Conventions of Standard Written English.

By Ray Gen


The following is a brief grammar.  If you are particularly weak in some area you MUST consult a full grammar to correct your deficiency.


Parts of Speech.


            The eight parts of speech are nouns, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, verbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections.


Nouns and Pronouns.


            Nouns are words which name people, places, things, and concepts.  Pronouns are words which are used instead of nouns (I, you, he, she, it).  Nouns, pronouns, and relative pronouns have four uses in a sentence.  Thus they are said to operate in four cases.  The cases determine their use in the sentence.  The nominative case functions as the subject of the sentence (also predicate nominative).  The genitive case is used to indicate possession (there are many other uses but for the sake of simplicity we will say possession).  The dative case is used to indicate the indirect object (again there are many uses).  And the accusative case is used to indicate the direct object.  Since English has lost most of its inflections, word order now chiefly determines function in sentences.  For example consider the name Andrew in the following:

            Andrew threw the ball.             -  nominative case

            Andrew’s ball was lost.            -  genitive case

            I threw Andrew the ball.           -  dative case

            The ball hit Andrew.                 -  accusative case

Except for the genitive case the word Andrew does not change.  The word order primarily determines its function in the sentence.  However, consider the third person pronouns and observe how they change according to function.


            Singular            nom.     gen.      dat.      acc.   Plural      nom.     gen.      dat.      acc.

masculine                      he         his        him       him                   they      their      them     them


feminine                        she       her       her       her                   they      their      them     them


neuter                           it          its         it          it                      they      their      them     them

The pronouns still retain their function as represented by their form.  For example, if one were to encounter this poorly written sentence it would still be discernible because of the case of the pronouns:  “ them loved very much I.”


Other pronouns:


First person pronoun:  I, my/mine, me, we, our/ours, us


Second person pronoun:  you, your/yours, you (for both singular and plural)


Relative pronouns introduce subordinate clauses: who, whom, whose, which, that. 


Interrogative pronouns introduce questions:  who? whom? whose? which? what?


Demonstrative pronouns point out:  this, that, these, those




            Adjectives are words which modify nouns and pronouns.  They take on the same case and number as the words they modify.  Adjectives tend to provide information such as "what kind?"  (wrinkled dogs, blue sky, happy mother) "how many?"  (three French hens) and "which one?" (those books).




            Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs.  Adverbs provide information such as  how, when, where, and to what extent.


Examples of verb modification:  He snored loudly.  We’ll go tonight.  They will talk constantly.  The dog barked outside.


Examples of adjectival modification:  We saw a very good football game.  The team heroically fought off the advances of the opponents.


Examples of adverbial modification:  We saw a very, very good game.  The game went by too quickly.




            Verbs are words which portray actions (action verbs) or express statements (equative verbs).  Action Verbs function according to tense, voice, mood, person, and number.





past                              I wrote.

past perfect                  I had written.

present                         I write.

present perfect  I have written.

future                            I will write.

future perfect                I will have written.



active (the subject is the performer of the action)                       I love you.

passive (the subject is the receiver of action)                  I am loved by you.







indicative (simple statement or simple question) I love you.  Do you love me?

imperative (commands, prohibitions, demands)  You must love me!  Do not love another!

subjunctive (expresses wishes or hypotheticals)  If only you loved me.  I would be happy.


                        Person (first, second or third) & Number (singular or plural)


first person singular           I love you.   1st plural                We love you

second person singular      You love me                             2nd plural               You love me                  

third person singular           Andrew loves me.                 3rd plural                  They love me.                




Infinitives are the so-called “dictionary” form of the word.  When used in sentences infinitives are verbal-nouns, verbal adjectives, or verbal adverbs.  Infinitives are usually preceded by the word “to.”


verbal noun                   To ski is fun and relaxing.          (subject)


verbal adjective            That mountain is the best one to ski.   (modifies one/mountain)


verbal adverb               That slope was difficult to ski.  (modifies difficult)


            Participles and Gerunds.


Participles are verbal adjectives.  Gerunds are verbal nouns.  The present participle and the gerund both end with “-ing”.   One can differentiate a gerund from a present participle by function only.


Gerund examples:


            Writing is a good exercise for the mind.  (subject)

            Andrew enjoys writing.            (object)


Present participle examples:


            The dancing bear was the main attraction at the zoo.  (modifies bear -   adjectival)

            While cleaning his patio, David slipped and fell.  (states when - adverbial)

            The dying were desperately clinging to life.  (subject)


Past participle examples:


            The sweetened tea was delicious.  (modifies tea - adjectival)

            Killed by mistake, the doe was left as carrion.  (circumstantial - adverbial)

            The damned had lost all hope. (subject)




            Prepositions show the relationship of a noun or pronoun to another word in the sentence.  Some samples of prepositions are in, on, above, under, beneath, into, of, to, toward, with, within, beside, around, at, before, until, off, etc.  Compound prepositions include according to, because of, in back of, etc.




            Conjunctions connect words, phrases, clauses and sentences.  Coordinating conjunctions connect items of equal grammatical value.  Correlative conjunctions connect items which come in pairs.  Subordinating conjunctions connect items of unequal grammatical value.  Coordinating conjunctions are and, but, yet, or, nor, so and sometimes for.  Correlative conjunctions are either...or; neither...nor;  both...and; not only...but also.  Subordinating conjunctions include because, as, so that, since, when, where, while, after, as soon as, than, though, etc.




            Interjections are exclamatory words which usually stand alone grammatically such as:  Wow!   Really!  Ouch!  Oh!  Interjections at times introduce the sentence, for example,  “Oh, that was a surprise.”







Sentence Structure


            Sentences have subjects and the have predicates.  The subject is the performer of the action when “action” or verbs are used in the active voice.  (e.g. The car sped along the road.)  The subject is the receiver of the action when verbs are used in the passive voice.  (e.g.  The car was hit by a train.)  Predicates are composed of verbs and objects (if any).    Transitive verbs are verbs which direct action toward an object.  (e.g.  The car hit a tree.)  Intransitive verbs are verbs which have no objects in the sentence.  (e.g. The car kept going.)


            Linking verbs are verbs which “link” or connect words.  Linking verbs are not action verbs.  Linking verbs are equative verbs.  Linking verbs link the subject to the predicate and establish a relationship.  Some linking verbs include forms of the verb “to be,”  become, seem, appear, look)   For example:   She is happy.  (she = happy)




            The use of punctuation is to enhance clarity.  Punctuation is not merely a formality.  It should insure clear communications.




            There are three endmarks: the period, question mark, and exclamation mark .  The period (.) ends simple statements.  Question marks (?) end interrogative sentences.  Exclamation marks (!) end imperative and exclamatory sentences.




The most misused punctuation mark is the comma.  The old adage “use a comma whenever you pause” is WRONG.  Use a comma:


1.  To separate items in a series:   “Ron, Susan, Joanne, and Ray are happy.”   (The comma after Joanne is optional - the comma before the “and”.)


2.  To join independent sentences before a coordinating conjunction:  “I am depressed, but help is coming.”


3.  After introducing complex or lengthy introductory clauses:  “After catching our runaway dog who had wandered for miles, we rested at home.”


4.  To separate two or more adjectives:  “The dark, lonesome night was long.”


5.  After an interjection which part of the sentence:  “Oops, I had forgotten.”


6.  After appositives (not always):  “Our Senator, the Honorable Ms. Boxer is brilliant.”

Commas do not separate “restrictive appositives,” that is, appositive which have a close relation to the word:  “Our teacher, Mr. Vincent is brilliant.”


7.  To set off parenthetical portions of the sentence:  “The government, I hope, will learn this lesson in history.”


8.  After the use of a vocative noun:  “Ron, would you make some coffee?”


9.  In certain mechanical conventions:

            Sacramento, CA

            Monday, September 4, 1995, is a holiday.

            Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

            Carl Sagan, Ph.D.




Semicolons are quite simple to use although most people do not use the semicolon because they do not know how to use them.  There are a just few rules to follow.  Use a semicolon:


1.  When a coordinating conjunction is omitted to join independent clauses:  “I am hungry; I’ll get something to eat.”


2.  To avoid confusion by separating independent clauses when there are a number of commas present in the sentence:  “I went to the store and purchased bananas, peaches, plums, and oranges; since I was hungry.


3.  Before words such as however, nevertheless, futhermore, therefore, moreover, etc. when joining independent  clauses (a comma must follow these words):  “I came home with much fruit; however, I did not have time to eat them.”


4.  To separate items which already have commas:  “Ron visited Columbus, Ohio; Tampa, Florida; San Francisco, California; and Nome, Alaska.”







1.  Colons should be use to introduce items on a list:  “Each teacher should be prepared with the following attributes:  courage, dedication, tolerance, and fortitude.”  (Do not use a colon if a series follows a verb or preposition.)


2.  Colons can be used to introduce long quotations:  “President Lincoln said:  Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation...”





1.  Use an apostrophe to indicate possession:


            Singular                                    Plural

            captain’s log                             captains’ logs

            berry’s color                             berries’ colors

            ox’s head                                 oxen’s heads

            woman’s hari                            women’s hair


2.  Use an apostrophe to indicate a contraction:  can’t, won’t, they’re, you’re.





1.  Use hypens to divide words at syllable breaks at the end of a line and to be continued on the next line:


                                    ...when any form of government be-

                                    comes destructive of these things it is

                                    the right of the people to alter or abo-

                                    lish it...


2.  Use hyphen when writing compound numbers and fractions:  thirty-two, three-fourths.




Dashes are used to delineate an interuption of thought:  “The party - it was a dress up affair - was fabulous.”



Modifying Phrases.


            A phrase is a group of words which are not complete sentences.  They lack an essential part of the subject-predicate relationship.  Phrases modify a part of speech.


Prepositional phrase:  I am going to the store.”  “She was called before the judge.”


Adjectival phrases:  I see a green parrot.”   The homes near the ocean are lovely.


Adverbial phrases:  I went slowly down to the river.”


Participial phrases:


            Present Participles:


            The dancing bear was the main attraction at the zoo.  (modifies bear -               adjectival)

            While cleaning his patio, David slipped and fell.  (states when - adverbial)

            The dying were desperately clinging to life.  (subject)


            Past participles:


            The sweetened tea was delicious.  (modifies tea - adjectival)

            Killed by mistake, the doe was left as carrion.  (circumstantial - adverbial)

            The damned had lost all hope. (subject)


Gerund phrases:


            Writing is a good exercise for the mind.  (subject)

            Andrew enjoys writing.            (object)


Infinitive phrases:


verbal noun                   To ski is fun and relaxing.          (subject)

verbal adjective            That mountain is the best one to ski.   (modifies one/mountain)


Appositive phrases:  (appositives rename the noun)


            Carmel, a lovely town near the ocean, is a prosperous community.

            An intelligent and witty person, Betty will do just fine.


Coordinating and Subordinating Clauses.


            A clause is a complete thought and could be written to be a complete sentence.  Clauses have both subjects and predicates, whereas phrases do not.


            Coordinating clauses are also known as independent or main clauses.  They can stand by themselves (independent) or be joined with other clauses.  “The rain was pleasant, but the sunshine was welcomed.”  These two independent clauses were joined with a coordinating conjunction.  Each clause could be written to stand alone.  “The rain was pleasant”  and  “The sunshine was welcomed.”


            Subordinating clauses are “dependent” clauses.  They rely upon another clause in order to be grammatically viable.  However, they can be easily rewritten to stand alone.  (Traditional grammars have stated that subordinating clauses do not express complete thoughts.  This is not true.  Like the independent clause, dependent clauses also have subjects and predicates.  Subordinating clauses are subordinate only because they cannot stand alone grammatically.)  “The politician, who is pacing back and forth, is awaiting the results of the election.”  “The politician is nervous because his future will be decided by the election.  In the previous two sentences, the italicized parts are the subordinating clauses.  They cannot stand alone; however, if the “who” in “who is pacing back and forth” is replaced with its antecedent, it can stand independently.  Similarly, if the “because” in “because his future will be decided by the election” is removed, it can stand independently.


Types of  Subordinating Clauses


Adjectival clauses: 

“The ocean breeze, which brings temperate weather, is welcomed.” Relative pronouns (who, whom, whose, that, and which) introduce adjectival clauses which are also known as relative clauses.


Adverbial clauses: 

After we swam in the ocean, we washed the brine from our hair.


Noun clauses: 

How to gather a source of income is the only concern of these people. (subject)

Our hope for the lost deer is that he will go home. (object)


Four Types of Sentence Structure.


(1)  A simple sentence is a sentence that has only one independent clause.  “English is a class at school.”


(2)  A compound sentence is a sentence that has more than one independent clause.  “English is taught at school, but it isn’t the only subject taught there.”


(3)  A complex sentence has an independent clause and at least one subordinating clause.  “English is taught at every school which is accredited in the United States.”


(4)  A compound-complex sentence has at least two independent clauses and at least one subordinating clause.  “English, which is a demanding subject, is taught in the morning, but it is also offered at night.