Grammar questions answered

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Question 1. I would like John and me/I to continue sharing them.

 At least you didn’t commit the common error of using “myself”. Let’s dissect this sentence. The main verb is “like”. The subject of the sentence is who is doing the liking; therefore, the subject is “I”. The object of the liking is the sharing. Imagine the object of the verb is something that you could do on your own, like winning the lottery. Could you say “I would like I to win the lottery”? Clearly the answer would be “I would like me to win the lottery.”

This is like the question of who and whom. Remember we use whom when it is the object of the main verb, even if it is the subject of a secondary verb.

But the best way is to rephrase the sentence “I would like to continue sharing them with John”

Question 2. I am in a perpetual or perpetually bad mood.

Since “perpetual” modifies “mood” it’s an adjective; use “perpetual”. “Perpetually” would have to modify a verb. I’m perpetually running out of patience. I guess you could argue that “perpetually” modifies “am” in the sense that the state of being is ongoing. But to support that meaning we would change the syntax, to “I am perpetually in a bad mood.”

Question 3. We need time for us/ourselves.

Since this is a reflexive sense, the correct pronoun is ourselves.

Question 4. Is/are three pairs of pants enough?

Are three cups of coffee enough? Don’t get confused by the apparent pluralism of “pairs of pants.” The key factor is “three”. But a tougher question is: What if it were one pair of pants? A: Is one pair of pants enough? I guess it depends on where you are going.

What part of speech is there?

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What part of speech is there? I received the following question in my free grammar help:

What is the subject in the following sentence? “There were a great number of dead leaves lying on the ground.” If it is “dead leaves,” what part of speech is “There” in this sentence?

Recall that there are 8 parts of speech. These are identified by their function in a sentence. The 8 parts of speech are verb, noun, adverb, adjective, pronoun, preposition, conjunction and interjection. Sentences convey information about something that is happening, so the first place to start is to identify what is happening: it can be either an activity or a state of being. In this case, it is an activity, even if not involving a lot of movement.

If you get rid of all the extra information, the sentence is about leaves lying on the ground: the main verb in the sentence is “lying.”

The subject is what is doing the lying: “leaves” (the word “dead” is an adjective describing the leaves).

So “there were” lets us know that it was happening in the past (as opposed to “there are” or “there will be”).

That means “there were” describes the time of the action, so “there” is an adverb. The actual verb it modifies is “are.” This is a state-of-being verb, which doesn’t make it any less a verb.

We could revise the sentence from passive voice to active voice: A great number of dead leaves were lying on the ground.

What part of speech is there?

But, “there” is not always an adverb. It can also be a noun. When you say something like “Sit there,” the word “there” refers to a place. Therefore it’s a noun. Remember, a noun is a person, place, thing, idea, or concept.

There can also be a pronoun. In the sentence “There shall come a time…”, there functions as a pronoun.

And, yet another function: it can be an adjective. When it is used after a demonstrative pronoun or a noun modified by a demonstrative pronoun, it’s considered an adjective. For example, in the sentence “That man there is the one who robbed the bank,” it acts as an adjective, modifying “man.”

Transitive past participles

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I received the following free grammar question:

For every transitive past participle, is the following true? He has been done=He is done e.g. 1. He has been killed =He is killed 2. He has been seen =He is seen 3.It has been eaten =It is eaten

Let’s begin by defining a couple of verb terms.

First transitive means it’s a verb that acts upon an object. Think of a verb like “throw”. You have to throw a thing, even if you throw a fit. A verb like “think” is intransitive. You can just think. You don’t even have to think of anything.

Next: the past participle is the form of the verb used with an auxiliary to indicate a past action. The auxiliary determines exactly when in the past the action occurred. Because these are transitive past participles, they are the object of the action.

Here are some examples of transitive past participles in action:

I have been helped. (past perfect)

He will have been helped. (future perfect)

She could have been helped. (past conditional)

The question is basically: can we change the auxiliary verb “have been” to “is” and retain the same meaning for the past perfect tense?

The answer is generally “yes”, but it becomes a little less natural English.

To say “he is killed” is absolutely correct English, yet it sounds a little awkward to me. I think that’s because I would equate “he has been killed” to “he is dead.” Now of course, the meaning of “he is dead” is not equivalent in every context. “He is dead” could mean from natural causes, but “he has been killed” can only mean something has killed him. But if you watch any movies, you might see a scene where someone is shot and another actor checks them and announces “he’s dead”, not “he is killed.” It’s just how we use the language.

He has been done. I think this one is clearly equivalent. He has received the action already. “He has been inducted into the army” or “he has been given his inoculation.” You could easily and naturally say “he’s done.”

He has been seen. This means he has been seen at some time in the past, but not necessarily right now. “He is seen” means he is being seen right now.

It has been eaten. This is the normal way to state this. “It is eaten” means the same thing, but seems less natural.

One of the biggest challenges of learning a language is learning these subtle variations in use.

Free Grammar Help: A run-on sentence

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Ariana asks the following grammar question,

Aggressive advertisements can backfire that’s why marketing directors consider them carefully

First, it’s a run-on sentence. This type of run-on sentence is called a “fused sentence” since there is no punctuation used to connect the two thoughts.

Here are three ways to fix a run-on sentence.

Use a semicolon.

Aggressive advertisements can backfire; that’s why marketing directors consider them carefully.

Add a period and a capital to create two short sentences.

Aggressive advertisements can backfire. That’s why marketing directors consider them carefully.

Use a comma and a conjunction.

Aggressive advertisements can backfire, so that’s why marketing directors consider them carefully.

My preference for this run-on sentence would be the semicolon solution. It creates a sentence with parallel structure, which helps the reader connect the logic. However, in my editing work, I sometimes come across clients whose writing is just full of run-on sentences. For those writers, I vary the way I fix the sentences, since a variety of sentence types makes for better writing.

Why Grammar Matters

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Grammar is merely the description of rules that govern a language. Our knowledge of grammar means we understand the difference between “I gave it to you” and “you gave it to me.” Even if I say (as Tarzan might) “Me gave it to you”, we understand the meaning from the syntax (word order.) But if Tarzan said “me gave it you”, things get a little fuzzy because we lost the preposition “to” indicating the direction of the giving. If Tarzan’s first language uses a different syntax then he might have said “you gave me it”, with the belief he was expressing that to you he gave it. So knowledge of grammar rules helps us express ideas.

Many people argue these days that grammar is not important. After all, if you understand what I am saying, then what difference does an apostrophe make? The answer is not much, most of the time. People learn a second language and manage to communicate. I stumbled through Mexico city, took the bus to Oaxaca and back and negotiated numerous situations, all based on two years of listening to Spanish language podcasts. But I wasn’t able to talk about theories of teaching and learning. I couldn’t have discussed with a Spanish teacher Freire’s theory of the Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Knowledge of grammar allows us to express ideas precisely.

Knowledge of grammar makes the difference between “my dad’s car” (the car belonging to my dad) and “my dads’ car” (the car belonging to my two dads–or my dads are gay!). Precise language use respects the difference between prosecute, persecute, and execute, all of which I’ve seen used to refer to what happened to the Japanese people on the West Coast during WW2. Knowledge of grammar is one of the ways that you show that you know what you are talking about, because you can express your ideas precisely.

There’s something else that’s even more important about grammar. The famous Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky believed that language is a fundamental part of cognition. What this means is that language is how we think. We think using words, and ideas are created out of language. So grammar not only matters for expressing your ideas, it matters for creating ideas as well.

This is relatively straightforward for ideas such as “I’m hungry” or “It’s time for me to go to work.” But if you want to pick up a book of philosophy, engineering, computer science, or history, you need to be able to deal with complex and subtle ideas. These can only be expressed precisely using precise grammar and vocabulary. To understand them requires an understanding of their expression.

Students often complain to me about studying vocabulary. When we teach that one word means the same as another word, they rightfully complain that there should only be one word. But this vast panoply of vocabulary comes to us because words often have slightly different meanings. Words can vary in connotation when they have almost the same denotation. A client asked me in my Free Grammar Help, the difference between “shout” and “scream”; upon reflection, I answered that I believe it is mostly in the quality of the emotion of the utterance.

But in advanced education, complex ideas are synthesized into specialized vocabulary expressed in precise ways. To navigate these waters, one must have excellent control over grammar. When I read a Ph.D. thesis for my thesis editing service, I don’t always understand all of the ideas being expressed. But, because I understand the grammar, I can precisely locate the ideas that I’m not familiar with and quickly find out about them. When I was studying learning disabilities, I had to do a lot of reading of published research about brain development and neurophysiology. It was my knowledge of grammar that allowed me to understand and build my own knowledge.

On a more fundamental level for most of us is that our knowledge of grammar affects (not effects) our credibility as students and businesspeople. As the bus bench ad above shows, one small grammar error can chip away at your credibility. Perhaps thousands wouldn’t have noticed the error. Thousands more wouldn’t care. But if you are going to go to the expense of buying advertising, why would you settle for something that has some fundamental flaw in it? The same goes for a resume or business letter. These errors reflect on your professionalism. If that real estate agent allows an error to go in his bus bench ad, could he allow an error in a contract? And could that error cost his client thousands of dollars? Would you want to take a chance?

So grammar matters for humans. Because humans (Homo sapiens) are fundamentally thinking beings. And thinking requires language. You show off your good thinking when you use good grammar.

Company names and possessive nouns

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I was recently editing an essay for a business student when she used the phrase “McDonald’s marketing strategy.” I realized that the company name “McDonald’s” needed an apostrophe to show that the marketing strategy belonged to it, but it already had an apostrophe in the name. If the company name was “McDonald” then, the phrase “McDonald’s marketing strategy” would have been completely right, but I knew that I couldn’t change it to McDonald’s’ marketing strategy. So what could the solution be?

A quick search on the Internet showed me that many companies have dropped the apostrophe altogether, but McDonald’s is not among these. It would have been easy to write Barclays’ marketing strategy, but unfortunately, that’s not the kind of change an editor is allowed to make.

I thought of using the old editor’s trick of rearranging the sentence, making “the marketing strategy of McDonald’s” but it seemed too awkward. Finally, I turned to my partner, who chides me from time to time on my obsession with correct grammar. She asked me “WWGGD?” (What would Grammar Girl do?) I told her that I was seriously considering leaving a question on Grammar Girl’s website.

But she also, slyly, asked me to explain the problem to her. I told her that since McDonald’s already had an apostrophe in the business name, but the business name was being used as a possessive noun, the dilemma was how to structure a possessive noun as a possessive noun when it’s already a possessive noun. If this doesn’t make sense to you, then you are on the right track to the solution.

I realized that the reason that McDonald’s has a possessive format is that the actual name of the restaurant chain is McDonald’s Restaurants. When we say McDonald’s we are dropping the noun that is the complement of the possessive noun. And there was the solution: the phrase should be McDonald’s Restaurants’ marketing strategy.

So thanks Grammar Girl, your help was channeled through my beautiful and inspiring partner.

HyperGraphix offers editing and proofreading services for essays  and other documents starting at $3.75 per page.

For free proofreading, click here. For Free Grammar Help, click here.

Please visit our website to ask a question about any essay topic.

Problems of agreement: he or she vs they.

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A reader asked for free grammar helpwith this sentence: When a professor gives a quiz, they often catch their students by surprise.

The problem with this sentence is not really in the sentence itself, it’s in the English language. The subject “a professor” is singular; therefore the pronoun in the dependent clause must be singular as well. But English doesn’t tell us the gender of the professor. The traditional way to write this sentence is to use “he” for the dependent clause, and have the verb in the third person singular:

When a professor gives a quiz, he often catches his students by surprise.

However, many people object to this on grounds of sexism, so they write the sentence as you have, using “they” in place of a third person gender neutral term. But strictly speaking, that is not correct, according to accepted rules of English.

The alternative is to write in all possibilities:
When a professor gives a quiz, he or she often catches his or her students by surprise.

That’s a bit of a mouthful, and this solution, when used in an essay, could result in a paragraph chock full of “he or she” and “his or her” expressions. That can’t possibly be good writing.

I usually try to rearrange the sentence to remove the sexist bias, the gender ambiguity, and the awkwardness.

Students are often caught unawares by professors’ quizzes.

However, this sentence could be criticized for being in the passive voice.

You could simply change the number of the subject:
When professors give a quiz, they often catch their students by surprise.

This allows us to maintain the gender ambiguity without mixing plural and singular.

None was or none were?

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A reader asked me a grammar question about what verb agrees with “none.” Is it singular or plural? Unfortunately grammarians do not agree on the answer to whether “none” is singular or plural. If one takes the stance that “none” means “not one” then the answer is that none is singular and therefore the answer to your question is “…was valid” as written. However, you could also see that the implication of the sentence is that all of the actions were not valid; therefore, none were valid. So some grammarians look on this form as a plural subject.

I think “were” reads better, but be prepared for opposition no matter which way you write it.

I refer you to this blog on English writing for a reference for the flexible option:
The Grammar Book also gives us this flexible option:

Another reader asks about graduation:

I occasionally become annoyed when I hear someone say that they are going to graduate college, instead of I am going to graduate from college. I hear this so often that I had to ask which is correct. My belief is that graduate from college is correct, but I am not always right. So, I am asking here.  Thank you.

You are absolutely correct, and you are not the only person to pose this question to me. The correct term is “to graduate from.” My favorite grammar podcast did a whole show on it. Here’s a link:

Which and when?

I was asked:

Why do we sometimes use ‘WHICH’ for place in a relative clause, instead of WHERE
E.G. The town where i was born.
The town which is situated on….

“Which” and “where” answer two different questions. “Which” differentiates one from another. “Where” is specifically about location. Sometimes they overlap because we differentiate by location. For example “The town in which I was born” is the same as “The town where I was born.”

Keeping secrets and love: problems of agreement

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A reader asked the following grammar question. Is it: “even the tiniest of hearts contains secrets” or even the tiniest of hearts contain secrets”?

This is a good question to ask, because I see this error frequently in my editing work. When we see the plural “hearts” next to the verb “contain”, we think “Aha! A plural; therefore, I need to use a plural verb.” And we are wrong.

The phrase “of hearts” is an adjectival phrase. It tells us which type of “tiniest” we are talking about. We could write the sentence “Even the tiniest contain(s) secrets.” It would still be grammatically correct, but our readers would be left scratching their heads about what kind of tiny thing we are talking about. Is it treasure chests, houses, minds, or hearts?

Clearly “tiniest” is the subject of the sentence, not “hearts.” But is “tiniest” a singular or plural noun? This takes a little logic. In a superlative comparison, we are looking for the most extreme example. In the words of the old TV show Highlander, “In the end. There can only be one!” There is only one tiniest. Therefore the noun is singular.

Now that we’ve figured this out, we should see that “Even the tiniest of hearts contains secrets.”


A reader from England asks me if I agree with the Guardian newspaper’s account of the Queen visiting Ireland. She asks:

The Queen has visited 129 countries in the course of the second longest reign in British history, from Iceland to Indonesia, but never has she ever set foot in the 130th: Britain’s nearest neighbour, the Republic of Ireland.

But never has she ever !!! This appeared in the Guardian this week. Never ever – I realise the use of never ever is expressing never strongly – is it good English??

Far be it for me, a mere colonial, to criticize the Guardian on its use of English; however, I’d have to agree that this is not well-written English, as one might expect from such a venerable newspaper. I’d have written “…never has she set foot in…”

I checked this in two other sources, my WhiteSmoke grammar checker, and the grammar checker built into MS Word, and neither of them flagged the “never has she ever,” although WhiteSmoke found “in the course of” to be excessively wordy. So I guess we’d have to concede that while not grammatically incorrect, it is certainly unattractive writing by my human standards.


This brings me to problems of agreement with grammar software. As above I see WhiteSmoke flagged excessive wordiness. This is very helpful. I often use WhiteSmoke to double check my work. But WhiteSmoke doesn’t like repeated expressions. While this is something I agree with, it is not always wrong to repeat something, especially when it is the topic of the essay.

I have a few clients who are nursing students. One wrote an essay on Roseacea which used the word Roseacea in almost every paragraph. WhiteSmoke flagged each use as a “repeated expression.” Now, I know enough to ignore the flags, but WhiteSmoke provides a score for writing out of 10. It’s almost impossible to get 10 out of 10 by WhiteSmoke’s standards, but with the flags, my post-editing sample is rated at 8 out of 10.

What else keeps me from a perfect score? I assure you it is not my writing skill. WhiteSmoke also calculates an average sentence length. According to its ideal, it is something like 23 words per sentence. My clients often write longer complex sentences to express complex thoughts. After all they are writing at a college level and above. I don’t edit their work to dumb them down to WhiteSmoke’s standards.

Nonetheless, I do find WhiteSmoke to be a useful tool. I advertise it on my site because for some writers, it could be a very cost-effective choice. Whether it is or not is up to each individual to decide.

As far as MS Word’s built-in grammar checker goes, it flags the passive voice. I appreciate this because I can often make sentences more dynamic and it has helped me improve my standards of editing; however, the passive voice is so often used in academic writing that I wish there was an option to tell MS Word what type of writing I am editing, so it can flag appropriately.


Who or Whom? Missing sandwiches, and other grammar questions

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Here are some random grammar questions I’ve been asked through my Free Grammar Help page.


Becky in Ohio has a voting question: “No one can tell you (who,whom) to vote for.”

I absolutely agree. Voting is something to take seriously and a decision should be made after carefully considering the facts and sifting through the lies and distortions that are often flying around during an election campaign. I may not be able to tell you which candidate to vote for, but I can tell you clearly which pronoun to use.

To decide whether to use “whom” or “who”, we need to look at the verb and see whether this pronoun is doing the action or is the object of the action. Since the action of voting is being done by “you,” then clearly the “who/whom” is the object of the voting. That means we need to use “whom”.

No one can tell you whom to vote for.

However, don’t make the mistake of using “whom” everytime you have a pronoun that is not the main pronoun in the sentence. Watch the verb.

I don’t know who took my bike. — Here the “who” is doing the action.

I don’t know whom the car hit. — here “whom” is the object of the action.

Check out the page on my website where I discuss pronouns.


A correspondent in Korea asks a series of questions:

1) He refuses to give up the rigors and promises of theology for a more amenable, even amiable,ethical Judaism.
Q. what does ” promises” in this sentence?
Promises means the benefits, or good results from. Perhaps it means, in this context, the promises of theology are the rewards from God for practicing strictly.
2.You had better have a chorus of exuberant male voices sing the lyrics in unison.

Q. what does ” exuberant” in this sentence?

“Exuberant” means “enthusiastic” or “having great emotion”.

3. The biological body and its given heterosexual proclivities are normalized as a justification for the cultural meanings of men and women

Q. what does ” normalized” and ” justification” respectively in this sentence?

This sentence seems to be saying that heterosexuality is assumed to be normal in order to justify the different treatment of men and women in culture. What the writer is saying is that the culture has different roles for men and women, and the cultural beliefs are that these different roles are proper because heterosexuality defines men and women differently.


A school principal writing a request for funding from a community group asks:

Do I sign the note “With warm regard,” or “With warm regards”?

Answer: I think in this case the term “regard” means  more than “here’s looking at you”; it expresses emotions. So I would interpret it as a plural. So be generous; give them more than one regard. Use “regards.”


Maryam in Syria is looking for her sandwich.

Q: In this sentence where is the object? Anna ate her cold chicken sandwich for lunch.

A: Clearly the sandwich is now inside Anna!

Seriously, the object is “sandwich.” Most of the rest of the sentence just describes the sandwich. The sentence would still be correct if it was “Anna ate her sandwich.” What did Anna eat? Clearly, “sandwich” is the object of “ate.”


An English teacher (and I mean a real one, in England) asks:

I’m writing up an English assessment for my class and I’ve copied the following question from a text book: “Write a story in which a group of animals is dealing with conflict” I looked at it and then changed the ‘is’ to ‘are’, then changed it back again, thinking hmmm, it’s ‘A’ group, so it has to be singular. A colleague came by and said, “Hey, that should be ‘a group of animals ARE’ What do you think?

Always glad to help out a colleague, especially when it means showing up another colleague, I answered:

Your colleague is wrong.

The subject of the sentence is “group.” This is a singular concept. Therefore the verb should be in the singular form. Look at it this way: the phrase “of animals” is only an adjectival phrase describing which group you are talking about. The sentence would be perfectly acceptable if it was written: “A group is dealing with conflict.” The only problem is not grammatical; it is that we don’t know which group. We could say “An animal group is dealing with conflict,” putting the adjective before the noun instead of afterwards as an adjectival phrase. So, I hope you see that “is” is the correct verb to agree with “a group.”


From Alaska comes the question:

How would you explain to a non-native speaker of English that the following sentence is not correct.
“I have gone home at 3:00pm yesterday”

The tense of “have been” is the present perfect. It is called the present perfect because it is something that began in the past, but is still true in the present. We use it in sentences like “I have been to Hawaii.” So if we said “I have gone home” it would mean we were still at home. Since the obvious meaning of the sentence is that we are talking about something that happened in the past and has no relationship to the present (I could be still at home, or I could be somewhere else now) we use the simple past. “I went home…” states an action (going) that occurred and was completed in the past.