English Grammar Essentials
Oh Teik Theam
For Free Distribution
(Parts of this script were previously published in The Star.)
1. Parts of Speech
2. Subject and Predicate
3. Number and Person
4. Sentence, Phrase and Clause
5. Subject-Verb Agreement
6. Cases of Nouns and Pronouns
7. Types of Nouns
10. The Present Participle and the Past Participle
11. Types of Verbs
12. The Moods of Verbs
13. Types of Pronouns
14. Coordinating Conjunctions and Subordinating Conjunctions
15. Some Notes on Adjectives
21. Common Uses of the Comma
22. Causative Verbs
24. Double Negatives
25. Common Uses of the Hyphen
26. Other Punctuation Marks
27. Active Voice and Passive Voice
28. Direct Speech and Indirect Speech
29. Types of Sentences
1. Parts of Speech
The eight parts of speech are the verb, the noun, the adjective, the adverb, the pronoun,
the conjunction, the preposition and the interjection.
A VERB is a word that expresses an action or a state of being – it is part of the
predicate of a sentence. Examples: eats, write, feels.
A NOUN is a word (other than a pronoun) that names a person, place or thing.
Examples: James, Kuala Lumpur, bread.
An ADJECTIVE is a word that modifies the meaning of a noun. Examples: beautiful,
An ADVERB is a word that modifies the meaning of a verb, an adjective, a gerund,
another adverb, or a sentence. Examples: quickly, briskly, fortunately.
A PRONOUN is a word that represents a noun. Examples: he, they, her, who.
A CONJUNCTION is a word or phrase that connects parts of sentences, phrases or
clauses. Examples: and, but, because.
A PREPOSITION is a word used before a noun or pronoun to show its relationship
with other words. Examples: in, into, at.
An INTERJECTION is an exclamation – it expresses strong feeling rather than
meaning. Examples: Ouch! / Thank heavens!
Same word, different parts of speech
The function of a word in a sentence determines what part of speech it is in that
sentence. The same word may be used as different parts of speech.
I have not eaten ice cream since my last birthday. (preposition)
Since you are not feeling well, I will have to go alone to the party. (conjunction)
I read three books every month. (verb)
This book is an interesting read. (noun)
There is something about him that makes me uneasy. (preposition)
I saw that movie about three months ago. (adverb)
It was the only answer I could think of. (adjective)
She is only six years old. (adverb)
I’ll be back in a while. (noun)
They decided to while away the afternoon by playing chess. (verb)
While she prepared the food, he cleaned up the living room. (conjunction)
Heteronyms are words that have the same spelling but different meanings because of
different pronunciations. Can you identify the parts of speech of the heteronyms in the
The Fox and the Stork
A fox met a stork and invited her to dinner. The stork didn’t have the heart to refuse
(1a) the invitation.
That evening, she showed up at the fox’s place an hour late. “Sorry,” she said. “I forgot
to wind (2a) my clock up.” And she gave her vulpine host a small present (3a) to assuage
The fox brought out from his kitchen two wide, shallow dishes containing carrot juice.
“May I present (3b) to you my latest culinary creation,” he announced. “It is full of
flavour, with a dash of sugar and just a suspicion of garlic.”
The fox guzzled the juice, but the stork could not get a single drop with her long, thin
beak. She did not become angry at her host for being so thoughtless. Instead, she
requested him to give her the recipe for preparing the juice.
“No problem,” said the fox. “Let me tear (4a) a blank leaf out of my notebook.” And he
took a minute (5a) to write the recipe on the paper, using a pencil with a soft lead (6a).
The good-natured bird did not leave in a huff when dinner was over. She showed her
graciousness by staying back for a long time to watch a live (7a) football match on a
portable black-and-white television. And she was delighted when her team was in the
lead (6b) at half time.
The next day, the stork invited the fox to share her afternoon meal. He accepted the
invitation and travelled along a path that wound (8a) through the woods and up the side
of a hill to reach his destination.
The stork served her guest some finely chopped meat in a glass jar with a long, narrow
neck. Her beak easily went into the jar, but the fox could not reach his food.
“This meat tastes delicious,” the stork said. “I’ve had this food three days in a row (9a)
already. I think I can live (7b) to a great age if I eat it frequently. Don’t let your appetite
desert (10a) you now, Fox,” she continued, laughing with gusto. “You should at least try
a minute (5b) portion of this tender meat.”
The fox noticed that his hostess had a tear (4b) or two in her eye, and for a moment he
felt sanguine and thought that she pitied him – until she declared, “Peeling onions can
make you cry. I had a mishap while I was cutting the onions,” she added. “Luckily, it was
just a flesh wound (8b).”
When lunch was over, the stork asked, “How was the food, Fox?”
Annoyed, the fox said nothing, but he thought, “No point starting a row (9b) with her. I
can hardly fault her for paying me back in my own coin.”
“I’m really satiated after the huge meal,” said the stork. “When you leave, Fox, could
you please take out the kitchen refuse (1b)?”
As the fox made his way home, a sudden gust of wind (2b), like a hot desert (10b)
wind, blew against his face.
(Adapted from a fable by Aesop)
1. Refuse (a) verb (b) noun
2. Wind (a) verb (b) noun
3. Present (a) noun (b) verb
4. Tear (a) verb (b) noun
5. Minute (a) noun (b) adjective
6. Lead (a) noun (b) noun
7. Live (a) adjective (b) verb
8. Wound (a) verb (b) noun
9. Row (a) noun (b) noun
10. Desert (a) verb (b) adjective (noun as modifier)
2. Subject and Predicate
A sentence is a group of words which makes complete sense. It communicates a
statement, question, exclamation or command.
Every sentence contains two parts:
(i) Subject – The subject is the part of the sentence which names the person or thing we
are talking about.
(ii) Predicate – The predicate is the part of the sentence which tells something about the
In the examples below, the predicates in the sentences are underlined:
Judy and her mother are cooking dinner.
The cats in the alley are making a lot of noise.
The teacher wrote the answer on the blackboard.
Come here. (Here, the subject, You, is understood.)
Down went the battleship.
She talks too much and listens too little. (Compound predicate, with two verbs)
The pupil walked into the headmaster’s room, holding his report card. (The participial
phrase holding his report card is not part of the predicate but part of the subject,
3. Number and Person
Number is an inflection that indicates whether a word is singular or plural.
A noun that denotes one person or thing is in the singular number. Examples: cat, box,
tree, pencil, leaf, potato, mouse, knife, loaf, city, sheep, brother-in-law.
A noun that denotes more than one person or thing is in the plural number. Examples:
cats, boxes, trees, pencils, leaves, potatoes, mice, knives, loaves, cities, sheep, brothersin-law.
The number of a verb and its subject should agree (The boys are playing football. / My
teacher is ill.)
The number of a pronoun and its antecedent should also agree. (David had an
argument with his wife. / The pupils handed in their test papers.) (An antecedent is an
earlier word or phrase which a pronoun refers to.)
In grammar, person is the form of a pronoun or a verb to show the speaker (first
person), the addressee (second person) or a third party (third person).
I am – subject and verb in the first person, singular
We are – subject and verb in the first person, plural
You are – subject and verb in the second person, singular and plural
He/She/It is – subject and verb in the third person, singular
They are – subject and verb in the third person, plural
4. Sentence, Phrase, Clause
A sentence is a group of words that contains a subject and a predicate, and expresses a
A predicate is the part of a sentence or clause which states something about the subject.
In writing, a sentence begins with a capital letter and ends with a full stop, a question
mark or an exclamation mark. Example: Mary had a little lamb. (“Mary” is the subject of
the sentence, and “had a little lamb” is the predicate.)
A phrase is a group of two or more words that acts as a single unit in the syntax of a
sentence. It does not contain a subject and predicate, and does not express a complete
thought. Examples: on the surface / of great interest / a slice of bread.
A clause consists of a subject and a predicate. Example: He has a swimming pool
which is as big as a lagoon – where “which” (referring to the noun immediately
preceding it) is the subject, and “is as big as a lagoon” is the predicate.
There are two kinds of clauses: independent and dependent.
Independent clauses can be sentences by themselves. A simple sentence is an
independent clause: Humpty-Dumpty sat on a wall.
Dependent (or subordinate) clauses cannot stand by themselves – they occur in
sentences with independent clauses.
For example, in the sentence “The baby monster couldn’t sleep because he thought that
there was a human under his bed”, “because he thought that there was a human under his
bed” is the dependent clause, and “The baby monster couldn’t sleep” is the independent
Can you tell whether the Beatles song titles below are sentences, phrases or dependent
1. Across the Universe
2. I Feel Fine
3. She Loves You
4. In My Life
5. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
6. I Want to Hold Your Hand
7. A Hard Day’s Night
8. Till There Was You
9. I Saw Her Standing There
10. All My Loving
11. When I Get Home
12. Lonesome Tears in My Eyes
13. I Call Your Name
14. When I’m Sixty-Four
15. The Long and Winding Road
16. Do You Want to Know a Secret?
17. All You Need Is Love
18. I Am the Walrus
19. Eight Days a Week
20. The Ballad of John and Yoko
Answers: 1.phrase 2.sentence 3.sentence 4.phrase 5.clause 6.sentence 7.phrase 8.clause
9.sentence 10.phrase 11.clause 12.phrase 13.sentence 14.clause 15.phrase 16.sentence
17.sentence 18.sentence 19.phrase 20.phrase
5. Subject-Verb Agreement
The verb, like the noun and the pronoun, has two numbers, the singular and the plural.
Here are some examples of the singular and plural forms of verbs:
2nd Person (You)
3 Person (He/She/It) eats
1st Person (I)
1st Person (We)
2nd Person (You) eat
3rd Person (They) eat
If the subject in a sentence is singular, the verb is singular; if the subject is plural, the
verb is plural.
(i) When the subject consists of two or more nouns or pronouns joined by “and”, use a
He and his parents are at the mall.
(ii) When two or more singular nouns or pronouns are joined by “or” or “nor”, use a
The president or the chairman is at the press conference.
Neither Jim nor Jane is at the meeting.
(iii) When a compound subject contains a singular noun (or pronoun) and a plural noun
(or pronoun) joined by “or” or “nor”, the verb should agree with the part of the subject
nearer the verb.
David or his sisters are eating in the kitchen.
(iv) “Doesn’t” (the contraction of “does not”) is used with a singular subject. “Don’t”
(the contraction of “do not”) is used with a plural subject. However, the first person and
second person pronouns “I” (singular) and “you” (singular and plural) use “don’t”.
She doesn’t have the book.
We don’t want to go.
I don’t think it is a good idea.
You don’t know, do you?
(v) Don’t let a phrase or clause between the subject and the verb mislead you. The verb
agrees with the subject, not with a noun or pronoun in the phrase or clause.
The people who like the movie are few.
One of your buttons is missing.
The boss, as well as his workers, is hardworking.
(vi) The following words are singular and require a singular verb: each, each one, either,
neither, everyone, everybody, anybody, anyone, nobody, somebody, someone, no one.
Someone has stolen the book.
Each of the drawings is beautiful.
Everyone at the party was having a good time.
(vii) Collective nouns take singular or plural verbs, depending on meaning. If the
collective noun is thought of as a unit, a singular verb or pronoun is used; if the members
of the collective noun are thought of as individuals, a plural verb or pronoun is used.
The jury retires to consider its verdict.
The jury retire to consider their verdict.
Ask him to talk about his family and he can talk for two hours about it.
He is proud of his family – he knows that they will support every decision he
(viii) Use singular verbs for subjects plural in form but singular in meaning.
The news is on at noon.
Physics is my pet subject.
(ix) Use plural verbs for subjects plural in form and meaning.
The scissors are in the drawer.
These trousers are custom-made.
Dollars are used here.
(However, a sum of money requires a singular verb: Five hundred dollars is a lot of
money for this set of books.)
(x) In sentences beginning with “There is” or “There are”, the subject follows the verb.
“There” is not the subject, so the verb agrees with what follows.
There are ten books on the shelf.
There is a problem.
(xi) When “number of” is preceded by “the”, use a singular verb; when “number of” is
preceded by “a”, use a plural verb.
The number of visitors to the fair is big.
A number of volunteers have agreed to help at the event.
6. Cases of Nouns and Pronouns
Case is a form of a noun or a pronoun that indicates its function in a sentence.
Singular 1st person
The cat (subjective) licked its paw.
He accidentally broke the cat’s (possessive) saucer.
I gave her a cat (objective).
John (subjective) is the winner.
I am John’s (possessive) friend.
The woman scolded John (objective).
She (subjective) won a prize.
She introduced me to her (possessive) boss.
I like her (objective).
Everyone (subjective) had a great time at the party.
The janitor knew everyone’s (possessive) name at the office.
He gave everyone (objective) at the party a gift.
7. Types of Nouns
A noun is a word (other than a pronoun) used to identify any of a class of people, places
or things (common noun), or to name a particular one of these (proper noun). (Concise
Oxford English Dictionary)
(a) Concrete nouns –things you can see or touch. Examples: flower, sky.
(b) Non-countable nouns (mass nouns) – things you cannot count. Examples: water,
(c) Abstract nouns – things you cannot see or touch. Examples: happiness, patience.
(d) Collective nouns – words to describe groups. Examples: jury, family.
(e) Gerunds – nouns that represent actions. Examples: swimming, boxing. (See also
(f) Compound nouns – nouns that contain more than one word. Examples: mother-inlaw, heart surgeon, headache.
(g) Gender-specific nouns – words which are definitely male or female. Examples:
A proper noun is always capitalized. Examples: Kuala Lumpur, Australia, Uncle Kevin,
University of New South Wales, Kenyir Lake, Superman, Merdeka Stadium, Elvis
Prepositions are words that show the relationship between a noun or a pronoun and
some other word or element in the rest of the sentence. (English Grammar Revolution)
This is an interesting idea from English Grammar Revolution: Think of a preposition as
any word that describes the relationship between a caterpillar and an apple – above the
apple, on the apple, through the apple, up the apple, within the apple, beside the apple,
below the apple, inside the apple, down the apple.
Let us form sentences from English Grammar Revolution’s drawing of an apple and
nine caterpillars in various named positions:
The pupil’s drawing shows a caterpillar above an apple.
A caterpillar is resting on the apple.
I think the caterpillar wants to eat its way through the apple.
The caterpillar is crawling up the apple.
It’s a beautiful drawing of a caterpillar within an apple.
His drawing shows a caterpillar sleeping beside an apple.
The child’s illustration shows a caterpillar below an apple.
I almost ate a caterpillar that was inside an apple.
The caterpillar is crawling down the apple.
There are many prepositions, but the common ones include about, above, across, after,
along, among, around, at, because of, before, behind, below, beside, between, by, by
means of, considering, down, excluding, from, in, inside, instead of, into, near, of, off, on,
on behalf of, onto, opposite, outside, over, past, regarding, through, to, towards, under,
until, up, with and within.
Here are more examples of how prepositions are used:
She sat by the brook.
Is there a mouse under the bed?
He ran across the street.
The driver jumped off the bus.
This spoon is made of plastic.
She is going to the mall.
There is some hot water in the flask.
The guests sat around the table.
The boy fell into the stream.
The child sat between her parents.
He hid behind the pillar.
She stood before me.
He will return after two weeks.
She did the work quite well, considering her inexperience.
A preposition, unlike an adverb, always has an object:
He fell off the ladder. (Preposition: off; object: ladder)
The bird flew off. (Adverb: off)
Tense refers to the time of an action or situation.
Below are the main tenses of the verb to eat:
I will eat
You will eat
He/She/It will eat
We will eat
You will eat
They will eat
The four PRESENT TENSES:
(i) the simple present, which is chiefly used
(a) to describe habitual actions.
I drink coffee every morning.
I jog every morning at eight o’clock.
(b) to make factual statements.
Sugar is sweet.
Triangles have three sides.
(c) to refer to a future event that is part of an arrangement.
We fly to Singapore next Monday.
The supermarket opens in fifteen minutes.
(d) in clauses of time and condition.
I will wait until you complete the work.
If I fail the test, I will be disappointed.
(ii) the present continuous, which emphasizes the continuing nature of an action, is used
(a) to indicate a future action.
I am going to the club this evening.
(b) to indicate an action at the time of speaking.
The children are playing chess.
(c) to indicate an action which may not be happening at the time of speaking.
I am taking Mandarin lessons.
(iii) the present perfect is used
(a) to refer to actions or situations which began in the past but still continue in the
I have lived here for ten years. (I still live here.)
(b) to refer to past actions which still have an effect in the present.
She has bought a ticket for tomorrow’s bus journey. (She still has the ticket now.)
He has visited the museum every day this week. (The visit continues into the
(iv) the present perfect continuous is used to describe an action that began in the past and
is still continuing.
The baby has been crying for ten minutes.
The children have been playing football since five o’clock.
The four PAST TENSES:
(i) the simple past describes an action that happened in the past.
He scored the winning goal in the football match yesterday.
She gave the beggar five dollars.
He did not go to the party last Saturday.
(ii) the past continuous describes an action that was going on at some time in the past.
The action has no connection to the present.
The phone rang while I was taking a bath.
The kids were playing in the garden all morning.
(iii) the past perfect is used to indicate that an action in the past was completed before
another past action began.
I had cleaned the room before she arrived.
When I reached home, she had gone out.
(iv) the past perfect continuous is used to show that a continuing action in the past began
before the start of another past action.
The stray dog had been barking outside my house for ten minutes before I shooed it
When she joined the company in 2010, I had already been working there for ten
The four FUTURE TENSES:
(i) the simple future is used to refer to an action that has still to happen.
I will let you know my decision tomorrow.
I will meet you at the new hotel.
(ii) the future continuous is used to show a continuing action that will happen in the
Her cousins will be visiting her next week.
I will be flying to Singapore tomorrow.
(iii) the future perfect is used
(a) to show that an action will be completed in the future before another action happens.
I will have cleaned the house by the time she arrives.
She will have prepared breakfast by the time you get out of bed.
(b) to express certainty or probability in the present or past.
I’m glad that you have read my article. You will have noticed that I used very few
adjectives and adverbs in it.
(iv) the future perfect continuous indicates an action in progress that will be completed in
some specified time in the future.
By next month, I will have been working here for ten years.
When he reaches home, his wife will have been sleeping for three hours.
* * *
“You put a mouse in your sister’s schoolbag?” the mother said to her six-year-old son. “How could you
The boy replied, “I couldn’t find a frog.”
“How could you do that?” should be “How could you have done that?” We use the
present perfect tense because the action (“that”) has already been done.
* * *
10. The Present Participle and the Past Participle
Here are the present participles and past participles of some verbs:
The PRESENT PARTICIPLE
The present participle has the form base verb + ing and is used
(i) as part of the continuous forms of a verb – present continuous, present perfect
continuous, past continuous, past perfect continuous, future continuous, future perfect
For examples, see Tense.
(ii) after a verb of movement or position (verb + present participle).
The child came running towards his mother.
She lay on the sofa talking on her cellphone.
(iii) after a verb of perception (verb + object + present participle).
He heard her singing in the bathroom.
She saw a salesman walking towards the house.
I can smell something burning in the kitchen.
When such a sentence contains a bare infinitive (example: sing) rather than a present
participle, the subject sees or hears the complete action. But when the present participle is
used, the subject sees or hears only part of the action.
• I heard Jim whistling. (=he had started before I heard him, and probably
continued with his whistling afterwards)
• I heard Jim whistle. (=I heard his performance from start to finish)
(iv) when the subject does two actions at the same time.
The beggar talked to himself. He walked from house to house. Talking to
himself, the beggar walked from house to house.
(v) when the subject does two actions in quick succession.
He finished his drink and left the pub. Finishing his drink, he left the pub.
(vi) to replace a clause that starts with as, since or because.
Because he was hungry, he went to the kitchen and ate some instant noodles.
Feeling hungry, he went to the kitchen and ate some instant noodles.
As he knew that his editor was very fussy, he checked the typed script several times.
Knowing that his editor was very fussy, he checked the typed script several times.
As I was sitting on the swing, the wind made me feel cold when it blew against my
face. Sitting on the swing, I felt cold when the wind blew against my face.
Do not write “Sitting on the swing, the wind blew against my face and made me feel
cold”. Here, the word “Sitting” is a dangling participle – it does not relate to the noun it
should. The sentence reads as if it is the wind (the subject of this faulty sentence) that is
sitting on the swing.
(vii) as an adjective. (See also Verbals)
The evil queen decided to consult the talking mirror.
The PAST PARTICIPLE
The past participle is used
(i) in the present perfect, the past perfect and the future perfect tenses.
For examples, see Tense.
(ii) in the conditional perfect tense.
If you had overslept, you would have missed the bus.
(iii) in the passive voice. (See also Active Voice and Passive Voice)
The tree was struck by lightning.
His wallet was stolen by a pickpocket.
(iv) as an adjective. (See also Verbals)
The naughty boy came home with a broken arm.
Regular Verbs and Irregular Verbs
A regular verb follows a normal type of inflexion – walk, walked, walked; talk, talked,
An irregular verb does not follow a normal type of inflexion – eat, ate, eaten; cut, cut,
Some verbs are both regular and irregular – dream, dreamed/dreamt, dreamed/dreamt.
The three most common irregular verbs are have, do and be.
The be verbs are
am, are, is (present tense, singular)
are (present tense, plural)
was (past tense, singular, 1st and 3rd persons)
were (past tense, singular, 2nd person / past tense plural)
be (present subjunctive)
were (past subjunctive)
being (present participle)
been (past participle)
The have verbs are have, has and had.
The do verbs are do, does, did and done.
The following table is from Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab):
SIMPLE PAST PAST PARTICIPLE
(used with has, have, or
I, you, we, they (or any
He, she, it (or any singular
I, you, we, they (or any
He, she, it (or any singular
He, she, it (or any singular
You, we, they (or any
11. Types of Verbs
A verb is a word or group of words that is used to describe an action, state or
The three types of verbs are
An action verb expresses action, telling what a person or thing does. Action verbs
belong to two groups:
(a) A transitive verb takes an object: The player throws the ball. The action denoted
by the verb (throws) passes over from the subject (player) to some object (ball).
Some transitive verbs take two objects after them – an indirect object denoting the
person to whom something is given or for whom something is done, and a direct object
which is usually the name of a thing: She gave me (indirect object) a gift (direct object).
(b) An intransitive verb does not take an object: The girl smiles widely. The action
denoted by the verb (smiles) stops with the subject (girl) and does not pass over to an
A transitive verb has a passive voice: The torpedo sank the boat. The boat was sunk
by the torpedo. (Passive Voice)
An intransitive verb does not have a passive voice: The boat sank quickly. (No
Many verbs can be used both transitively and intransitively (e.g. sank in the above
sentences). (See also the example of turn below.)
A linking verb does not express an action. It links the subject to a complement, which is
the part of the sentence that gives information about the subject. The complement is
usually an adjective, a noun, a pronoun, a noun phrase, a noun clause, or an adverbial.
This soup tastes terrible. (Adjective – tastes here is not an action verb, because the
subject is not doing any tasting. It just tastes terrible.)
His name is Jim. (Noun)
This book is hers. (Pronoun)
This is a nice dress. (Noun Phrase)
The truth is that he doesn’t want to go to the meeting. (Noun Clause)
She is in the kitchen. (Adverbial)
Linking verbs are intransitive verbs. But linking verbs are not complete in themselves
(as are other intransitive verbs: She snored) but require a complement to complete their
meaning. In other words, linking verbs are always intransitive, but not all intransitive
verbs are linking verbs.
Verbs that are always linking verbs are become, seem and all forms of the verb be (am,
is, are, was, were, had been, is being, might have been, etc.).
Verbs that are sometimes linking verbs and sometimes action verbs include appear,
taste, turn, remain, smell, sound, feel, grow, look and prove.
(You can use a test to determine whether a verb is an action verb or a linking verb –
substitute the verb with am, is or are. If the sentence still makes sense after the
substitution, the verb is a linking verb; if the sentence does not make sense, the verb is an
action verb. However, this test does not work with appear – you have to analyze the
function of this verb in the sentence.)
The milk turned sour. (Linking Verb)
The student turned the pages slowly. (Action Verb – transitive)
The teacher turned suddenly towards the back of the classroom. (Action Verb –
An auxiliary verb is a verb that is used to form the tense or time of action, voice and
mood of another verb. It is sometimes called a “helping” verb because it “helps out” the
The primary auxiliaries are be, do and have and all their forms.
The modal auxiliaries (which indicate necessity, possibility, permission, obligation,
ability or habit) include can, could, may, might, shall, should, will, would, must and
Unlike primary auxiliaries, modal auxiliaries cannot be the main verbs in a sentence.
For example, I shall is meaningless unless it works with another verb or another verb is
understood to be working with it. Modal auxiliaries are used with main verbs and before
have or be.
The following examples show how auxiliary verbs are used:
She is cleaning her room.
The box was opened.
I can solve this Sudoku puzzle.
We should take a rest.
The medicine should be kept away from children.
In another six months, I will have been working here for twenty years.
12. The Moods of Verbs
Mood is the manner in which the action of a verb is expressed. English has three
The INDICATIVE MOOD
The indicative mood is used (a) to state a fact (She writes on the board.); (b) to ask a
question (Are you ill?); (c) to express a conditional fact (If it rains, I will not go out. / If
he is the culprit, he deserves to be punished.).
The IMPERATIVE MOOD
The imperative mood is used (a) to make a request (Take care of my pet.); (b) to make
an entreaty (Have mercy on me.); (c) to give a command (Wait here.).
The subject of a verb in the imperative mood is usually omitted. Thus, Wait here =
(You) wait here.
The SUBJUNCTIVE MOOD
The subjunctive mood has two forms:
(i) The present subjunctive has two uses:
(a) The mandative subjunctive (the term “mandative” derives from the Latin root for
“mandate”, “a command or order”) is used in a that-clause after a verb, adjective or noun
of demand, proposal, recommendation or some other similar idea. It is identical to the
base form of the verb, and is easily noticeable in the third person singular, which has no
final –s, and in the case of the verb be, which has the form be instead of am, is or are.
He demanded that they leave immediately.
He insists that she cancel the trip.
She suggested that he not pursue the matter any further.
It is necessary that she be appointed secretary.
The proposal that the chairman resign was supported by the members.
(b) The formulaic subjunctive is used in certain traditional expressions:
God bless you. (= May God bless you. / I wish that God bless you.)
God save the Queen. (= May God save the Queen. / We wish that God save the
(ii) The past subjunctive is used after if, as if and as though to indicate unreality or
improbability, and after the verb wish to indicate a situation that is contrary to fact. It is
identical with the past tense except in the case of the verb be, which uses were for all
If this computer worked better, I’d have finished the article by now.
If I were you, I’d take the job.
She orders him as though he were her servant.
I wish my employees worked harder.
I wish I were rich.
I wish you were here.
I wish they were here.
If an if-clause is not presupposed to be false, that clause must contain an indicative
verb, not a subjunctive: If she was out all day, it makes sense that she couldn’t answer
my call. / The father asked his daughter if she was going to give her teacher a farewell
Subjunctives can usually be replaced by modal auxiliaries such as would and should:
We recommend that all participants be present at noon = We recommend that all
participants should be present at noon.
He demanded that she explain the matter in detail = He demanded that she should
explain the matter in detail.
The subjunctive is also used after it is (high) time + subject to imply that it is late:
It is time we left.
It is high time we went home and took our dinner.
It is time for us to leave.
It is high time for us to go home and take our dinner. (The “to” before “take” is
13. Types of Pronouns
Personal pronouns have three cases:
The nominative case expresses the subject of a verb.
The possessive case expresses possession or ownership.
The objective case is used for the object of a transitive verb or a preposition.
A subject pronoun is used when the person or thing is the subject of the sentence or
clause: I like adventure movies, but he does not.
An object pronoun is used when the person or thing is the object of the sentence or
clause: She likes me but not him.
A possessive pronoun is used to show possession or ownership: These books are
mine. / I lost my cellphone.
(Strictly speaking, pronouns such as my are actually possessive adjectives
(determiners), as they do not substitute for a noun or noun phrase.)
* * *
Tommy’s mother, who had been away for a few months, was questioning him about events during her
“Well, there was a thunderstorm the other night,” said the little boy, “and I was very scared, so Daddy
and me slept together.”
“Tommy,” said the maid, “you mean ‘Daddy and I’.”
“No,” said Tommy. “That was last Saturday. I’m taking about Tuesday Night.”
In the above story, “Daddy and me” should be “Daddy and I”. “Daddy and I” are the
subjects of the verb “slept”.
* * *
REFLEXIVE and EMPHATIC PRONOUNS
When –self is added to my, your, him, her and it, and –selves to our, your and them, we
get compound personal pronouns.
Compound personal pronouns are either reflexive pronouns or emphatic pronouns.
A compound personal pronoun is a reflexive pronoun when the action performed by
the subject turns back (reflects) upon the subject.
I hurt myself when I fell from the ladder. (Without myself, the sentence does not stand.)
A compound personal pronoun is an emphatic pronoun when it is used for emphasis.
I myself saw him steal the purse. (Without myself, the sentence still stands.)
A compound personal pronoun may team up with the preposition by to show that the
subject does something alone (I went to the park by myself.) or without help (He painted
the fence by himself.).
Reciprocal pronouns include each other and one another. They indicate a reciprocal or
They helped each other.
Relative pronouns include who, whom, whose, which and that when they introduce
relative (adjectival) clauses.
Who vs Whom
The little girl scrutinized her grandfather, who had just arrived and who she had never seen before.
“I’m your grandfather,” he said, “on your father’s side.”
“That’s not the right thing to do,” she said. “You should stick up for both of them.”
In the above story, the first sentence should read: The little girl scrutinized her
grandfather, who had just arrived and whom she had never seen before.
“Who” (subject pronoun) goes with he/she/they (subject pronouns).
“Whom” (object pronoun) goes with him/her/them (object pronouns).
To decide when to use “who” or “whom”, apply this test: if the thought in the
who/whom clause is best expressed by he/she/they, use “who”; if the thought is best
expressed by him/her/them, use “whom”.
who/whom had just arrived he/him had just arrived he had just arrived “who”
who/whom she had never seen before she had never seen he/him before she had
never seen him before “whom” is correct
Use the same test for sentences that ask questions:
Who/Whom did you say called? Did you say she/her called? Did you say she
called? “Who” is correct
Who/Whom did you meet at the park? Did you meet he/him at the park? Did you
meet him at the park? “Whom” is correct (although “Who” is acceptable in informal
Omission of the Relative Pronoun
A relative pronoun introduces a relative clause, and it usually has the immediately
preceding noun or noun substitute as its antecedent. (An antecedent is the word or phrase
that a pronoun represents.)
The relative pronouns who, whom, which and that can be omitted (that is, they are
treated as understood) when they function as the object of a verb or as the object of a
Let us look at the following three sentences:
(a) He donated some money to a charity that he greatly admired. (“That” is the object of
the verb “admired”, so it can be omitted = He donated some money to a charity he greatly
(b) The man whom she quarrelled with was her ex-boyfriend. (“Whom” is the object of
the preposition “with”, so it can be omitted = The man she quarrelled with was her exboyfriend.
(However, “whom” cannot be omitted if it is preceded by the preposition: The man
with whom she quarrelled was her ex-boyfriend.)
(c) She avoids foods that are too spicy. (“That” is the subject of the verb “are”, so it
cannot be omitted.)
* * *
Can you identify the relative pronouns that can be omitted in the sentences below?
1. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw parties.
2. My best friend, who is a lawyer, has decided to name her daughter Sue.
3. Drinking is a habit that I detest.
4. The best gift to give a person who has everything is a burglar alarm.
5. A smart husband is one who thinks twice before saying nothing.
6. He is no lawyer who cannot take two sides. (Charles Lamb)
7. Love is a game that two can play and both win. (Eva Gabor)
8. Kindness is one thing which you can’t give away – it comes back to you. (Author
9. She was the Good Samaritan who helped me yesterday.
10. He’s the famous ventriloquist whom I told you about.
The relative pronouns in sentences 3, 7, 8 and 10 can be omitted.
* * *
Indefinite pronouns include either and each (unless they are adjectives); someone,
anyone, somebody, everyone and one; and the relative pronouns whoever, whomever and
Indefinite pronouns refer to persons or things in a general way – they do not refer to
any specific person or thing.
Each must do his part.
Someone has stolen my pen.
One must not speak highly of one’s own success.
Everyone is invited to the party.
Interrogative pronouns include who, whom, whose, which and what when they
introduce questions, including indirect questions.
Who are you?
Tell me what you said to her.
Demonstrative pronouns include this, that, these and those. They are used to point out
the objects they refer to.
This is a gift from my boss.
When demonstrative pronouns are used as modifiers, they are not pronouns but
demonstrative adjectives: This car is expensive.
Besides being a personal pronoun, it is also an impersonal pronoun (also called a
dummy pronoun). It does not have an antecedent. (An antecedent is an earlier word or
phrase which a pronoun refers to.) Example: It rained.
* * *
Everyone and Their
“Their” (plural) can be used with “everyone” (singular).
There was great joy in the kingdom on Rapunzel’s wedding day, and everyone let their
(“Their” sounds better than “his or her”.)
Here are two examples from Concise Oxford English Dictionary (2004) of “a person +
Patriot (n) – a person who vigorously supports their country and is prepared to defend
Show-off (n) – a person who boastfully displays their abilities or accomplishments.
14. Coordinating Conjunctions and Subordinating Conjunctions
Coordinating conjunctions mainly join words, phrases and independent clauses.
I bought apples and oranges. (joins words)
Nurses in uniforms and actors in costumes joined the parade. (joins phrases)
He agreed to organize the event, and she promised to help him. (joins main
The seven coordinating conjunctions are for, and, nor, but, or, yet and so – which can
be remembered mnemonically with FANBOYS.
Subordinating conjunctions are used in subordinate (dependent) clauses. Subordinate
clauses cannot stand by themselves – they work with main (independent) clauses.
He agreed to organize the event if she promised to help him.
She did not go to the party because she was not feeling well.
Because she was not feeling well, she did not go to the party.
The subordinating conjunctions are after, although, as, as far as, as if, as long as, as
soon as, as though, because, before, even if, even though, if, in order that, once, provided
that, rather than, since, so, so that, than, that, though, unless, until, when, whenever,
where, whereas, wherever, while and why.
15. Some Notes on Adjectives
Comparison of Adjectives
Adjectives change in form to show comparison. For example, the adjective short is in
the positive degree; the adjective shorter is in the comparative degree; the adjective
shortest is in the superlative degree.
Here are some more examples:
He is taller than I (am).
She is the thinnest girl in the class.
The second contestant is more beautiful than the first contestant.
An attributive adjective is used directly beside the noun it modifies.
She broke the beautiful vase.
I ate a bowl of delicious noodles.
A predicative adjective is used after a linking verb.
The child is asleep.
The victim is alive.
Most adjectives are both attributive and predicative.
She has big eyes.
Her eyes are big.
An absolute adjective describes a quality that cannot be intensified or compared. It
should only be modified by adverbs such as “almost” and “nearly”. Examples: perfect,
A substantive adjective is used without an expressed noun, but always with the definite
article, the. Examples: the poor, the blind.
A post-positional adjective is placed after the noun it modifies. Examples: script
proper, eggs sunny-side up, battle royal.
The adjectives a (an before a vowel sound) and the are called articles.
A (or an) is the indefinite article – it leaves indefinite the person or thing spoken of.
Example: a teacher (that is, any teacher)
The is the definite article – it refers to some particular person or thing. Example: He
liked the teacher. (The refers to some particular teacher.)
The choice between a and an is determined by sound. We use a before a word
beginning with a consonant sound. Examples: a man, a rooster, a horse, a hole, a union,
a unicorn, a European, a useful book, a university. (The last five examples begin with the
consonant sound “yu”.)
We use an before a word beginning with a vowel sound. Examples: an animal, an
orange, an enemy, an umbrella, an heir, an hour, an honest worker. (In the last three
examples, the consonant “h” is silent (not pronounced).)
An antecedent is an earlier word or phrase which a pronoun refers to.
Sam, who is a great eater, likes to gorge himself on the delicious foods which his wife
cooks for him.
In the example above, the pronouns who, himself, his and him all have Sam as their
* * *
Steve called David one evening while he was on holiday. After they had talked awhile, Steve said, “My
wife’s credit card was stolen.”
“Did you report the theft?” David asked.
“No,” said Steve. “Unlike my wife, the thief is not good at spending.”
The antecedent of a pronoun must be unambiguous. In the first sentence of the story,
the pronoun “he” has two possible antecedents – “Steve” and “David”.
The sentence should read: When Steve was on holiday, he called David one evening.
* * *
“Take off your muddy shoes before you enter the house,” the mother said to her son. “This morning, the
maid removed the carpet from the living room and cleaned it.”
The little boy, who had been playing football with his friends, replied, “Mum, I’m not wearing any
The pronoun “it” in the story has two possible antecedents – “carpet” and “living
room”. To prevent ambiguity, the sentence can be recast in one of two ways (depending
on which meaning is intended):
This morning, the maid cleaned the carpet after removing it from the living room.
This morning, the maid cleaned the living room after removing the carpet from it.
* * *
Pronoun before antecedent
It is all right to place a pronoun before its antecedent: Joe (antecedent) looks fierce and
unapproachable, but he (pronoun) is actually very kind and helpful. He (pronoun)
looks fierce and unapproachable, but Joe (antecedent) is actually very kind and helpful.
A modifier is a word, phrase or clause that provides description in a sentence.
Adjectives as modifiers
An adjective modifies the meaning of a noun.
Kuala Lumpur is a large city.
She is an efficient secretary.
I bought six durians.
She did not eat any food.
She has much patience.
Most men like football.
Adverbs as modifiers
An adverb modifies a verb, another modifier (an adjective or another adverb), a gerund,
or the whole sentence.
She walked slowly to the kitchen. (modifies verb)
His eyes are unusually big. (modifies adjective)
She walked very slowly to the kitchen. (modifies another adverb)
Walking briskly is a popular form of exercise. (modifies gerund)
Fortunately, he was helped by a Good Samaritan. (modifies whole sentence)
Phrases as modifiers
The pupils in the kindergarten are playing in the field.
(in the kindergarten = prepositional phrase functioning as an adjective to modify the
noun pupils. in the field = prepositional phrase functioning as an adverb to modify the
verb are playing.)
Walking towards the door, Dave waved goodbye to his friends.
(Walking towards the door = participial phrase functioning as an adjective to modify
the noun Dave.)
The best way to improve your English is to read a lot.
(to improve your English = infinitive phrase functioning as an adjective to modify the
The tax auditor came to check the accounting books.
(to check the accounting books = infinitive phrase functioning as an adverb to modify
the verb came.)
Adjectival clauses as modifiers
This is the book that you are looking for.
Her boyfriend, who is a businessman, has bought a new car.
People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.
This DVD, which costs fifty dollars, is my favourite movie.
Note: That and which are used for restrictive relative clauses (these clauses are essential
to the meaning of the sentence).
Which, but not that, is used for non-restrictive relative clauses (these clauses give
additional information and are not essential to the meaning of the sentence).
Reading is a hobby which I like very much. (Correct)
Reading is a hobby that I like very much. (Correct)
The song that she sang at the school concert is very catchy. (Correct)
The song, that she sang at the school concert, is very catchy. (Incorrect)
This is the hospital where I was born. (restrictive)
The three bears escorted Goldilocks to her house, where she made a clean breast of
her misdemeanour to her mother. (non-restrictive)
See also Common Uses of the Comma
The young woman was walking the dog in faded blue jeans. A neighbour approached her and said, “Did
you know that it barked all night?”
“Yes, but don’t worry,” the young woman replied. “It sleeps all day.”
The dog is definitely not “in faded blue jeans”. Because the modifier is misplaced, the
intended meaning of the sentence is not immediately obvious. The sentence should read:
The young woman in faded blue jeans was walking the dog.
* * *
Santa Claus had a nightmare in which he entered a house through the chimney and helped himself to a
glass of milk. When he had finished his drink, he noticed a note on the fridge door. The note read: “If you
leave a new cellphone in the kitchen, I will give you the antidote to the poison I put in the milk. In previous
years, every Santa who took the antidote quickly recovered. – Timmy.”
The last sentence in the story contains a squinting modifier. A squinting modifier, also
called a two-way modifier, can modify the word or words on either side of it.
The sentence has two possible meanings: (i) took quickly; (ii) recovered quickly. To
prevent ambiguity, it can be recast in one of two ways (depending on which meaning is
In previous years, every Santa who took the antidote recovered quickly.
In previous years, every Santa who quickly took the antidote recovered.
* * *
“Students who miss classes frequently get poor grades,” the father said to his son, who often played
truant and wrote his own sick notes.
“I don’t get the highest marks in my class, Dad,” the boy replied. “Do you get the highest salary at your
The first sentence contains a squinting modifier. The sentence has two possible
meanings: (i) miss classes frequently; (ii) frequently get poor grades. It can be
disambiguated in one of two ways (depending on which meaning is intended):
Students who frequently miss classes get poor grades.
Frequently, students who miss classes get poor grades.
* * *
Words such as only, nearly, almost, even and just are called limiting modifiers.
Two men were having a drinking session at a bar when one of them said to the other, “You nearly drank a
whole crate of beer. Your wife will hit the ceiling when you get home.”
“She sure will,” said the second man. “She’s a lousy shot!”
If you tell someone, “You nearly drank a whole crate of beer”, it means nothing
happened – the man didn’t quite get around to doing any drinking; he only “nearly” drank
The modifier should be placed correctly to show what is intended: You drank nearly a
whole crate of beer.
* * *
Let us look at the common patterns regarding the use of “only”:
Only she is a child. (the others are adults)
She is only a child. (not older)
She is a child only. (nothing more)
She is an only child. (has no siblings)
Nevertheless, the imprecise placement of “only” is hardly noticed when the meaning of
the sentence is sufficiently clear – e.g. I only failed once. / I failed only once.
(Sometimes, the “correct” version may not sound as smooth as the alternative!)
* * *
Adverb or Preposition?
An adverb does not have an object: The bird flew off.
A preposition always has an object: The driver jumped off the bus.
Can you tell whether the italicized words below are adverbs or prepositions?
1. Mother Kangaroo says to her child, “Go outside and get some fresh air. Don’t be a
2. A fight broke out outside the warden’s office when one prisoner called another a
3. He put a mirror on his television set so that he could see what his children looked
4. The town bore called out my name several times, but I walked on, not wishing to
suffer any “earitation”.
5. The secretary failed to send the letter off because she didn’t understand what the boss
said between “Dear Sir” and “Yours faithfully”.
6. He dined off a special sandwich – one slice of bread between two slices of ham.
7. She got through the novel even though someone had written the name of the
murderer on the first page.
8. The eccentric man at the bus stop did not want to open his present, an umbrella,
before Christmas, and he was soaked through.
9. A motorist who had stopped his car on a country road to ask for directions to his
cousin’s house got this reply from a farmer: “Well, the way you are going it’s about fifty
kilometres, but if you turn around it’s only two.”
10. “Get me a book about lions!” he roared.
1.adverb 2.prepostion 3.preposition 4.adverb 5.adverb 6.preposition 7.preposition
8.adverb 9.adverb 10.preposition
* * *
Adjectives and Adverbs with the Same Form
Can you tell whether the italicized words below are adjectives or adverbs?
1. The skilful magician pulled a hat with a wide brim out of a fluffy little rabbit.
2. The avid punster read from his collection of puns: “Finding it wide open, the burglar
climbed intruder window.”
3. It was a pretty silly idea – his invention of an egg opener.
4. “I wanted to get you a pretty dress,” the burglar says to his wife, “but the darn shop
was still open!”
5. He says jestingly to her, “You must be dead tired from all the running you did in my
dream last night.”
6. The naughty boy said he put a dead mouse in his sister’s bed because he couldn’t
find a toad.
7. Mother Cat says to her kitten, “Stay away from danger. You have only nine lives!”
8. The hummingbird is the only bird that can fly backwards.
9. “I just don’t know what went wrong. According to the cookbook, this is supposed to
be a delicious dish.”
10. She wore her wedding ring on the wrong finger because she married the wrong
1.adjective 2.adverb 3.adverb 4.adjective 5.adverb 6.adjective 7.adverb 8.adjective
* * *
Adverbs with Two Forms
Some adverbs have two forms, namely the form which is the same as the adjective, and
the form ending in –ly:
They laughed loud.
They laughed loudly.
Sometimes, the two forms have different meanings:
It was a pretty (=fairly) exciting race.
The hostess was prettily (=elegantly) dressed.
Choose the correct adverb within each pair of brackets below:
1. I was (high, highly) amused when she said that Robinson Crusoe was a model worker
– he had all the work done by Friday.
2. “All right, you may take this ball for a test dribble, but please don’t kick it (high,
highly) in the air.”
3. He is so lazy that he takes (near, nearly) five days to put in a good day’s work.
4. “Come (near, nearly) so that I don’t have to shout,” she says to her henpecked
5. Work (hard, hardly) – success comes before work only in the dictionary.
6. The lion and I were (hard, hardly) five feet apart – and then I moved on to the next
7. The Star is the most (wide, widely) read English newspaper in the country.
8. The goalkeeper stood with his legs (wide, widely) apart, and the ball rolled between
them, straight into the goal.
9. He is the (most, mostly) persuasive salesman I have ever met – he can sell a comb to
a bald man.
10. He reads a novel occasionally, but (most, mostly) he reads T-shirts.
11. “Come (quick, quickly)! My dog is getting ready to break-dance!”
1.highly 2.high 3.nearly 4.near 5.hard 6.hardly 7.widely 8.wide 9.most 10.mostly
11. both “quick” and “quickly” are correct
A verbal is a verb that functions as a different part of speech. There are three types of
A gerund is formed by adding –ing to a verb. It always functions as a noun.
Walking is a popular form of exercise. (The gerund functions as the subject of the verb
* * *
“I hope you will excuse me leaving early yesterday,” the worker said to the boss. “I had to return a DVD
to the shop.”
“But you left the office when it was only three o’clock,” said the boss.
“Well, I had to watch the DVD before I returned it.”
The word “leaving” here is a gerund, and it must be preceded by the possessive form of
the pronoun: I hope you will excuse my leaving early yesterday.
* * *
(a) Present Participle
When it is used as a verbal, a present participle functions as an adjective.
The man said to the crying woman, “May I help you?” (The present participle modifies
the noun woman.)
(b) Past Participle
When it is used as a verbal, a past participle functions as an adjective.
The naughty boy came home with a broken arm. (The past participle modifies the noun
An infinitive is the base form of a verb; it is usually used with the word “to”.
An infinitive can function as a noun, an adverb or an adjective.
I love to sing. (The infinitive functions as a noun – the object of the verb love.)
The students were eager to listen to the talk. (The infinitive functions as an adverb,
modifying the adjective eager.)
He braved the rain to wait for his girlfriend. (The infinitive functions as an adverb,
modifying the verb braved.)
Whenever I take a train or a bus, I bring a sandwich to eat. (The infinitive functions as
an adjective, modifying the noun sandwich.)
* * *
The split infinitive
A split infinitive is a phrase in which an adverb or other word is inserted between “to”
and the verb of a to-infinitive.
Eric Partridge, author of Usage and Abusage, says, “Avoid the split infinitive wherever
possible; but if it is the clearest and the most natural construction, use it boldly.”
Speaking of boldness, the Star Trek tag line contains a split infinitive: “to boldly go” –
which is certainly more natural than “to go boldly”.
Let’s consider another example where an infinitive seems to improve on being split: “I
cannot bring myself to really like the fellow” (from The Elements of Style).
* * *
The forms of the infinitive
An infinitive (both the to-infinitive and the bare infinitive)
on the main verb to indicate the time of the action.
There are four types of infinitive:
to be loving
to have loved
to have been loving
has no tense, so it depends
to be loved
-to have been loved
The present infinitive refers to the same time as that of the main verb:
She was willing to help him.
(b) Present continuous
The present continuous infinitive refers to the same time as that of the main verb, and
emphasizes the continuing nature of an action:
I am happy to be working here.
The perfect infinitive refers to a time before that of the main verb:
I am delighted to have won the first prize.
(d) Perfect continuous
The perfect continuous infinitive refers to a time before that of the main verb, and
emphasizes the continuing nature of an action:
I am happy to have been working here for the last five years. (I still work here.)
The spelling mistakes have to be corrected. (Passive present)
My wallet seems to have been stolen. (Passive perfect)
An appositive is a noun, pronoun or noun equivalent (often with modifiers) that names
or explains another noun or pronoun beside it.
The appositive can begin the sentence, interrupt the sentence, or end the sentence. The
appositives in the examples below are underlined.
1. His best friend, Charlie, is a playboy who can say “I love you” in many languages.
(The appositive is non-restrictive – not essential to the basic meaning of the sentence –
and is therefore set off from the rest of the sentence with commas.)
2. The actress Daisy Dough likes to talk about her last movie or her next husband. (The
appositive is restrictive – essential to the meaning of the sentence – and is therefore not
set off from the rest of the sentence with commas. Without the appositive, we wouldn’t
know which actress is being referred to.)
3. Meow, Tina’s pet cat, can say his own name.
4. My neighbour’s old car, a blue saloon with dented doors, gets homesick whenever it
passes a scrapyard.
5. In the fable about the crow and the fox, the crow sang her favourite song, ‘I Just Caw
to Say I Love You’.
6. That beautiful cocktail waitress, she with the big sense of humour, likes to tell her
customers that money grows on trays.
7. She has trained Max, her six-year-old beagle, to sit on the hole in the carpet whenever
she has visitors.
8. David, a skilful magician, thrilled the audience by pulling a hat out of a rabbit.
9. A skilful magician, David thrilled the audience by pulling a hat out of a rabbit.
10. The audience applauded David, a skilful magician who thrilled them by pulling a hat
out of a rabbit.
When we want to show that something belongs to someone or something, we usually
add an apostrophe plus s to a singular noun and just an apostrophe to a plural noun, but
there are exceptions.
the boy’s football
the boys’ football
the child’s toy
the children’s toys
for goodness’ sake
my brother-in-law’s car
the criminal’s escape
somebody else’s bag
the dog’s tail
her sons-in-law’s houses / the houses of her sons-in-law
five dollars’ worth of titbits
Cinderella’s stepmother’s cottage
An elderly man met a friend of his granddaughter. “This is my grandfather,” said the granddaughter to
her friend. “He’s in his early nineties.”
Eyeing the beautiful friend, the old geezer said with a flirtatious twinkle in his eye, “Early nineties.”
The first sentence should read: An elderly man met a friend of his granddaughter’s.
This is an example of the double possessive. Although the double possessive may
sound awkward, it is especially helpful, for instance, in distinguishing between a
painting of my father (= a portrait of him) and a painting of my father’s (= one owned
You can avoid the double possessive by recasting the sentence: An elderly man met one
of his granddaughter’s friends.
* * *
Joint Possession and Separate Possession
The little boy had just returned home after spending a week at his aunt’s and uncle’s ranch. “Mum,” he
said excitedly, “I even saw a man who makes horses.”
“Are you sure?” asked the mother, puzzled.
“Yes,” he replied. “I couldn’t believe my eyes. He had a horse almost completed when I saw him, and he
was just nailing on the feet.”
The first sentence should read: The little boy had just returned home after spending a
week at his aunt and uncle’s farm.
If two (or more) nouns or names have joint possession, only the second (or the last)
noun or name takes the possessive form. Another example: Grace and Emily’s joint
birthday party will be held this Saturday.
If the possession is separate, each noun or name takes the possessive form:
John’s and Gary’s birthdays both fall in December.
He invited his son’s and daughter’s friends to the party.
The cat’s and dogs’ names were given by me.
* * *
Possessives as Antecedents
The mother blew her top when she found out that a window in the house had been broken. “Can’t you
stay out of trouble for just one day?” she shouted at her son.
Thinking that he could make his friend the scapegoat, the little boy said, “The fault is David’s, who
ducked his head when I threw a stone at him.”
The sentence “The fault is David’s, who ducked his head when I threw a stone at him”
Possessives (except for independent possessives) function as adjectives. Strictly
speaking, adjectives cannot be the antecedents of pronouns. (The “faulty” sentence uses
“David’s” as the antecedent of the pronoun “who”.)
The sentence should read: The broken window is the fault of David, who ducked his
head when I threw a stone at him. / David broke the window by ducking his head when I
threw a stone at him.
The sentence “If you need a racquet, you may borrow Steve’s, which he bought a few
days ago” is, however, correct. Here, “Steve’s” is an independent possessive, a
possessive form that functions as a noun. There is an ellipsis of “racquet” in the
antecedent (= Steve’s racquet), which the relative pronoun “which” refers to.
Other examples of independent possessives are “yours” and “mine”: My new cellphone
is not as versatile as yours (= your cellphone), which is more expensive. / If you have
mislaid your cellphone, you may use mine (= my cellphone), which is on the desk behind
The general opinion is that a possessive can be the antecedent of a pronoun as long as
the meaning of the pronoun is clear and the sentence is not awkward:
The principal’s illness forced her to retire early. (Alternative: The principal decided to
retire early because of her illness.)
Michael’s laziness caused him to lose his job. (Alternative: Michael lost his job
because he was lazy.)
21. Common Uses of the Comma
(i) When a coordinating conjunction joins two independent clauses, we put a comma
before the conjunction.
Cinderella alighted from her ornate coach, and the prince stepped forward to greet
I knocked on the door several times, but there was no answer.
We omit the comma if
(a) the independent clauses are very short: I stayed but she left.
(b) the independent clauses are conceptually interdependent (Barbara Wallraff, Word
Court): Come inside the house now and I will explain everything to you. (The subject of
the first clause is understood: Come inside the house now = (You) come inside the house
now.) / “Give me your wallet or I’ll beat you up,” the robber said to his victim.
(ii) The serial comma A serial comma is a comma placed after the last but one item in a
list of three or more items. It is not really necessary in a simple series. Example: I bought
pens, pencils and erasers.
The serial comma is essential if its omission can cause misreading. Example: They ate
fried rice, vegetable soup, and fish and chips.
Two verb phrases describing the action of the same subject do not need a comma if and
is the conjunction separating them: He walked into the living room and sat down on the
(A verb phrase is a phrase that is headed by a verb.)
Three or more verb phrases describing the action of the same subject need commas to
separate them: He walked into the living room, sat down on the sofa, and read the
(A comma is needed with two verb phrases if there is an obvious pause: The little boy
notices a film-like substance on his plate, and asks his mother, “Mum, is my plate
(iii) Restrictive relative clauses and non-restrictive relative clauses
A restrictive relative clause is not set off by commas from the rest of the sentence.
Example: People who live in glass houses should not throw stones. (The clause is
essential to the meaning of the sentence. If we leave out the clause, the sentence does not
A non-restrictive relative clause is set off by commas from the rest of the sentence.
Example: Her father, who is a lawyer, won the first prize. (The clause is not essential to
the meaning of the sentence – it is merely “additional information”. If we leave out the
clause, the sentence still makes sense.)
(iv) In a complete sentence, a comma must follow the last element of an address or
geographical location. Example: The clock tower in Teluk Intan, Perak, is a unique
The logic can be clearly seen if we replace the two commas with a pair of brackets: The
clock tower in Teluk Intan (Perak) is a unique building.
(v) An infinitive phrase used as an adverb needs a comma after it if it is placed at the
beginning of the sentence. Example: To stay fit and healthy, he walks three kilometres
every morning. (The comma disappears if we put the infinitive phrase in the second part
of the sentence: He walks three kilometres every morning to stay fit and healthy.)
(vi) A dependent (subordinate) clause that starts a sentence must be followed by a
comma. Example: If you get up late, you’ll miss the bus. (The comma disappears if we
put the independent clause first: You’ll miss the bus if you get up late.)
(vii) Participial phrases sometimes need commas. Examples: Running up to my porch,
the mongrel hoped that I had some dog food with me. / Bitten by mosquitoes, I wished
that I had brought along an insect repellent for the camping trip. (Participial phrases
always function as adjectives.)
The mongrel running up to my porch hoped that I had some food with me. (No comma)
(viii) We use a comma after a long introductory phrase. Example: After a long wait for
the bus, I decided to walk home. (The comma disappears if we put the phrase in the
second part of the sentence: I decided to walk home after a long wait for the bus.)
(ix) We use commas to set off non-restrictive appositive phrases. Example: An active
member of the club, Sam has a good chance of being elected its president. / Sam, an
active member of the club, has a good chance of being elected its president.
(x) Parenthetical expressions are set off by commas. Example: Mary, on the other hand,
likes swimming and jogging.
(xi) Commas are used in elliptical sentences. A sentence that is elliptical omits one or
more words that the reader (or listener) is expected to provide. The missing word or
phrase is called an ellipsis.
Example: His first book sold only one thousand copies, but his second, twenty
thousand. (This sentence is the short version of “His first book sold only one thousand
copies, but his second book sold twenty thousand”.)
(xii) We use commas wherever necessary to avoid confusion or misreading. Examples:
She walked in, in tears. / To John, Lennon will always be the most famous Beatle.
(xiii) Commas play an important role in direct speech. See Direct Speech and Indirect
Speech for sentence examples.
(xiv) Commas are used in sentences containing absolute phrases:
The secretary having entered the room, we started our club meeting. (An absolute
phrase modifies the whole sentence instead of a single word in the sentence. In the
example, the subject of the phrase (secretary) is not the same as the subject of the main
(xv) Comma before “because”
Two rabbits saw a pack of wolves a short distance away. The rabbits didn’t run because they were
After a while, one of the rabbits said, “If we get to work now, we can outnumber them!”
The second sentence in the story is unclear – it might mean that the rabbits ran, but not
because they were afraid.
For clarity, we sometimes put a comma before a because-clause that follows the main
clause. (The Chicago Manual of Style)
The second sentence in the story should therefore read: The rabbits didn’t run, because
they were afraid.
(We can also let the because-clause begin the sentence: Because they were afraid, the
rabbits didn’t run. / Because the rabbits were afraid, they didn’t run.)
A comma before “because” is needed if there is an obvious pause: Cinderella said to
the prince, “I forgive my stepmother and stepsisters, because I want to feel joy.”
(xvi) Commas and multiple adjectives
Multiple adjectives follow a certain order, namely:
Observation / Opinion – beautiful, dull, interesting, etc.
Size – small, big, large, etc.
Age – old, new, ancient, etc.
Shape – round, square, rectangular, etc.
Colour – blue, yellow, white, etc.
Origin – Malaysian, American, Japanese, etc.
Material – rubber, gold, silk, etc.
Qualifier – limiters for compound nouns
(Determiners are modifying words that restrict the meaning of a noun, e.g. a, an, the,
my, your. Quantifiers are determiners or pronouns showing quantity, e.g. all, a few,
Two adjectives of the same type are separated by and:
He is a shy and timid man. (observation, observation)
(We can replace the conjunction with a comma: He is a shy, timid man.)
Three or more adjectives of the same type are separated by commas, with and for the
This is a dark, dirty and stuffy room. (observation, observation, observation)
Adjectives of different types do not require commas:
I found an old rectangular box in the room. (age, shape)
She has long black hair. (shape, colour)
I need a square cardboard hat box. (shape, material, qualifier)
There are several blind white mice in the attic. (observation, colour) (We can also say
that the adjective “blind” modifies the compound noun “white mice”.)
We ate some appetizing Malay food. (opinion, origin)
She met a handsome young man. (observation/opinion, age) (We can also say that the
adjective “handsome” modifies the compound noun “young man”.)
* * *
The comma splice
“I reached the office at noon today, my boss gave me a severe warning.”
“Why were you late?”
“I had a book rental that was due back this morning.”
“And that took three hours?”
“Well, I had to read it first.”
The comma after “today” is an example of a comma splice, which is the improper use
of a comma to connect two independent clauses.
We can fix a comma splice in several ways:
(i) Use a semi-colon: “I reached the office at noon today; my boss gave me a severe
(ii) Use a full stop: “I reached the office at noon today. My boss gave me a severe
(iii) Use a coordinating conjunction: “I reached the office at noon today, and my boss
gave me a severe warning.”
(iv) Use a subordinate (dependent) clause: “My boss gave me a severe warning
because I reached the office at noon today.” / “Because I reached the office at noon
today, my boss gave me a severe warning.”
Comma splices also occur with conjunctive adverbs (however, nevertheless,
consequently, accordingly, moreover, therefore, etc.):
He has a rare disease, however, it is not life-threatening. (Incorrect)
He has a rare disease; however, it is not life-threatening. (Correct)
He has a rare disease; it is, however, not life-threatening. (Correct)
Comma splices are probably all right if the independent clauses are very short
(especially if the subject is the same for the clauses):
I came, I saw, I conquered.
The path was long, the wind was cold.
It’s not a fox, it’s a civet.
I can eat twenty pies, I’m so hungry.
The comma splices in tag questions are acceptable (they are hardly noticed):
It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?
You are coming with us, aren’t you?
(A tag question is a device used to turn a statement into a question.)
* * *
An English teacher who had a zero tolerance approach to punctuation wrote these words on the
blackboard: Woman without her man is nothing
She asked her students to form a correctly punctuated sentence with the words.
The boys wrote: “Woman, without her man, is nothing.”
The girls wrote: “Woman – without her, man is nothing.”
* * *
Many years ago, a Russian tsar sentenced a prisoner to death. When the tsar received a telegram about a
pardon for the condemned man, he wrote a reply that read: “Pardon impossible, to be executed”.
However, the tsar’s wife believed that the man was innocent. She managed to intercept the outgoing
telegram, and made a punctuation change in it.
The telegram that reached the prison read: “Pardon, impossible to be executed”.
* * *
A woman on tour in a foreign country cabled her husband the following message: “Found perfect
bracelet. Price fifty thousand dollars. May I buy it?”
The husband frowned heavily when he read the message, and he wrote out his reply: “No, price too
However, the telegraph operator missed one small but important detail in his transmission – the signal for
a comma after the word “No”.
The wife literally jumped for joy when she read her husband’s message: “No price too high”. She bought
When she reached home and showed the bracelet to her husband, he hit the ceiling. He filed a lawsuit
against the telegraph company – and won!
(All three stories adapted from material on the Internet)
22. Causative Verbs
“The surgeon made me laughed during the operation.”
“Yes, he had me in stitches!”
The first sentence should read: “The surgeon made me laugh during the operation.”
Here, “made” is a causative verb.
The causative verb is used when someone or something causes another person or thing
to do something.
The causative verbs make, let and have take the bare infinitive (without “to”):
The cold made me shiver.
He let me join his group.
I had Andy wash my car.
The causative verbs that require to-infinitives include tell, get, persuade, force, allow,
help, convince and encourage.
I told him to wash my car.
I got him to check my car.
I persuaded him to clean the room.
The passive causative
Some causative verbs can be used in a form similar to the passive:
I had my car washed.
I got my car checked.
Parallelism (also called parallel construction) is a principle of grammatical construction
that requires the use of the same pattern of words to show that two or more elements or
ideas are of equal importance.
I like jogging and to swim. (Faulty parallelism : gerund + infinitive)
I like jogging and swimming. (Good parallelism: gerund + gerund)
I like to jog and to swim. (Good parallelism: infinitive + infinitive)
More examples of good parallelism:
She will either go to university or look for a job.
He neither drinks nor smokes.
* * *
Tom and his wife are quarrelling furiously.
She says, “If it weren’t for my money, many things wouldn’t be here. I not only bought a new car but also
a new massage chair.”
He says, “If it weren’t for your money, I wouldn’t be here!”
The sentence “I not only bought a new car but also a new massage chair” is not parallel.
As with other correlative conjunctions (either…or, neither…nor, both…and), we should
follow each part of the “not only…but also…” construction with an element of the same
The sentence in question should read: I bought not only a new car but also a new
massage chair. (In this correct version, both “not only” and “but also” are followed by
* * *
Absolute parallelism is not always necessary. (Writer’s Encyclopedia) If the
grammatical functions are parallel, the grammatical forms need not be.
Example: He speaks carelessly and without consideration for other people’s feelings.
Both “carelessly” and “without consideration for other people’s feelings” modify the verb
“speaks”. Since their grammatical functions are similar, the construction is parallel.
24. Double Negatives
A salesman enters a general store and says to the proprietor, “I’d like to speak to Bill.”
“Bill doesn’t work here any more,” says the proprietor.
“In that case, let me speak with the man who filled the vacancy.”
“Bill didn’t leave no vacancy.”
“Bill didn’t leave no vacancy” should be “Bill didn’t leave any vacancy.” / “Bill left no
* * *
Double (or multiple) negatives – the use of two or more negatives in the same
construction – fall into two categories:
(i) If the meaning is emphatically negative (“I didn’t lend him no money” / “I don’t
need no advice from no members”), the construction is not part of formal English.
However, the use of double negatives to convey emphasis is all right when the second
negative appears in a separate phrase or clause (separated by a comma): They do not seek
fortune, no more than they seek fame = They do not seek fortune any more than they seek
(ii) If the meaning is positive (“She is not unpopular”), the construction is absolutely
correct. Here, the double negative conveys a weaker affirmative than would be conveyed
by the positive adjective “popular”. Thus, someone who is “not unpopular” does not
enjoy as much popularity as another person who is “popular”.
Double negatives are also unacceptable when the negatives combine with adverbs such
as barely, hardly and scarcely. Meaning “almost not” or “almost none at all”, these
adverbs severely curtail the effect of the verb.
The plant scarcely needs no water. (Incorrect)
The plant scarcely needs any water. (Correct)
I barely have no time left. (Incorrect)
I barely have any time left. (Correct)
25. Common Uses of the Hyphen
Hyphens have three main uses: (i) to join words into a compound word; (ii) to join an
affix to a base word; (iii) to break a word at the end of a line.
There are three forms of compound words: (a) closed or solid compounds (written as
single words with no hyphenation), e.g. teapot, toothache; (b) hyphenated compounds,
e.g. mother-to-be, passer-by; (c) open compounds (written as separate words), e.g. heart
surgeon, seat belt.
The proper use of hyphenation can help to clarify the meaning of a sentence.
(i) Put a hyphen between the elements in a compound word. Example: He bought a new
house for his mother-in-law.
(ii) Hyphenate compound numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine. Example: He took
forty-five minutes to wash the car.
(iii) Put a hyphen after a prefix that is followed by a proper noun. Example: His rudeness
(iv) Put a hyphen after “self”. Example: He is self-employed.
(v) Put a hyphen after “ex”. Example: He met his ex-secretary at the mall.
(vi) Generally, use a hyphen when a base word begins with the letter that ends the prefix.
Example: The members decided to re-elect him as the chairman of the club.
(vii) Hyphenate a suspended compound, in which a word common to several compound
adjectives is not repeated. Examples: He bought some five- and eight-year bonds. / She
dreamed about a three-eyed and –armed alien.
(viii) Use a hyphen to prevent a word from being confused with another word whose
meaning is different. Example: He decided to resign as secretary. / She asked her boss to
re-sign the document.
(ix) Hyphenate an adjective + noun which has been added with – ed or –d. Examples: She
gave the teary-eyed orphan a toy. / The red-eyed frog asked the princess to kiss him
because he espied a fly on her upper lip.
(x) Hyphenate a compound consisting of noun + past participle. Example: The company
bought a wind-powered generator.
(xi) Hyphenate a compound consisting of adjective + present participle. Example: Her
cat has an odd-sounding name.
(xii) Hyphenate a compound consisting of noun + present participle. Example: It is a
(xiii) Use a hyphen in a temporary compound.
Example: American-history teacher = The teacher teaches American history.
American history-teacher = The history teacher is an American.
* * *
Don’t hyphenate an adverb ending in –ly + participle. Examples: The school principal
advised the students not to swim in the swiftly moving canal. / That beautifully dressed
woman over there is my boss.
Don’t hyphenate an adverb ending in –ly + adjective. Example: The teacher was
extremely patient with her pupils.
Don’t hyphenate independent adjectives preceding or following a noun. Example:
When he came back from a long and tiring trip to Venice, he complained that the whole
place was flooded.
(Hyphenated compounds containing “and” function as a single idea: an up-and-coming
politician; it’s not a hard-and-fast rule.)
26. Other Punctuation Marks
The Full Stop
Use a full stop at the end of a sentence: Jack climbed up the beanstalk.
Use a full stop after a polite request that is put as a question: Will you please read this
script and give me your comments.
Use a full stop after each initial in a proper name and after most abbreviations:
T. K. Lee
The full stop is also used as a decimal:
The patient’s temperature is 98.5 degrees.
This cellphone costs RM550.80.
The headmaster is pleased that 98.5 per cent of the students passed the exam.
The Question Mark
Use a question mark at the end of a direct question: Are you hungry?
Don’t put a question mark at the end of an indirect question: I asked her whether she
Tag questions require question marks: It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?
(A tag question is a device used to turn a statement into a question.)
The Exclamation Mark
The exclamation mark is used to express emotion – anger, surprise, pleasure,
She shouted, “He won’t get away with this!”
He said, “You bought a present for me? That’s wonderful!”
“I’m going to win the first prize!”
If an exclamation mark forms part of an italicized title, the exclamation mark is also
italicized: My favourite book is Dr. Seuss’s You’re Only Old Once! (Do not add a full
stop. The exclamation mark is sufficient to end the sentence.)
If the exclamation mark is not part of the sentence-ending title, don’t italicize the
exclamation mark: Someone has stolen my copy of To Kill a Mockingbird!
Use a semi-colon to separate items in a series when the items contain other types of
punctuation marks: The winners were from Teluk Intan, Perak; Kuching, Sarawak;
Kulim, Kedah; and Klang, Selangor. / The new committee comprised Brown, the
chairman; Green, the secretary; and White, the treasurer.
Use a semi-colon to separate closely related independent clauses: She always looks
under the bed before she sleeps; she’s afraid a monster may be hiding under it.
Use a colon before a list or an explanation that follows a clause:
I bought twenty dollars’ worth of stationery: pens, pencils, rulers and erasers. (The
word after the colon is not capitalized because what follows is not a complete sentence.)
We have only two choices: We could reduce the size of the workforce or wind up the
company. (The word after the colon is capitalized because what follows is a complete
There were three volunteers: Brown, Green and White. (The word after the colon is
capitalized because it is a proper noun.)
The colon is often used before a long statement:
To the king, the frog said: “This morning, the princess lost her golden ball when it
rolled into the pond, and she promised me that I could live with her if I retrieved it for
Use a colon after a salutation in a business letter:
Dear Mr. Lee:
Use a colon to designate a speaker in a play:
JOE: What do we do now?
JANE (frowning): I really don’t know.
Apostrophes are used for
Examples: I am I’m
you are you’re
it is it’s
who is who’s
he will he’ll
they would have they would’ve
they had they’d
where did where’d
where would where’d
Examples: the children’s father
the child’s toy
(c) Some Plurals:
Examples: Paul got 3A’s in the exam. (If the plural is clear, the apostrophe can be
omitted: Paul got 3As, 4Bs and 2Cs.)
He wrote many songs in the 1960’s / He wrote many songs in the 1960s.
(a) To set off an appositive that is a series: The three culprits – Andy, Ben and Charlie
– were punished by the teacher.
(b) To connect independent clauses: Mother Duck thought that she had to speak to the
ugly duckling – he was feeling moody every day.
(c) To connect a phrase to the rest of the sentence: Reading, writing and collecting
stamps – these are the three hobbies that fill his free time. / He has three hobbies that fill
his free time – reading, writing and collecting stamps.
(d) To indicate interruption when another speaker interrupts the first speaker:
“I must speak to you about your tardiness,” the boss said. “You have been late for
work for the past six weeks, and –”
“But I joined the company only three days ago!” interrupted the clerk.
(e) To indicate interruption when the original speaker interrupts himself:
“I – ” I stopped, feeling confused.
(f) To set off words describing the speaker in direct speech:
“I’ve waited twenty years to have my own house, and now that I have realized my
dream” – her voice broke with emotion – “I don’t have the words to describe how happy
Quotation marks are chiefly used to set off a person’s spoken or written words:
She said to her husband, “I have cooked your favourite food.”
“I didn’t see him,” he said, “but I heard his voice.”
Dave said to his wife, “Sam said to me this morning, ‘Your wife is a fantastic cook.’”
“Didn’t he say to you, ‘Don’t I know you?’” asked John. (A single question mark is
enough to end a quoted question within a question.)
We use quotation marks to enclose slang expressions, epithets and nicknames:
The boss dismissed her suggestion as “far out”.
We call him “He Who Wins in Every Contest”!
Her siblings have always called her “Nat”.
Brackets (also called round brackets) are used to enclose some words from other words
in a sentence, or some sentences from other sentences in the same paragraph. The isolated
material is only slightly connected with the content.
The efficient secretary completed the document in less than two hours (she types over
eighty words per minute).
There are two ways to mnemonically remember the six rules (both of them equally
helpful), and you can choose the one you like.
The witch ordered Gretel to cook pancakes and other foods. (The heartless hag didn’t
like to put all her eggs in one biscuit!)
Use brackets to enclose a source note following a quotation: As Dickens put it, “No
man is useless in this world who lightens the burden of it for anyone else” (Our Mutual
The ellipsis is a set of three dots indicating an omission. It is chiefly used
(a) to represent a trailing off of thought: “If I had…it’s no use talking about it now, I
(b) to indicate hesitation: “Well…I…I…can’t be sure about that.”
(c) to shorten a quotation which you are quoting (without changing the meaning of the
(a) in certain abbreviations: a/c number (account); John Tan, c/o Jane Tan (care of);
n/a (not applicable, not available); w/o (without).
(b) in fractions: ½ (one half); 2/3 (two thirds).
(c) to indicate “per” in measurements of speed, prices, and so on:
The speed limit is 90 km/h. (90 kilometres per hour)
The pencils cost RM10/dozen. (RM10 per dozen)
The mineral water costs 50 cents/litre. (50 cents per litre)
The new secretary types at 80 w/m. (80 words per minute)
(d) to indicate “or”: Dear Sir/Madam (Sir or Madam)
(e) in website addresses.
27. Active Voice and Passive Voice
Voice is that form of a verb which indicates whether the subject of the sentence does
something or has something done to it.
A verb is in the active voice when it indicates that the subject is the doer of the action:
The boy kicked the ball.
The verb “kicked” is in the active voice – the subject, the boy, performs the action
indicated by the verb.
A verb is in the passive voice when it indicates that something is done to the subject:
The ball was kicked by the boy.
The verb “kicked” is in the passive voice – the subject, the ball, receives the action
indicated by the verb.
The passive voice has a simple structure:
subject + auxiliary verb (be) + main verb (past participle)
The main verb is always in the past participle form.
Generally, the active voice is stronger than the passive voice. For example, “I love you”
is better than “You are loved by me”!
However, the passive voice is necessary in two instances:
(i) when we want to make the active object more important:
The president was assassinated by his chief bodyguard.
The movie was filmed in Kuala Lumpur.
(ii) when we do not know the active subject:
Her purse has been stolen.
28. Direct Speech and Indirect Speech
We report the spoken words, thoughts and feelings of a person in two ways, namely,
direct speech (sometimes called quoted speech) and indirect speech (sometimes called
In direct speech, the person’s words appear within quotation marks, and they should be
word for word. Indirect speech doesn’t use quotation marks to enclose the person’s
words, which don’t have to be word for word. Indirect speech is introduced by verbs such
as say, tell, explain, complain, reply, think and hope, in the past tense.
When we change from direct speech to indirect speech, the verb frequently changes:
(i) A simple present becomes a simple past.
Direct: She said, “I am hungry.”
Indirect: She said that she was hungry.
(ii) A present perfect becomes a past perfect.
Direct: He said, “I have painted the wall.”
Indirect: He said that he had painted the wall.
(iii) A present continuous becomes a past continuous.
Direct: She said, “My mother is baking a cake.”
Indirect: She said that her mother was baking a cake.
(iv) A simple past becomes a past perfect.
Direct: “She sang the song beautifully,” I thought.
Indirect: I thought that she had sung the song beautifully.
(v) A past continuous becomes a past perfect continuous.
Direct: He said, “I was playing badminton last night.”
Indirect: He said that he had been playing badminton the previous night.
(vi) A past perfect becomes (No Change).
Direct: He said, “The movie had already ended when she arrived.”
Indirect: He said that the movie had already ended when she arrived.
(vii) A past perfect continuous becomes (No Change).
Direct: He said, “I had already been watching the movie for fifteen minutes.”
Indirect: He said that he had already been watching the movie for fifteen minutes.
We can use the present tense in indirect speech if
(a) we want to say that something is still true:
Direct: “My name is Helen,” she said.
Indirect: She said that her name was Helen.
She said that her name is Helen.
(b) we are talking about a future event:
Direct: The speaker said, “Next week’s talk is on meditation.”
Indirect: The speaker said that next week’s talk is on meditation.
Some modal verbs change from direct speech to indirect speech:
Direct: She said, “I will visit Penang next week.”
Indirect: She said that she would visit Penang next week.
Direct: He said, “I can get a second job to earn more money.”
Indirect: He said that he could get a second job to earn more money.
Direct: He said, “I must have a cellphone.”
Indirect: He said that he had to get a cellphone.
Direct: She said, “What movie shall we watch?”
Indirect: She asked what movie we should watch.
Direct: He said, “May I borrow your umbrella?”
Indirect: He asked if he might borrow my umbrella.
There is no change to could, would, should, might and ought to.
Direct: He said, “I would like to open a new account.”
Indirect: He said that he would like to open a new account.
We change the pronouns to keep the meaning of the sentence:
Direct: He said, “I am the best contestant.”
Indirect: He said that he was the best contestant.
Direct: She said, “I can edit your article.”
Indirect: She said that she could edit my article.
Direct: David said, “He slapped her.”
Indirect: David said that the man slapped her.
Direct: “They will take a holiday this year,” he said.
Indirect: He said that they would take a holiday that year.
Time and Place
the next day
the day before
the night before
Direct: He said, “I will meet her here this evening.”
Indirect: He said that he would meet her there that evening.
If the speech is reported during the same period or at the same place, the words of time
and place do not change:
Direct: He says, “I will meet her here this evening.”
Indirect: He says that he will meet her here this evening.
In indirect speech, questions become statements:
Direct: “Have you eaten?”
Indirect: He asked me whether I had eaten.
Direct: “Do you want to dance with me?”
Indirect: She asked me whether I wanted to dance with her.
Commands and Requests
To change from direct speech to indirect speech, use to/not to + verb (infinitive without
Direct: He said to her, “Please wait here for a short while.”
Indirect: He requested her to wait there for a short while.
Direct: “Get enough sleep,” the doctor said to her.
Indirect: The doctor advised her to get enough sleep.
Direct: The boss shouted at me, “Get out of the room!”
Indirect: The boss ordered me to get out of the room.
Direct: “Don’t move!”
Indirect: The robber ordered us not to move.
Direct: He said, “Close the door.”
Indirect: He told me to close the door.
Direct: She said, “Don’t be late.”
Indirect: She asked me not to be late.
Use of ‘That’
‘That’ is often used in indirect speech. However, the word is optional: She told me that
she had passed the test. She told me she had passed the test.
29. Types of Sentences
1. A SIMPLE SENTENCE is a single independent clause containing a subject (or a
subject group) and a verb (or a verb group).
Example: A crow perched in a tree to eat a stolen morsel of meat.
2. A COMPOUND SENTENCE contains two (or more) simple sentences that are linked
by a coordinating conjunction or a semi-colon.
Example: The delicious food fell from the crow’s beak, and the fox gobbled it up at
once. / The delicious food fell from the crow’s beak; the fox gobbled it up at once.
3. A COMPLEX SENTENCE contains an independent clause and one or more dependent
Example: The crow was embarrassed when she realized that the fox had tricked her.
4. A COMPOUND-COMPLEX SENTENCE contains two or more independent clauses
and one or more dependent clauses.
Example: As the crow flew away from the tree, the fox broke into a little foxtrot, and
she could hear the cunning vulpine animal shout, “A crushing blow to a blushing crow!”
altogether, all together
Altogether means (i) in total (The teacher asks the pupil, “If I add the three eggs over
there to the two eggs here, how many eggs will I have altogether?”); (ii) completely (I
wasn’t altogether surprised that she won the singing contest.); (iii) on the whole (We
encountered a few problems, but altogether the event was a success.)
All together means (i) all in one place (The children are all together in the garden.); (ii)
all at once (The three naughty pupils walked into the principal’s office all together.)
any more, anymore
Any more can be (i) an adverb (I don’t love you any more); (ii) an adverb plus adjective
(I don’t want any more soup.) (iii) an adjective plus noun (I don’t want any more.) (iv) an
adverb modifying another adverb (I couldn’t work any more quickly.).
Anymore (adverb) is the variant of “any more”. (I don’t love you anymore.) It can’t be
used as an adjective or as an adverb modifying an adjective or another adverb.
Between is used with two people or objects: He divided his money between his two
Among is used with three or more people or objects: He divided his money among his
However, “between” is used with three or more people or objects if the units in the
group are considered individually, their relationship being one-to-one. If the units in the
group are considered collectively, “among” is used.
Between you, me and the lamp post, I think the boss is a skinflint.
The cook had batter between his fingers.
The rivalry between the three teams was intense.
She hid the photo among some documents in the drawer.
They found the black box among the wreckage.
According to Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, bring suggests movement
of something towards the speaker or the place where the speaker is, while take suggests
movement of something to another place.
Please bring me the book when you next visit me.
I have filled the form, which I will take with me when I go to the office.
Can is used to express ability. Can and may are used to express “permission”.
I can play chess now.
You can borrow my mower tomorrow.
May I borrow your lighter?
“Could” (the past tense of “can”) is a less definite form of “can” – the former means
“would be able to”: This project could create many new jobs.
“Could” is also used to make polite requests: Could you please close the door?
compare with, compare to
Compare with is used to compare two similar things, noting resemblances or
differences: If we compare Chinese cuisine with Indian cuisine, we find many differences.
/ What he did to me is nothing compared with what he did to himself.
Compare to is used to compare two unlike things, likening one to the other: Shall I
compare thee to a summer’s day? (Shakespeare) / He compared his fiancée to a red rose.
Comprise means “consist of”: The book comprises twenty chapters.
Include basically means “contain in addition to other parts”: The price includes sales
However, “include” is a tricky word in that it can also be used to mean “consist of”:
The team included twenty players, three officials, one doctor and one physiotherapist. (=
There are no other people in the team.)
Barbara Wallraff, author of Word Court (Harcourt Inc., Florida), says that include “can
be legitimately used in a way that leaves what is or isn’t included a bit vague.”
Continual means “very frequent; always happening; occurring at short intervals”: He is
sick of her continual nagging.
Continuous means “uninterrupted; unbroken”: The brain needs a continuous supply of
every day, everyday
Every day (adverb phrase) means “without missing a day”: I walk three kilometres
Everyday (adjective) means “daily; commonplace”: The husband said to his wife,
“Your nagging is becoming an everyday happening.”
everyone, every one
Everyone is a pronoun meaning “every person”; it can only be used of people and is
never followed by “of”: Everyone is invited to the party.
Every one is a pronoun phrase meaning “each one” (person or thing), and is often
followed by “of”: Every one of the tables has been cleaned.
Farther is used for distance and nothing else: The conductor asked the passengers to
move farther to the back of the bus.
Further is used for addition (quantity or time) and distance: I was relieved that he did
not extend his stay further. / He is too tired to walk any further.
Fewer is used with nouns that can be counted: The child should eat fewer sweets.
Less is used with nouns that cannot be counted (mass nouns): She has less patience
However, less is used to describe time, money and distance:
The concert lasted less than two hours.
This cellphone costs less than five hundred dollars.
His house is less than two kilometres from hers.
Hanged (the past tense and past participle of the regular verb hang) is used when we
talk of the form of execution (or suicide) called hanging.
Hung (the past tense and past participle of the irregular verb hang) is used in all other
contexts: He hung the picture on the wall. / She hung her head in shame.
into, in to
Into is a preposition. For example, in the sentence “She walked into the room”, “into” is
part of the prepositional phrase “into the room”, which functions adverbially to modify
the verb “walked”.
In to is an adverb + preposition. For example, in the sentence “She went in to dinner”,
the adverb “in” modifies the verb “went”, and “to” is a preposition with the object
When “into” is misused for “in to”, the result can be hilarious:
The pupil turned her essay in to the teacher. (Correct)
The pupil turned her essay into the teacher. (Incorrect – the pupil has suddenly
acquired magical powers!)
it, its, it’s
It is a personal pronoun (used as subject and object): It is on the table. / The cat ate it.
It is also the impersonal pronoun – without an antecedent: It is raining.
Its is the possessive form of the pronoun it: The cat licked its paw.
It’s is the contraction of “it is” and “it has”: It’s raining. / It’s been raining non-stop for
The verb to lay (past tense: laid; past participle: laid; present participle: laying) is a
transitive verb which means “to place or arrange something, especially horizontally”. It
takes a direct object: The hen laid two eggs yesterday. / She laid her coat over the chair.
The verb to lie (past tense: lay; past participle: lain; present participle: lying) is an
intransitive verb which means “to recline”. It does not take an object, and is usually
followed by the adverb down or a prepositional phrase: He is lying down for a while. /
She lay on the floor reading a magazine. / The guide informed us that the cottage lay in a
The confusion between the two words arises because the past tense of lie is lay, which
is the present tense of the other verb.
(The verb to lie (past tense: lied; past participle: lied; present participle: lying) means
“not to tell the truth”: I was angry that she lied to me.)
onto, on to
Onto is the variant of the compound preposition on to: He jumped onto the horse. /
Pour the coconut milk on to the batter.
When on to consists of adverb + preposition, it is not spelt as onto: Before we go on to
the next chapter, do you have any questions? (Here, the adverb on modifies the verb go,
and the preposition to has the noun phrase the next chapter as its object.)
try and, try to
When six-year-old Billy walked into the house after playing with his friends in the garden, his mother
said to him, “Why do you like to get yourself dirty?”
The boy said, “Mum, try and remember that I’m much closer to the ground than you are.”
Although try and is relaxed and acceptable, try to is precise. (Strunk and White)
Use try to when you are writing formal prose.
Whether is used
(a) to present two alternatives (neither of which is a condition):
Let the librarian know whether you need the book. (The two alternatives are “need the
book” and “does not need the book”. In either case, the librarian has to be informed.)
Let the librarian know if you need the book. (This is a conditional sentence. The
librarian is only to be informed if you need the book.)
(b) after prepositions:
It depends on whether she’s free or not. (The word “on” here is a preposition.)
(c) before to-infinitives:
I have been thinking whether to learn Mandarin this year. (“To learn” is an infinitive.)
(d) when it starts a clause that is the sentence subject or complement:
Whether you succeed or fail is none of my business. (“Whether you succeed or fail” is
the subject of the sentence.)
I don’t care whether you succeed or fail. (“Whether you succeed or fail” is the
complement of the verb “to care”.)
If is used to introduce a condition in a conditional sentence. In a conditional sentence, a
condition has to be satisfied before something happens.
Your father will punish you if you fail the exam.
If you leave me, I’ll be heartbroken.
Whether and If (interchangeable)
Whether and if can be used interchangeably
(a) when reporting yes/no questions:
I am not sure whether/if I will be going to the concert.
Mrs. Lim wondered whether/if she had turned off the tap.
(b) in whether/if…or…constructions:
I have to find out whether/if the story is true or false.
I would like to find out whether/if he is guilty or innocent.
(In formal writing, when whether and if are interchangeable, use whether.)
Whether or not
Frequently, the or not is unnecessary. However, when whether or not means
“regardless of whether”, the or not part is necessary:
The football match will be played whether it rains or not.
(Adapted from Grammar Monster)
While (noun) means “a (short) period of time”: Please wait for a while.
Awhile (adverb) means “for a short time”. This word is never preceded by the
preposition for: Come inside and talk with me awhile.
Use will to express the future tense: We will paint the room next week.
Use shall in questions, suggestions or offers with “I” and “we”.
“Shall we ask him for his opinion?” (Question)
“Shall we see the movie tonight?” (Suggestion)
“Shall I make you a sandwich?” (Offer)
(“Should” is the past form of both “shall” and “should”. “Would you” is used to
express a polite request: Would you please lend me your pen?)
* * *
Present Tense Narrative
The use of the present tense to tell a story is to maintain suspense. However, some facts
and actions in the story belong in the past, and the relevant verbs should therefore be in
the past tense.
Sam wakes up with a massive hangover after attending his company’s Christmas party.
For the life of him, he can’t remember how he got home from the party.
* * *
20 Rules for Writers
1. About those sentence fragments.
2. Always pick on the correct idiom.
3. And avoid all asinine alliteration.
4. And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction.
5. Avoid clichés like the plague.
6. Between you and I, case is important.
7. Correct spelling is esential.
8. Do not put statements in the negative form.
9. Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!
10. Don’t use commas, which aren’t necessary.
11. Don’t use no double negatives.
12. Its important to use apostrophe’s correctly.
13. Never use a preposition to end a sentence with.
14. Proofread carefully to see if you words out.
15. Remember to never split an infinitive.
16. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors.
17. The adverb always follows the verb.
18. The passive voice should never be used.
19. Verbs has to agree with their subjects.
20. Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
(By William Safire, drawn from several sources)
* * *
Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a
paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no
unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer
make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in
outline, but that every word tell. – William Strunk Jr.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The writer is the author of Idiomania, which is available at bookshops.