Proper Grammar

Written by Helen Glenn Court
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Proper grammar is fairly straightforward. Writing style is what tends to confuse and complicate a simple structure. By definition, a sentence has a subject (noun or pronoun) and an action (verb, either that takes an object or that doesn't) and sometimes an object (noun or pronoun). That's the straightforward variety. The only punctuation needed in a simple sentence is the closing period.

We get more specific in our descriptions than that, though, because communications restricted to "storm is near" or "fire burned hills" don't give enough information. We add adjectives and adverbs, prepositional phrases, conjunctions, articles, and pronouns. These mean commas and semicolons and hyphens. All this gets us into trouble if we're not careful.

The usual offenses against proper grammar include misplaced modifiers, subject and verb that don't agree, misspelled words, punctuation that muddles meaning instead of keeping order. A classic example of everything wrong except the core sentence and the comma placement makes the point clearly enough. Making it into an off-the-cuff quiz is a useful exercise in understanding the breadth of proper grammar. What you want to do here is break the sentence down into its parts and decide if they fit together grammatically.

Proper Grammar: Learning by Example

"Facilitated by its massive numbers, geographic proximity and a new, ongoing process of dispersal to different regions of the national territory, immigration is producing fundamental, everyday life transformations in new localities and their multiple arenas of social interaction; changes that endure, make history, and energize societies." Start by finding the subject. Then look at the rest--object, modifying phrases and words and related clauses. Ask yourself if the punctuation helps or hinders. Look for repetition and misuse of words. A simpler way to work on grammar is to look into tip sheets or cheat sheets, and review these as you edit.

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