Ten grammar essentials

Ten Grammar essentials

by Crane-Station

note: I am not a grammar expert, nor do I have a doctorate degree. I enjoy the topic. This is a repost of something I had on my old site a long time ago.

1. alright is not a word. All right is two words.

2. alot is not a word. A lot is two words.

3. To split an infinitive is wrong in the formal sense, but sometimes it is okay to occasionally split an infinitive because it sounds better to do so. Six infinitives that express time relationships are listed here.

4. Avoid the word “which” in favor of “that’,” if possible. Chicago Manual of Style debate on which versus that. (I always favor that if possible)

5. Do not end a sentence in a preposition, unless you are asking a question (what horse did you bet on?)

6.Do not start an essay with a dummy subject such as There or It.

7.Unless you wish to kill the essay outright, use the active voice. Proofread and eliminate passive voice.

8. Unless you are quoting dialogue, contractions are too informal for quality writing.

9. “Lay” is a verb.
lay – definition of lay by the Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and …
http://www.thefreedictionary.com/laylay 1 (l ). v. laid (l d), lay·ing, lays. v.tr. 1. To cause to lie down: lay a child in its crib. 2. a. To place in or bring to a particular position: lay the cloth over the painting.

10.Lay is the the past of lie.
Laid must have an object: He laid the fork down.

He laid down is a grammatical mistake.

11. Get a copy of Struck and White: Elements of Style.

Remember the Stephen King quote, “The road to Hell is paved with adverbs.”

Has this been helpful?

BTW: Four places that you likely will not find grammatical errors in are: The Christian Science Monitor, The Atlantic, Harper’s and The National Geographic.

Here is a recent Christian Science Monitor article on grammar.

73 Responses to Ten grammar essentials

  1. Malisha says:

    I was in Family Court in Bronx, NY. Big sign:


    But about ending a sentence with a preposition when it is a question, how do you like this one:

    “What did you bring that book that I didn’t want to be read to out of up for?”

  2. ed nelson says:

    Story telling, that is what we got from Grammy! She had stories about all about bears… Ickebod Crane… Daniel Boone… Bunches a stories. She was of Southern stock from the… Williams I guess, some of the Williamsburg or WTF, You know like all the “Billies” are Williams ain’t they? We had a bunch a Willies!!

    Hill Billies!!

    Subsistance farmers/ranchers tennents too.

  3. crazy1946 says:

    Many times our worst critic can be found within our own mind… We fail to realize the beauty of the words that flow from our heart (in an honest and unashamed manner) is seen by the open minded individual that reads those words… I, for one, find your honest and open description of your life experience very intriguing and your honest and open eyed format is one of the things that keeps us on edge awaiting the next installment…

  4. crazy1946 says:

    Mz. Cane-Station, When you book is published, I will purchase a copy. I will do so because of the content (subject matter) and not because of the perfect sentence structure, or spelling! I think that the character of the story depends on the way that is written (from the heart) and if you were to change it to meet literary standards I fear that it would lose the edge that it now has… Perhaps it is my belief in the KISS method in all things that causes me to see it like this… Keep up the great work, and post (write) from your heart and not from a text book…..

    • C-S here. Thank you so much. I mean, it is really cool to have the feedback. The first few things I wrote sucked, OMG. Likely because I wrote them. Then, it started to write itself. It took its own voice. That transition was fun, something I have never really experienced. At the same time, I became a basket case. Migraines, bursts of laughter in the middle of the night. Fred was living with a really crazy person. I’d lock the notes in another room for weeks at a time, unable to handle it.

      Frog Gravy is not a recent memoir, because I couldn’t handle it. I am glad I set aside a first draft, for real.

      • Two sides to a story says:

        I love that point when the voice comes and the writing flows. I can see that in your essays, Crane. They are nearly picture perfect.

  5. lady2soothe says:

    Pet peeves…

    At about… IMHO it is EITHER *at* or *about* but not both

    I went to the store *at about* 8:07pm

    I went to the store *at* 8:07pm

    I went to the store *about* 8:07pm

    Sorry Professor, I must disagree with you on number 4… I have been bitching about the word “that” for as long as I can remember. There are very few instance’s in the written word in which *that* is necessary.

    EXAMPLE with *that*
    The backstage intrigue


    led up to the breakup news remains a mystery. But some analysts started speculating as early as February


    3G might cut off the supply of Heinz ketchup to McDonald’s as a way to boost sales at Burger King.

    EXAMPLE without *that*
    The backstage intrigue


    up to the breakup news remains a mystery. But some analysts started speculating as early as February


    3G might cut off the supply of Heinz ketchup to McDonald’s as a way to boost sales at Burger King.

    EXAMPLE with *that*
    *That* means *that* every McDonald’s location around the world will soon have to stop serving Heinz ketchup with its fries and burgers.

    EXAMPLE without *that*
    Meaning every McDonald’s location around the world will soon have to stop serving Heinz ketchup with its fries and burgers.

    There are so many words in the English language, lets stop depending on one we learned to spell in 1st grade.

  6. crazy1946 says:

    Ok, now to add to the confusion that some of us now are feeling, do we post on this site in the British version of the English language, or perhaps in the Northern United States version of the English, or maybe we need to use the Southern United States version or even the Texas Version? Because each and every one of them is related yet seem at times to be distant cousins of each other, one could easily become overwhelmed attempting to determine which one or ones to use when communication is desired with a diverse audience such as we find here on this site…. I think now it would be wise for me to scurry quickly back to the safety of my hole under the rock….

      • crazy1946 says:

        Linda Stephenson, I suppose my question about this subject would be, is it more important that a person expresses his/her point in a way that the average individual can understand? Or is it essential that a person composes a sentence or paragraph that contains no errors, yet because of disconnect with the audience fails to connect? I’m sorry, but I would have to chose to read the post that I can relate to on a “real person” level…. Of course, that Is my simple minded opinion (for what it is worth)… Maybe, I can say it this way, if we as a group would spend less time looking at the shrubs, we might actually realize that we are standing in the middle of a huge forest….

        • bettykath says:

          In the same vein, I was given three books by a professor that were supposed to be the best word on “the topic”. They were written very formally, using lots of big words, and I couldn’t learn a thing from them. They were incomprehensible b/c he was writing to stump other professors. Publish or perish was probably the rule he was following but I guess being read doesn’t count.

        • Very informal here. (C-S here again.) We have commenters from several different countries here too, so much fun.

          I think I should have made it an open thread with a few specific topics/questions, rather than what I did: I put up something that I had put up on my old site more than a year ago, but I didn’t say, let’s talk about…

          Other thing is, online vs print writing. I see online writing change constantly.

  7. Hate to be a pain. Really do. But language is critical to our survival on the planet. We all need to communicate better. I love those license plates that say “If you can read this, thank an English teacher.” No need to get hung up on the niceties of “correct” or “incorrect” grammar, but let’s keep listening to each other. I remember with chagrin the first-year junior college student who walked out of my writing lab in June and said with obvious relief, “I’ll never have to do English again.”

    • C-S here. I agree. I think we need more threads. More discussion. On language,let me tell you. I went from the Pacific Northwest, to a prison in the South. May as well have been a foreign country. I’d say things like, “I’m sorry. I don’t understand a single word you just said.” and “Can you say that again?”

      Idioms. Oh my God. Regional idioms. The story telling is fantastic. I laughed so hard I nearly died. I learned so much. Odd to say that, but in a strange sort of way, I always wanted to write but never dreamed that prison would be the story.

      So, maybe more open threads.


    • dianetrotter says:

      Linda, As a teacher, I am shocked to see that high school students write at a third grade level. The spelling is atrocious. Adding “cool” or whatever spelling makes the situation worse. Examples: The singer Ludacris, Soulja Boy, Yelawolf, Pusha T.It is frightening.

  8. ed nelson says:

    Well one more comment from Eddie:

    I really approve, and I want to just say, this English lesson is a wonderful thing!

    YOU Fred and Crane are in the front line of doing what needs doing!

    I won’t elaborate or try to do the effort to really tell the story… but you’all are real important folks!!

    So anyhoo…. KEEP up keepin’ on!!

  9. ed nelson says:

    I use a lot of venacular and slang and vulgarity, and worse, and I’m sure that some think me a low sort… for that proclivity.

    Well I only want to say, to this thing, that we might think of the term: writters/artists/poets liscense. And go from there.

    You know what I mean. I am sure you know this.

    For Christ’s sakes… I could cuss up a storm, but won’t. I refuse to cuss on demand! I might hole up with my Strom’s Exhaustive Concordance for a month, and and and… no tellin’!

  10. ed nelson says:

    So, Diary73, would it be good to say: “if everyone forgot his/her lunch… ? instead of (their lunch)?

    If everybody forgot his lunch, would be castigated as sexist!


  11. Crane-Station here. I should have made this an open thread, maybe I will, but anyway. In dialogue, is it best to do

    She says, “You big fat bitch.”
    “You big fat bitch.”
    “You big fat bitch,” she says.
    “You big fat bitch,” she said.

    Also in dialogue (any advice really) am I wrong in assuming it’s okay to just march down the page with quote after quote, when two people are talking and it is clear who they are, without any ‘she says’ at all?

  12. Alright, alls I know is I’m purfect cuz I spell gud an git ‘r done.

    • Crane-Station here. Question for the experts:

      Do you guys have any best tips on ow to deal with slang. For instance, in dialogue, should slang be written as it sounds, or should it be spelled out?

      Best pick:

      none are correct

      HELP! When I read slang, I prefer kind of a hybrid that’s geared so that I hear the slang, while not being over-focused on well, slang that is overwritten.

      Does that even make any sense?

      • As an author, you get to choose. It’s your voice. Nobody else can make a “rule” for you about spelling out dialect when you write dialogue. But if you were to ask me, I’d probably say use a hybrid of spelling and pronunciation — splainin’ (without the initial apostrophe) because an initial apostrophe implies that you’ve omitted “ex” but that the word begins with an s . I think that might confuse your reader. The final apostrophe (taking the place of the final g) is a convention we’re used to.

        • C-S here, and thank you so much. Dialogue and slang have been hard to figure out. Then, I started reading it more. To be honest, I don’t like reading slang, unless I am not aware that I am reading it.

          Another question on style: Can a memoir be a series of standalone essays? I have struggled with this for a year. The chapters kind of stand alone, but I wanted it to flow, and read easily, like other people’s memoirs. I wrote it like that, then set it aside for nearly a year. I hate it that way. It only dawned on me why. I wanted for the reader to be there.

          I wanted the reader to be there, so I refused to tone down the language, and other things. But, maybe the chapters are what they are because nothing flows nicely in prison. The rules on time passage are suspended, especially in a jail. Without calendars or clocks or access to day or night, time passage is agonizing. So for me, it was sort of experience to experience.

          I will certainly put things in order. But I don’t want to add ‘filler’ language to connect and explain.

          Thing is, it’s not really what I want- it’s what people will read!! LOL!

          I will likely compromise, and add experiences. I have the notes, and I think I can get it to where it makes more sense.

          Thank you so much for being here. I’d love to do more discussions on writing. Really. I love it.

          • Crane-Station, I’ve been following Frog Gravy off and on for some time, always amazed by the clarity with which you draw me into your experience. It’s frightening, really (in a good way). Your stand-alone essay format worked for me. It hadn’t occurred to me to critique it, but now that you’ve asked, I’ll pay more attention. My instinct now, though, is to applaud your style — and your courage.

          • Two sides to a story says:

            Memoirs can take many different forms, including standalone essays. Have you ever read the memoirs of Augusten Burroughs? His chapters are basically standalone essays that are roughly chronological and thematic – he doesn’t attempt to give you a full biography in any of his books, but instead focuses thematically on an aspect of his life in each one – you might be familiar with Running with Scissors, which covers his childhood and coming of age. The others deal with his alcoholism and early career in PR.

  13. NOTE: This is a comment by Linda Stephenson.

    Dear Frederick Leatherman,

    I respect your authority on the law.

    As to English grammar, you should perhaps consider leaving this to the professionals.

    1. “alright” is indeed a word, and has been since English first evolved. For example, in Old English, we have “α. OE ealrihte, lOE eallriht, eME allrihht ( Ormulum), eME alriȝt, eME alriht, eME ealriht; Sc. pre-17all richt.” (Oxford English Dictionary)

    In modern times, here’s what Merriam Webster has to say: “The one-word spelling alright appeared some 75 years afterall right itself had reappeared from a 400-year-long absence. Since the early 20th century some critics have insisted alright is wrong, but it has its defenders and its users. It is less frequent than all right but remains in common use especially in journalistic and business publications. It is quite common in fictional dialogue, and is used occasionally in other writing .”

    I might also refer to New York Times language maven Aaron Britt. ( http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/02/opinion/02iht-edaaron.2100089.html?_r=0 ), who insists that “alright” is “all right.”

    Etc., etc., etc.

    2. Agreed.

    3. This common misperception regarding the “split infinitive” has been dismissed by many authors. I might refer to a favorite of my own, Theordore M. Bernstein, in “Miss Thistlebottom’s Hobgoblins: The careful writer’s guide to the taboos, bugbears and outmoded rules of English usage.” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1971)

    4. “Which” (introducing a nonrestrictive clause) and “that” (introducing a restrictive clause) each have specific roles in clear writing. This is particularly important in technical writing, where clarity is paramount. Almost any standard grammar will describe the distinction.

    5. Nonsense. As Winston Churchill is said to have retorted, “This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put.”

    6. Generally true, though eloquent exceptions abound.

    7. Yes, active voice is preferable. George Orwell had interesting things to say on this topic. See “Politics and the English Language,” 1946.

    8. Contractions are informal. Yes.

    9. “Lay” is a verb. It is also a noun (e.g., “the lay of the land,” and also a song or poem). And an adjective (e.g., “a lay preacher delivered the sermon today”). And yes, “he laid down” is a grammatical error, as is “I spent the day laying out on the beach.” Much to my dismay, though, that latter usage is beginning to come into “acceptable” use. I would edit it out of any but fiction or dialog, but the descriptivists among us would not.

    10. Perhaps this could be more clearly expressed. “Lay” can be the past tense of intransitive “lie,” but also, as in (9) above, a transitive verb in future tense (“my chickens will lay eggs”). The grammatical distinctions are tricky.

    11. Yes, Strunk & White’s “Elements of Style” is a pithy classic. I recommend it to beginners. Some of Strunk’s prohibitions, however, are considered outdated by modern style books (e.g., “Chicago Manual of Style,” “Associated Press Style Manual,” “Words into Type”). And by Bernstein of course. I would never use “Elements of Style” to defend an edit.

    unnumbered (12), the Stephen King quote is spot on. I can almost always improve an adverb/verb construction by deleting the adverb and strengthening the verb. New writers should practice this.

    Peace, Linda Stephenson


    Please note: Linda, this is Crane-Station on Fred’s screen. Your putdown goes to me; I wrote the post some time last year.

    I meant for it to be an informal and fun discussion. I love the topic, but I am not an expert. Since I am working on editing Frog Gravy, I would like to hear what people’s pet peeves and concrete rules are. I would really enjoy that.

    I openly admit to reaching (still today) for Strunk and White over my APA Manual. When I get stuck I call my mother.

    I called my mother, the 88-year-old retired English teacher last week and explained that I had made a terrible error that went on for 200 pages: I was going to have to change all the ‘thats’ to ‘whos.’ She told me this had changed.

    Anyway, I wrote the post because I was actually looking for information. I still am. I love the topic.

    Thanks. Also I am the one who messed up the format on this, not him. I am very sorry.

    • Hi, Linda.

      I did not write the post. My wife, Crane-Station, wrote it. She intended to post it behind the curtain, so to speak, as a draft in order to format it correctly before publishing it. She unpublished it after she realized her mistake. Your comment apparently appeared and disappeared because she had removed the post. Any comments to a post disappear off the main screen, if the post is removed. It’s still visible behind the curtain.

      She resurrected your comment after she worked through the html mess and republished her post.


    • Never intended a “put down” — though I can see it might come across as one. I worry (needlessly?) about prescriptive grammar lists. They don’t seem like “fun” to me, but rather like scolding. I frequently read comments that criticize another poster’s usage, ignoring the substance of their post. My point in commenting on your list was not so much to differ as to suggest that grammar “rules” are much overrated. I prefer to think of awkward, nonstandard writing as infelicitous. I love good writing, but I believe it comes from wide experience and clear thinking rather than rules.

    • Two sides to a story says:

      You should also have a Chicago Manual of Style, the publishing style guide for fiction and memoir. APA is more for academic work, but many things are exactly the same. Mostly Chicago and APA differ in citation styles, numerals, and a few other minor situations.

  14. diary73 says:

    Another common error involves pronoun-antecedent agreement. An antecedent is the word to which a pronoun refers. For example, if Sally were to hurt her foot, the word “her” is the antecedent to the word Sally.

    We often hear people say the following: Everyone forgot their lunch today.

    Well, the word “everyone” is a singular indefinite pronoun, so its antecedent (their) should be singular. The word “their” is plural, however.

    This is a very common mistake that few people notice.

  15. diary73 says:

    Another word that is spoken incorrectly constantly is the one that sounds like this:


    There is no such word. Mischievous has three syllables, not four, with the accent on the first syllable.

  16. diary73 says:

    The key word is nonstandard, Tower. The standard spelling always includes two words.

  17. towerflower says:

    When did alright not become a word? My 1984 Webster’s Dictionary has it in there as the Non Standard all right. I always thought if you found it in Webster’s then you were good.

    • C-S here.

      I’m with you. I was surprised on this one. I actually thought ‘alright’ was illegal.

    • Two sides to a story says:

      I don’t often see alright in formal writing, but do see it in more casual writing in novels and online. The dictionary most often used by publishers as a standard in the US is Merriam Webster and in the UK, the Oxford. I haven’t checked either one of those, so alright may or may not be in those.

  18. diary73 says:

    Oh, hello to everyone. Long time. Just wanted to add: I am a grammarian and can answer just about any question any of you might have about this topic.

  19. diary73 says:

    The only one that I disagree with is Number 4. The words “that” and “which” serve distinctly different purposes.

    “That” introduces essential clauses. It is needed for the understanding of the comment: The bird that flew into the window survived the impact.

    “Which” introduces nonessential clauses and should be set up by commas: The bird, which belonged to my cousin, has a tendency to collide with windows.

    • C-S here. Thanks, I though there were mandatory minimums for using “which.”

      • shyloh says:

        This is funny because I was born in Hawaii. Here I am a phonix person,haha. “which” Would be “witch” I know right. And forget spell check. Sometimes it takes me forever to find the word I am looking for. Don’t judge me hahaha!!!

        This subject is very difficult for me. I am sure you can tell by my posting also. I try to be clear. But it doesn’t always turn out that way once I press the send. Then I catch all my mistakes. AND IT’S TOO LATE!

    • Two sides to a story says:

      That and which are used differently in the US and the UK. Which is commonly used across the pond in place of that and without commas, and is considered correct even in formal and academic writing.

  20. crazy1946 says:

    Now, on a serious note, perhaps many of us do a poor job at writing using proper grammar, but does it really matter in the realm of blogging? I do realize that perhaps sometimes it is difficult to read my poorly composed posts, but does that make the author any less worthy to express their opinion or idea? I can think of a few major news blogs where the grammar police are out in force, waiting like a pack of rabid dogs for some poor soul to make an error in their wording or sentence structure…. Perhaps it is time for me to go on line and buy a fifth grade English book? Or better yet, perhaps I need to hire a fifth grader to write my posts? No, I think not, it would be embarrassing to have a fifth grader correct my poor grammar…:-)

    • bettykath says:

      imo, casual writing should be as correct as you can do comfortably, no need to bring out the books. Professional writers should use good grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Or they should hire good editors to correct their errors. otoh, even a good editor might be confused about the importance of the ownership of the parrot and use the wrong word. 🙂

      • crazy1946 says:

        Most people would probably laugh at me when it comes to my posts. I write the post, edit while writing, then spell check, then edit again, most times resulting in another re-write of the post, only to start the process over! I probably spend more time writing a five line post than most people (who are equipped with the proper skill set) spend writing five paragraphs…. Darn, why did I day dream all thru high school and college… But on the bright side, I can take my diploma and a dollar and buy a cup of senior coffee at McDonalds….

  21. ed nelson says:

    Thankyou Fred for this educational post, I left a comment on previous one, but it is to me a most important thing to keep our language working, that is the basis of communication. The story in the Bible tells of a Tower of Bable, and something in that tale, if I have it right, is that the peoples are scattered and take on different lanquages and no more again can talk.

  22. crazy1946 says:

    Wale, hoowed have thunk, eyed be da foist to post… Wooo we….

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