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Pronouns are small (I, me, he, she, it), but they are among the biggest troublemakers in the language.
For example, in Shakespeare's Hamlet, Ophelia cried "Woe is me," which in today's formalized English should be "Woe is I." See the trouble?
The English section of the ACT contains 75 questions, which you must answer in 45 minutes. More than 50 percent of the English section tests standard English conventions, such as sentence structure and formation, punctuation and usage. Pronouns are a part of these conventions.
You all know what pronouns are, so we will not discuss that here. You also know how to use them: a substitute for a noun. Things get complicated when pronouns take on different guises, depending on the roles in plays in the sentence. Some pronouns are so well disguised that you may not be able to tell one from another. The usual suspects are: that and which; it's and its; who's and whose; who and whom; everybody and nobody; and their, they're, and theirs.
The 'Which' Trials
Which sentence sounds right to you? If both did, you got 'which-ed'! The first sentence with 'that' is the correct usage. A lot of students (and adults) have problems with that-versus-which. Here are two rules that can help you figure out whether a clause should start with that or which.
Let's look at these sentences:
The point of each sentence is that Buster's bulldog won. What happens when we remove the that or which clause? In the first example, the which clause is disposable. We can just say: Buster's bulldog won best in show. In the second example, however, the that clause (that won best in show) is essential. Without it the sentence would read: The dog was Buster's bulldog, which is a different meaning that the dog that won best in show was Buster's bulldog.
Who vs. Whom
When do you 'who' and when do you use 'whom'? Keep it simple! The most important thing to know is that who does something (it's a subject, like she), and whom has something done to it (it's an object, like her). Sometimes it can get tricky. Let's see the following examples:
Is it 'who' or 'whom'? If you strip off all the words between the subject and verb, you end up with who ... used math for fashion. 'Who' did something (used math for fashion), so it's the subject. 'Whom' does not work.
First strip the sentence down to the basic clause, [who or whom] he invited. You can see that whom is the object--he did something to (invited) whom--even though whom comes ahed of both the subject and the verb.
More than Meets the I
Many smart people hesitate about I vs me, he vs him, she vs her, and they vs them. How do we use them correctly? It all depends on the context. Let's look at the following examples:
So the usage of I vs me depends on the context, i.e., what you are trying to communicate.
The Many Selves
Students (and adults) often confuse the usage of 'I' and 'myself' and the rest of the 'self' crew (yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves). The key point about the 'self' crew is that they should not take the place of ordinary pronouns I and me, she or her, and so on. They are used only for two purposes:
There are some other pesky pronouns, but that topic is for another blog.
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Were or Was?
People often confuse the usage between 'I was' and 'I were'. When people say things like, "I wish it were impossible," some people would ask, were or was? Why not I wish it was impossible? Well, in English there is a special way of speaking wishfully. We say, I wish I were in love again, and not I wish I was in love again.
Grammarians call it the 'subjunctive mood'. It is when we are talking about things that are desirable, as opposed to things as they really are. It is to separate the 'what if' from the 'what is'. When we're in a wishful mood, was becomes were:
The word 'if' can make all the difference to the meaning of a statement like I was faster becomes quite different when we insert our little word: if I were faster.
Why is this? It is because "what if" means something that's untrue. When that happens, the subjunctive mood kicks in, and was becomes were. This happens when a sentence or a clause starts with if, and what's being talking about is contrary to fact:
The above is true only for those if statements that are contrary to fact. In cases where the statement may be true, was remains was:
The same rules apply to if statements that start with as if or as though:
Simple? Feel free to comment if you have any questions.
Reference: Woe is I, by Patricia T. O'Connor
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The semicolon is one of the most useful but least used punctuation marks.
Many people avoid the semicolon. Some even seem to dislike it, but it does not have to be that way. The source of avoidance or dislike is the lack of understanding of the proper role of the semicolon. If a comma is a yellow light and a period is a red light, the semicolon is a flashing red--one of the lights you drive through a brief pause.
Here's when to use it.
1. Use a semicolon to separate clauses when there's no and in between.
2. Use semicolons to separate items in a series when there's already a comma in one or more of the items.
Think of the colon as punctuation's master of ceremonies. Use it to present something: a statement, a series, a quotation, or instructions. But remember that a colon is an abrupt stop, almost like a period. Use one only if you want your sentence to brake completely. Here is how to do it.
1. Use a colon instead of a comma, if you wish, to introduce a quotation.
Many people prefer to introduce a longer quotation with a colon instead of a comma.
2. Use a colon to introduce a list, if what comes before the colon could be a small sentence in itself (it has both a subject and a verb).
Just don't use the colon to separate a verb from the rest of the sentence. In John's shopping cart were: a Bordeaux, a Merlot, and a Chardonnay. If you don't need a colon, why use one? In John's shopping cart were a Bordeaux, a Merlot, and a Chardonnay.
And that's it folks. Wasn't that easy?
Reference: Woe is I, by Patricia T. O'Connor
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The comma is a small mark, but it is perhaps the most important punctuation in grammar. Despite that, comma confusion is one of the most common grammatical problems that students face. This blog attempts to help students with proper comma usage.
Short Summary (TL;DR)
1. The Pause
Commas, commas, commas. They often are a source of confusion. How do you use without getting lost in grammatical jargon? Thanks to Patricia T. O’Conner's book on grammar, Woe is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English, commas can easily be understood. We let her tell you about them in her own words:
"When you talk, your voice, with its pauses, stresses, rises and falls, shows how you intend your words to fit together. When you write, punctuation marks are the road signs (stop, go, yield, slow, detour) that guide the reader, and you wouldn’t be understood without them.
"If you don’t believe me, try making sense out of this pile of words:
Who do you think I saw the other day the Dalai Lama said my Aunt Minnie.
"There are at least two possibilities:
"Who do you think I saw the other day?" the Dalai Lama said. "My Aunt Minnie."
"Who do you think I saw the other day? The Dalai Lama!" said my Aunt Minnie."
"Punctuation isn’t some subtle, old-fashioned concept that’s hard to manage and probably won’t make much of a difference one way or another. It’s not subtle, it’s not difficult and it can make all the difference in the world.
2. Separate the Parts of Speech
If you get commas right, you will get most of your punctuation right. How do we use them?
Long and short division
Use a comma to separate big chunks (clauses) of a sentence with and between them.
If there’s no 'and' in between, use a semi-colon instead:
Use commas to separate a series of things or actions.
In a series, you can leave out the comma before "and". It’s just a matter of taste. 'And' can also be thought of as a separator, a break, so a comma often is unnecessary.
3. Comma with Subjects and their Verbs
With few exceptions, a comma should not separate a subject from its verb.
Incorrect: My friend Amanda, is a wonderful dancer.
Writers are often tempted to insert a comma between a subject and verb this way because speakers sometimes pause at that point in a sentence. But in writing, the comma only makes the sentence seem stilted.
Correct: My friend Amanda is a wonderful singer.
Be especially careful with long or complex subjects:
Incorrect: The things that cause me joy, may also cause me pain.
Correct: The things that cause me joy may also cause me pain.
Incorrect: Navigating through snow, sleet, wind, and darkness, is a miserable way to travel.
Correct: Navigating through snow, sleet, wind, and darkness is a miserable way to travel.
4. Comma After Introductions
Introductory clauses are dependent clauses that provide background information or "set the stage" for the main part of the sentence, the independent clause. For example:
Introductory phrases also set the stage for the main action of the sentence, but they are not complete clauses. Phrases don't have both a subject and a verb that are separate from the subject and verb in the main clause of the sentence. Common introductory phrases include prepositional phrases, appositive phrases, participial phrases, infinitive phrases, and absolute phrases.
Introductory words (SHFM)
Introductory words like however, still, furthermore, and meanwhile create continuity from one sentence to the next.