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Quick & Easy Grammar Rules of Thumb

Updated on March 22, 2013

When you're talking or writing, you don't want to have to grab a grammar book. Here are rules of thumb you can use to quickly choose the right word in some of the most common grammar dilemmas.

Who vs. Whom

Just mentally rearrange the question into a statement using either he or him (even if you're talking about a female).

Rule of thumb: The vowel at the end of he means you should use who. The "m" at the end of him means to use whom.

  • He called me. --> Who called me?
  • I called him. --> Whom did you call?

Apostrophes

We all think we know that apostrophes = either possessive or contractions... and then get tripped up on its vs. it's. Here's a better way to remember.

Rule of thumb: An apostrophe always stands for a missing letter or letters.

Possessive:

  • John's = John his [I know you'd never say "John his," but I believe this is how it started out]
  • its [No letters are left out]
  • their [The word form is changed instead of adding an "s"]
  • whose

Contractions:

  • she's = she is
  • it's = it is
  • they're = they are
  • who's = who is

I vs. Me

When combining yourself with another person in a sentence, most of us remember that we should mention ourselves last. However, we then stumble on whether to use I or me.

Rule of thumb: What would would you use if you left the other person out of the sentence?

  • I went sledding. --> He and I went sledding.
  • The house is perfect for me. --> The house is perfect for him and me.

Lie vs. Lay

A little more difficult. The confusion with these stems from the fact that lay can also be the past tense of lie. That part you'll just have to remember.

Rule of thumb: You lay something else, but you lie all by yourself. (If you let your mind go into the gutter on the first one, it might help you remember.)

Lay:

  • See me lay the book on the table. (present tense)
  • I laid the book on the table. (past tense)

Lie:

  • I lie down when I have a headache. (present tense)
  • I lay down yesterday because I had a headache. (past tense)

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    • holity profile image
      Author

      Terri Hamilton 4 years ago from N. Illinois

      Thanks! I'm happy it helps you.

    • PaoloJpm profile image

      John Paolo B.Magdaluyo 4 years ago from Philippine

      Hey, this are great stuff. I do proud of myself because I do things more creative when I work with a piece of a reading material, yet, there are still times common and basic but I still do it wrong.