10 English grammar rules to live by

With term paper writing season just around the corner, here are 10 English grammar rules and style tips so your writing is up to snuff (that means good!).

This is why grammar is important, people. (Credit: Playbuzz)

This is why grammar is important, people. (Credit: Playbuzz)

You can also use these writing tips to make your blogs, Facebook and journals more professional.

Grammar rules to live by

1. Affect vs. effect: Affect is a verb, while effect is a noun. Ex: Air pollution affects your ability to breathe. The effect of air pollution is too much coughing.

2. Its vs. it’s: As Bugs Bunny would say, “Pronoun trouble.” You see this wrong everywhere. And no, majority doesn’t rule on this grammatical rule. It’s is a contraction of “it is” or “it has.” Its is the possessive of the pronoun it, or something that belongs to it. Just as we don’t use an apostrophe in words like hers or yours, we don’t use it in “its” either. Ex: It’s cold outside. The tree lost its leaves in autumn.

3. Who vs. whom: This one can be tricky. Who is used for the subject of the sentence. Whom is used as the object of a verb. Ex: Who is the quarterback? Philip is the quarterback. (Philip is the subject of the sentence.) Whom is the team playing? The team is playing the Tigers. (The Tigers is the object of the verb.)

4. To vs. too: This is an easy one. Educationbug.org explains: “To is a particle. The infinitive in English consists of two parts: the particle to and the verb.” Ex: To eat, to sleep, to take a test. “Too is an adverb, and two different meanings give it two different distinct placements.” It’s used to express excessiveness. Ex: You worry too much. Isn’t it just too obvious?

5. “Is” is capitalized in a title: You see this wrong everywhere, too. Some people think capitalization in a title is based on word size. That’s not true, it goes by what part of speech the word is (plus the first and last words are always capitalized). Verbs, nouns, adjectives, and adverbs are capitalized in a title. Since is is a verb, it is capitalized. Ex: The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.

6. I couldn’t care less: The correct words are “couldn’t care,” not “could care.” Since the phrase is meant to be insulting, if you couldn’t care less, then you have absolutely no care at all left for the person or situation. If you “could care less,” then you have some care, and the insult isn’t as effective.

7. Plurals of foreign words: For a more academic lesson, the Oxford Dictionary explains in “Plurals of English nouns taken from Latin or Greek,” “As a rule of thumb, the Latin-style plural is appropriate to formal, scientific, or technical writing, while the English plural is better suited to everyday language.” Here are some singular/plural words: criterion/criteria, stratum/strata, larva/larvae, nucleus/nuclei, addendum/addenda, moratorium/moratoria.

8. “I could’ve done it,” not “could of”: Could’ve sounds a lot like “could of” when you speak, but when you write it down, the verb tense should be could’ve, or could have. There is no such wording as “could of” in English.

9. Literally: When Taylor Swift fans say they are literally going to die when they see her in concert, they don’t mean they will actually keel over (or so I assume?!). Too often we use literally when we are just excited or want to exaggerate. Use literally sparingly and only when you mean exactly what you are saying. Ex: The old, dented can literally blew its top when it exploded.

10. Italics and underlines: The Writing Center at Harvard says in “Tips on Grammar, Punctuation and Style,” “You can use one or the other but never both. They mean the same thing—underlining used to be a copy-editing mark to tell printers to set certain words in italic type. Underlining italics meant the editor wanted the words taken out of italics. So underlining your already- italicized phrase is, in effect, like using a double negative.”

What other grammar pet peeves would you like to add to the list?

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