The Only Grammar Handbook You Hope You'll Never Need: Article 5

October 9, 2010
Article 5: The Confusing Section; Tense Agreements, Descriptive Prepositional Phrases, Etc.
Now that we have reviewed (most sadly) question marks, periods, etc., we are now ready to move on to more confusing topics. Ever since English came about as the brainchild of Latin, French, German, and possibly others, the subjects covered in this article have been the victim of confusion, annoyance, and modification. Let’s start with most controversial one: tenses: past, present, and future.

Spanish students can attest to the extreme onslaught of confusion brought on by conjugating different verbs according to their endings, the time, etc. The same goes pretty much for English. If you have spoken English from an early age, it may come to you naturally to conjugate correctly, but let’s go back to the roots. It may shock how complex and hard to remember how to conjugate, but it really isn’t. It’s one of those situations where if you know the basics, you can begin on everything else. Each tense has two sub-tenses: itself and itself perfect.
Check it out:
Past and Past Perfect
Future and Future Perfect
Present and Present Perfect

Perfect tenses are usually composed of an auxiliary. The Purdue Online Writing Lab lists these auxiliaries as the following:

Be

Can

Do

May

Must

Ought

Will

Have

Has

Had

Shall

Would*
(*We added this ourselves)
There is a distinct disparity between the two tenses that suggests two different things.
Check it out:
Observe the difference between future and future perfect:
Future: On February 19th, Apple announced that the iPad will arrive in two months.
Future Perfect: On February 19th, Apple announced that the iPad will have arrived by the end of two months.
According to POWL (Purdue Online Writing Lab) the difference is that “the future perfect tense designates action that will have been completed at a specified time in the future.”

Now that you understand the difference between future and future perfect, take a look at past and past perfect:
Check it out:
Past: The soldiers were victorious at Normandy.
Past perfect: The soldiers would have been victorious at Normandy.
The past shows a definite occurrence, but past perfect suggests something that could have happened in the past.

Check it out:
The present tense tells of occurrences happening right now, but present perfect tells of “action which began in the past but which continues into the present or the effect of which still continues.”

Present: We are doing family, criminal, and constitutional law.
Present Perfect: We have been doing family, criminal, and constitutional law.

Active and Passive
Now here’s some really confusing stuff. What’s the difference between active and passive? Well, the relationship between the subject and the verb in the active tense is clear-cut.
Check it out:
Active tense: “The car company assumed responsibility for the faulty interior lighting.”

But in the passive tense, the subject of the sentence, according to grammar.ccc.comnet.edu, “is acted upon by some other agent or by something unnamed.”
Check it out:
“Responsibility for faulty interior lighting was assumed by the car company.”

Just to simplify the whole matter a bit more, we have used a chart from grammar.ccc.comnet.edu that lays out how to conjugate.

Tense

Subject
Singular
Plural
Past Participle
Present
The dog/dogs
Is
Are
Fed
Present Perfect
The dog/dogs
Has been
Have been
Fed
Past
The dog/dogs
Was
Were
Fed
Past Perfect
The dog/dogs
Had been
Had been
Fed
Future
The dog/dogs
Will be
Will be
Fed
Future Perfect
The dog/dogs
Will have been
Will have been
Fed

We think that should be enough to fill your dreams with thoughts of conjugation.
Now we move on to subject-verb agreement. There are several simple rules to know. First off, the basics:
Single Subject + Single Verb
Plural Subject + Plural Verb
Simple, right? Here’s where it gets to critical thinking. How do you know if the subject is singular or plural? How do you know if the verb is singular or plural? One strategy is taking whichever one you have and thinking of possible choices that sound right.
NOTE: GrammarBook.com warns us that “verbs do not form their plurals by adding an s as nouns do.”
Check it out:
Let’s use our previous example, the subject being the dog but the verb is to eat.
Would you say…
The dog eats?
Or…
The dog eat?
Think of it this way: if the subject is singular, the plural has an s at the end.
You would say: The dog eats, for dog is singular, therefore the verb has an s at the end. Hence, if the subject is plural, the verb does not have an s at the end.

According to GrammarBook.com, if two verbs are connected by the FANBOYS nor or or, then they’re considered to be together and plural, therefore calling upon a singular verb.

There are so many rules to subject-verb agreement, that we have deferred to the aforementioned website (simply paraphrased)

Rule 3: If you have I and another subject joined either/or or neither/nor, the syntax is as follows:
Subject + either/or/neither/nor + I + am + singular verb + sentence.
Check it out:
Lana or I am going to have to claim responsibility for the spilled soda, unless we want to be grounded for a month instead of a week.

Rule 4: If a subject if singular and joined to a plural verb by or or nor, the syntax is as follows:
Check it out:
Singular verb + or/nor + plural verb + singular verb + sentence.
The same applies when you have either or neither.

Rule 6: If two or more subjects are joined together by the FANBOY and, it calls upon a plural verb (two or more+ plural)

Rule 7: If you have an interrupter that begins with along with, as well as, besides, or not which separates subject from verb, it should not affect which type of verb you choose.
Check it out:
“The doctor, along with the nurses in residency, will be coming shortly, said the head nurse.”

Rule 8: Each, everyone, every one, everybody, anyone, anybody, someone, and somebody are singular because they represent single units, hence a singular verb. On the subject of singular units, “use a singular verb with sums of money or periods of time.”
Check it out:
“Every one of the students scored a B+ or higher.”
“I was obliged to pay twenty dollars for the damage, a small price to pay for the magnitude of the dent.”

Rule 9: With words such percent, some, etc. that indicate parts, look at the noun which is the object of the preposition (in this case, it would be of) and determine whether plural or singular.
Check it out:
5% percent of the sales will be given to the salesperson, as pursuant to the terms of commission.

Rule 10: If either or neither happen to be the subjects, they are considered singular.
Check it out:
“Either the dog or the cat had eaten the lasagna.”

Rule 11: “In sentences beginning with here or there, the subject follows the verb.”
Check it out:
“Here are several used credit cards for you to dissect.”

Rule 13: “The pronouns who, that, and which become singular or plural according to the noun directly in front of them.”
Check it out:
“At my job, the fellow who takes out the trash was reported kidnapped.”

Rule 14: Nouns representing several persons as a singular unit may be singular or plural depending on their usage in a sentence.
Check it out:
“The students have gotten into a lunchroom fight.”
“The students are punished for their unruly behavior.”

Whew. Now that that’s finished [whew!], we move on to who vs. whom. As complicated as it may sound, it’s actually quite simple. The recipe calls for a rule and some thinking.

The rule is as follows:
“He = who”
“Him = whom”

“Who was the culprit in the robbery?”
We use who because he or she was the culprit.

“Whom shall we choose as the person to take his place?”
We whom because we shall choose him as the person to take his place.

That was quite a break from subject-verb agreement. Our next topic to cover is going from basic to ridiculously confusing. Btu don’t worry: we’ve got you covered.

So, nouns and verbs. First grade material. But they can get tangled up in serious affairs such subject-verb agreement. Sometimes people tend to forget that nouns also include ideas, among:

“Person, animal, place, thing, and abstract idea,” according to writingcentre.uottowa.ca. In addition to such, along with pronouns, it can be modified by adjectives, but not by adverbs… what’s an adverb, you may say?

An word, as said by GrammarBook.com, “is an adverb if it answers how, when, or where.”
Rules for Adverbs:
First, we’ll be focusing on when words answer the question how. Look at this sentence. Can you figure which word is the adverb?
Check it out:
Is it too or quickly?
The car’s engines die down too quickly.
The correct is quickly, because quickly answers the how question, while too answers how quickly. Take a practice run on several more of these; identify the adverb and the word which states how much.

a. The child sneaks the dog scraps of food very sneakily.

b. The bird flies too slowly, causing us great concern about his wings.

What’s the opposite of an adverb? Adjectives, for they can describe nouns and pronouns. Unlike adverbs, their position does not matter: it can before or after the verb it’s describing.
Check it out:
Example 1:
The bird is injured.
Example 2:
The poor, injured bird.

As you may have noticed, the adverbs we used in our examples have an –ly ending. When deciding on an –ly ending, here’s a special rules form GrammarBook.com:
“A Special –ly rule applies when four of the senses-taste, smell, look, feel- are the verbs. Do not ask if these sense answer the question how to determine if –ly should be attached. Instead, ask if the sense verb is being used actively. If so, use the –ly.”
Check it out:
Let’s our previous example:
“The bird flies slow/slowly.”
Since flies is in the present tense, it suggests that is active: use slowly.

Our second subtopic also involves adverbs in a showdown between “good” and “well.”
How does it work? Well, “good is an adjective, while well is an adverb,” therefore “it answers how, when, or where.”
Check it out:
Here’s the part of the handbook where you’re going to do some critical thinking. Why do you think each sentence uses either good or well?
Example 1:
“The tree always looks good despite any ill-tempered weather.”
Example 2:
“The tree has withstood ill-tempered weather well.”
In Example 1, good describes the noun, which is tree. In Example 2, well says how the tree has withstood ill-tempered weather.
NOTE: GrammarBook.com respectfully reminds us that the adverb well should be the one to be used for referring to health, instead of good.

Other showdowns: then vs. than
Than should be used to show comparison, whereas then should be used to answer the question when.

Rule 7 from GrammarBook.com: “When this, that, these, and those are followed by nouns, they are adjectives. When they appear without a noun following them, they are pronouns.” This where you apply the rule of pronouns and nouns not being able to be modified by adverbs and being able to be modified by adjectives.

Rule 8 and 9 Combo: This and that are singular, whilst these and those are plural, regardless of their usage as either adjectives or pronouns.

“This points to something nearby.”

“That points to something ‘over there’.”

The same applies for the latter.

That wasn’t so bad, now was it? Our last and final topic is prepositions and prepositional phrases.

Contrary to popular belief, it is actually correct to end a sentence with a preposition, but rather not to put in prepositions where the meaning is understandable without them. Here are some more preposition principles:

Between= two

Among= three or more


“Of should never be used in place of have,” a common mistake among students.


“In formal writing, use as, as if, or as though rather than like as the conjunction.”





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