode his bicycle.' The action is 'rode', so ask yourself 'what is being ridden?' In this sentence, the 'bicycle' is receiving the action and is the direct object.

Certain verbs must have something after them in order to make sense. Imagine that someone comes up to you and says, 'Katie threw.' Most likely your response would be 'Katie threw what?' You are asking for the direct object. The action 'threw' doesn't make sense in that sentence unless you add an object to it. In this way, direct objects can be essential in some sentences.

Indirect Objects

The second type of object is the indirect object. An indirect object is the noun or pronoun affected by the action. Indirect objects answer the question 'to whom?'. You can think of an indirect object as the recipient of the direct object.

Let's look again at the first example from above: 'Katie threw Lisa the baseball.' We now know what Katie threw, but 'to whom' did she throw the baseball? 'Lisa' is the recipient of the 'baseball,' and so it is the indirect object.

In contrast with direct objects, which are essential with some verbs, indirect objects are not needed in a sentence to make logical sense. Is there anything wrong with saying 'Katie threw the baseball?' Of course not. Logically, that sentence makes perfect sense. By removing indirect objects, you only lose some specific details. Indirect objects are very useful when you want to clarify but are not necessary for comprehension.

Importance of Sentence Structure

So you may be asking yourself 'Why is it important to know about subjects and objects? 'We already saw how important direct objects are with certain verbs. Without them, the sentence is simply incomplete and meaning will be lost.

Knowing these two concepts also plays a huge role when replacing nouns with pronouns. The object position in a sentence changes which pronoun can be used. What if you changed the sentence 'Katie threw Lisa the baseball' to 'Her threw she it.' Does that make sense? No, because 'her' is an object pronoun, and it is being used as the subject, while 'she' is a subject pronoun being used as the object. It should read 'She threw her it.'

In this way, direct and indirect objects are important in order to build your sentences for full comprehension. You cannot have a direct object in the position of the subject and vice versa. Position is very important in sentence structure and knowing direct and indirect objects will help you to build the best sentences.

Lesson Summary

To review, sentence structure refers to word position and how to build sentences. The subject is the main noun doing the action. The predicate is the verb and the other words not attached to the subject. And objects are the nouns or pronouns falling in the predicate.

Objects can be either direct or indirect. Direct objects are the nouns or pronouns receiving the action, while the indirect objects are the nouns or pronouns affected by the action. Indirect objects are the recipients of the direct objects. Direct objects answer the question 'what?' and indirect objects answer the question 'to whom?'.

Be sure to think about your use of direct and indirect objects in your writing. If you do, then your sentence structure will allow your writing to effectively communicate.

Learning Outcomes

When the lesson ends, determine your ability to:

  • Point out the meanings of the terms 'subject,' 'predicate' and 'objects'
  • Distinguish between direct and indirect objects
  • Express knowledge of sentence structure and note its importance
==============Identifying Subject-Verb Agreement Errors==============
It's important that the subject and verb in every sentence agree in number. While it's often easy to make this happen, there are a few situations in which it can be tricky to achieve subject-verb agreement. This lesson explains how you can be sure to pair the right verb with a subject.

Subject-Verb Agreement

Do you remember when you were a kid playing with activity books? Did you ever play 'connect the dots?' That activity required you to figure out which two dots to connect at a time, even though there may have been a bunch of dots all clustered around.

Sometimes, to make sure that you've written a sentence correctly, you'll have to connect the dots between certain parts of a sentence, even if those parts aren't right next to each other. The parts of a sentence that essentially have to connect here are the subject and the verb. The subject of a sentence is what the sentence is about. It usually, though not always, performs the action of the verb. A verb is a word that expresses an action or occurrence.

Our connect-the-dots analogy comes into play here with the fact that the subject and verb in a sentence have to agree in number. In other words, if you have a singular subject, it has to connect with a singular verb. Likewise, a plural subject will require a plural verb. (Remember that singular means just one, while plural means more than one.)

This is simple enough to do, but occasionally, it may feel a bit like playing 'connect the dots' when your subject is in one spot in a sentence and your verb is some distance away. We'll discuss how to make sure that the connection always gets made.

Simple Sentences and Compound Subjects

It's not too tough to make subjects and verbs agree in a basic sentence with a simple subject. For example, in the sentence, 'My flight leaves in an hour,' the subject, 'flight,' is singular, and the verb, 'leaves,' is singular as well, so we have agreement. In the sentence, 'My friends go to school there,' the subject, 'friends,' is plural, and the verb, 'go,' is plural, too.

Just remember that while we make most nouns plural by adding an 's' - like when we turn the singular noun 'apple' into the plural noun 'apples' - verbs often work in the opposite way. Often, a singular verb will end in an 's' while the plural version will be without the 's.' For example, we would say, 'This apple tastes good,' or 'These apples taste good.' Just don't get confused about which verbs are singular or plural by looking at them the same way you would at nouns.

Some sentences have compound subjects, which are subjects that consist of more than one word. Compound subjects are typically joined by 'and' or 'or.' A compound subject that has parts joined by 'and' would need to be matched with a plural verb. Here's an example: 'My cat and my dog are asleep.' Our compound subject 'My cat and my dog' is correctly matched with the plural verb 'are' here.

If you have a compound subject that's joined by 'or,' look at whether the component parts of the compound subject are singular or plural. If both parts of a compound subject joined by 'or' are singular, then you would use a singular verb. For example, I might say, 'Either Mr. Garcia or Ms. Jackson is in charge of the math club.' If both parts of a compound subject joined by 'or' are plural, then you would use a plural verb. For example, you might say, 'I think that either sharks or tigers are the scariest animals.'

So what do we do when one part of a compound subject joined by 'or' is plural and the other part is singular? Check out the sentence, 'Either Captain Davis or the lieutenants (blank) on duty tonight.' The first part of our compound subject, 'Captain Davis,' is singular, while the second part, 'lieutenants,' is plural.

Look at whichever part of the compound subject is closer to the verb. Make the verb agree with the part of the subject that is closer to it. In this case, it's the plural part of our compound subject - 'lieutenants.' Our completed sentence would therefore take the plural verb 'are.' 'Either Captain Davis or the lieutenants are on duty tonight.'

If we were to flip the order of the parts of the compound subject in our sentence, we would need to change our verb, too. In that case, our sentence would be, 'Either the lieutenants or Captain Davis is on duty tonight.' Here, because the singular part of the subject, 'Captain Davis,' is closer to the verb, we need a singular verb.

Subject-Verb Inversion

In some sentences, the subject and verb get flipped in terms of order, and the verb comes before the subject. This happens with questions, for example. No matter what order everything is in, though, we still need to be sure that in each sentence, our subject and verb agree in number. For example, I might ask 'Where are my books?' In this question, the subject is 'books' and the verb is 'are.' They're both plural, so the subject and verb in this sentence - even though the usual order is inverted - are in agreement.

Sentences that start with the word 'there' typically also feature an inverted subject-verb order. Again, the process is simple. Just connect the dots to identify the subject and verb and make sure that they agree in number. For example, in the sentence, 'There is a simple explanation,' the subject is 'explanation' and the verb is 'is.' Here, both the subject and verb are singular, so we have agreement.

Interrupting Prepositional Phrases

Connecting the dots to make sure that you correctly identify the subject and verb in a sentence in order to make them agree is especially important when other words and phrases come in between them. Take a look at the following sentence: 'The cost of medications (blank) risen recently.' To figure out whether we need a singular or plural verb, we'll first need to determine what our subject is.

Many people might glance at this sentence, see the word 'medications,' and decide that the sentence would correctly read 'The cost of medications have risen recently.' The assumption there would be that because 'medications' is plural, we'd need the plural verb 'have.'

Look again, though. Is 'medications' actually the subject of the sentence? Is the speaker saying that medications have risen or something else? In this sentence, the word 'of' is a preposition and the words 'of medications' is a prepositional phrase. (A preposition is a part of speech that shows how nouns or pronouns in a sentence are related to other words in the sentence.) Remember that a word in a prepositional phrase can never be the subject of the sentence in which the phrase appears. The word 'medications,' therefore, is not our subject in this sentence.

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Instead, the subject is 'cost.' This makes sense because this sentence is really telling us that the cost has risen. The word 'cost' is singular, so we need a singular verb, 'has.' The corrected sentence would be 'The cost of medications has risen recently.' Here's one more example. 'Glitches in my computer (blank) causing problems.' What's the subject of this sentence? Remember that 'in my computer' is a prepositional phrase, so we need to ignore it for a moment.

The subject is 'glitches,' and that's a plural noun, so we need the plural verb 'are' here. The correct sentence would be 'Glitches in my computer are causing problems.' Remember not to be thrown off by the fact that a singular noun, 'computer,' sits right next to the verb. If a particular noun is not the subject, then we don't worry about it when figuring out how to make the subject and verb agree in number.

Indefinite Pronouns

You may recall that a pronoun is a word that takes the place of or refers to a noun. There's a specific type of pronoun that may cause a bit of confusion when it comes to subject-verb agreement. Indefinite pronouns are pronouns that do not refer to a specific person or thing. Here are some examples:

  • Anybody
  • Anyone
  • Anything
  • Everybody
  • Everyone
  • Nobody
  • Nothing
  • None
  • Somebody
  • Someone and
  • Something

All of these are singular indefinite pronouns.

We tend to think of some of these indefinite pronouns, like 'everybody' and 'everyone,' as referring to a lot of people instead of being singular. Actually, though, in terms of grammar, these indefinite pronouns are technically singular, so we need to match them up with singular verbs in sentences in order to ensure that we don't have subject-verb agreement problems.

For example, we'd say, 'Everybody has the right textbook for class.' Not only does that sound right, but it also checks out grammatically. 'Everybody' is a singular indefinite pronoun and it's the subject of our sentence, and 'has' is a singular verb.

Lesson Summary

Remember that the subject of a sentence is what the sentence is about. It usually, though not always, performs the action of the verb. A verb is a word that expresses an action or occurrence. The key rule is the subject and verb in a sentence have to agree in number. There are a few key situations to pay attention to when working to connect the dots so that your subjects and verbs always agree.

First, some sentences have compound subjects, which are subjects that consist of more than one word. Compound subjects are typically joined by 'and' or 'or.' A compound subject that has parts joined by 'and' would need to be matched with a plural verb.

If you have a compound subject that's joined by 'or,' look at whether the component parts of the compound subject are singular or plural. If they are both singular, then you would use a singular verb. If both parts of a compound subject joined by 'or' are plural, then you would use a plural verb.

So what do we do when one part of a compound subject joined by 'or' is plural and the other part is singular? Look at whichever part of the compound subject is closer to the verb. Make the verb agree with the part of the subject that is closer to it.

Second, even when a verb comes before the subject in a sentence, as often happens with questions and sentences that start with 'there,' remember that the subject and verb still must agree in number. Third, remember that a word in a prepositional phrase can never be the subject of the sentence in which the phrase appears. If a prepositional phrase comes between the subject and verb in a sentence, ignore the prepositional phrase in order to focus on your subject and verb and then make them agree.

Fourth, indefinite pronouns are pronouns that do not refer to a specific person or thing. Remember that when you have a singular indefinite pronoun, like 'everyone' as the subject of a sentence, you'll need to match it with a singular verb, even when a prepositional phrase comes between them.

Learning Outcomes

When this lesson is done, you should be able to:

  • Recognize subjects and verbs in sentences
  • Determine the correct subject-verb agreement in sentences with compound subjects
  • Select the correct verb in sentences that contain interrupting prepositional phases
  • List examples of indefinite pronouns and explain how to use them in sentences

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==============Identifying Errors of Verb Tense==================
In order to identify verb tense errors, you'll need to learn about the six verb tenses and how they differ. Once you know how to look for them, problematic shifts in verb tenses can be spotted and avoided easily.

Verb Tense Errors

Sometimes people make errors in their writing because they never quite learned particular grammar rules. Sometimes people make errors in their writing because they're trying to express such complicated ideas, it becomes tough to express those ideas clearly. And sometimes, people make errors in their writing because they just get a little bit sloppy.

Those last kinds of errors - the sloppy ones - are among the most frustrating for teachers to find in students' writing. Most verb tense errors boil down to those sloppy types of errors. Luckily, these kinds of errors are pretty easy to fix with some careful, thorough proofreading. In this lesson, we'll talk about the types of situations that commonly lead to verb tense errors so that you can be extra careful about avoiding them.

Six Verb Tenses

You're no doubt familiar with the present, past and future tenses of verbs. As a reminder, a verb is a word that expresses an action or occurrence. Verb tense refers to the way a verb is formed to communicate when an action or occurrence takes place. You may not be aware, though, that there are six verb tenses.

The present tense is among the easiest tenses to understand. A verb in the present tense expresses an action or occurrence happening right now. A past tense verb shows an action or occurrence that happened in the past. A future tense verb expresses an action or occurrence that will happen in the future.

Examples of these simple tenses would be:

I study.

I studied, and

I will study.

There are three additional tenses, referred to as perfect tenses, and they allow us to communicate that an action or occurrence has just recently happened or continues to happen, or place that action or occurrence in relation to a separate action or occurrence.

The present perfect tense shows that an action or occurrence has just taken place or is continuing to happen. We form the present perfect tense of a verb by combining the present tense form of the verb 'to have' with the past participle of the verb in question. Note that a past participle is a form of a verb that usually ends with -ed or -d. Some irregular verbs don't follow the typical pattern that most verbs do. Irregular verbs have past participles that end with -t, -en, -n or -ne.

An example of a sentence containing a verb in the present perfect tense would be, 'I have studied.' The sentence, 'I have lived in Chicago for three years,' demonstrates how the present perfect tense can be used to show that an action is continuing to happen.

The past perfect tense shows that an action or occurrence took place before another action also in the past. We form the past perfect tense of a verb by combining the past tense form of the verb 'to have' with the past participle of the verb in question. Here's an example: 'I had studied.' The sentence, 'I had finished my essay when my roommate came home,' shows how the past perfect tense can be used to show that one action had already happened before another action in the past took place.

Our final tense, the future perfect tense, shows that an action or occurrence will have taken place by a certain time or before another future event. We form the future perfect tense of a verb by combining the future tense of the verb 'to have' with the past participle of the verb in question. Here's an example: 'I will have studied.'

The sentence 'I will have graduated college by next spring,' demonstrates how the future perfect tense can be used to show that one action will have already happened by a certain point in the future.

Common Verb Tense Errors

So, now that we've reviewed the six verb tenses, what do we need to know about verb tense errors and how to spot and avoid them? The most important thing to remember is to keep your verb tenses consistent. If you are telling a story that happened in the past and you're using the past tense, it's important not to slip into the present tense - or any other tense - here and there, even if you want to give the sense of immediacy to what you're telling.

A common assignment that many high school and college students encounter is a narrative essay, in which the writer will be asked to relate a personal story. Some writers choose to use the present tense to convey a sense of immediacy or excitement.

That can be tricky, however, because a very, very common mistake student writers make is lapsing back into the past tense occasionally throughout the narrative. While it's technically okay to write a story using the present tense, the key rule will still apply: keep your verb tense consistent. Don't ever switch back and forth between the past and present tense.

Sometimes, consistency problems with verb tense arise within a single sentence. Perhaps you want to explain a common, everyday practice by using the present tense. For example, you might say, 'In the main office, the receptionist takes your name.' Trouble might arise, however, when you add an additional action to the mix: 'In the main office, the receptionist takes your name and will ask you to take a seat.' This sentence may sound okay at first, but take a look at the verb tenses used. Our first verb, 'takes,' is in the present tense, but the second verb, 'will ask,' is in the future tense.

We could solve it by putting both verbs in the present tense or both of them in the future tense. For example, you could use the present tense to say, 'In the main office, the receptionist takes your name and asks you to take a seat.' Or, you could use the future tense to say, 'In the main office, the receptionist will take your name and will ask you to take a seat.' Just be sure that you've been consistent with your verb tense when you are relating actions or occurrences within the same time frame.

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How to Edit for Verb Tense Errors

At the beginning of this lesson, I mentioned that some writing errors occur when writers get a bit sloppy. Verb tense errors usually occur when writers simply aren't paying quite as much attention as they should be to the details in their sentences. The good news is that these sloppy errors are among the easiest types to fix. Careful proofreading of your papers can eliminate this problem for good.

As you proofread an essay, you should read through it a few times. You should read through at least once to check for errors in general, and read through a few more times, each time looking specifically for one different type of error that you know you're prone to making. Particularly if you've written a narrative essay or an essay about historical events, take a look to see if you've stuck to the same tense throughout your essay. Be sure that your verb tense is consistent!

It's important to note that there are times when it's okay to mix verb tenses. For example, if you need to juxtapose two time frames in a single sentence, then you'd need to use two different tenses. You might say, 'I like thinking about the day that I got married.' Here, you would use the present tense verb, 'like,' to let your reader know that this is something that you currently do and that you continue to do. The past tense verb, 'got,' lets your reader know that you're thinking about a past event.

Similarly, you might say, 'I remember the time that I broke my arm.' The present tense verb, 'remember,' alerts your reader to the fact that this is a current action relating to a past event, which is signified by the past tense verb, 'broke.'

The type of error that you do want to avoid is one like this, which is the type that might occur in a narrative essay: 'My second grade teacher was the best teacher I ever had, and she had inspired me. She keeps encouraging me to work harder. She helped me become a better student.' The writer is telling a story set in the past, but tosses a past perfect tense verb into the first sentence and a present tense verb into the mix in the second sentence.

In this example, there's no actual reason to shift tenses. Here, it's an error that resulted from the writer trying to bring a sense of immediacy to a personal narrative and failing to check for consistency. It would make the most sense to change all of the verb tenses in these sentences to the past tense. To avoid that mistake in your essays, just remember to proofread carefully.

Lesson Summary

Verb tense refers to the way a verb is formed to convey when an action or occurrence takes place. There are six verb tenses. A verb in the present tense expresses an action or occurrence happening right now. A past tense verb shows an action or occurrence that happened in the past. A future tense verb expresses an action or occurrence that will happen in the future.

Perfect tenses allow us to communicate that an action or occurrence has just recently happened or continues to happen, or place that action or occurrence in relation to a separate action or occurrence. The present perfect tense shows that an action or occurrence has just taken place or is continuing to happen. The past perfect tense shows that an action or occurrence took place before another action also in the past. Our final tense, the future perfect tense, shows that an action or occurrence will have taken place by a certain time or before another future event.

The most important thing to remember is to keep your verb tenses consistent. If you are telling a story that happened in the past and you're using the past tense, it's important not to slip into the present tense - or any other tense - here and there, even if you want to give the sense of immediacy to what you're telling. Careful proofreading of your papers can eliminate this problem for good.

Learning Outcomes

Studying the information in this lesson can assist you in meeting these goals:

  • Identify the six verb tenses and how they are different from one another
  • Explain common verb tense errors and how to edit them

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===============Identifying Errors of Singular and Plural Pronouns=================
It's sometimes not completely clear at first whether a singular or plural pronoun is necessary in a sentence. This lesson covers those confusing situations and explains how to be sure that you're using the right pronoun.

Pronoun Basics

We use pronouns all the time in sentences. While you're likely familiar with a few common pronouns, it's important to remember that there are a few different types of pronouns, and they all have their own basic rules that you'll want to remember. One important skill to develop involves knowing when to use a singular or plural pronoun. We'll discuss some situations in which it takes a bit of work to determine whether a singular or plural pronoun is needed, so that you can be sure to get it right every time.

In case you've forgotten, a pronoun is a word that takes the place of or refers to a noun. A noun names a person, place, thing, or idea. As I noted earlier, we use pronouns all the time - they help us avoid repeating nouns over and over in our sentences. For example, rather than saying, My teacher explained my teacher's rules for writing essays for my teacher's class, you could say, My teacher explained her rules for writing essays for her class. In this sentence, we've used the possessive pronoun her twice to avoid excessive repetition of the possessive version of the noun teacher.

Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement

An antecedent is the word that a pronoun takes the place of or refers to in a sentence. So in the sentence Carla found an alligator under her bed, the pronoun is 'her' and the antecedent - the word that the pronoun refers back to - is the proper noun 'Carla.'

An important rule to remember is that a pronoun and its antecedent must agree in number. In other words, if you have a singular antecedent, you'll need a singular pronoun. Likewise, a plural antecedent must be matched with a plural pronoun. This makes sense. If you told me that Carla found an alligator under their bed, you'd be using a singular antecedent, 'Carla,' and a plural pronoun, 'their,' and I'd be wondering who 'their' referred to and what Carla was doing in their room.

Here's a quick rundown of singular and plural personal pronouns. Singular personal pronouns include I, you, he, she, and it; me, him, and her; and my, mine, his, her, hers, and its. Plural personal pronouns include we, you, and they; us and them; and our, ours, their and theirs.

One of the most common errors that people make when it comes to using a singular versus a plural pronoun is one that looks like this: A store manager should make sure that their customers are satisfied. On first glance, this may seem ok. But let's identify our pronoun and antecedent and see if they agree in number. Our pronoun is 'their,' which is a possessive plural pronoun. The antecedent to which our pronoun refers, though, is 'manager,' which is a singular noun. We know, therefore, that we have a pronoun error, and we need to consult our rule about singular and plural pronouns and antecedents.

This type of mistake with plural pronouns, especially the pronouns 'their' and 'they,' is really common. Always check your antecedent. Here, we can correct our pronoun by switching it from plural to singular: A store manager should make sure that his or her customers are satisfied. We could also correct our error by making both the pronoun and antecedent plural: Store managers should make sure that their customers are satisfied.

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Indefinite Pronouns

Unlike a personal pronoun, which takes the place of or refers to a particular person or thing, an indefinite pronoun does not refer to a particular person or thing. There are some plural indefinite pronouns, like both and many, but many of the mistakes involving singular and plural pronouns occur when they're paired with singular indefinite pronouns that are working as antecedents. Here's a list of some singular indefinite pronouns: anybody, anyone, anything, each, either, everybody, everyone, neither, nobody, nothing, one, somebody, someone, and something.

Indefinite pronouns can be antecedents in sentences. Let's figure out whether we'd need to match a singular indefinite pronoun antecedent with a singular or plural pronoun. For example, if I were to say, Everyone turned _ paper in on time, would I use the singular pronouns 'his' or 'her,' or the plural pronoun 'their?'

It's tempting to fill in the blank with the plural pronoun 'their.' That would be a mistake though, and that's because our antecedent, the indefinite pronoun 'everyone,' is singular, so we can't match it with the plural possessive pronoun 'their.' Instead, we need to use the singular pronouns 'his' or 'her' to say, Everyone turned his or her paper in on time.

Similarly, you would need to say, Nobody had remembered to bring his or her umbrella to the park. Again, this is correct because 'nobody' is a singular indefinite pronoun being used as an antecedent, and we've correctly matched it with singular pronouns.

Lesson Summary

Remember that a pronoun is a word that takes the place of or refers to a noun. A noun names a person, place, thing, or idea. An antecedent is the word that a pronoun takes the place of or refers to in a sentence. A pronoun and its antecedent must agree in number. In other words, if you have a singular antecedent, you'll need a singular pronoun. Likewise, a plural antecedent must be matched with a plural pronoun.

Singular personal pronouns include I, you, he, she, and it; me, him, and her; and my, mine, his, her, hers, and its. Plural personal pronouns include we, you, and they; us and them; and our, ours, their, and theirs.

An indefinite pronoun does not refer to a particular person or thing. Some examples of singular indefinite pronouns are anyone, each, everybody, nobody, one, and something. When a singular indefinite pronoun is used as an antecedent, the pronoun that's matched with it must also be singular.

Learning Outcome

After watching this lesson, you should be able to identify when to use the appropriate singular or plural pronoun in a sentence.

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