Appendix A: Grammar Review

Navigate through this grammar review using the table of contents:

A.1 Basic Parts of Speech
A.2 Form Versus Function
A.3 The Clause
A.4 The Phrase
A.5 Commas
A.6 Semicolons
A.7 Colons
A.8 Hyphens
A.9 Apostrophes
A.10 Dashes and Parentheses
A.11 To Be
A.12 Linking Verbs
A.13 Intransitive Verbs
A.14 Transitive Verbs
A.15 Subject-Verb Agreement
A.16 Commas and Semicolons
A.17 Voice

A.1 Basic Parts of Speech

The eight parts of speech (nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, conjunctions, prepositions, and interjections) are the basic words that make up phrases, clauses, and sentences. Nouns, adjectives, verbs, and adverbs make up over 95% of all words in the English language.


We traditionally define a noun as any word that represents a person, place, or thing. However, nouns often do not function on their own; they work with attendant determiners and adjectives to form noun phrases. We can also distinguish further between abstract nouns and proper nouns, those that represent a specific person, historical event, or other name. Proper nouns are always capitalized.

Mary jogged.

Mary is a proper noun that functions as the subject of the sentence.

That tall woman jogged.

“Woman” is a noun, but the word also has the determiner “that” and the adjective “tall” preceding it. All three words working together make up the noun phrase that functions as the subject of the sentence.


A pronoun replaces a noun or proper noun, indirectly referring to a person, place, or thing. Typically, a pronoun is used when the reader already knows the proper noun to which it refers, either from a previous sentence or because of information given within the same sentence.

She went straight to the source.

For such a beautiful country, it has very few visitors.


Adjectives modify or describe nouns. Many adjectives have characteristic suffixes, such as –ous (“delicious”), –ish (“waspish”), –ful (“beautiful”), and –ary (“wary”). You can modify adjectives using qualifiers (“very,” “extremely”) and comparative words (“more,” “most,” “less,” “least”). Just as with nouns, adjectives and attendant modifiers form adjective phrases.

I need to find an affordable car.

The adjective “affordable” is modifying the noun “car.”

Ms. Chu needs to find a more reliable car.

Here the adjective “reliable” is preceded by the comparative word “more.” Both of these words make up the adjective phrase modifying the noun “car.”


Verbs are defined as action words, but may also introduce states or descriptions. They are often marked by auxiliaries (“will,” “shall”). A verb and its attendant auxiliaries make up a verb phrase. All verbs require a subject, which in most cases consists of who or what is conducting the action. Often in sentences that command or suggest something to a listener, the subject “you” will be omitted. Many verbs require an object (who or what is receiving the action).

Robert dropped the ball during the final seconds of the game.

The verb of this sentence is “dropped.” The subject of the verb is the noun “Robert” and the object is the noun “ball.”

Go to my office and fetch my keys.

The subject of these verbs is the implied “you,” which is omitted in commands or requests.

I could finish my essay by eight o’clock tonight.

The verb “finish” is attended by the auxiliary “could.” Both words make up the verb phrase.

Here is a list of auxiliaries that can attend a verb. “Must” and “ought to” have no past form. Auxiliaries are defined as part of the verb, not as a separate adverb.

Table A.1 Auxiliary verbs
Present Past
  • will
  • shall
  • can
  • may
  • must
  • ought to
  • would
  • should
  • could
  • might


Adverbs act as modifiers of verbs, describing their time, place, reason, or manner. Like adjectives, adverbs can be qualified (“very,” “quite”). Many (but not all) adverbs end with –ly (“slowly,” “apparently,” “strangely”).

Pierre quickly ran through the main points of his argument.

The adverb “quickly” is modifying the verb “ran.”

She threw down the gauntlet quite suddenly.

The adverb “suddenly” is being qualified by the word “quite.” This adverb phrase modifies the verb “threw.”


A conjunction joins two clauses, or helps coordinate words within a single sentence. Conjunctions include words like “and,” “if,” and “but.”

You told me to meet you here, but then you left.

Coordinating conjunctions show that the connected words, phrases, or clauses in the sentence are equally important.

The students were always told to mind their p’s and q’s.

We can either sweep the floor or start making breakfast.

A coordinating conjunction can link a sentence to the previous one if placed at the beginning of the second sentence.

I’ve always felt people set too much store by appearances. And it turns out I was right.

subordinating conjunction joins an independent and a dependent clause. Any phrase beginning with a subordinating conjunction is judged dependent. (For a list of subordinating conjunctions, see section A.3.)

When the worst of the storm had passed, we ventured outside.


A preposition is used to indicate a relationship between another word and a noun or pronoun. Common prepositions include “for,” “in,” “with,” “of,” “through,” and so forth.

We’ve been looking for you for hours.

In this case, I’m willing to give it a chance.


An interjection is a part of speech that interrupts a sentence. It is typically used in very informal situations or to represent everyday speech, rather than formal or academic language.

You’re eating that? Eww.

Wow! Are you really going to walk across the bridge?

A.2 Form Versus Function

In section A.1, we defined the different parts of speech by their form; we looked at the basic meaning of words while ignoring how they might be working within a sentence. However, in order to understand how the parts of speech work grammatically in sentences, we must use a functional terminology.

Remember, form refers to the part of speech of a word as it is defined, while function refers to how the word works in a sentence. The form of a word is static, whereas its function might change from sentence to sentence.

Eating an apple a day can keep the doctor away, or so they say.

In this sentence, the word “eating,” which is formally defined as a verb, functions nominally (as if it were a noun) because it is the subject of the sentence.

Is this the picture of Jose’s mother?

By making “Jose” (formally a proper noun) possessive, we are using it as a modifier to describe whose mother we are talking about. Therefore, it is functioning adjectivally.

Her truck, a red Chevy, was parked around the back of the house.

Here we are using the noun phrase “red Chevy” adjectivally to describe the noun “truck.”

Review Questions

Identify the nouns, adjectives, verbs, and adverbs in each sentence. Remember that any part of speech can come in the form of a phrase as well, so make sure to mark the entire phrase.

  1. Should I take that plastic bottle out of the fridge?
  2. Mr. Gonzalez quickly reprimanded the student for using his cellphone in class.
  3. Interestingly, there was a strange inscription on the bottom of the clay pot.
  4. During the weekends, she volunteers at the local homeless shelter.
  5. The balcony collapsed because of a poorly manufactured steel I-beam.

A.3 The Clause

A clause is any group of words that contains both a subject and a verb. The subject can be a simple noun, a group of words known as a phrase (see section A.4), or another clause. Clauses can be split into two categories: independent and dependent clauses.

Independent clause

The independent clause can always stand on its own as a complete sentence; it does not rely on other clauses or phrases for its meaning. A sentence may contain more than one independent clause, but each independent clause can always be made a separate complete sentence.

Hand me that socket wrench.

Here, a single independent clause is used as a complete sentence. The verb in this clause is “hand.” The subject is the implied pronoun “you,” which is usually omitted in orders or requests.

Tell my sister that I miss her; tell my brother that it gets much easier.

Here, two related independent clauses are joined together with a semicolon to form a compound sentence, which is defined as any sentence that has more than one independent clause.

She is going to be a schoolteacher because she believes education is the most fundamental pillar of the republic.

This sentence is made up of an independent clause and a subordinate (dependent) clause. A sentence with one independent clause and one or more dependent clause is called a complex sentence.

This peach is way beyond ripe, and I refuse to pay for it.

This sentence consists of two independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction.

Dependent clause

Like the independent clause, the dependent clause is a group of words that contains a subject and a verb. However, the dependent clause relies (or depends) on an independent clause to complete its meaning.

If you chase two rabbits, you will lose them both.

The first clause is dependent because it begins with “if,” which is classified as a subordinating conjunction. All clauses that begin with subordinating conjunctions are considered dependent. Notice that the dependent clause still contains both a subject and a verb.

Janis spent her vacation in Goa, which is on the west coast of the Indian subcontinent.

Here, the dependent clause is being used like one big adjective to modify or describe “Goa.” The dependent clause begins with the relative pronoun “which,” which stands in for “Goa” as the subject of the clause.

Here is a list of common subordinating conjunctions:

  • after
  • if
  • until
  • as long as
  • now that
  • since
  • how
  • unless
  • as if
  • lest
  • where
  • while
  • till
  • as
  • in order that
  • whenever
  • before
  • because
  • although
  • though
  • when
  • as much as
  • wherever
  • so that

Remember that any clause beginning with one of these words is considered dependent and cannot stand on its own as a complete sentence.

Review Questions

Identify the clause(s) in each example sentence. Mark each clause as either an independent clause (IC) or dependent clause (DC).

  1. There are a thousand little restaurants tucked into the corners, basements, and alleyways of Manhattan, and many of them are worth discovering.
  2. My uncle was not dull: he was uncommonly clever.
  3. If you speak the truth, have a foot in the stirrup.
  4. Take your shoes off before you walk on my new carpet.
  5. Is Jason really moving to Portland to look for a job after he graduates?

A.4 The Phrase

A phrase is defined as any word or group of words (excluding clauses) that functions as a unit within a sentence. In other words, a phrase can be any group of words that is missing either a subject or a verb. There are many different types of phrases. Here, we will outline those most commonly seen in English sentences.

Prepositional phrase

Any phrase (with a handful of exceptions) that begins with a preposition is considered a prepositional phrase.

There are dozens of different prepositions. The following is a list of common prepositions:

  • aboard
  • through
  • near
  • but
  • amid
  • until
  • over
  • for
  • below
  • above
  • till
  • off
  • concerning
  • around
  • upon
  • per
  • in
  • beside
  • after
  • toward
  • onto
  • down
  • at
  • within
  • since
  • like
  • beyond
  • along
  • underneath
  • outside
  • except
  • before
  • about
  • throughout
  • of
  • by
  • among
  • up
  • past
  • from
  • beneath
  • across
  • to
  • on
  • despite
  • as
  • with
  • regarding
  • into
  • between
  • against
  • under
  • out
  • during
  • atop
  • without

Here is an example of a sentence that uses prepositional phrases:

After swimming in the ocean, Marco jumped in the pool.

There are three prepositional phrases in this sentence. The second, “in the ocean,” is contained within the first. Remember that a preposition will always be modifying either a noun or a verb. All three, in this case, are adverbial: “after swimming” is describing when Marco jumped, while “in the pool” is describing where.

Our company now imports semiconductors from the Republic of China.

Here is an example of two prepositional phrases acting adjectivally. “From” is telling us the origin of the semiconductors (though, in this case, it could also be functioning adverbially—that is, describing the verb “imports”), while “of” tells us which republic we’re talking about.

Participial phrase

A participle is defined as any verb that ends with –ing or –ed (with regular verbs) and functions as either an adjective or adverb. The participle may also have an object (something receiving the action of the verb) after it, causing it to become a participial phrase.

Skipping along the forested path, the dwarfs whistled in a merry chorus.

Here the participial phrase is modifying the subject “dwarfs.” Notice that you can move the participial phrase to different parts of the sentence. It could go either after the subject or at the end of the sentence.

The kids went bounding down the stairs.

The participial phrase is acting adverbially in this sentence. In other words, the participle is modifying the verb “went.”

Participles can also be used in conjunction with auxiliary verbs to make compound verbs.

He had enjoyed art for many years before he went to school to study graphic design.

They were washing the dishes when they heard a thump upstairs.

Gerund phrase

The gerund is defined as any –ing verb that functions as a noun. In other words, you can place a gerund phrase in any place in the sentence where a noun could normally function. When the gerund verb has an attendant object or modifiers, we describe it as a gerund phrase.

For thirty years, Marcel has started every morning by swimming around the bay.

This gerund phrase is functioning as the object of the preposition “by.”

Snooping around Facebook is the new way to vet potential employees.

The gerund phrase here is functioning as the subject of the sentence.

Infinitive phrase

The infinitive is defined as the base (present tense) form of a verb preceded by the word “to.” An infinitive phrase can function nominally, adverbially, or adjectivally.

To talk about poll numbers at this stage of the election is simply counterproductive.

The infinitive phrase is functioning as a noun by being the subject of the sentence. Notice that there are two prepositional phrases following the infinitive verb: “about poll numbers” and “at this stage of the election.” Because these phrases are both modifying the infinitive verb, we consider them to be part of the infinitive phrase.

To ensure a full refund, you must also bring your receipt.

The infinitive phrase is functioning as an adverb modifying the main verb “bring.” Notice that, when the infinitive is positioned at the beginning of the sentence and is acting as an adverb (not as the subject), we place a comma after it.

A fistfight is no way to resolve an argument.

The infinitive phrase is functioning as an adjective modifying the noun “way.”

Review Questions

Underline and identify the participial, prepositional, gerund, or infinitive phrase(s) in each sentence.

  1. On Thursday, I drove up north to move a couch for a friend.
  2. If your shoes have a lot of surface area, hiking through a snow drift gets a lot easier.
  3. Already exhausted by the second quarter, we were no match for the division champions.
  4. That award, offered once a year to only one teacher in the entire state, is quite an honour to win.
  5. Hoping against all hope that the balding tires would hold and the rusting fuel pump would continue to work, I loaded up all of my possessions that would fit, discarded the rest in a dumpster behind a truck stop, and set out to cross the country.

A.5 Commas

Use commas with coordinating conjunctions that join two independent clauses. There are seven coordinating conjunctions: “for,” “and,” “nor,” “but,” “or,” “yet,” and “so.” Using the acronym FANBOYS will help you remember them.

You should only connect two independent clauses per sentence, as any more than that can quickly make a sentence unwieldy.

Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.

The coordinating conjunction “and” is connecting two independent clauses. Notice that, in the first clause, the subject is a missing but implied “you.” We still consider clauses with an implied “you” (what we term imperative statements) to be independent.

I looked all over the house, but I couldn’t find my keys.

The coordinating conjunction “but” is connecting two independent clauses. Since the subject “I” is restated in the second clause, we consider it a separate subject.

Ms. Brenner went to the local police station and disputed her speeding ticket with the officer at the front desk.

Notice that the coordinating conjunction “and” is connecting two verbs (“went” and “disputed”) instead of two independent clauses. Do not use commas when connecting two verbs, adjectives, or nouns unless you want to place special emphasis on the second item.

Use the comma to separate three or more elements in a series. Although you are not absolutely required to place a comma before the last item in a series, it seems to be a general academic convention to include one. Whether you decide to use it or not, make sure to keep it consistent throughout your writing.

During her trip to Europe, Erica visited Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Holland.

Use a comma after a dependent clause when it comes before an independent clause. Use a comma to introduce a dependent clause that comes after an independent clause only if the subordinating conjunction implies contrast (i.e., “though,” “whereas”).

If you speak the truth, have a foot in the stirrup.

The subordinating conjunction “if” marks the dependent clause as coming before the independent clause. Place a comma between the ending of the dependent clause and the beginning of the independent clause.

He cancelled his magazine subscription because he thought the editors no longer addressed important issues.

The subordinating conjunction “because” does not imply a contrast between the independent clause and the dependent clause. Therefore, we do not use a comma before “because.”

Allen is scrambling to finish all of his projects, whereas Amy planned ahead and had everything finished by last Thursday.

The subordinating conjunction “whereas” implies a contrast between the independent clause and the dependent clause.

Many sentences begin with a prepositional, gerund, or infinitive phrase that introduces or explains the sentence. Place a comma between the end of the introductory phrase and the beginning of the subject. If the introductory phrase is less than four words long, you often do not need to use a comma, although it is never wrong to use one to be safe.

To get a good grade, you must complete all of your assignments.

The sentence is introduced with an infinitive phrase, and the comma is placed before the subject “you.”

Justifying a fault doubles it.

Notice that the gerund phrase is not working as an introductory phrase, but as the subject itself. If a phrase is filling the role of sentence subject, then we do not place a comma after it.

Review Questions

For each example sentence, insert missing commas or omit incorrectly placed commas.

  1. I finally found my keys and I got to work just in time.
  2. Mrs. Contreras threw out her old coffee table, and cleaned the carpet.
  3. Taking the elevator to the roof we hoped we could see the skyline, and the bay.
  4. Though Susan wasn’t feeling well she went to the store anyway and bought ice cream pizza, and candy.
  5. I let my neighbour borrow my phone, because she said hers was tapped by the police.

A.6 Semicolons

Use semicolons to connect two independent clauses when the second clause restates the first or when the two clauses are closely related.

Road construction in Seattle has hindered travel around town; streets have become covered with bulldozers, trucks, and cones.

The second independent clause is describing the same situation as the first, but in a different manner.

It rained heavily during the afternoon; however, we still managed to have a picnic.

The second independent clause is linked to the first with a semicolon and a conjunctive adverb. Whenever you use a conjunctive adverb, either after a semicolon or at the beginning of a sentence, place a comma after it.

Here is a list of common conjunctive adverbs:

  • besides
  • meanwhile
  • thereafter
  • hence
  • moreover
  • therefore
  • however
  • nevertheless
  • thus
  • incidentally
  • similarly
  • undoubtedly
  • indeed
  • still
  • in fact
  • likewise
  • that is
  • as a result

Be wary of confusing conjunctive adverbs with subordinating conjunctions, for they have distinctly different uses. See section A.3 for a list of subordinating conjunctions.

Use a semicolon to separate elements in a sequence when those elements already have commas or other punctuation within them, known as internal punctuation. Doing so clarifies for the reader how the internal punctuation is functioning.

Recent sites of the Summer Olympic Games include Beijing, China; Athens, Greece; Sydney, Australia; and Atlanta, Georgia.

The semicolons separate the larger elements, while the commas separate the city and country within each element.

Review Questions

For each sentence, insert missing semicolons or omit incorrectly placed semicolons.

  1. They gave the fire marshal a kickback to look the other way consequently, the building went up in flames the very next year.
  2. The earthquake on March 22nd was nearly a 6.0 on the Richter scale, however there was no loss of life.
  3. Ingrid received a huge bonus last Christmas; because she single-handedly sealed the Union Plastics deal.
  4. The old industrial centres of America—Detroit, Michigan, Cincinnati, Ohio, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania—are attempting to find new ways to thrive in a tech-heavy economy.
  5. I came in second place, my father hid his disappointment.

A.7 Colons

Use the colon after an independent clause when it is followed by a list, quotation, or other idea directly related to the independent clause.

Julie went to the store for some groceries: milk, bread, coffee, and cheese.

The colon is announcing a list of items that describes the noun “groceries” in more detail.

The crier said those dreaded words: “The King is dead! Long live the king!”

The colon is announcing a quote that specifies which “words” were said.

You can also use the colon to join two independent clauses when you wish to emphasize the second clause. The colon in this case announces that the second independent clause will complete the idea set up in the first.

Road construction in Yoknapatawpha County hindered travel along many routes: parts of Highway 56 and Vienda Drive are closed during construction.

The colon here announces that the first clause about “road construction” will be completed using the more specific detail from the second clause.

Review Questions

For each sentence, insert missing colons or omit incorrectly placed colons.

  1. An ammonia molecule consists of four atoms, one nitrogen and three hydrogen.
  2. George was turned away at the unemployment office they knew he still had a job.
  3. Some say there are traces of mercury in the town water supply: however, tests conducted by the EPA showed negative results.
  4. I know the perfect job for her; a politician.
  5. That street vendor sells everything you could possibly want; churros, hot dogs, and popsicles, for starters.

A.8 Hyphens

Use the hyphen to join two or more words serving as a single modifier before a noun. We use hyphens to clarify how multiple modifiers function before a noun.

You might not know it upon first seeing her, but she is a well-known author.

That novelty shop on the boardwalk sells chocolate-covered peanuts.

Last night, Ms. Munoz attended a high-school prom-night fundraiser.

If each word works separately to modify a noun, they are not hyphenated. We also do not use a hyphen when the compound modifiers come after a noun.

The old manor house was covered with creeping green wisteria.

In this case, “creeping” is not modifying “green”; both words work as separate modifiers to describe “wisteria.”

You might not know it upon first seeing her, but the author is well known.

That novelty shop on the boardwalk sells peanuts that are chocolate covered.

Review Questions

For each sentence, insert missing hyphens or omit unnecessary hyphens.

  1. I have nothing to wear for my job interview but a paint splattered tie.
  2. Those ragged-old clothes I got from the attic were moth-ridden.
  3. Shelia’s cat brought home a mouse that was scared-stiff but otherwise unharmed.
  4. The recycling bin was filled with empty-plastic water bottles.
  5. Walter said I could use his, even though it was dog-eared and had missing pages.

A.9 Apostrophes

We use apostrophes to indicate a possessive noun. Follow these rules to create possessive nouns with apostrophes.

  1. Add [’s] to the singular form of the word (even if it ends in –s).
    • the owner’s insurance, the waitress’s coat
  2. Add [’s] to plural forms that do not end in –s.
    • the children’s game, the people’s opinion
  3. Add [’] to the end of plural nouns that end in –s.
    • the three friends’ cars, the workers’ benefits
  4. Add [’s] to the end of compound words.
    • my brother-in-law’s money
  5. Add [’s] to the last noun to show joint possession of an object.
    • Tom and Monica’s house

Apostrophes are also used in contractions. We define a contraction as a word in which one or more letters have been omitted. The apostrophe shows this omission. Here is a list of examples:

  • don’t = do not
  • I’m = I am
  • he’ll = he will
  • you’re = you are
  • won’t = will not
  • could’ve = could have

Review Questions

For each sentence, insert missing apostrophes or omit unnecessary apostrophes.

  1. Jack’s and Jill’s hill is nothing more than a mound of dirt on the southwest corner of Farmer Johns land.
  2. One’s labour is proportional to ones’ wealth.
  3. George shouldn’t say that he’ll be in the library when he obviously wont.
  4. Ill be back.
  5. Who’ll referee those kid’s soccer game if not for you’re brother.

A.10 Dashes and Parentheses

Use longer em dashes (—) to set off or emphasize the content enclosed within them or the content that follows a dash. Em dashes are distinct from en dashes (–), which have a similar function to hyphens (-) but are used only in specific cases. Em dashes place more emphasis on the enclosed content than either parentheses or commas. We also use em dashes to set off an appositive phrase that already includes commas.

An appositive is a word or phrase that adds explanatory or clarifying information to the noun that precedes it.

The USS Constitution became known as “Old Ironsides” during the War of 1812—during which the cannonballs fired from the British HMS Guerriere merely bounced off the sides of the Constitution.

In this case, the phrase that comes after the dash is more important than the independent clause that comes before.

To some of you, my proposals may seem radical—even revolutionary.

Here, the dash works in conjunction with “even” to emphasize the adjective “revolutionary.”

The cousins—Tina, Todd, and Sam—arrived at the party together.

Here, the dash is not being used for emphasis, but to stand in the place of additional commas that might confuse the reader.

Whereas dashes are used to emphasize content, parentheses are used to downplay content. They place less emphasis on the enclosed content than commas. Use parentheses to set off nonessential material—such as dates, clarifying information, or sources—from a sentence.

Muhammad Ali (1942–present), arguably the greatest boxer of all time, claimed he would “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”

Denis Johnson’s new novel (which is bound in a luminous red hardback cover) is a worthy addition to the crime fiction genre.

Notice that information enclosed in parentheses has little relevance to the primary idea or meaning of a sentence.

Review Questions

For each sentence, decide whether to replace the comma(s) with an em dash or parentheses.

  1. My brother’s favourite dog, a Jack Russell terrier, loves to play fetch.
  2. I have always been described as a little bit odd, even downright strange.
  3. “Waterfalls,” perhaps the greatest song of all time, has recently been reissued.
  4. How would we be able to tell which of the three cheeses, Camembert, Roquefort, or cheddar, was best?

A.11 “To Be” Verbs

When a form of “to be” (“am,” “is,” “are,” “was,” “were”) serves as the main verb of a sentence, an adverbial of time or place, an adjectival, or a noun phrase will follow it. (For definitions and examples of the adverb, adjective, and noun phrase, see section A.1.) The following are the three sentence patterns that occur with the “to be” verb:

  1. (subject) + (“to be” verb) + (adverbial of time or place)
    Table A.2 Sentences with adverbials of time or place
    Subject “To Be” Verb Adverbial of Time or Place
    The children were upstairs.
    The meeting is tomorrow.
    The nutmeg is on the shelf.

    Prepositional phrases often take the form of adverbials, as seen in the third example. For a definition and examples of prepositional phrases, see section A.4.

  2. (subject) + (“to be” verb) + (subject complement [adjective])
    Table A.3 Sentences with adjective subject complements
    Subject “To Be” Verb Subject Complement [adj.]
    The children were excited.
    The meeting is boring.
    Jacob is in a bad mood.

    Sometimes a prepositional phrase, in the form of an idiomatic expression, will fill the role of subject complement, as seen in the third example.

  3. (subject) + (“to be” verb) + (subject complement [noun phrase])
    Table A.4 Sentences with noun subject complements
    Subject “To Be” Verb Subject Complement [n.]
    The children were angels.
    The meeting will be a success.

Review Questions

Identify the subject and “to be” verb of each sentence, as well as the adverbial, subject complement [adj.], or subject complement [noun phrase].

  1. My neighbour is uncommonly thrifty.
  2. The Oldsmobile was on its last legs.
  3. Celia is the CEO of a large multinational corporation.
  4. The last performance of Death of a Salesman was on Friday.
  5. The plumber will be here soon.

A.12 Linking Verbs

We define linking verbs as all verbs that are completed by a subject complement, which is an adjectival or a noun phrase that describes or identifies the subject. Subject complements describe or redefine the subject. Common linking verbs include “seem,” “look,” “smell,” “sound,” and “become.” The formula for a sentence with a linking verb is:

(subject) + (linking verb) + (subject complement [NP or adj.])

Table A.5 Sentences with linking verbs and subject complements
Subject Linking Verb Subject Complement [NP or adj.]
The children became restless.
The soup smells delicious.
Marcel looks like a businessman.

Noun phrases that act as subject complements are often preceded by the preposition “like,” as seen in the third example in Table A.5.

Note that “to be” is also a linking verb, but it has been given its own section in this appendix to highlight how important it is (see section A.11).

Review Questions

Identify the subject, linking verb, and subject complement (noun phrase or adjective) of each sentence.

  1. The taxi driver seemed like a nice man.
  2. The inside of the bakery smells delicious.
  3. On that day, Francis became a criminal.
  4. It sounds like a good idea!
  5. Ms. Yeziersky became a schoolteacher.

A.13 Intransitive Verbs

An intransitive verb has no complement (noun phrase or adjectival). Though an intransitive verb requires nothing more than a subject, it is often accompanied by adverbial information. In fact, a handful of intransitive verbs, such as “reside,” “sneak,” and “glance,” require an adverbial of place in order to be complete.

  1. (subject) + (intransitive verb)
    Table A.6 Sentences with intransitive verbs
    Subject Intransitive Verb
    The children wept.
    My dog sleeps.
  2. (subject) + (intransitive verb) + (optional adverbial)
    Table A.7 Sentences with intransitive verbs and adverbials
    Subject Intransitive Verb Optional Adverbial
    The children played on the jungle gym.
    The meeting concluded without a hitch.
    My dog snores loudly.

Review Questions

Identify the subject, intransitive verb, and optional adverbial (if present) of each sentence.

  1. We went to the bowling alley on Friday.
  2. Mr. Billingsworth laughed at the antics of the class clown.
  3. The ambassadors from Albania arrived.
  4. Rosa walked to the park.
  5. The party of boy scouts rested.

A.14 Transitive Verbs

All transitive verbs have a subject and take one or more complements. Furthermore, all transitive verbs have one complement in common: the direct object, which receives the action of the verb.

  1. (subject) + (transitive verb) + (direct object [NP])
    Table A.8 Sentences with transitive verbs and direct objects
    Subject Transitive Verb Direct Object [NP]
    The children kicked the ball.
    My dog chews the furniture.
    The professor answered the question.
  2. The second transitive-verb pattern includes a second complement, the indirect object. We traditionally define the indirect object as the recipient of the direct object.(subject) + (transitive verb) + (direct object [NP]) + (indirect object [NP])
    Table A.9 Sentences with transitive verbs and direct and indirect objects
    Subject Transitive Verb Indirect Object [NP] Direct Object [NP]
    The students bought their teacher a present.
    My dog brought me the tennis ball.
    The professor called himself a genius.
  3. Transitive verbs take object complements. Similar to subject complements in “to be” verbs and linking verbs, object complements describe or redefine their object. Object complements take the form of noun phrases (NP) and adjectives.(subject) + (transitive verb) + (direct object [NP]) + (object complement [NP])
    Table A.10 Sentences with transitive verbs, direct objects, and noun object complements
    Subject Transitive Verb Direct Object [NP] Object Complement [NP]
    The child named her cat Charlie.
    I make my living the hard way.
  4. (subject) + (transitive verb) + (direct object [NP]) + (object complement [adj.])
    Table A.11 Sentences with transitive verbs, direct objects, and adjective object complements
    Subject Transitive Verb Direct Object [NP] Object Complement [adj.]
    The children painted the fence white.
    The teacher made the test easy.

Review Questions

Identify the subject, transitive verb, and direct object of the sentence. If applicable, identify the indirect object or object complement as well.

  1. Mrs. Nakamura considers her hometown beautiful.
  2. Before setting out on the road trip, I put air in my tires.
  3. Joyce gave her father a gift card for Christmas.
  4. He hadn’t broken his promise.
  5. The voters elected Mr. Thompson mayor.

A.15 Subject-Verb Agreement

Sometimes, a long phrase or clause will separate a subject from a verb. Consider the following error in subject-verb agreement:

The play with such true witticisms and parables come highly recommended.

The author has misconstrued the subject as “witticisms and parables” and has thus used the plural form of the verb. You must always identify the actual subject of the sentence—in this case, the noun “play.” One way to identify the subject of a sentence is to find the word or phrase that comes before the verb and does not modify anything else. Prepositional phrases can never act as the subject of the sentence, so you can separate them with brackets to find the subject:

The play [with such true witticisms and parables] comes highly recommended.

Subjects can be phrases as well. Consider these two examples:

To attend a party without pants is quite foolish.

Running a marathon is his idea of a vacation!

In the above sentences, the underlined phrases function as subjects. Subject phrases always take singular verbs.

There are also several rules related to the conjunctions “and,” “or,” and “nor.” Generally speaking, if the subject is composed of two or more nouns or pronouns connected with an “and,” then the verb is plural:

Her watch and wallet were stolen from the locker at the train station.

When two or more singular nouns are connected by “or” or “nor,” use the singular form of the verb:

A socket wrench or power drill is a good tool to have in a situation like this.

If one of the nouns connected with “or” or “nor” is plural, use the plural form of the verb if the plural noun is closer. However, if the singular noun is closer to the verb, use the singular form of the verb:

A power drill or socket wrenches are good tools to have in a situation like this.

Socket wrenches or a power drill is a good tool to have in a situation like this.

There are a few exceptions to the rule of subject-verb agreement. Some nouns such as “civics,” “politics,” “mathematics,” “measles,” “mumps,” and “news” take the singular form of the verb:

The news is dire.

Politics is becoming more optimistic these days.

Review Questions

Select the correct form of the verb in each sentence.

  1. There is/are fewer criminals on the street since the law was passed.
  2. That may be, but there is/are no evidence that it’s making us any safer.
  3. Mathematics is/are the fundamental language of physics.
  4. Jerry, who runs around all weekend trying to find great deals at big-box stores, sometimes lose/loses sight of what’s really important.
  5. Civics is/are taught in every high school in America.
  6. The protesters holding that hand-painted sign seem/seems really motivated.
  7. Throwing politicians to the media sharks does/do them some good.
  8. Neither the sword nor the pen is/are most mighty in this situation.
  9. Charity or alms helps/help those suffering most from the recession.
  10. Potassium and water is/are a dangerous combination!

A.16 Commas and Semicolons

Avoid using commas to connect independent clauses. Consider the following comma splices:

I finally found my keys, I got to work just in time.

It rained heavily during the afternoon, however we still managed to have a picnic.

Use a period, semicolon, or coordinating conjunction to connect independent clauses:

I finally found my keys, and I got to work just in time.

It rained heavily during the afternoon; however, we still managed to have a picnic.

In most cases, we only use semicolons to connect two independent clauses. Avoid using semicolons to separate words or phrases from the independent clause.

The roof of that car was covered in AstroTurf; a strange sight!

Quentin’s father gave him a golden pocket watch; which was a priceless family heirloom.

Use dashes to emphasize or set off a phrase, or use a comma to set off a phrase if you do not want to convey as much emphasis.

The roof of that car was covered in AstroTurf—a strange sight!

Quentin’s father gave him a golden pocket watch, which was a priceless family heirloom.

Review Questions

Each sentence has either a comma splice or a sentence fragment. Correct comma splices by replacing the comma with a period, semicolon, or coordinating conjunction. Correct sentence fragments by either omitting the semicolon completely or replacing the semicolon with a comma or dash.

  1. I gave my mother a box of chocolates for her birthday, she was pleased.
  2. Susan was sitting off in the corner; without a care in the world.
  3. When they were kids they made homemade lemonade, they sold it for two bucks a pop.
  4. Without support from the president; the bill failed to make it through Congress.
  5. Construction continued unabated for more than two months, I wasn’t getting much sleep.

A.17 Voice

In English grammar, we make a distinction between active voice and passive voice. In sentences written with active voice, the subject is doing the action.

The student wrote the paper.

Rainwater flooded the basement.

Jose argued that his house was no place for a dance party.

In sentences written with passive voice, the subject is acted upon. Consider the same examples written in passive voice:

The paper was written by the student.

The basement was flooded by rainwater.

That his house was no place for a dance party was argued by Jose.

Compare the third example in both instances: They both have the same fundamental meaning, but the sentence written in passive voice is vague and awkwardly worded, while the same sentence in active voice is clearer and more succinct.

Use the following steps to determine if a sentence is written in passive voice. We’ll use the same example sentence.

  1. The subject is not conducting the action, but is being acted upon.
    • That his house was no place for a dance party was argued by Jose.
  2. A form of “to be” (“am,” “is,” “are,” “was,” “were”) appears with a past participle (verb form ending in –ed or –en).
    • That his house was no place for a dance party was argued by Jose.
  3. The preposition “by [noun phrase]” either appears in the sentence or can be added.
    • That his house was no place for a dance party was argued by Jose.

See section A.4 for a definition and examples of prepositions and prepositional phrases.

Eliminate passive voice by making the subject the doer of the action. You can convert a sentence to active voice by exchanging the object of the preposition and the subject of the passive sentence.

Passive voice: That his house was no place for a dance party was argued by Jose.

Invert the subject and object, and the sentence changes to active voice.

Active voice: Jose argued that his house was no place for a dance party.

However, sometimes passive voice is preferable when the object being acted upon is more important or when the doer of action is unknown.

The rainfall total was measured using standard practices.

My car was broken into last night.

Review Questions

Convert the following sentences from passive voice to active voice. If necessary, invent a subject for the active construction.

  1. Mistakes were made by top-level officials.
  2. The electricity was turned off by the power company.
  3. The vase was broken.
  4. The scientists’ assertions could not have been believed.
  5. When was the law implemented?


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Building Blocks of Academic Writing Copyright © 2020 by Carellin Brooks is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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