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Tips, Tricks, And Explanations For Complicated Grammar Rules

Updated on November 1, 2012

Finding Your Way through the Maze of the English Language

English grammar has a million confusing and contradictory rules. The language has so many words in so many forms that it can be bewildering to figure out which one to use and why. This page will help.

Look below for specific tips and links on commonly-misused English words, why you should avoid the passive voice, English as a second language (ESL) and college-level writing labs and grammar courses, and other grammar topics from the basic to the complex.  If you don't find what you're looking for, let me know and I'll post an answer or research and write one for you. 

Take a look at the Table of Contents below and wander through some of the various sections.  If you don't find what you're looking for, please contact me or post in my guestbook and I'll post the answers.

Back to Basics: Parts of Speech

Whether you need to start learning grammar from scratch or you would like to review some fundamentals, this section will help you get a handle on the various parts of speech. These are the main posts on the eight parts of speech. If you still have questions, contact me (through the blog, my profile here, or in the guest book below) and I'll get you an answer.









And to bring it together: what makes a sentence?

Less Basic: Specifics about the Parts of Speech

Now that you know which parts of speech do what, it's time to dig into the details. Some of these can be tricky or sneaky. Learn to drive them straight to your meaning without losing your audience along the way.

Collective Nouns and Verb Agreement

Abstract Nouns

Choosing Your Pronouns (An Introductory Rant)

Step One: Subjective Pronouns

Step Two: Objective Pronouns

Step Three: A Pronoun Wrap-Up

Reflexive Pronouns and How Not to Use Them

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Direct and Indirect Objects

Infitives and the Infinitive Mood

The Types of Abbreviation

What do you end a sentence with? and the other side of the coin,

With what do you end a sentence? It's the age-old debate about ending a sentence with a preposition.

When to Capitalize

What are modal verbs and why you should usually avoid them.

Collective Nouns and Pairs of Pants

Collective Nouns and the Word News

Learn about grammar particles that aren't exactly parts of speech and grammar particles as a part of intransitive verbs.

Give the Passive Voice a Pass

Activate your writing to engage your audience.

While technically more a matter of style than grammar, knowing what the passive voice looks like lets you use grammar to make your sentences more interesting and your story more exciting to your audience.

I have declared war on the passive voice in my writing and have researched it often. Below are some of my findings. I will write more, without a doubt. I'll post those here, as well. Please share your tricks for stirring up the action in your writing in my guestbook, as well.

If you want more information or would like to share your opinion about the passive voice, what it is, and if or when to use it, please chime in on the discussion.

Corral Your Words: Punctuation

Basic, Obscure, and Subtle Punctuation Clarified

Punctuation marks help your reader make sense of your words. The longer your sentences, the more punctuation you need to keep your clauses from merging and your tenses in agreement.

As a part of my Back to Basics series, I am writing about punctuation. This section will grow as I post articles. I also have sections on proposed new marks, little-known punctuation, and more subtle uses of punctuation.

The Oxford Comma: Use It in Your Lists Today

A Quick Guide to Hyphen Use

Em-Dashes and Hyphens: Who Knew?

When do you need an apostrophe after an s?

How do you when to indicate possession with an apostrophe?

Obscure Punctuation Marks and What They Indicate

The Ellipsis: Rules and Questions of Style

A Little More on Commas

Quotation Marks and Speech

Commas versus Semicolons

Using Commas when Writing Dates

Tips for using bullet points

Why You Don't Need More Punctuation Marks

Build Your Vocabulary

The more words you know, the less people can use them against you. The less they can sneak nasty things past you, anyway. Check these posts for ways to build your vocabulary and more reasons why you should.

A Word Toy to Fight World Hunger

More Words = Less Confusion

A Strong Vocabulary Equals Safer Insults

Three Cheers for the Thesaurus

A New Game for Language Lovers

Knowing More Words Equals Better Writing

Some words of caution to remember when you reach for the Thesaurus

Some links to fun word posts that I discovered.

More vocabulary-building toys.

George Orwell weighs in on vocabulary and its importance in writing.

Word Tidbits

Definitions, Entymology, and Trivia

I've begun a new series on my blog, adding little-known facts (unknown to me, at any rate) about some of my favorite words. Generally, these posts include synonyms and examples. I'll put these in alphabetical order from the start.

Versus: Commonly Confused Words and How to Use Them

Below you will find sets of words that writers often misspell confuse. I've left the most common ones at the beginning of the list and have alphabetized the rest of them.

Of course, if I'd reversed the words in the title then some of them would land in different places on the list. Please be patient when looking for a specific topic. If you can't find what you need, please let me know. I'll either send you a link or write a post to address the question.

Do you have a grammar tip or question? - Please, share with the group.

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    • sondra1 profile image


      5 years ago

      I have just retired from 27 years as a seventh and eighth grade English teacher. You have some outstanding information and I wish I had found it sooner. I will pass it on to my still teaching friends though!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I combine grammar with conversation topics in my English classes - let them talk naturally for a while, then a short grammar 'nugget' (usually with a cheat sheet they can glance at), and then some more conversation with correction of the target grammar.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I think grammar learning ought to be combined with conversational practice and vocabulary learning. In my opinion learners can learn grammar and practice it in communicative grammar exercises with daily life life content (with sentences that most likely can be used in real life situations).

      I prefer English courses that include (integrate) grammar material in thematic conversation and vocabulary practice activities (exercises) in each lesson.

      It's very helpful for learners to have answers to exercises for self-check. Grammar exercises that contain dialogues, interrogative and declarative sentences on everyday topics, thematic texts and narrative stories are especially effective for mastering grammatical structures. Grammar practice should include exercises in listening comprehension, speaking, reading and writing.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      in some sentences where to add had or had been

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      You explained very well. Thanks for the share. Keep writing..



    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Thanks Nick,

      I enjoyed your article on why grammar checkers don't work. BTW, what's the difference between writing with good grammar and writing in plain English? Does StyleWriter help with grammar also?

    • NickatStyleWriter profile image


      6 years ago

      Thanks for comprehensive information on the use and abuse of English. Weâve been working to help people improve their writing style and find errors in documents missed by traditional software programs.

      One major issue is: How can you check for misused and confused words missed by the spelling checker? Today we use spell-checkers routinely to our text so we donât expect to find spelling mistakes in documents. But software programs have not been able to check for misused words and confused words such as advice : advise, itâs : its, affect : effect, personal : personnel and hundreds of others â leading to embarrassing errors.

      Your grammar checker built into Word should offer the solution. But it doesnât. Word tries to work out when the word is wrong and offer the correct form. Sometimes it even finds the correct form and offers the wrong alternative putting an error in your document.

      Microsoft Word and other grammar checkers miss simple word confusion and typing errors in the following sentence:

      Its tine the personal department presented copies of the report to the committee.


      1. Its should be Itâs (meaning it is)

      2. Tine (an unusual word meaning âprong of a forkâ) should be time.

      3. Personal should be personal

      Thereâs no way around such problems other than flagging the word and thinking which is correct. So in our software program, StyleWriter â The plain English editor, we flag around 800 confused words and 600 misused words so you can check for the errors. This has two advantages.

      1. You know the program has comprehensively checked your document and there are no errors of this sort.

      2. You learn the differences between commonly confused words and the correct English usage.

      Of course, you can ask the program not to flag any word confusion or misused word once you start using it consistently in the correct form.

      Nick Wright

      Director of: Editor Software UK Ltd at

      Developer of: StyleWriter the plain English Editor software

      Blog: How to Write Clearly at

      Website: Editor Software

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      yeah bookmarked too!

    • sukkran trichy profile image

      sukkran trichy 

      6 years ago from Trichy/Tamil Nadu

      useful tips here. book marked

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      thanks for this great lens very helpful for me :D

    • eilval profile image


      6 years ago from Western Cape , South Africa

      Thanks for a great article and tips !

    • Blackspaniel1 profile image


      7 years ago

      Nice lens. I am trying the Pin It button again.

    • writergrey profile image


      7 years ago

      Some very helpful links - thank you!

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I opened some of the links and they are really good. Thanks. It is good to keep improving your craft.

    • jenniferteacher1 profile image


      7 years ago

      This is great! I'm always looking for more grammar tips and tricks.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      very nice post

      post articles

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 

      8 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      I am full of grammar facts. Here's a pet peeve of mine: Adverbs that end in "ly" should never be hyphenated, such as "heavily packed bags." Thanks for all the good information. Lensrolled to my Grammar Rules! lens.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Pet peeve: anyway is not a word; misuse of ideal for idea; I seen it!!!

    • jackieb99 profile image


      8 years ago

      Excellent information. I'll refer to this when teaching my next writing class.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      This is a great aticle! Check my lense out when you get the chance.

      Improve your writing skills

    • indigomoth profile image


      8 years ago from New Zealand

      A lot of really good resources here. I've just edited a whole bunch of school reports... there's a few teachers out there who could use this page!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I am complicated. Why do we use the present.."I am" with the past "complicated".

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Very interesting lens and very much needed. I have a bit on grmmar on my copywriting lens but will send people to yours for more!

    • KarenTBTEN profile image


      9 years ago

      You've got quite a collection of resources here.

    • HorseAndPony LM profile image

      HorseAndPony LM 

      9 years ago

      Thanks for the info and tips. I will be bake for more.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      what are the tricks for omission and editing exercises in grammar? how to master them?

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Is there a rule dictating whether you use that or which in a sentence?

    • legbamel lm profile image

      legbamel lm 

      9 years ago

      [in reply to Dan] If you use "we" as the subject, it's plural and you'd use "noses". You could also use "our collective nose", to reinforce the idea of being a group.

    • legbamel lm profile image

      legbamel lm 

      9 years ago

      [in reply to irab] I'd use a hyphen and write, "He abruptly sat up in bed and squinted at the annoyingly-bright display of the alarm clock." I'll do a post explaining why and drop a link here in a few days. Thanks for asking!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Which sentence is correct, the one with "annoyingly" or the one with "annoying?"

      He abruptly sat up in bed and squinted at the annoyingly bright display of the alarm clock.


      He abruptly sat up in bed and squinted at the annoying bright display of the alarm clock.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      When speaking as part of a group and using a phrase referring to a body part, do you use singular or plural. For example, "We have to keep our nose/noses clean."

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Awesome. I was thinking of making a lens on grammar tips and commonly confused words, and came across this lens. I guess it will take me 5 years to build anything like this. But I'll still try to construct a small 'hut' of my own in front of your 'skyscraper' :-)

      I'm a Toastmaster and have keen interest in grammar and word usage. This is really good stuff ! Five stars from me and this is going into my favorites.

    • Ecolicious LM profile image

      Penny Pincher G 

      10 years ago

      This is a very helpful lens.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Ah, grammer, one of my most favorite subjects (not) LOL I knew I should have paid more attention in school. I am definitely bookmarking this lens, for a more closer read and reference. Nicely done! Now I just need to pay attention to my speeling LOL - Kathy

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Comprehensive and entertaining lens. Thank you for the many links - as a punctuation and grammar-challenged writer (is that gramatically correct?), I know I need to visit this lens often.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Thanks for sharing your great lens! I agree that grammar is really complicated when it comes to it's rules and usage.

    • VBright profile image


      10 years ago

      I have added it to my favorites as well. I'm sure Sister Mary Catherine would cringe, were she to see some of my "off handed" writing. I'm guilty of being in too much of a hurry. Great lens.

    • legbamel lm profile image

      legbamel lm 

      10 years ago

      That is a particularly annoying habit. Thank you for the kind words!

    • ArtSiren LM profile image

      ArtSiren LM 

      10 years ago

      Very enjoyable lens. Thanks. One of my favourite tips (although it might be an 'English' English thing and not apply in US English): 'practice' and 'licence' are common nouns (c for common), whereas 'practise' and 'license' are verbs.

      To me, the most annoying grammar mistake is 'between you and I'. It's 'between you and me'.

    • RichardMensies profile image


      10 years ago

      Great Lens!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      This is helpful. I definitely need to improve my english at least the writing part of it. Thanks for sharing all the resources. Well done.

    • aka-rms profile image

      Robin S 

      11 years ago from USA

      Thank you for another well done, and very helpful addition to the Our Favorite Squidoo Lenses group!

    • legbamel lm profile image

      legbamel lm 

      11 years ago

      Whoops! I forgot that I'd turned off the HTML in the guestbook. If you scroll up, it's fifth on the list of Commonly Confused Words. :D

    • legbamel lm profile image

      legbamel lm 

      11 years ago

      Try this post and please let me know if it helps!

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      What's a simple way to explain the difference b/w there, their and they're for my freshman college students who are killing me with this!? I'm no english teacher!

    • evelynsaenz1 profile image

      Evelyn Saenz 

      11 years ago from Royalton

      When you are trying to learn new words make a Word Wall. If you post it in the bathroom everyone in your family can benefit.

      Great lens. Starred and added to my favorites.


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