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Correct grammar? Me?! You have got to be kidding!

Correct Grammar: a framework to which everything else is pegged

Grammar is the process by which verbal chaos is turned into order. A mish-mash of garbled sounds and idea turns into prose ... then the prose is processed further, and becomes poetry. Fiction, non-fiction, journalism, blogging, the work of the diarist — everything starts with turning chaos into order — an idea the Ancient Greek ancestors of our own language would have loved. In fact, the parts of speech were first identified by a Greek scholar who worked at the Library of Alexandria.

Letters flow together to make words: nouns, proper nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, pronouns, possessive pronouns, prepositions, the definite article and indefinite articles ... think of them as birds in a flock. Each bird has its own job to do within the flock, and every bird is great the job. Like birds which wheel together to form the flock, Words flow together to make sentences ... but again, inside the sentences are "globs" of words which perform different jobs to make the sentence go. Phrases, independent clauses, subordinate clauses, conditional clauses, and the cases and tenses —

Before the panic sets in, STOP! Take some deep breaths. Grab a cup of tea. (Coffee, if you prefer. Some brain-food on the side is a good idea. Your brain "thinks" on carbohydrates. You need an excuse to go for a cookie? Here it is, ready-made!)

What you need right here is a GLOSSARY OF GRAMMAR. A short-version which states, simply and clearly, what all the confusing stuff means. First: nail down what it all means. Second: see how it's all used. Third: practise using it. Done.

So let's begin with an A-Z of Fundamental Grammar which demystifies the subject ... and then we'll look at how it goes together. Trust us: it's not as bad as it looks.

CAVEAT: The subject of grammar is vast. It fills books ... thick books with small type. In fact, the subject is much too vast to be tackled on a webpage like this! However, we can get you off to a flying start and recommend some extremely good reference works, into which you can delve for more detail, if or when you need it. On this page you will find all the grammar you should need to take an extremely good crack at bullet-proof fiction writing; but if you need more — you'll know. And we'll tell you exactly where to go for the rest. Right here, right now, we're going to hit the high points, the "must haves" of grammar.

So --

Let's get up close, personal and physical with this beast:

The A-Z of Grammar

(Lite Edition!)

The subject performs the verb upon the direct object. The GIRL baked the COOKIES. The BOY washed the DISHES. The MAN took out the TRASH. (See Passive Voice.) Use of the active voice makes for writing which is much more involving and exciting; editors have a passion for it.

A describing word added to a noun to better define it. A SMALL house. The GREEN ball. A BATTERED car.

A complex adjective made up of two or more words. The UNBELIEVABLY BADLY DRESSED woman. An ENORMOUSLY RICH AND VERY ELEGANT woman.

A describing word added to a verb to better define it. He drove MADLY. She sang BEAUTIFULLY. It won EASILY.

A complex adverb made up of two or more words. They were CAUTIOUSLY, CAREFULLY shopping for socks. We watched CLOSELY AND SINGLE-MINDEDLY.

One statement preceding another, and used to modify it. "Some children are well behaved, and their parents don't know how lucky they are." "Hospital is a place for sick people ... and their nurses and visitors, of course."

The process of making the subject, verb and object agree, in term of their number (singular or plural). The dog barks. Two dogs bark. Six kids riding bikes. An orchestra tours. A team plays. The orchestra on its stage. Ten girls in for different cars ... two girls, both in the same car. A herd in its paddock. A herd stampedes. One cow. Three cows run. One sheep, two sheep. A flock of sheep graze in its meadow.

See modal.

A set of related words, contained within a sentence, containing a verb. "The chorus came onstage, singing like a troupe of angels." "I watched the car drive away, its exhaust streaming oil smoke.

A noun which, though singular, implies a group: A collection. A swarm. A multitude. A school (of fish). A flock. A pod (of dolphins). A pride (of lions.) A herd.

Two words comparing the state of quality of something. GOOD, BETTER ... FINE, FINER ... BAD, WORSE ... TERRIBLE, MORE TERRIBLE ... LOVELY, LOVELIER. (See Superlative.)

Two words used as an adjective, and normally hyphenated into a "super adjective." Big-eyed Stares. His thick-crust pizza. Many-colored robes. Fast-growing plants. Gap-toothed grin. A broken-down car. One badly-written novel.

The noun plus all its modifying words, as a group. All shops on the mall. Every boat in the harbor. Jim's three dogs. The biggest, roundest apple pie. Mom's all-time favorite movie.

An instance where the same verb has two subjects, both of whom become one. Cats and dogs love summertime. Men and women go to the movies. Women and children leave first. Girls and women shop for dresses. Kids and dogs are always playing. Cars and bikes share the same road.

A set of related words within a sentence, which pivot on a condition. "We're going to the movie, if we can get tickets." "I worried about him, if he were safe." "He arrived at night, as if he were unaccustomed to traveling by day."

Words used to stick together words, or word-groups (clauses and phrases), and even sentences. And, plus, but, yet, if, though, for, because, not that. "Jim saw the movie, AND afterwards went for coffee." "Mandy was caught in the rain, BUT she had an umbrella." "Jack walked Butch, THOUGH he hates dogs."

Pairs of related connectives, showing the relationships between things or people: either/or; neither/nor; both/and; not only/but also; whether/or. Either John or Jim is responsible. Neither Jane nor Sally was there. Both Mickey and Donald are cartoons. Not only Tweetie, but Sylvester too. I asked whether Bob or Jack was at home.

See Object. See also Indirect Object.

Two or more sentences joined together with little or no punctuation, when the sentences are topically unconnected and should be separate.

The form of a verb setting its time frame in the future. Jack will be at the show. I will be able to attend. The team will be competing. The two boats will be leaving. A platoon will be deployed.

A way of referring to past events in the present tense, such as when describing events in a movie or drama. "Judah ben-Hur is a chariot-racing legend." "Macbeth is a character in torment." "Achilles fights the best warriors at Troy." "Hector fights well, but is defeated."

A verb stripped to its stem and used as an order. Go! Fire! Shoot! Duck! Drive! Stop! Help!

A statement, or statements, following the restrictive "if," which is/are joined to the first part of the sentence with "were," not "was." If wishes were horses, we'd all be cowboys. If Mary were wise, she'd have bought the book. I told him, if John were taller, he'd have reached that candy bar and eaten it first!"

The thing or entity indirectly affected by the verb. The boy brings the books to the TEACHER. Mom made a cup of tea for ALICE. Two cats were stalking mice in the GARDEN. Helen brings the books to Roger. Mom baked a peach pie for the kids. The man driving the tractor plowed the field. The teacher wrote complex algebra on the blackboard, boring the class.

A clause (see) which can function independently of the rest of the sentence.

The form of the verb which is absolutely unrestricted by any condition or modification. No noun, pronoun, tense or case is applied to it. To swim. To fly. To jump. To read. To feast. To watch. To dig. To play.

A phrase using the infinitive of a verb. She wanted to go home. They wanted to play too. The dogs were loosed to run. The artist longed to paint her portrait. A writer wants only to write a great book (and get paid for it!).

A word which forms a question. Why? What? When? How? Which? Whose? Yes? Why not?

The verb's "helper" or "support" term, which expresses the possibility, probability, ability and imperative nature of the verb. MUST go; CAN'T play; CAN study; SHOULD be arriving; MIGHT be writing; MAY attend; WILL paint; SHALL call.

The word, or word group, which sets limits on (restricts) a noun or verb. She danced very badly. His limited pilotal skills. Palomino horses. Cars painted red. Guys wearing big cowboy hats.

NOUN (Common Noun; see also Proper Noun and Collective Noun)
A naming word, defining a "class" of thing. A TABLE. Four CHAIRS. Two DOGS. The MAN. An AIRCRAFT. The HELICOPTER. Three tall TREES. Two white CATS. (See Proper Noun)

Two or more words, used together, to amplify the simple noun. The ball. The big, blue ball. The fish. The small, silver, fast-swimming fish. A horse. A big, sleek, chestnut-red horse.

The thing or entity which is affected by (acted upon) by the verb. The boy sang the SONG. The cat ate the FISH. The lady baked the COOKIES. (See also Indirect Object.)

A group of words which express material or thoughts digressing from the main flow of the sentence. "She came from Chicago (the last city I'd have imagined), and had a hard time settling here." "The dog had a bone (not the best thing for them to eat), and wouldn't give it up."

The form of a verb where the subject has been inverted: The story was written by Jeremy. The cake was sliced by Mother. The cat was bathed by John. The resulting wounds were stitched by Doctor Paul. (See Active Voice)

The form of the verb setting its time frame into the past. Jim was late. Mandy was unable to play. I had been delayed. It was a disaster. Bradley had been fired off the job. The dogs dug up the yard. The boat sank on the reef. The birds ate every grain.

Sentence structure where the gist, or thrust, of the sentence, rather than leading is, is used last. On Five Mile Reef, long after dark, the boat sank. Just before dawn, when the sky is pink, the cockatoos come to the pond. On Kenya's Lake Victoria, Maria was thrilled to photograph the flamingos.

A set of related words without a subject, grouping within a sentence. "Like the sea, his eyes were blue-green." The big white cat, wanting to play, pounced on my feet." "Aunt May is still a lovely woman, and well past seventy" "Tom was being an idiot, which was quite usual." PLURAL
Two or more things or entities. Two boys. Three girls. A regiment of cleaners. A handful of flowers. A bunch of idiots. An army of students. Swarms of bees. Clouds of flies. Masses of books. Piles of unwashed socks. A pod of dolphins. A pride of lions. Three prides of lions. A pack of wolves. Two packs of wolves. (See Collective Noun.)

Two or more of something. Dogs. Horses. Six policemen. Five gold rings. Three men and a baby (= 4 individuals). Four weddings and a funeral (= 5 individuals). Dark Lords of the Sith.

A stand-in word, contextually taking the place of the possessive form a common or proper noun. Jim's = HIS. Joan's = HER(S). Mary's and Robert's = THEIR(S). The car's = ITS. Also MY, MINE, OUR(S), YOUR(S).

Literally, all of the sentence except the subject! Everything the sentence has to say about the subject.

A syllable add the beginning of a word, to modify (usually to reverse) its meaning. INeffective. UNsurprising. UNdue. INsubstantial. INdefinite. UNcariing. (See also Suffix.)

A word which fixes the position of a thing or entity in space and time. On, in, behind, before, above, below, beyond, beside, between... "Behind the washer." "Under the car." "In the cupboard." "Below average." "Between the pages."

A preposition fixes the position in space and time of a thing or entity, which is the subject of the preposition. A prepositional phrase is the preposition with its subject, and any modifying words. "Behind the beat-up car." "Under the old music stand." "In the big, fancy box." "Beside the tired old gentleman."

The form of a verb setting the time frame to the present. I run. I am running. He is riding. She is shopping. He throws. He drops. It is coming. It stops. We are reading. They write.

A stand-in word, contextually taking the place of a common or proper noun. I, me, him, her, it, they, them, we, us. (See possessive pronoun.)

The specific noun, Capitalized, referring to one thing or entity only: Susan; Roger Smith; Detroit; the Commonwealth of Australia; Voyage of the Beagle; Hamlet; Star Wars; My Fair Lady; Mickey Mouse; Felix the Cat; Rover; my dog Butch.

To all practical purposes, very like a modifier (see); often used as an "intensifier." Like a modifier: He was OFTEN early; she was FREQUENTLY out of synch; it was RARELY good enough. As an intensifier: She was EXTREMELY clever. He was the GREATEST athlete. It was ABSOLUTELY the worst time.

Pairs of words (compound pronouns) which stick together like bacon and eggs and show a relationship. Each other; one another.

A clause (see) leading off with a relative pronoun (read on!) ...

A pronoun (see) which leads off relative or subordinate clauses (!). Subordinate "structures" within a sentence depend on the rest of the sentence to make sense (see Independent clause). Who, whom, whose, whoever, that, which, whichever, what, whatever. "He spoke of his sister, who is in Ontario." "Bob is in class today, which is amazing." "I brought the whole kaboodle ... whatever a kaboodle is." "Maud pointed out Janet, whose car was double-parked." "Tell me about the sweater which is on that chair."

An adjective (see) which restricts the scope of the noun (see) to which it is applied. All STRAY dogs will be impounded. LOUD music must be turned down. The blue dresses WHICH SHRANK were discarded. The shop's FIRE DAMAGED stock will be sold at sale prices.

Two or more sentences joined together with little or no punctuation, when the sentences are topically unconnected and should be separate.

A module of spoken expression which is complete within itself, and makes sense independent of any other material.

An arrangement of words which does not make an independently sensible sentence; it needs more to make sense as a sentence.

A term or phrase which modifies the gist of a sentence, according to external criteria. "He is a good student, in my opinion." "Though some people disagree, Singapore is a great tourist destination." "In lieu of better evidence, the court accepted his testimony." "Bill's cat notwithstanding, felines are a fastidious species."

The simplest reference to actions in the past: I RAN; Bob SANG; we ARRIVED; she WANTED; they TOOK.

The simplest reference to actions in the present: I RUN; Bob SINGS; we ARRIVE; she WANTS; they TAKE.

The simplest reference to actions in the future: I WILL RUN; Bob WILL SING; we WILL ARRIVE; she WILL WANT; they WILL TAKE.

Only one of something. A cat. One boy. The dog. That house. This tree. A beautiful garden. An untidy street. The other girl. My feeling. Our thought. His blue teeshirt. Their cottage in Exeter.

The subject of a lot of debate recently, on how intelligent this point of grammar is! Decades ago, the infinitive TO GO was split into TO boldly GO (Star Trek), and has been iconified. The fact is, "To go boldly" just does not sound the same (or as punchy), and many people contend that the "don't split infinitives rule" should be dropped. "To come quietly" is an UNsplit infinitive, like "To write beautifully." NOTE: spoken dialog (shown within speech marks) is often written in dialect, reflecting actual spoken forms. In this instance, split infinitives are of no account, since they are part of the character's speech patterns, and his/her dialog is used to define who he/she is."

The entity which performs, or owns, the verb. The DOLL actually FELL downstairs. My DOGS always BARK at strangers. Four MEN in the club area ARE FIGHTING over politics.

See Relative clause. Subordinates (clauses and phrases) depend on the rest of the sentence to function, and begin with relative pronouns (see). "Mary told me everything, which pleased me." "He insisted it was alien, whatever he meant by that!" "She arrived with her Mom, who drives a red Jaguar."

One or more syllables added to the end of a word to modify it: hapLESS; useLESSLY; conformITY; pluralITY; lightLESSNESS; lightING; sadLY; ineptITUDE; educationALLY; fractionAL; fantasticALLY; vanishING; bookISH; childISHLY; pointEDLY; swimmINGLY. (See also Prefix.)

A word, or words, describing the most attenuated of something. BEST. WORST. LONGEST. SHORTEST. MOST BEAUTIFUL. LOVELIEST. MOST HORRIFIC. FASTEST. SLOWEST. MOST AWE-INSPIRING. MOST BORING. (See also Comparative.)

A suffix to a sentence, turning a statement into a question. He's coming home at five, ISN'T HE? Your cat is a Persian, RIGHT? It's a great film, DON'T YOU THINK?

The exact form of a verb which defines its time frame: Past tense; present tense; future tense. The verb itself changes (ie., Present tense becomes simple past tense: sing ... sang; bring .. brought; beg ... begged), and is accompanied by changes in the noun and pronoun forms: I was told; we were sent; they were sanctioned; Julia had to leave.

An action, or "doing" word. Running, jumping swimming, singing, riding, talking, wanting, feeling, thinking, breaking, mending.

Two or three words attached to a a verb, amplifying it. Whipping UP (cookies). Running AFTER (someone). Flying OVER (hills). Ie., the verbs have become complex, or compound: To whip up; to run after; to fly over.

The form of a verb which differentiates between the passive and the active (See). (Active: The man parks the car. Passive: The car is parked by the man.)

Now, you at least know what people are talking about when they say incomprehensible things about sentence structure! Read through the Grammar Glossary, but don't even try to memorize it. However, refer back to it when you read through the section below.

Hang tight: you're almost there. It'll all start making sense, and here is a great thought: When you understand something, you don't have to remember it. You just know. That's our object here. Grammar made doable. (Okay, nothing's going to make it easy, but we can break your fall!)

Turn page to
GRAMMAR: The Absolute Basics ... get this "down" if you do nothing else!

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