English Grammar For Dummies®, 2nd Australian Edition

Table of Contents

About This Book
What You Don’t Need to Read
Foolish Assumptions
How This Book Is Organised
Part I: Understanding Verbs and Sentences
Part II: Adding Detail and Avoiding Common Errors
Part III: Punctuating for Precision
Part IV: Grammar with Style — the Finer Points
Part V: The Part of Tens
Icons Used in This Book
Where to Go from Here
Part I: Understanding Verbs and Sentences
Chapter 1: Who Cares about Grammar?
Functioning with Good Grammar
Aussie English: What’s the Standard?
Understanding the Levels of English
Formal English: Would you care to accompany me to lunch?
Conversational English: Do you feel like getting a sandwich?
Friendspeak: Wanna go grab a bite?
Txtspk: r u frE 4 lnch smile.jpg
LOLspeak and beyond: wants 2 get samich kthnx
Using the Right English at the Right Time
Chapter 2: Verbs: The Engine of the Sentence
Action Verbs: Powering a Sentence
Linking Verbs: The Equals Sign in a Sentence
Linking verbs to the senses
Completing linking-verb sentences correctly
Linking to the proper pronoun
A Little Help from My Verbs
Understanding verb groups
Identifying action- and linking-verb groups
Ask yourself this: Locating the verb
To Be or Not to Be, or to Not Be: Infinitives
Chapter 3: Timing is Everything: Understanding Verb Tense
Simplifying Matters: The Simple Tenses
Present tense
Past tense
Future tense
Using the Tenses Correctly
Present and present progressive
Past and past progressive
Future and future progressive
Perfecting with Verbs: The Perfect Tenses
Present perfect and present perfect progressive
Past perfect and past perfect progressive
Future perfect and future perfect progressive
Using the present perfect tense correctly
Ending with -ed or -ing: Participles
Irregular Verbs
To be
Irregular past tenses and past participles
Chapter 4: Who’s Doing What? Finding the Subject
Why the Subject Is Important
Subject–verb pairs: Teaming up
Two for the price of one
Ask yourself this: Locating the subject–verb pair
Simply Bare or Complete Subjects
Hidden the Subject Might Be: Unusual Word Order
Spot the Subject: Detecting an Implied Subject
Empty Subjects: Here and There
Chapter 5: One with the Lot: The Complete Sentence
Completing Sentences: The Essential Subjects and Verbs
Complete Thoughts, Complete Sentences
Clauses: Nothing to Do With Santa
Identifying single and multiple clauses
Managing main and subordinate clauses
Sentence Fragments: Understanding the Incomplete
Understanding Endmarks: Stopping With Safety
Chapter 6: Following on: Objects and Complements
Being on the Receiving End: Direct Objects
Bare and complete objects
Ask yourself this: Locating the direct object or complement
One Step Removed: Indirect Objects
Complementing Linking Verbs
Pronouns as Objects and Subject Complements
Part II: Adding Detail and Avoiding Common Errors
Chapter 7: Driving a Road Train: Joining Sentences
Connecting With Coordinating Conjunctions
Choosing coordinating conjunctions
Pausing to place commas
Attaching thoughts with semicolons
Parent and Child: Joining Ideas of Unequal Rank
Grasping subordinate conjunctions
Choosing subordinate conjunctions
Using Pronouns to Combine Sentences
Double Trouble: Two-part Conjunctions
Chapter 8: Accessorising: Modifying with Adjectives and Adverbs
Adding Adjectives
Adjectives adding to nouns
Adjectives adding to pronouns
Adjectives with linking verbs
Ask yourself this: Finding adjectives
Adding Adverbs
Ask yourself this: Finding the adverb
Adverbs describing adjectives and other adverbs
Distinguishing Between Adjectives and Adverbs
Using the -ly test
Sorting adjective–adverb pairs
Avoiding Common Mistakes
Choosing between good and well
Choosing between real and really
Placing even, almost and only
Chapter 9: Filling the Gaps: Prepositions, Interjections and Articles
Proposing Relationships: Prepositions
The objects of my affection
Are you talking to I? Prepositions and pronouns
A good part of speech to end a sentence with?
Interjections Are Easy!
Articles: Not Just for Magazines
Determiners: Specifically General
Chapter 10: She’ll Be Right: Handling Pronouns
Pairing Pronouns With Nouns
Spotting pronouns without a noun
Deciding between singular and plural pronouns
Using Possessive Pronouns
Choosing Pronouns for Collective Nouns
Positioning Pronoun–Antecedent Pairs
Who Do You Mean? Using Clear Antecedents
This, That and the Other
Who/Whoever versus Whom/Whomever
Dealing With Singular Pronoun Problems
Politically Correct Pronouns
Chapter 11: Making it Match: About Agreement
Writing Singular and Plural Verbs
The unchangeables
The changeables
Creating Harmony: Making Subjects and Verbs Agree
Choosing Verbs for Two Subjects
The Distractions: Extra Phrases and Other Irrelevant Words
Negotiating Agreement with Difficult Subjects
Five problem pronouns as subjects
Each and every error is annoying
Either and neither without their partners
Part III: Punctuating for Precision
Chapter 12: Commas: Pauses That Count
Distinguishing Items: Commas in Lists
Separating Adjectives
Direct Address: This Means You
Using Commas in Addresses and Dates
Addressing addresses
Punctuating dates
In the Beginning and the End: Introductory and Concluding Words
Travelling in Pairs: Adding Detail
Essential or extra? Commas tell the tale
Commas with appositive influence
Commas with Conjunctions
Chapter 13: Apostrophes: They’re There for a Reason
Using Apostrophes to Show Possession
Just one owner
Multiple owners
Possession with hyphenated words
Possessives of nouns that end in s
Apostrophes with pronouns
Shortened Words for Busy People: Contractions
Using Apostrophes with Abbreviations and Numbers
Chapter 14: Quotations: He Said, She Said
Punctuating Speech
Indirect speech
Direct speech
Identifying speaker changes
Scare Quotes: The Ones People Make in the Air
Other People’s Words: Quotations
Brackets in Quotations
Treating Titles
Bibliographies 101
The why and what
Author–date system versus documentary–note system
Chapter 15: Adding Information: Semicolons and Colons
Semicolons: Hinging Complete Thoughts
Using semicolons with conjuncts
Separating items in a list with semicolons
Colons: Creating Anticipation and Clarification
Introducing lists
Introducing extracts
Joining explanations
Chapter 16: Dots and Dashes: Ellipses, Hyphens, Dashes and Slashes
The Ellipsis: Dot-dot-dot
H-y-p-h-e-n-a-t-i-n-g Made Easy
Placing hyphens in numbers
Using hyphens for compound words
The well-placed hyphen
Jumping Tracks or Joining — Dashes
Chapter 17: CAPITAL LETTERS and Numerals
Sometimes Mum Is Less than Capital
Addressing officials
Hey Dad, your mum is here: Writing about family relationships
Capitalising Directions, Places and Races
Directions and areas of a country
Geographic features
Race and ethnicity
Marking Seasons and Times
Capitals in Titles
Concerning Historical Capitals: Events and Eras
Choosing Numerals or Words
Part IV: Grammar with Style — the Finer Points
Chapter 18: Perfecting Pronouns
Choosing Pronouns as Subjects
Compound subjects
Picking pronouns for comparisons
Connecting pronouns to linking verbs
Using Pronouns as Direct and Indirect Objects
Choosing objects for prepositions
Avoiding double trouble
Owning Pronouns: Possession
Doing It Yourself: Reflexive Pronouns
Chapter 19: Finetuning Verbs and Verbals
Putting Events in Order
Case 1: Simultaneous events and main verbs
Case 2: Simultaneous events and -ing participles
Case 3: Events at two different times in the past
Case 4: More than two past events, all at different times
Case 5: Two events in the future
Case 6: Different times, different verb forms
Mix and Match: Combining the Past and Present
Keeping your tenses consistent
If it’s a habit, it’s present tense
Eternal truths: Always present tense
Ongoing action: Present and past tenses
Looking like Verbs: Verbals
Spotting gerunds
Working with infinitives
Playing with participles
Chapter 20: Saying What You Want to Say: Descriptions
Ruining a Good Sentence: Misplaced Descriptions
Keeping Your Audience Hanging: Danglers
Looking Both Ways: Squinters
Making Comparisons
Mine is bigger: Regular comparisons
All well and good: Irregular comparisons
The most perfect: Illogical comparisons
Chapter 21: Refining Your Writing: Grammar in Action
Organising Sentences
Coordinating ideas
Subordinating less important ideas
Mixing coordination and subordination
Building Balanced Sentences: Parallel Construction
Shifting Grammar into Gear: Avoiding Stalled Sentences
Steering clear of a tense situation
Knowing the right person
Finding the Right Voice: Active and Passive
Making Writing Flow: Cohesion
Sequencing ideas
Linking ideas
Keeping It Clear: Plain English
Using too many words
Using the wrong words
Chapter 22: e-Grammar: Accuracy in Electronic Communication
The Abbreviations Generation
The standard: Basic rules
Txtspk: The language of SMS
Effective Emails
Knowing who, why and what
Avoiding disaster
Preparing Visual Presentations
Writing Bullet Point Lists
Part V: The Part of Tens
Chapter 23: Ten Common Grammar Errors and How to Revise Them
Apostrophe Catastrophes
Failure to Agree
Shifting Uncomfortably between Tenses
The Comma Splice
The Run-On Sentence
The Sentence Fragment
Misplaced Modifiers
Choosing between Subject and Object Pronouns
Problem Prepositions
Mistaking ‘Of’ for ‘Have’
Chapter 24: Ten Things Grammar and Spell Checkers Can’t Do
Always Be Right
Ask What You Meant
Make Decisions
Detect Right Spelling but the Wrong Word
Question Vague Pronoun Use
Know When Passive Voice Is Best
Emphasise What Matters
Create Sentences That Flow
Identify Plain English
Replace a Careful Reader
Chapter 25: Ten Ways to Improve Your Writing
Think about Your Reader
Make a Good First Impression
Choose Strong Verbs
Choose Precise Words
Choose the Right Voice
Be Consistent
Stay on Track
Vary the Sentence Length
Vary the Sentence Type
End with a Bang
Chapter 26: Ten Ways two to Improve Your Editing
Use Track Changes
Read Like a Professional Editor
Read Like a Professional Proofreader
Read Backwards
Focus on One Thing at a Time
Wait a While
Read Aloud
Stop at the Commas
Swap with Someone Else
Know Your Weaknesses

English Grammar For Dummies®, 2nd Australian Edition

by Wendy M Anderson, Geraldine Woods, and Lesley J Ward


About the Authors

Wendy M Anderson spent the first decade or so of her professional life as an English teacher in secondary schools before reinventing herself as an education publisher. She then moved on to teaching editing and professional writing to adult learners, simultaneously guest lecturing in grammar and tutoring in a university English department. From there, it was a short hop to facilitating corporate workshops in business communication and grammar. She occupies the remaining daylight hours (and lots of the non-daylight hours too) enjoying the feast or famine world of the freelance writer/editor and has been widely published, Although usually casual, she’s not sure how she got to be so part-time. She’s sure that she used to be far more permanent.

PS She has never owned a brown cardigan.

Geraldine Woods’ career as a grammarian began in her elementary school, which in those days was called ‘grammar school’ for very good reason. With the guidance of a series of nuns carrying long rulers (good for pointing at the board and slapping unruly students), she learned how to diagram every conceivable type of sentence. She has been an English teacher for over 25 years and has written 40 books, give or take a few. She loves minor-league baseball, Chinese food and the novels of Jane Austen.

Lesley J Ward has worked in the publishing industry for over 30 years, editing and proofreading books and journals. She is a founder member of the Society of Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP), and regularly leads training courses for SfEP, the Irish Book Publishers’ Association and the London College of Communications. She is also a distance-learning tutor for the Publishing Training Centre. Her favourite course is Brush Up Your Grammar. She lives in Berkshire and is notorious for being a harmless eccentric/dangerous radical who refuses to have email.


From Wendy: I’d love to dedicate this book to my long-suffering family — Peter, Fraser, Lauren and Luke — but it would probably cause them near-terminal embarrassment.

From Geraldine: For my husband and son, the hearts of my life.

From Lesley: This book is dedicated to Oliver and Francesca, who are going to receive copies from their grammatically obsessed maiden aunt.

Authors’ Acknowledgements

From Wendy: Much appreciation goes to my students and the workshop participants I’ve tortured over the years for being lab rats to the cause. Every puzzled expression and frustrated question helps me better understand how words work. Eternal gratitude also goes to the late great Dr George Stern, whose wealth of knowledge and extensive sense of fun combined to help me understand English grammar in a way my formal education was never able to achieve. Bouquets go to the buoyant Charlotte Duff, who commissioned me to write this when she was at Wiley and then cheerfully took on the onerous task of being my editor for the second edition — thank you in bucketfuls for making the process relatively pain-free. And finally, I send gratitude in the general direction of Clare Weber and Dani Karvess, who managed this project, and managed also to remain gracious in the face of my (occasional) grumpiness.

From Geraldine: I offer thanks to my students, whose intelligence and curiosity never fail to inspire me. I also thank technical editor Tom LaFarge, whose good sense of humour and knowledge of grammar vastly improved this book. I am grateful to my project editor, Linda Brandon, whose thoughtful comments challenged me to clarify my explanations and whose encouragement changed many a bad day into a good one. I appreciate the hard work of copyeditors Billie Williams and Ellen Considine, who constantly reminded me to focus on you, the reader. I am also grateful to acquisitions editors Joyce Pepple, Roxane Cerda and Susan Decker, who encouraged me at every opportunity. I owe a debt of gratitude to my agent, Carolyn Krupp, who calmed my nerves and answered my emails with unfailing courtesy and valuable assistance. Lastly, I thank my colleagues in the English Department, whose passion for teaching and love of our subject make my time at work a pleasure.

From Lesley: Most of the people I need to thank will have to remain nameless because I can’t remember their names. The primary school teacher who got me hooked on grammar in the first place isn’t even a nameless face to me any more, although I can still see the blackboard and remember the weather (rainy) on the day she showed me that language is fascinating. My teachers at grammar school also did a wonderful job. (A special thankyou here to all the members of successive governments who didn’t decide that I didn’t need to know grammar.) Every author who argued with me, and every publishing house that gave me feedback on the work I did for them, helped to hone my skills. And all the experts who have taken the trouble to write grammar books that I could understand. Bless them — I now have a much better idea of how much effort those books took.

Also, thank you to Alison Yates and Simon Bell at Wiley. They were incredibly patient when I missed deadlines. And to Tabby Toussaint, the technical reviewer who saved me from a gaffe or two, and the poor frustrated copyeditor. They tried. Anything that’s still wrong is my fault.

Publisher’s Acknowledgements

We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our online registration form located at

Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:

Acquisitions, Editorial and Media Development

Project Editor: Charlotte Duff

Acquisitions Editor: Clare Weber

Editorial Manager: Dani Karvess


Cartoons: Glenn Lumsden

Proofreader: Jenny Scepanovic

Technical Reviewer: Margaret McKenzie

Indexer: Don Jordan, Antipodes Indexing

Every effort has been made to trace the ownership of copyright material. Information that enables the publisher to rectify any error or omission in subsequent editions is welcome. In such cases, please contact the Permissions Section of John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd.


Grammar makes lots of people nervous. Chances are, you’re reading this now because you’re one of those people. Perhaps you went to school in an era when grammar wasn’t really taught. And what mattered was that you expressed yourself freely without feeling restricted by mundane things like correct spelling and accurate sentence structure. Maybe you did learn some grammar but you found all the terminology boring and have forgotten most of the rules. As an adult, you may find yourself in circumstances where your language skills aren’t as good as they need to be — in a job interview, preparing your first report in a new job, or writing essays for tertiary studies. This can be stressful and make you feel self-conscious. And it’s worse if everyone else seems to understand, or if you find to your horror that the boss or tutor is one of those people who even uses perfect grammar in text messages.

English grammar can be tricky but, happily, it’s easier than you may think. You don’t have to memorise all of the technical terms, and you’re likely to find that you already know a lot of it anyway. In this book we tell you the tricks of the trade, the strategies that help you make the right decision when you’re facing such grammatical dilemmas as how to choose between I and me, or whether to say had gone or went. We explain what you’re supposed to do, tell you why a particular way of doing things is correct or incorrect, and even show you how to revise your sentences if your grammar checker puts a squiggly green line under some part of your sentence. When you understand the reason for a particular choice, you’ll pick the correct word automatically.

About This Book

In this book, we concentrate on the common errors. We tell you what’s what in the sentence, in logical, everyday English, not in obscure terminology. You don’t have to read the chapters in order, but you can. And you don’t have to read the whole book. Just browse through the table of contents and look for things that have always troubled you. For example, if you know that verbs are your downfall, check out Chapters 2 and 3 for the basics. Chapters 11 and 19 show you how to choose the correct verb in a variety of situations. You decide how picky you want to be.

Each chapter in this book introduces some basic ideas and then shows you how to choose the correct sentence when faced with two or three choices. If we define a term — linking verbs, for example — we show you a practical situation in which identifying a linking verb helps you pick the right pronoun. The examples are clearly displayed in the text so that you can find them easily. One good way to determine whether or not you need to read a particular section is to have a go at the ‘Have a Go’ tasks that are sprinkled around every chapter. If you get the right answer, you probably don’t need to read that section. If you’re stumped, however, backtrack and read the chapter. Also, watch for Demon icons. They identify the little things — the difference between two similar words, commonly misused words and so on — that may sabotage your writing.

What You Don’t Need to Read

Here and there throughout this book, you see some items marked with the Black Belt icon. No human being in the history of the world has ever been in life-threatening situations that required them to know those terms. You have our permission to skip them and do something more interesting. For those of you who actually enjoy obscure terminology for the purpose of, say, clearing a room within ten seconds, the Black Belt icons define such exciting grammatical terms as subject complement and participial phrase. Everyone else, fear not. Look for the Black Belt icons so you know what to avoid.

Similarly, the grey boxes with text — the sidebars — contain information that you may find interesting but isn’t required for your understanding of the subject. Feel free to flick straight past them.

Foolish Assumptions

We wrote English Grammar For Dummies with a specific person in mind. We assume that you, the reader, already speak English (although you may have learned it as a foreign language) and that you want to speak and write it better. We also assume that you’re a busy person with better things to do than worry about who and whom. You want to speak and write well, but you don’t want to get a doctorate in English grammar. (Smart move. Doctorates in English don’t move you very far up the salary scale.)

This book is for you if you aspire to:

check.png better marks for your essays

check.png a job with better pay or a higher status

check.png having your speech and writing present you as an educated, intelligent person

check.png being able to write and say exactly what you mean.

check.png developing a sound understanding of good grammar.

How This Book Is Organised

The first two parts of this book cover the basics: the minimum for acceptable, correct English. Part III addresses the nuts and bolts of writing: punctuation, capital letters and when to use numerals.

Part IV moves you on to the finer points of grammar, the ones that separate regular people from grammar-gurus. If you understand all the information in this section, you’re on your way to being an honorary brown-cardigan-wearing grammar-geek! This part also introduces you to the important connection of good grammar with good writing style.

Here’s a more specific guide to navigating English Grammar For Dummies.

Part I: Understanding Verbs and Sentences

This part explains how to distinguish between the levels of English: from I’m-on-my-best-behaviour English, through slightly more proper conversational language and on to the casual slang of friend-to-friend chat. We explain the building blocks of a sentence (subjects and verbs) — and show you how to put them together properly. In this part, we also provide a guide to the complete sentence, telling you what’s grammatically legal and what’s not. We also give details about objects and complements and show you how to use each effectively.

Part II: Adding Detail and Avoiding Common Errors

In this part, we describe the remaining members of ‘team grammar’ — the other parts of speech. We show you how to join short, choppy sentences into longer, more fluent ones and discuss which joining words do this best. We also explain descriptive words and show you how the location of a description can alter the meaning of the sentence. Prepositions — which trip up many speakers of English as a second language — are handled in this part, as are pronouns. Choosing the correct pronoun need never trouble you again. Finally, in this part we tell you how to avoid mismatches between singular and plural words, by far the most common mistake in ordinary speech and writing.

Part III: Punctuating for Precision

If you’ve ever asked yourself whether or not you need a comma or got lost in quotation marks and semicolons, Part III is for you. We explain all the rules that govern the use of the apostrophe. We also show you how to quote speech or written material as well as how to use dots and dashes. We even provide advice about the correct way to present a bibliography. Lastly, we outline the ins and outs of capital letters and numerals: when you need them, when you don’t and when they’re optional.

Part IV: Grammar with Style — the Finer Points

Part IV moves into trickier territory — not all the way into the land of pernickety grammar pedants, but pretty close. Importantly, in this part, we introduce you to the way good grammar and good writing style go hand in hand, and venture into the world of text messages, emails and visual presentations. We tell you the difference between subject and object pronouns, and pronouns of possession. (No, you don’t need an exorcist.) We go into detail about verb tenses, explaining which to choose for all sorts of purposes. We show you how to expand your sentences with clear, carefully placed descriptions and comparisons. We acquaint you with the best way to organise your ideas into sentences and your sentences into cohesive paragraphs, how to distinguish between active and passive verbs, and when to use each. This part also puts into plain words how to write in plain English, and clarifies when and how to use abbreviations and bullet point lists. Finally, we show you how to achieve success in creating visual presentations.

Part V: The Part of Tens

Part V offers some quick tips for better grammar. Here we explain how to deal with ten common grammar errors, and warn you about ten ways your grammar and spell checker can’t help you. We show you ten ways to finetune your writing skills and suggest ten ways to improve your editing and proofreading skills. We also provide you with a glossary of the grammar terms you’ll encounter in your journey through the book, just in case you need a refresh button for your memory.

Icons Used in This Book

Throughout this book you can find useful icons to help you note specific types of information. Here’s what each icon means:

Here’s where we get a little technical. If you master this information, you’re guaranteed to impress your oldest relations and bore all of your friends.

Keep an eye out for these little devils: they point out the difference between easily confused words and show you how to make your sentence say what you want it to say.

Have you ever been confused by the message your grammar checker gives you when it puts a wiggly line under a possible problem and asks you to ‘consider revising’ some part of your sentence? Your days of confusion end here. This little fellow appears at the same points that a wiggly line would appear, and the information alongside it tells you exactly how to revise those troublesome sentences.

Think you know how to find the subject in a sentence or identify a pronoun? Have a go at these exercises, located throughout this book, to find out what you know and what you may want to learn.

Wherever you see this icon, you’ll find helpful strategies for understanding the structure of the sentence or for choosing the correct word form.

Not every grammar trick has a built-in trap, but some do. This icon tells you how to avoid common mistakes as you unravel a sentence.

Where to Go from Here

Now that you know what’s what and where it is, it’s time to get started. Before you do, however, one last word. Actually, two last words. Trust yourself. You already know a lot. You’d be amazed how much grammar can be absorbed by osmosis from day-to-day language. If you’re a native speaker, you’ve communicated in English all of your life, including the years before you set foot in school and saw your first textbook. If English is an acquired language for you, you’ve probably already learned a fair amount of vocabulary and grammar, even if you don’t know the technical terms. So take heart. Browse through the table of contents, have a go at a few tasks and dip a toe into the sea of grammar. The water’s fine.

Part I

Understanding Verbs and Sentences

Glenn Lumsden


‘You’re charged with illegal use of a verb, omission of an apostrophe and — something the magistrate is unlikely to hand down — an incomplete sentence.’

In this part . . .

So it’s, like, communication, y’know?

Can you make a statement like that without risking arrest by the grammar police? Maybe. Read Chapter 1 for a discussion of the levels of English and a guide to when each is appropriate. The rest of this part of the book explains the building blocks of the sentence and why verbs are so important to sentences. Chapter 2 shows you how to find the verb, and Chapter 3 tells you what to do with it once you’ve found it. Chapter 4 provides a road map to the subject of the sentence and explains the basics of matching subjects and verbs properly. Chapter 5 is all about completeness — why a grammatically sound sentence needs it and how to make sure that each sentence has it. In Chapter 6, we explore the last building block of a sentence — the object or complement.