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Grammatical Correctness

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Almost every American who has completed the sixth grade has had the chief rules of grammar presented to him, but few persons retain all these rules. Most adults find them-selves with but a hazy recollection of the irregular verbs, the rules covering agreement of subject and predicate, and the correct use of subject and object forms. An occasional review of grammar is helpful to anyone.

This section will not give you a complete review, but will point out some of the most common grammatical errors and the way to correct them.

The Right Verb Form

Although our language contains approximately 8,000 verbs, only about 200 of them are irregular. You remember learning the principal parts of a verb—the present tense, the past tense, and the past participle; and you know that the regular verbs form the past tense and the past participle by adding ed to the present tense, as for example:

Present—walk; Past—walked; Past Participle—walked

Irregular verbs usually have different forms for the past tense and the past participle, and this irregularity of form causes most of the trouble. Remember that the past tense must never be used with any form of the verb be or the verb have, while the past participle always requires the help of one of these verbs.

The list below gives the principal parts of the most troublesome irregular verbs. Be sure you know every one of them. Repeat the parts of each verb after the words in parentheses at the head of the column; for example: "Today I lie down; yesterday I lay down; I have lain down." When-ever you find that you have been using an incorrect form, repeat the correct form ten times to fix it in your mind.

Agreement of Subject and Predicate

There are only two problems of number that are likely to cause you trouble. They involve (I) the compound subject; (2) the subject separated from its verb by a prepositional phrase.


Of course you remember that every clause and every sentence has a subject and a predicate. The subject is the person or thing about which something is said; the predicate tells something about the subject.

When the subject consists of two or more words joined by and, it is said to be compound. For example, in the sentence, "John and Harry are brothers," the words John and Harry form a compound subject.

When the compound subject conveys one idea, it requires a singular verb. When it conveys more than one idea, it requires a plural verb.

EXAMPLES: 1. Bread and jam tastes good. (one idea)

2. Bread and jam are cheaper today. (two ideas)

In the first example, bread spread with jam constitutes one food; in the second example, bread and jam are considered as two articles of food.

There is one important exception to this rule; if the subject words joined by and are preceded by such words as each, every, or many a, a singular verb is required.

EXAMPLES: 1. Each clerk and stenographer is asked to report at 8:30 A.M.

2. Every man, woman, and child was saved.

3. Many a bond and stock has decreased in value.

In some cases the parts of a compound subject are joined by alternative words such as or, either—or, neither—nor, and not only—but also. When you find the parts of a compound subject joined by any of these alternative words, remember that the verbs must be singular if both subject words are singular, and plural if both subject words are plural. If the subject parts differ in number, the verb agrees with the noun that is nearest it.

EXAMPLES: 1. A pen or pencil is an acceptable gift.

(Both subject words are singular.)

2. Pens or pencils are acceptable gifts.

(Both parts of the subject are plural.)

3. Either my father or the boys are going.

(Boys, the subject word nearest the verb, is plural.)


Some persons are confused when a subject is separated from its verb by a prepositional phrase. If you will read such sentences, omitting the prepositional phrase, you can always tell what the subject should be. In the following examples, the subject is in italics, and the prepositional phrase is enclosed in parentheses.

EXAMPLES: 1. Each (of the men) is to receive a prize.

2. Neither (of the boys) has returned.

3. A set (of those books) is for you.

You find that the subject in each sentence is singular and that the verb, therefore, must also be singular.

Pronoun Problems


Doesn't it sound familiar to hear someone say, "They invited you and I?" This is an example of one of the commonest mistakes in grammar. Here we have a compound object—that is, an object formed by two personal pronouns in the objective case joined by and. You will never experience any trouble with such constructions if you will consider each complete idea separately in the following manner.

EXAMPLE'S: 1. They invited you.

They invited me.

They invited you and me.

2. The manager hired him. The manager hired me.

The manager hired him and me.

In the preceding examples, the compound objects are both objects of verbs. But prepositions take objects, also. Prepositions, you recall, are words showing relationship, as, in, by, from, toward, over, under, between, etc.

No one would say, "Forward the mail to I," and yet many persons say, "Forward the mail to Mother and I." Here again you can always tell which form of the pronoun to use if you separate each sentence into as many ideas as it has parts in its compound object.

EXAMPLE: It was a great blow to her. It was a great blow to me.

It was a great blow to her and me.

One of the most troublesome prepositions is between, which always implies two objects, and therefore must have as its object either a plural noun or pronoun, or a compound object. Thus we must say, for example, "between us" or "between you and me," not "between you and I." Say, "John sat between her and me," not, "John sat between she and I."


When a pronoun is followed by a noun which stands for the same person or thing, the noun and the pronoun are said to be in apposition to each other. Appositives must be in the same case—that is, both must be either subject forms or object forms. Even persons who know this rule some-times say, "Us men will take care of that," or, "Give the credit to we men. If these combinations of noun and pro-noun confuse you, omit the noun and at once you will know which pronoun form to use.

EXAMPLES: 1. We will take care of that.

We men will take care of that.

2. Give the credit to us. Give the credit to us men.


Pronouns, we know, take the place of nouns. Instead of saying, "Mr. Smith went into Mr. Smith's office and hung up Mr. Smith's hat," we say, "Mr. Smith went into his office and hung up his hat." When using a pronoun, be sure that it agrees with its antecedent (the word to which it refers) in person, number, and gender. Many speakers are careless about using a plural pronoun in referring to a singular antecedent. For example, we often hear, "Every one of the men are invited to bring their wives." The suggestion on Page 44 about omitting the prepositional phrase in order to determine the correct verb form will also help you to decide what pronoun to use in referring to the subject. Every one, the subject of the sentence, is singular; therefore it requires a singular verb form and a singular pronoun. This means the sentence should read, "Every one (of the men) is invited to bring his wife."

Remember that each, either, neither, another, and all compound words ending in one, body, or thing are singular.

Adjectives and Adverbs

An adjective describes a noun or a pronoun. An adverb modifies a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. Ordinarily, an adverb tells how, when, or where.

In some sentences a word that follows the verb and appears to modify it really refers to the subject. Should you say, "John feels bad about the mistake," or, "John feels badly about the mistake"? The word bad, which is used here in the sense of "distressed" or "sorry," refers to John, not to his manner of feeling; therefore it is correct to say, "John feels bad." You will have no difficulty with sentences of this kind if you will keep in mind the "rule of the five senses":

Verbs of the five senses (look, sound, smell, taste and feel) are followed by adjectives unless they mean action.

This rule applies also to a few other verbs, including stand, seem, appear, become, grow, and prove.

EXAMPLES: 1. He looks sad. (Adjective)

(Looks does not denote action.)

2. He looks up quickly. (Adverb) (Looks denotes action.)

3. He grew apprehensive. (Adjective)

(Grew does not denote action.)

4. The child grew rapidly. (Adverb)

(Grew denotes action.)

Double Negatives

Of course you know that using two negatives in one statement is considered a glaring error. You wouldn't say, "He didn't give me no money," when you mean, "He didn't give me any money." But besides the common negatives—no, not, neither, nobody, and nothing—there are other words, such as hardly, scarcely, and barely, which have a negative meaning and must be used with care. You must be on your guard also against using two negative words that are so far apart that they may escape recognition as a double negative. Here are a few examples:


1. He couldn't hardly see. 1. He could hardly see.

2. There wasn't scarcely 2. There was scarcely enough

enough food. food.

3. He didn't do it, I don't 3. I don't believe he did it. believe.

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