Ten Rules of Grammar Everyone Should Know

from this great photographer: :http://www.flickr.com/photos/iain/486222966/
from this great photographer: :http://www.flickr.com/photos/iain/486222966/

Master the Language You Use and Criticize

Most people need a little grammar help. It's not only tricky because the English language is just plain weird, but because the rules are always changing. But, if you have read a lot, you probably already have an innate sense of what sounds right. Here are some rules to solidify those hunches.

1. The problem with "different."

Avoid using different as an adjective--it is vague and a cheap word. But sometimes it is necessary. If you must use it, use the correct preposition after it. Something cannot be different than. "Than" is used for something that is more or less than, so unless you are writing "more different than," which is also not a good adverb/adjective phrase, use "from."
Wrong: "His hat is different than yours."
Correction: "His hat is different from yours."

2. Let's clear up commas for good.

Commas are great. Vital. If we didn't have them, our sentences would be short. Or confusing. Use a comma after any adjective or adverb phrase that is beginning a sentence, for example:
"Apparently, the ducks did not like the Jello."

Use a comma between two parts of a sentence that could be their own sentences, but it doesn't make sense unless you connect them with a conjunction (and, but, yet, or, for, nor, so). The previous sentence is an example of this usage.

Use commas for lists. Long lists, short lists, tall lists, honey-do lists, dessert lists, or any kind of list.

3. Lay, Lie, Laid. The Final Say on Lay.

What a confusing word. Let me just spell it out:

If you are a human, you lie on your bed. Yesterday, you lay on your bed. In your life, you have lain on many beds. (By the way, when you go tanning in the sun, it's technically called lying out).

If you have an object that can be laid, you lay it down on the floor. Yesterday, you laid it on the lawn. In your life, you have laid many things out on the floor.

If you're a liar, you lie. Two years ago, you lied. In your life, you have lied many times.

4. Passive Voice. Be Very Afraid.

The wall was drilled. The car was crashed. The elections were held. These are backwards sentences in the English language, we call them passive voice, yet they are completely accepted. See how easy it is to slip into it? What I meant to write was, the writing world completely accepts passive voice. Passive voice is necessary sometimes, when there is no subject doing the verb. But these passive-voice sentences slow your reader down. They also create ambiguity. Often if you're using passive voice, you don't know what the subject should be and that's a problem for your piece as a whole.

Wrong: The picture was hung on the wall.
Correction: They hung the picture on the wall.

5. The Subjunctive

It is important that, when following a phrase such as "it is important that," you consider the verb tense, or "she consider the verb tense." When using a "he" or "she" form after stating something like "It is essential that," use the "you" form instead.

"It is crucial that he fix the car before leaving." You may want to write "fixes," but the opening phrase makes it the wrong tense for the present "he/she" verb. To help judge this distinction, rewrite the sentence in your mind for a minute, putting "should" in it. "He should fix the car before leaving." Both sentences are saying somewhat the same thing, so the verb "fix" should be the same.

Other examples (for the sometimes-needed passive voice situation):
"It is imperative that the dog be washed after a week of camping."

Also, when talking about a hypothetical situation, use the "you" form of the "to be" verb.

Wrong: "If she was richer, she could move to New York."
Corrected: "If she were richer, she could move to New York."

Other examples:
"If I were better at guitar, I would definitely play in your band."
"If he were gone, I could have some peace and quiet."

6. There, Their, Now.

"There" has the word here in it. So use it for placement. For example: "He put the mermaid over there."
And don't start a sentence with this There, or you will be writing an existential sentence--boring! (For example: There are many ways to eat a snake.)

"Their" has two vowels in a row--just like "our." It is for possession. For example: "Their cars were ruining the yard."

"They're" is a contraction for "they are." Simple enough.

7. Farther and Further

This one is complicated, and the difference can even be heard when speaking out loud. Farther is for physical distance, further is the degree or time to which the subject is extended.

8. Who and Whom

Oh the infamous confusion over who and whom. Some grammatical authorities are now accepting "who" across the board, simply because it doesn't matter all that much. This is why rule number 5 exists. People resort to "that" when they don't know whether to use who or whom.
But if you want to be confident with your whoms, wise owl, read on:
If you can replace the word in question with your name and the sentence still makes sense, then it is "who." If the sentence ends up strange, use "whom." For example:

Who: "It went to Jennifer, who was the smartest person in the class."
Whom: "Also at the party was Jane Jacobs, for whom we were all grateful.
In other words, if there is a preposition preceding it, it's "whom."

9. Possessive Adjective Pronouns

Wrong: "Him talking about marriage on the first date is a bad idea."
Corrected: "His talking about marriage on the first date is a bad idea."

This rule can be kind of confusing. Basically, you don't want an object pronoun (me, him, us, them, etc) with the subject of a sentence. The subject is "talking about marriage," so the pronoun modifying it shouldn't be phrased as an object because it comes before the subject. You'll find that when talking about someone's gambling habits or plans to go skiing, you'll need a possessive adjective pronoun (his, her, your, their, my, our, whose, its, one's).

But here's another example:

Wrong: "I am worried about Scott gambling."
Corrected: "I am worried about Scott's gambling."

If "Scott" weren't possessive, the sentence's meaning would become ambiguous. Is the speaker worried about Scott gambling if he goes to Vegas? Or is she worried about his gambling in general? Or is Scott a kind of gambling that's taking the gambling world by storm? We'll never know without that possessive addition or a clearer-written sentence!

10. Me and Him. He and I. Her and I...WHAT!?

This is the most common plebiscite. We like to put the other person before us in sentences: "Gray and I went to the store." But what if we put ourselves at the end of the sentence? "They bought the tickets for Gray and me." Since Gray and I are the indirect objects of the sentence, I must be me. If I didn't want to name Gray, the sentence would look like this: "They bought the tickets for him and me."

Many people just use "I" across the board, and it's a hard mistake to catch. Here's a test you can use. Take out the other person.

Wrong: "He brought flowers to Darcy and I."
Test: "He brought flowers to I."
Correction: "He brought flowers to Darcy and me."

Wrong: "Me and Casey went mini-golfing."
Test: "Me went mini-golfing."
Correction: "I and Casey (OR Casey and I) went mini-golfing."

11. Oops. One more:

Break these rules. If you're a creative writer, know that every great writer has broken rules of grammar. But know the rules before you break them--that is the only way you're allowed.

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Comments 12 comments

Jen's Solitude profile image

Jen's Solitude 7 years ago from Delaware

Your hub is very good, thanks for teaching me . . . again. :)

maggs224 profile image

maggs224 7 years ago from Sunny Spain

A very useful hub for someone like me who is very grammatically challenged, no doubt I have broken some of the rules just in writing this short comment. Well at least the spelling is correct Lol

theenigma411 profile image

theenigma411 7 years ago from New York

I appreciate your tips. Thank you for teaching me. I will definitely bookmark this hub!

Philipo profile image

Philipo 6 years ago from Nigeria

Very nice hub. I just have to check it up again. Very educative as if I did not go through grammar school. Thanks for sharing.

pinkhawk profile image

pinkhawk 6 years ago from Pearl of the Orient

...grammar is my problem most of the time, thank you for this useful and sensible hub. :)..need to remember this!

Challah1202 profile image

Challah1202 6 years ago from Chandler, TX

You have here a good collection of the ruls, nnd I agree with your recommendation of THE ELEMENTSOF STYLE. Good job.

MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 6 years ago from South Africa

Thank you so much for this! As you said, English is quite weird, more so when it is not your mother-tongue. I am a bit confuse now about the ubjunctive part (she/he/I were) - Why 'were' and not 'was'? Oh gosh, I need a course! Once again, thank you.

MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 6 years ago from South Africa

RoseGardenAdvice profile image

RoseGardenAdvice 6 years ago from San Francisco

A very humorous way of teaching grammar! Enjoyed it immensely and learnt a lot of stuff too. Thanks.

htodd profile image

htodd 5 years ago from United States

Thanks for the Great post!

Clive Donegal profile image

Clive Donegal 4 years ago from En Route

I opened this to item #10 and noticed the following:


"They bought the tickets for Gray and me." Since Gray and I are the indirect objects of the sentence, I must be me. If I didn't want to name Gray, the sentence would look like this: "They bought the tickets for him and me."

End quote.

"Gray" and "me" are objects of the preposition. Were they indirect objects, the sentence would read: "They bought Gray and me tickets."

John-Rose profile image

John-Rose 3 years ago from USA

I am really starting to like this, "improve your writing section" of Hubpages. It lets me know just how bad my grammar is and how badly I need to improve it. I do love this Hub and I will be returning to learn more from it.

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