Update: 2009-05-24 04:57 PM +0800

TIL

TIL English Grammar

01. Parts of Speech

c01Pts-Speech.htm

A compilation by U Kyaw Tun and staff of TIL (Tun Institute of Learning, http://www.tuninst.net ). Not for sale.

In the United States, periods and commas go inside quotation marks regardless of logic.
In the United Kingdom, Canada, and islands under the influence of British education, punctuation around quotation marks is more apt to follow logic. In American style, then, you would write: My favorite poem is Robert Frost's "Design." But in England you would write: My favorite poem is Robert Frost's "Design".

 

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Contents of this page

0601.Using Adverbs and Adjectives
0601.1.Using "good", "bad", "well,'' and "badly"
0601.2.Using Adjectives with Linking Verbs
0601.3.Using Conjunctive Adverbs
0602.Using the Comparative and Superlative
0602.1. Common Problems with the Comparative and Superlative
0603.Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers
0603.1.Misplaced Words
0603.2.Misplaced Phrases and Clauses
0603.3.Squinting Modifier
0603.4.Split Infinitive
0603.5.Dangling Modifier
0651.Review: Adverbs and Adjectives
0652.Review: Identifying Misplaced or Dangling Modifiers
0653. Review: Fixing Misplaced Modifiers

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0601. Using Adverbs and Adjectives

Adverbs are words that modify verbs, adjectives, other adverbs, and sometimes clauses and whole sentences. Adjectives are words that modify nouns and pronouns. Be careful not to use an adjective where you need an adverb. Consider the following sentences, for instance:

[WRONG] Once the test was over, Sharon walked slow out of the classroom.
[RIGHT] Once the test was over, Sharon walked slowly out of the classroom.

The sentence needs an adverb, not an adjective, to modify the verb ``walked.''

[WRONG] We tried real hard to get the muffin mixture perfect.
[RIGHT] We tried really hard to get the muffin mixture perfect.

The sentence needs an adverb, not an adjective, to modify the adjective "hard". (Note that "really" is an informal substitute for "very", and you should avoid in in formal essays.)

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0601.1. Using "good", "bad", "well,'' and "badly"

You might also note the distinctions between "good" and "bad" (which are adjectives) and ``well'' and ``badly'' (which are adverbs):

Shelley plays the piano well and the drums badly.
The actor's performance was good even though he felt bad that night.

``Well'' is an adjective only when it refers to health or condition:

She protested that she was well enough to start playing sports again.

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0601.2. Using Adjectives with Linking Verbs

In the same vein, remember that adjectives modify nouns and pronouns. Do not mistakenly use an adverb to modify nouns and pronouns. See parts of speech.

For example, after a linking verb you may be tempted to use an adverb instead of an adjective. You will recall that the linking verb is a special kind of verb because it links its subject to a subject complement. A subject complement can be either a noun (renaming the subject) or a modifier (describing the subject). When it is a modifier it must be an adjective because it describes the subject (always a noun or pronoun). It does not modify the linking verb itself and should therefore not be an adverb:

[WRONG] We felt badly about having caused the accident
[RIGHT] We felt bad about having caused the accident.

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0601.3. Using Conjunctive Adverbs

The conjunctive adverb is a special kind of adverb that often serves as a transition between two independent clauses in a sentence. Some common conjunctive adverbs are "therefore", "however", "moreover", "nevertheless", "consequently", and "furthermore". When using a conjunctive adverb at the beginning of the second independent clause, be sure to precede it with a semicolon not a comma.

My roommate usually listens to rock music; however, he also likes John Coltrane and several other jazz musicians.

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0602. Using the Comparative and Superlative

You should use the comparative form of an adjective or adverb to compare exactly two things. You can form the comparative by adding the suffix "-er" to the modifier (for some short words) or by using the word "more" with the modifier:

Of the two designs, the architect is convinced that the city will select the more experimental one. (comparing two designs)

Now that it is March, the days are getting longer. (longer now than before)

You should use the superlative form to compare three or more things. You can form the superlative by adding the suffix "-est" to the modifier (for some short words) or by using the word "most" with the modifier:

This is definitely the smartest, wittiest, most imaginative comic strip I have ever seen. (implying that I have seen more than two)

Note: if you are not certain, you should check a dictionary to see which words take use "more" and "most" and which words take the suffixes "-er" and "-est".

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0602.1. Common Problems with the Comparative and Superlative

There are certain modifiers which you cannot logically use in the comparative and superlative forms. Adjectives like "perfect" and "unique", for instance, express absolute conditions and do not allow for degrees of comparison. Something cannot be more perfect than another thing: it is either perfect or not perfect.

You should also avoid using a double comparison -- that is, using both a suffix and an adverb to indicate the comparative or superlative:

[WRONG] I am convinced that my poodle is more smarter than your dachshund.
[RIGHT] I am convinced that my poodle is smarter than your dachshund.

[WRONG] Laurel and Hardy are the most funniest slapstick comedians in film history.
[RIGHT] Laurel and Hardy are the funniest slapstick comedians in film history.

Similarly, although the double negative -- the use of two negative words together for a single negative idea -- is common in speech and has a long history in the English language, you should avoid using it in formal writing:

[WRONG] We decided there wasn't no point in pursuing our research further.
[RIGHT] We decided there wasn't any point in pursuing our research further.
       OR
We decided there was no point in pursuing our research further.

[WRONG] I can't get no satisfaction.
[RIGHT] I can't get any satisfaction.
       OR
I can get no satisfaction.

Double negatives involving "not" and "no" are fairly easy to spot and fix. However, some other adverbs -- for example, "hardly", "scarcely", "barely" -- imply the negative, and you should not use them with another negative:

[WRONG] Even though he has lived in Toronto for four years, he does not have hardly any friends there.

[RIGHT] Even though he has lived in Toronto for four years, he has hardly any friends there.
      OR
Even though he has lived in Toronto for four years, he does not have many friends there.

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0603. Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers

You have a certain amount of freedom in deciding where to place your modifiers in a sentence:

We rowed the boat vigorously.
We vigorously rowed the boat.
Vigorously we rowed the boat.

However, you must be careful to avoid misplaced modifiers -- modifiers that are positioned so that they appear to modify the wrong thing.

In fact, you can improve your writing quite a bit by paying attention to basic problems like misplaced modifiers and dangling modifiers.

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0603.1. Misplaced Words

In general, you should place single-word modifiers near the word or words they modify, especially when a reader might think that they modify something different in the sentence. Consider the following sentence:

[WRONG] After our conversation lessons, we could understand the Spanish spoken by our visitors from Madrid easily.

Do we understand the Spanish easily, or do the visitors speak it easily? This revision eliminates the confusion:

[RIGHT] After our conversation lessons, we could easily understand the Spanish spoken by our visitors from Madrid.

It is particularly important to be careful about where you put limiting modifiers. These are words like "almost", "hardly", "nearly", "just", "only", "merely", and so on. Many writers regularly misplace these modifiers. You can accidentally change the entire meaning of a sentence if you place these modifiers next to the wrong word:

[WRONG] Randy has nearly annoyed every professor he has had. (he hasn't ``nearly annoyed'' them)
[RIGHT] Randy has annoyed nearly every professor he has had.

[WRONG] We almost ate all of the Thanksgiving turkey. (we didn't ``almost eat'' it)
[RIGHT] We ate almost all of the Thanksgiving turkey.

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0603.2. Misplaced Phrases and Clauses

It is important that you place the modifying phrase or clause as close as possible to the word or words it modifies:

[WRONG] By accident, he poked the little girl with his finger in the eye.
[RIGHT] By accident, he poked the little girl in the eye with his finger.

[WRONG] I heard that my roommate intended to throw a surprise party for me while I was outside her bedroom window.
[RIGHT] While I was outside her bedroom window, I heard that my roommate intended to throw a surprise party for me.

[WRONG] After the wedding, Ian told us at his stag party that he would start behaving like a responsible adult.
[RIGHT] Ian told us at his stag party that he would start behaving like a responsible adult after the wedding.

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0603.3. Squinting Modifier

A squinting modifier is an ambiguously placed modifier that can modify either the word before it or the word after it. In other words, it is "squinting" in both directions at the same time:

[WRONG] Defining your terms clearly strengthens your argument.
(does defining "clearly strengthen" or does "defining clearly" strengthen?)

[RIGHT] Defining your terms will clearly strengthen your argument.
       OR
A clear definition of your terms strengthens your argument.

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0603.4. Split Infinitive

The infinitive form of the verb consists of the word "to" followed by the base form of the verb: "to be", "to serve", "to chop", etc. Inserting a word or words between the "to" and the verb of an infinitive creates what is known as a split infinitive. Prescriptive grammarians, who knew Latin grammar better than English, once decreed that a split infinitive was an error, but now it is growing increasingly acceptable even in formal writing. Nevertheless, some careful writers still prefer to avoid splitting infinitives altogether.

In general, you should avoid placing long, disruptive modifiers between the "to" and the verb of an infinitive. However, you must use your judgement (Alt sp - judgment) when it comes to single-word modifiers. Sometimes a sentence becomes awkward if a single-word modifier is placed anywhere but between the elements of the infinitive:

[WRONG] The marketing team voted to, before they launched the new software, run an anticipatory ad campaign.
(disruptive -- the infinitive should not be split)

[RIGHT] The marketing team voted to run an anticipatory ad campaign before they launched the new software.

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0603.5. Dangling Modifier

The dangling modifier, a persistent and frequent grammatical problem in writing, is often (though not always) located at the beginning of a sentence. A dangling modifier is usually a phrase or an elliptical clause -- a dependent clause whose subject and verb are implied rather than expressed -- that functions as an adjective but does not modify any specific word in the sentence, or (worse) modifies the wrong word. Consider the following example:

Raised in Nova Scotia, it is natural to miss the smell of the sea.

The introductory phrase in the above sentence looks as if it is meant to modify a person or persons, but no one is mentioned in the sentence. Such introductory adjective phrases, because of their position, automatically modify the first noun or pronoun that follows the phrase -- in this case, "it". The connection in this case is illogical because "it" was not raised in Nova Scotia. You could revise the sentence in a number of ways:

For a person raised in Nova Scotia, it is natural to miss the smell of the sea. (the phrase no longer functions as an adjective)

Raised in Nova Scotia, I often miss the smell of the sea.
(the phrase functions as an adjective but now automatically modifies "I", a logical connection)

A dangling modifier can also appear when you place an elliptical clause improperly:

Although nearly finished, we left the play early because we were worried about our sick cat.

The way this sentence is structured, the clause "Although nearly finished" illogically modifies "we", the pronoun directly following the clause. An easy way to rectify the problem is to re-insert the subject and verb that are understood in the elliptical clause:

Although the play was nearly finished, we left early because we were worried about our sick cat.

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0651. Review: Adverbs and Adjectives

Choose the correct word in each of the following sentences.

01. Question:
     
Many people have tried to sell us vacuum cleaners, but you are certainly one of the _ _ _ salespeople we have met.
      a. more persuasive     b.  most persuasive

02. Question:
      The sound quality of this film is poor, and the picture is focused _ _ _ as well.
      a. bad     b. badly

03. Question:
     
My brother's roommate this year is _ _ _ than the graduate student he lived with last year.
      a. louder     b. loudest     c. more louder

04. Question:
     
That executive dresses _ _ _ and knows his material.
      a. smart     b. smartly

05. Question:
     
She is _ _ _ effective at making group presentations.
      a. real     b. really

06. Question:
     
We have studied the proposals from both firms and have decided that although Zero Inc.'s fees are high, it is the _ _ _ reliable company.
      a. more     b. most

07. Question:
     
Gerald is a more skillful piano player than I, but he _ _ _ the best musician in our band.
      a. isn't hardly     b. is hardly

08. Question:
      Sunita followed the recipe closely, but the cake smelled _ _ _ after twenty minutes in the oven.
      a. strangely     b. strange

09. Question:
     
Her husband draws so _ _ _ that he has been asked to submit sketches to a local graphic art firm.
      a. good     b. well

10. Question:
     
She accepted responsibility for the accident, and she felt _ _ _ about the whole incident for weeks afterward.
      a. badly     b. bad


Answers to Review questions

01. Question:
     
Many people have tried to sell us vacuum cleaners, but you are certainly one of the _ _ _ salespeople we have met.
      a. more persuasive     b.  most persuasive
Answer: The answer most persuasive is correct.
Explanation: The superlative "most persuasive" is correct because the sentence are comparing more than two salespeople ("many").

02. Question:
     
The sound quality of this film is poor, and the picture is focused _ _ _ as well.
      a. bad     b. badly
Answer: The answer badly is correct.
Explanation: The adverb "badly" is correct because it modifies the verb "focused".

03. Question:
     
My brother's roommate this year is _ _ _ than the graduate student he lived with last year.
      a. louder     b. loudest     c. more louder
Answer: The answer louder is correct.
Explanation: The comparative "louder" is correct because the sentence is comparing two things: my brother's roommate this year and his roommate last year. Note that "more louder" is incorrect because it is a double comparison.

04. Question:
     
That executive dresses _ _ _ and knows his material.
      a. smart     b. smartly
Answer: The answer smartly is correct.
Explanation: The adverb "smartly" is correct because it modifies the verb "dresses".

05. Question:
     
She is _ _ _ effective at making group presentations.
      a. real     b. really
Answer: The answer really is correct.
Explanation: The adverb "really" is correct because it modifies the adjective "effective".
Note that in formal writing, you should use "very" instead of the more colloquial "really".

06. Question:
     
We have studied the proposals from both firms and have decided that although Zero Inc.'s fees are high, it is the _ _ _ reliable company.
      a. more     b. most
Answer: The answer most is correct.
Explanation: The comparative "more" is correct here because we are comparing two firms.
Editor's note: HyperGrammar makes a mistake in this example. In the Answer it gives "most" and in Explanation "more" as answers. I am citing this as an example of how "books" by respected authors and institutions can and do make mistakes occasionally. So be ready to ask questions!

07. Question:
     
Gerald is a more skillful piano player than I, but he _ _ _ the best musician in our band.
      a. isn't hardly     b. is hardly
Answer: The answer is hardly is correct.
Explanation: "Is hardly" is the correct choice because "isn't hardly" is a double negative. Remember that some adverbs, including "hardly", imply the negative

08. Question:
      Sunita followed the recipe closely, but the cake smelled _ _ _ after twenty minutes in the oven.
      a. strangely     b. strange
Answer: The answer strange is correct.
Explanation: The adjective "strange" is correct because it is describing the noun "cake", not the verb "smelled". "Smelled" is a linking verb here, and "strange" is its subject complement. Remember that subject complements are always nouns or adjectives, never adverbs.

09. Question:
     
Her husband draws so _ _ _ that he has been asked to submit sketches to a local graphic art firm.
     a. good     b. well
Answer: The answer well is correct.
Explanation: The adverb "well" is correct because it modifies the verb "draws".

10. Question:
     
She accepted responsibility for the accident, and she felt _ _ _ about the whole incident for weeks afterward.
     a. badly     b. bad
Answer: The answer bad is correct.
Explanation: The adjective "bad" is correct because it is modifying the pronoun "she", not the verb "felt". "Felt" is a linking verb here, and "bad" is its subject complement. Remember that subject complements are always nouns or adjectives, never adverbs

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0652. Review: Identifying Misplaced or Dangling Modifiers

Indicate whether each sentence does or does not contain a misplaced modifier or a dangling modifier.

01. Question:
      Flashing a huge grin, Ralph apologised for being late and then handed his grandmother a bouquet of lilacs.

02. Question:
      The surgeon was able to quickly and painlessly remove the stitches from Greta's forehead.

03. Question:
      After gathering wild flowers all summer and pressing them between the pages of a heavy book, the dried petals were ready for Teresa to make greeting cards to sell at the fair.

04. Question:
      We had almost watched the entire movie when suddenly the person behind us blurted out, "The doctor did it!"

05. Question:
      Before buying a new stereo, you should carefully consider what you need and what you can afford.

06. Question:
      I heard that he got married to a countess with a vast fortune in a small church in Italy.

07. Question:
      Covered with bowls of strawberries, plates of bread and cheese, trays of squares and cookies, and huge frosted cakes, the OK Dance Club had organised a magnificent tea.

08. Question:
      After borrowing from all his friends, he had barely enough money to pay his rent.

09. Question:
      To succeed in the engineering field, some technical writing ability is a definite asset.

10. Question:
      My best friend is starting a weight-gaining regime in two weeks of five meals a day.


Answers to Review questions

01. Question:
      Flashing a huge grin, Ralph apologised for being late and then handed his grandmother a bouquet of lilacs.
Answer: The answer This sentence does not contain a misplaced modifier. is correct.
Explanation: This sentence does not contain a misplaced modifier. The phrase "flashing a huge grin" is correctly modifying the noun "Ralph".

02. Question:
      The surgeon was able to quickly and painlessly remove the stitches from Greta's forehead.
Answer: The answer This sentence contains a misplaced modifier. is correct.
Explanation: This sentence does contain a misplaced modifier. The adverbs "quickly and painlessly" are splitting the infinitive "to remove".

03. Question:
      After gathering wild flowers all summer and pressing them between the pages of a heavy book, the dried petals were ready for Teresa to make greeting cards to sell at the fair.
Answer: The answer This sentence contains a misplaced modifier. is correct.
Explanation: This sentence does contain a misplaced modifier. The phrase "after gathering wild flowers all summer and pressing them between the pages of a heavy book" is illogically modifying "petals" instead of modifying "Teresa".

04. Question:
      We had almost watched the entire movie when suddenly the person behind us blurted out, "The doctor did it!"
Answer: The answer This sentence contains a misplaced modifier. is correct.
Explanation: This sentence does contain a misplaced modifier. The adverb "almost" is incorrectly modifying "watched" -- we "almost watched" -- when it should be modifying "the entire" -- "almost the entire movie".

05. Question:
      Before buying a new stereo, you should carefully consider what you need and what you can afford.
Answer: The answer This sentence does not contain a misplaced modifier. is correct.
Explanation: This sentence does not contain a misplaced modifier. The phrase "before buying a new stereo" is correctly modifying "you".

06. Question:
      I heard that he got married to a countess with a vast fortune in a small church in Italy.
Answer: The answer This sentence contains a misplaced modifier. is correct.
Explanation: This sentence does contain a misplaced modifier. The phrase "in a small church in Italy" is placed so that it incorrectly modifies "fortune" instead of "got married".

07. Question:
      Covered with bowls of strawberries, plates of bread and cheese, trays of squares and cookies, and huge frosted cakes, the OK Dance Club had organised a magnificent tea.
Answer: The answer This sentence contains a misplaced modifier. is correct.
Explanation: This sentence does contain a misplaced modifier. The phrase "covered with bowls of strawberries, plates of bread and cheese, trays of squares and cookies, and huge frosted cakes" is illogically modifying "the OK Dance Club".

08. Question:
      After borrowing from all his friends, he had barely enough money to pay his rent.
Answer: The answer This sentence does not contain a misplaced modifier. is correct.
Explanation: This sentence does not contain a misplaced modifier. The phrase "after borrowing from all his friends" is correctly modifying "he", and the adverb "barely" is correctly modifying "enough".

09. Question:
      To succeed in the engineering field, some technical writing ability is a definite asset.
Answer: The answer This sentence contains a misplaced modifier. is correct.
Explanation: This sentence does contain a misplaced modifier. The phrase "to succeed in the engineering field" is illogically modifying "technical writing ability" instead of modifying the person or persons who hope to succeed.

10. Question:
      My best friend is starting a weight-gaining regime in two weeks of five meals a day.
Answer: The answer This sentence contains a misplaced modifier. is correct.
Explanation: This sentence does contain a misplaced modifier. The phrase "of five meals a day" is placed so that it incorrectly modifies "two weeks" instead of "regime".

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0653. Review: Fixing Misplaced Modifiers

On a separate sheet of paper, rewrite each sentence to eliminate misplaced modifiers. Then compare your answer with the samples provided.

01. Question: Running quickly gives her a headache.

02. Question: Although tired, the sale was so good that we shopped until nine.

03. Question: Raging and blowing from the north, we had a terrible blizzard on Saturday.

04. Question: I gave my niece a photo of her golden retriever in a silver frame.

05. Question: To be considered by the top firms, your resume must look professional.


Answers to Review questions

01. Question:
      Running quickly gives her a headache.
Answer: Running fast gives her a headache.
OR          Soon after she starts running, she gets a headache.

02. Question:
      Although tired, the sale was so good that we shopped until nine.
Answer: Although tired, we shopped at the sale until nine.
OR         Although we were tired, the sale was so good that we shopped until nine.

03. Question:
      Raging and blowing from the north, we had a terrible blizzard on Saturday.
Answer: Raging and blowing from the north, the blizzard on Saturday was terrible.
OR          On Saturday we had a terrible blizzard that raged and blew from the north.

04. Question:
      I gave my niece a photo of her golden retriever in a silver frame.
Answer: I gave my niece a silver-framed photo of her golden retriever.

05. Question:
      To be considered by the top firms, your resume must look professional.
Answer: To be considered by the top firms, you must have a professional-looking resume.
OR         You must have a professional-looking resume to be considered by the top firms.
NOTE: "Your resume must look professional to be considered by the top firms" still contains a dangling modifier. Placed at the end of the sentence, the phrase "to be considered by the top firms" still illogically modifies "resume".

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