Bottom-line Grammar

We probably shouldn’t have to study grammar in College Composition I, but the fact is not everybody who gets into college is comfortable with grammar basics. We’ll drill or review grammar basics in class only if necessary, but I will enforce strict standards for minimally correct writing.

FAILS FOR GRAMMAR
Papers that violate these very basic rules will fail, at least temporarily, but you’ll have every opportunity to revise your work until your writing is error-free and worthy of a grade.

If your paper fails for basic grammar, I’ll refer you back to this post for advice on how to correct mistakes. I’ll add to this list of 13 basic rules if other errors show up in papers often enough to warrant a new rule.

Rule 1. There/Their/They’re
They’re has only one use. It’s a contraction for They are.
Example: They’re really tasty.
Their has only one use. It’s a possessive for Them.
Example: Their chips are really tasty.
There is used the rest of the time, as an adverb of place, or as a pronoun to introduce sentences.
Example: There are plenty of chips over there.

Rule 2. Its/It’s
It’s has only one use. It’s a contraction for It is.
Example: It’s a simple rule.
Its has only one use. It’s a possessive for It.
Example: Stand that baby on its head.

Rule 3. The reason is because
Because means for the reason that.
It’s repetitiously and repeatedly redundant to say that “the reason for something is because….”
Wrong: The reason he lost his license is because he got so many tickets for speeding and reckless driving.
Right: He lost his license because he got so many tickets for speeding and reckless driving.
Right: He lost his license by driving recklessly and speeding.

Rule 4. Pronoun genders and number
It’s considered socially insensitive to automatically use male pronouns where a person’s gender is not known.
Socially insensitive: Be careful with your antecedents, or your reader will lose his place.

The common solution, of mixing a singular noun with a plural pronoun, however, is worse.
Grammatically incorrect: Be careful with your antecedents, or your reader will lose their place.
One solution is to alternate male and female pronouns in your writing.
Correct: Be careful with your antecedents, or your reader will lose her place.
Another solution is to stick with plurals.
Correct: Be careful with your antecedents, or your readers will lose their place.

Rule 5. Count and Noncount Nouns
Use the word number, not the word amount, to refer to things that can be counted, like votes. Use the word amount, not the word number, to refer to things that cannot be counted, like voting. The easy way to determine whether the noun can be counted or not is to apply the word many or much.

How many votes? Votes can be counted. Therefore we talk about the number of votes.
Correct: Early registration increased the number of votes cast in the last election: two million votes.

How much voting? Voting cannot be counted. Therefore we talk about the amount of voting.
Correct: Early registration increased the amount of voting in the last election: much more than last year.

Use the word fewer, not the word less, to refer to things that can be counted, like votes. Use the word less, not the word fewer, to refer to things that cannot be counted, like voting. The easy way to determine whether the noun can be counted or not is to apply the word many or much.

How many votes?
Votes can be counted. Therefore we talk about more or fewer votes.
Correct: Fewer votes were cast this year than last year.

How much voting? Voting cannot be counted. Therefore we talk about more or less voting.
Correct: Less voting occurs in off-Presidential years than in Presidential-election years.

Rule 6. To/Too/Two
This one should be learned before high school.
Two has only one use. It’s a number.
Example: I’ll take two of those.
Too is a conjunction meaning and or in addition.
Example: I’d like one of those too.
Example: Too, I’d like one of those. (This use is rare.)
Too is also an adverb meaning excessive.
Example: Those kids are too cute.
To is used in every other case: to form infinitives, as a preposition to indicate place, or to mean roughly for the purpose.
Example: To get to London, to go to the concert, you’ll need to cross the bridge.

Rule 7. Periods and Commas Inside the Quotes
Always, always, always, always, always. Periods and commas always go inside the quotes.
Always: Election day is not just a “day,” but could really be called “election month.”
Never: Election day is not just a “day”, but could really be called “election month”.

Rule 8. Then/Than
Clear rules determine when these two words are used. They are in no way interchangeable.
Then: Used for time: Then we had ice cream; now we have ice cream soup.”
Then: Used for consequence, with if: “If it melts, then we’ll have soup.”
Than: Used for comparisons only, such as finer: “Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina.”
Again, only with comparisons, such as all the other options: “Other than waiting, we had nothing to do.”

Rule 9. Affect/Effect
Affect (the verb) and Effect (the noun) are interchangeable about one time in a million. Forget about that one time; you’ll never need it. Instead, concentrate on the 999,999 times you’ll be correct by following this rule:
Affect: The cold does not affect me. Affect is a verb.
Effect: The cold has no effect on me. Effect is a noun.
Affect/Affectation: The cold does not affect me, but I pretend it does: it’s an affectation of mine. Affectation is the noun form of the verb affect. Effect has no “noun form” because it’s a noun!
(If you must know about that one time in a million, I’ll tell you, but I shouldn’t risk it: “To effect that change, we had to pull all his teeth.” The meaning of this use of effect is “to put it into effect.”)

Rule 10. Your/You’re
You’re has only one use. It’s a contraction for You are.
Example: You’re a fine writer.
Your has only one use. It’s a possessive adjective for You.
Example: Your writing is quite strong.

Rule 11. Single Quotes/Double Quotes
Other countries can do what they like, but in America, we use Double Quotes for everything!
Even if you’re just using quotes ironically, or for another special purpose, they’re always double, not single quotes.
Correct: McDonald’s “healthy menu” is meant as a joke.
Correct: The word “vague” shows up too often in my notes.

The only proper use of Single Quotes is inside Double Quotes.
Correct: “All our restaurants offer ‘healthy’ menu items,” said Ray Croc.

Rule 12. The Banned 2nd Person
Although it’s technically not bad grammar, writing 2nd-person sentences that address the reader as “you” is banned from academic writing.
Incorrect: You are far more likely to be pulled over for speeding if you are a teenager.
Correct: Teenagers are far more likely to be pulled over for speeding.

Rule 13. Plurals and Possessives
Writers who make mistake the plural for a possessive once will often do so repeatedly. An occasional typo won’t trigger a Fails for Grammar, but pervasive errors will.
Incorrect: America is the worlds most obese nation.
Correct: America is the world’s most obese nation.
Correct: Earth is fine but there may be other worlds we could occupy.

The rule is only slightly more complicated when a plural is formed without an “s.”
Incorrect: Democracy is every citizens responsibility.
Incorrect: Democracy is the peoples’ responsibility.
Correct: Democracy is the people’s responsibility and every citizen’s privilege.
Correct: Democracy is strong when all citizens’ rights are observed.

Today’s Exercise in 3 Parts

Part 1: In a Reply to this post, identify the rules (if any) that this review has helped you understand.
Part 2: Open your A02 assignment and verify that you haven’t violated any of these rules.
Part 3: In a Reply to your own A02, leave this note: “I have verified that my writing does not violate the Bottom-line Grammar rules, cross my heart.”

About davidbdale

Inventor of and sole practitioner of 299-word Very Short Novels. www.davidbdale.wordpress.com
This entry was posted in davidbdale, Professor Post, x ICE (In-class Exercise), x Writing Tips. Bookmark the permalink.

34 Responses to Bottom-line Grammar

  1. bagofchips1comp says:

    Rules 9 and 13 talk about subjects I often question myself about. Rule 13 more so than 9.

    Like

  2. owllover1comp says:

    I knew the majority of these rules, however, I found the affect/effect rule to be incredibly helpful. I was always getting them confused.

    Like

    • davidbdale says:

      Thanks, owllover. For future reference, when using conjunctive adverbs (like however, nevertheless, furthermore, in addition), use a semicolon before and a comma after: I found the rules helpful; however, I will probably forget them.

      Like

  3. mazda1comp says:

    Rule #3 (Because) and Rule #9 (Affect/Effect) helped me the most because I feel these are the 2 biggest issues that I seem to struggle with. It is hard to recognize in your own writing while you are writing it. Definitely a great list of grammar rules to be looking at.

    Like

  4. bukowski1comp says:

    The rules that talk about the preference on gender and amount were quite helpful to me as I was aware they existed however I never had them well practiced.

    Like

  5. supafreak1comp says:

    Rules # 3,4,and 5 helped me the most.

    Like

  6. thefluxcapacitor1comp says:

    – Rule 4 is very helpful is a common problem I tend to have.
    – English is an annoying language.
    – “There are” is annoying.
    – “It’s” is a contraction of IT IS.
    – Because means “the reason for that”
    – Anything with “one” or “thing” is singular.
    – Everyone > His/Her
    – Stick with plurals to save yourself from gender problems.
    – You can’t count money. Less or more. You count dollars.
    – Many and much. Fewer and less.
    – Votes and voting. Count and non-count.
    – Than is only for comparisons!!!! I need to remember that 😀
    – Affect/Effect. Verb vs Noun.
    – the world affectation needs to burn in hell.

    BANNED 2ND PERSON. Don’t say you. Or else.
    Eliminate pronouns if you can, do it.

    Like

  7. sionnain1comp says:

    Rule 2: This helps because it has become almost impulsive to put an apostrophe after “it” to make it possessive.
    Rule 6: I often when writing write “to” instead of “too.” This happens to me especially when I am texting.
    Rule 9: Affect versus Effect is still pretty tricky even now. I will really have to refer to this page if I happen to use these words in my writing.

    Like

  8. aspiretoinspire1comp says:

    The Effect/Affect rule has always troubled me. Affect/Affectation presented a much easier approach to deciding of which one of the two to use.

    I also never knew that we never used single quotes.

    Like

  9. frozen81comp says:

    The rules were extremely helpful. The refresher of the affect/effect rule with help me succeed in my writing.

    Like

  10. rowansonlyjetsfan1comp says:

    Rule 9 was always a toss up for me, the whole affect is a verb and effect is a noun thing helped clarify. Rule 12 was helpful as well as I am sometimes subliminally guilty of this!

    Like

  11. vermster71comp says:

    Rules 4, 5, 9, 12, and 13 helped me out the most.

    Like

  12. treehugger361comp says:

    Rules 3,4,5, 9 and 12, really helped me understand the general basis of them. I had prior knowledge of the other rules, however they did clarify it a little bit more. Very helpful and will be using this as much as I can.

    Like

  13. gamer1comp says:

    This review helped me gain a better understanding of rules 3, 4, and 9. I would occasionally make at least one of these mistakes within my writing on longer assignments. But, these rules should really help me to remove such mistakes from my writing in the future.

    Like

  14. munchkin1comp says:

    Rule 9: Affect/Effect really helped me understand the difference between the two. In the past, I would always get them confused and not know which word to use. But thankfully now I know.

    Like

  15. thedawg1comp says:

    Rules 9 and 5 helped me the most. The difference between amount and number, and affect/effect are the most difficult rules to follow for me.

    Like

  16. thestayathomedad1comp says:

    Rule 4, 5, and 9 were useful to me.

    Like

  17. bloo1comp says:

    Rules 4. and 5. helped me understand.

    Like

  18. mica1comp says:

    I am definitely a culprit of bad grammar so this review helped me understand a lot. The only rule I recognized that I went over in high school was rule 1. The explanation of each rule is simple enough to understand; the hard part now will be to recognize when I am breaking these rules in my own writing.

    Like

  19. mandragon1comp says:

    This review was extremely helpful. I specifically liked rules 4,5, and 13 because I often fall victim to committing them.

    Like

  20. falooda1comp says:

    Rule 5. Count and Noncount Nouns and Rule 4. Pronoun genders and number have helped me

    Like

  21. kai1comp says:

    Rules 4, 5, 9, 13 helped me the most. They are mistakes made often in my writing and these explanations have helped me for my future pieces.

    Like

  22. perry1comp says:

    Rules 3,4, and 12 are the rules that I struggle the most with. The above tips and examples are extremely beneficial and will help me in the future with any questions or uncertainties. Rule 3 will be the hardest for me because I often use phrases such as “due to the fact” or “x because of y.” I will have to work harder at making sure I am not being repetitive.

    Like

  23. giantsfan1comp says:

    This review has helped me understand rules 8 and 9. I have always had an issue using these words correctly but this review has definitely cleared up any confusion.

    Like

  24. greentwinky1comp says:

    Rules 3, 4, 5, and 12 were very helpful and this clarification will prevent me from making the same mistakes in the future. Thank you!

    Like

  25. tiger1comp says:

    I found rule nine to be a great review. I am aware of the differences between affect and effect. However, I always mix up which one is which so I’m happy we went over it today.

    Like

  26. ovechkin1comp says:

    Number 2 and 11 were helpful. I wasn’t aware of of the Its rule, and I was never sure about the singular quotation rule. I used singular quotes wrongly in my letter to the editor.

    Like

  27. velociraptor1comp says:

    rule 7:Periods and Commas Inside the Quotes and rule 9:Affect/Effect
    I have had issues with these rules before but now I understand

    Like

  28. garwin1comp says:

    This post helped me get a better understanding of rules 4 and 5.

    Like

  29. syntaxattack1comp says:

    Rule 7. Periods and Commas Inside the Quotes

    I did not know that they are always inside the quotes, but now I do. Thank you.

    Like

  30. dean1comp says:

    Rule 9: I know sometimes I screw up the use of affect or effect, and rule 12 because I tend to refer to the intended audience as you.

    Like

  31. jaime1comp says:

    Rule 13, Rule 9, and Rule 5 will really help in the future, help me avoid making those mistakes in the future.

    Like

  32. eagles1comp says:

    Rule 1: There, They’re, and Their has helped me because i am often getting this wrong.

    Like

  33. sparky1comp says:

    Rule 12: The Banned Second Person helped me because I am guilty of doing this often.

    Like

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