15 Simple but Effective Grammar Lessons

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Who doesn’t love a good grammar lesson?

I do, I do!

OK, I’m joking.

Even though I like to write about writing, I don’t consider myself a grammarian and if you want to write, please don’t let fears you have about grammar stop you writing.

If you’ve been to school, if you read, and if you spend time considering the written word, you know more than you think.

Stephen King says as much in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. He also advises writers to get on with the business of writing, but to keep grammar on top of their toolbox.

With the master’s advice in mind, here are fifteen grammar grammar lessons to keep on top of your toolbox:

1. Which and That

Which is used to inform.

That is used to define.

For example:

This is the house that Jack built.

This house, which is mine, was built by Jack.

2. Punctuation Matters

Lynee Truss explains this best in Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

She uses this example:

A woman, without her man, is nothing.

A woman: without her, man is nothing.

The first sentence explains a woman is nothing if she doesn’t have a man in her life.

The second explains that a man is nothing if he doesn’t have a woman in his life.

Can you see the difference?

3. Girl’s and Girls’

If the apostrophe comes before the S, there is one girl.

If the apostrophe comes after the S, there are many girls.

For example:

The girl’s cake implies one girl owns the cake in question.

The girls’ cake implies several girls own the cake in question.

4. Fewer and Less

Fewer refers to people or things in the plural.

Lesser refers to things that can’t be counted.

For example:

I wrote fewer posts this week than last week.

I write less often when I’m tired.

5. Effect vs Affect

To effect is to bring about change.

To affect is to influence.

For example:

Barack Obama wanted to effect change. In reality, he affected change.

6. It’s and Its

“It’s” is short for it is or it has, where as its is a possessive pronoun.

For example:

It’s a fine day.

The car is broken down. The car is known for its unreliability.

7. Farther and Further

Farther implies a distance that can be measured.

Further describes a time or quantity.

For example:

Russia is farther away from the United States than Canada.

My knee injury is causing further problems for me.

8. Nauseous vs Nauseated

To be nauseous means to have the ability to make others feel sick.

To be nauseated is to be made feel sick by something.

For example:

The green steak is nauseous.

I was nauseated by the steak meat.

9. You’re and Your

You’re is an abbreviation for you are.

Your means possession.

For example:

If you made it this far, you’re learning about grammar.

I hope your grammar is improving.

10. Compliment and Complement

A complement adds something to something else, where as you give someone a compliment when you want to tell them something nice.

For example:

Coriander is a complement for chicken.

I compliment you on your choice of ingredients sir!

11. Principal and Principle

A principle is a fundamental truth or standard.

A principal is the most important participant or a high rank.

For example:

Schools have principals, but I have principles.

12. Literally

Literally means something actually happened and that what you are saying is true.

For example:

I was literally green with envy.

This means, I actually turned the colour green because I was feeling jealous.

Tip:

Avoid use literally when writing metaphors.

13. Incorrect Words

Step forward: okay, nevermind, irregardless, alright and alot.

Instead say: OK, never mind, regardless, all right and a lot.

14. Then and Than

‘Then’ means one event proceeded another, where writers use ‘than’ for comparison.

For example:

I went to the garage. Then, I went to the shop.

I have less money than you.

15. May and Might

‘May’ means there’s a real possibility of something happening.

‘Might’ means there is far more uncertainty about this event.

For example:

You may fail this grammar test if you don’t study.

If you stay up late the night before the grammar test, you might fail it.

Conclusion

Don’t let grammar stop you from finishing your next piece of writing.

King writes grammar lessons are “mostly a matter of cleaning the rust off drill bits and sharpening the blades of your saw.”

In other words, concern yourself with grammar but don’t become so concerned about grammar that it stops you finishing what you started.

If you’d like to read more about grammar, I recommend reading Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss and The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White.

I also recommend subscribing to Grammar Girl on Quick and Dirty Tips for useful and free grammar lessons.

What are you favourite grammar lessons? Please let me know in the comments section below.

Did you find this post helpful? Please let me know in the comments section below.

You can also reach me on Twitter or we can connect on Google+.

Photo Credit: 0xMatheus via Compfight cc

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11 thoughts on “15 Simple but Effective Grammar Lessons”

  1. Great post. There’s one point I’d like to query – incorrect words. “Alright” is often criticised but why when we have compound words such as “altogether”?

    From Oxford Dictionary of English 3rd edition Copyright © 2010 by Oxford University Press

    “Alright

    usage: The merging of all and right to form the one-word spelling alright is not recorded until the end of the 19th century (unlike other similar merged spellings such as altogether and already, which date from much earlier). There is no logical reason for insisting on all right as two words, when other single-word forms such as altogether have long been accepted. Nevertheless it is still considered by many people to be unacceptable in formal writing.”

  2. Pingback: Grammar

  3. Richard Saldana

    Bryan, in your second point, this sentence is incorrect: “The second explains a man is nothing if he doesn’t have a women in his life.” It should read, “. . . if he doesn’t have a woman in his life.” I’m actually surprised to see that no one had yet commented on it.

  4. Thanks, this is great! I’m just learning, so have questions about the following sentences:

    “…please don’t let fears you have about grammar stop you writing.”

    Maybe should be:
    “…please don’t let fears you have about grammar stop you from writing.”
    or(?):
    “…please don’t let fears you have about grammar stop your writing.”

    “In reality, he affected changed.”
    Maybe:
    “In reality, he affected change.”

    “Don’t let grammar stop you finishing your next piece of writing.”
    Maybe:
    “Don’t let grammar stop you from finishing your next piece of writing.”

  5. Nice post, very helpful !

    I was a little confused by #5 h owerver. I was thinking this might be clearer: Effect is tangible. Affect is something Intangible.

    Is the 20% off for Grammary applicable toward a 1 year, single payment purchase?

    Btw, I wasn’t able to login using any of the options. I’m on Safari, OSX.

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