Human Factors

Eddie sez:


A page about grammar in an aviation website? This is here just for me, because I have to refer to it often. Truth is, that amongst us four, Larry, Wally, and The Beav all have better grammar than me. Or is it I?

Last revision:




An adjective describes how something 'is'. For this reason, we usually use the verb 'to be' when using adjectives. Adjectives are used to describe nouns.

Adjectives have three degrees: Positive, Comparative, and Superlative.

old, older, oldest

Rule: Adjectives are usually placed before the noun.

It was a wonderful book about interesting people.

He is a good doctor.

Rule: Adjectives can also be placed at the end of a sentence if they describe the subject of a sentence.

My doctor is excellent.

Rule: Adjectives are invariable, they do not have singular/plural or masculine/femine forms, and they are not modified with a final -s.


Adverbs modify verbs. They tell you How something is done.

Write all adverbial forms correct.
- William Safire

Rule: Adverbs are often formed by adding -ly to an adjective

How does she sing? - She sings beautifully.

Rule: Some adjectives don't change in the adverb form.

The most important of these are: fast - fast, hard - hard

Rule: The adjective "good" becomes "well" as an adverb.

He is a good tennis player. He plays tennis well.

Rule: Adverbs can also modify an adjective. In this case, the adverb is placed before the adjective.

She is extremely happy. They are absolutely sure.

Rule: Adverbs of frequency (always, never, sometimes, often, etc.) usually come before the main verb .


Rule: A pronoun must agree with its antecedent in person, number, and gender.

An antecedent is a noun or pronoun referred to by a pronoun. The antecedent usually comes before the pronoun.

Rule: The subject and the verb in a sentence must agree in terms of number. A singular subject takes a singular verb and a plural subject takes a plural verb.

The subject is the noun that performs the action and it can be either singular or plural. For example, the verb dance conjugates to "I dance," "you dance," "he/she/it dances," "we dance," and "they dance."

First person singular and plural subjects do not change the verb. I dance, You dance, We dance.

Third person singular, present tense requires we add -s or -es. We say He dances, She dances.

Third person plural subjects do not change the verb. They dance.

The past tense requires its own changes to the verb, but (except for the verb be) these do not involve number. Thus we say He danced, They danced and we danced.

The modal auxiliaries are an exception to the agreement rule. They do not change to show number. We say I can dance, He can dance, They can dance, and so on.

The primary verb be is a unique case in that it has many different forms- am, are, is, was, were-depending on the person, number, and tense of a specific use.

Rule: When an appositive differs in number with the simple subject, the simple subject determines the verb.

An appositive is a descriptive phrase that restates the noun or pronoun, or adds new information.

The stampeding herd, mostly anteaters and wildebeests, is destroying my eggplant crop.

Rule: When the subjects disagree, agreement by proximity is called for.

In a sentence like Either John or his brothers are bringing the dessert, the verb can't agree with both parts of the subject. Some people believe that the verb should agree with the closer of the two subjects.

Rule: Notional agreement sometimes trumps grammatical agreement.

In some sentences a subject can have a singular form and a plural meaning. Thus in the sentence Her family are all avid skiers, the noun family is singular in form but plural in meaning, and the verb is plural to agree with the meaning.

Similarly, there are some nouns like mumps and news that are plural in form but take a singular verb: The mumps was once a common childhood disease. Amounts often take a singular verb: Ten thousand bucks is a lot of money.

Rule: A compound subject connect by "and" normally takes a plural verb.

Rebecca and Martha play in the same band. The house and the barn are on the same property. Their innovative idea, persistence, and careful research have finally paid off.


Reserve the apostrophe for it's proper use and omit it when its not needed.
- William Safire

Rule: It indicates a possessive in a singular noun:

The boy's hat.

When the possessive is plural, but does not end in an "s," the apostrophe similarly precedes the "s:"

The children's playground

But when the possessor is a regular plural, the apostrophe follows the "s:"

The boys' hats (more than one boy)

Rule: It indicates time or quantity:

In one week's time

Four yards' worth

Rule: It indicates the omission of figures in dates:

The summer of '68

Rule: It indicates the omission of letters:

We can't go to Jo'burg (cannot, Johannesburg)

It's your turn (it is) ... If you can replace the word with "it is" or "it has" then the word is "it's", otherwise it is "its." If you can replace the word with "who is" or "who has" then the word is "who's," otherwise it is "whose." If you can replace the word with "they are" then the word is "they're." If you can replace the word with "there is" then the word is "there's." If you can replace the word with "you are" then the word is "you're."

Rule: It indicates strange, non-standard English:

'Appen yer'd better 'ave this key.

Rule: It features in Irish names:


Rule: It indicates the plural of letters:

How many f's are there in fulcram?

Rule: It also indicates plurals of words and abbreviations:

What are the do's and don't's?

There are several SUV's on the market.


Specifies whether the noun is specific or a member of a class.

The definite article "the" refers to specific objects.

The indefinite articles "a", and "an" refer to an unspecified member of a class.


Don't use Capital letters without good REASON.
- William Safire

Rule: Capitalize the first word of a quoted sentence.

Rule: Capitalize a proper noun. The Golden Gate Bridge.

Rule: Capitalize a person's title when it precedes the name. Do not capitalize when the title is acting as description following the name.

It was Captain Pettigrew in the left seat, and Smith was the first officer in the right.

Rule: Capitalize a person's title when it follows the person's name on the address or signature line.

Rule: Do not capitalize the titles of high-ranking officials when used instead of the name.

The president will address Congress. All senators are expected to attend.

Rule: Capitalize any title when used as a direct address.

Will you take my temperature, Doctor?

Rule: Capitalize the points of the compass only when they refer to specific regions.

We have relatives from the South. Go south three blocks.

Rule: Always capitalize the first and last words of titles of publications, as well as the short verb forms Is, Are, and Be. Do not capitalize other little words within titles such as a, an, the, but, as, if, and or, nor, or prepositions, regardless of their length.

The Day of the Jackal. A Tale of Two Cities.

Rule: Capitalize federal or state when used as part of an official agency name or in government documents where these terms represent an official name. Otherwise do not.

This is a federal offense and the Federal Bureau of Investigation will take notice.

Rule: Do not capitalize the names of seasons.

Rule: Capitalize the first word of a salutation and the first word of a complimentary close.

Dear Mr. Clousseau: Very truly yours,

Rule: Capitalize words derived from proper nouns.

I must take an English course.

Rule: Capitalize the names of specific course titles.

I must take Algebra 2.

Rule: After a sentence ending with a colon, do not capitalize the first word if it begins a list.

Rule: Do not capitalize when only one sentence follows a sentence ending with a colon.

Rule: Capitalize when two or more sentences follow a sentence ending with a colon.


A clause is a group of related words with a subject and predicate. (A predicate is the verb and all the words governed by the verb and modifying it.)

Independent Clauses

An independent clause expresses a complete thought and can stand alone as a sentence.

Rule: Two or more independent clauses can be joined by using coordinating conjunctions (and, but, for, nor, or, so, and yet) or by using semicolons.

Fernando left, and Erica brushed her long, raven hair.

Fernando left; Erica brushed her long, raven hair.

Dependent Clauses

A subordinate clause has a subject and predicate but, unlike an independent clause, cannot stand by itself. It depends on something else to express a complete thought, which is why it is also called a dependent clause. Some subordinate clauses are introduced by relative pronouns (who, whom, that, which, what, whose) and some by subordinating conjunctions (although, because, if, unless, when, etc.). Subordinate clauses function in sentences as adjectives, nouns, and adverbs.

Rule: A dependent clause cannot stand alone, it is a sentence fragment.


Rule: Use the colon after a complete sentence to introduce a list of items when introductory words such as namely, for example, or that is do not appear.

You may be required to bring many items: sleeping bags, pans, and warm clothing.

I want the following items: butter, sugar, and flour.

I want an assistant who can do the following: (1) input data,(2) write reports, and (3) complete tax forms.

Rule: A colon should not precede a list unless it follows a complete sentence; however, the colon is a style choice that some publications allow.

If a waitress wants to make a good impression on her customers and boss, she should (a) dress appropriately, (b) calculate the bill carefully, and (c) be courteous to customers.

There are three ways a waitress can make a good impression on her boss and her customers:
(a) Dress appropriately.
(b) Calculate the bill carefully.
(c) Be courteous to customers.

Rule: Capitalization and punctuation are optional when using single words or phrases in bulleted form. If each bullet or numbered point is a complete sentence, capitalize the first word and end each sentence with proper ending punctuation. The rule of thumb is to be consistent.

I want an assistant who can do the following:
(a) input data,
(b) write reports, and
(c) complete tax forms.

The following are requested:
(a) Wool sweaters for possible cold weather.
(b) Wet suits for snorkeling.
(c) Introductions to the local dignitaries.

The following are requested:
(a) wool sweaters for possible cold weather
(b) wet suits for snorkeling
(c) introductions to the local dignitaries
NOTE: With lists, you may use periods after numbers and letters instead of parentheses.

Rule: Use a colon instead of a semicolon between two sentences when the second sentence explains or illustrates the first sentence and no coordinating conjunction is being used to connect the sentences. If only one sentence follows the colon, do not capitalize the first word of the new sentence. If two or more sentences follow the colon, capitalize the first word of each sentence following.

I enjoy reading: novels by Kurt Vonnegut are among my favorites.

Garlic is used in Italian cooking: It greatly enhances the flavor of pasta dishes. It also enhances the flavor of eggplant.

Rule: Use the colon to introduce a direct quotation that is more than three lines in length. In this situation, leave a blank line above and below the quoted material. Single space the long quotation. Some style manuals say to indent one-half inch on both the left and right margins; others say to indent only on the left margin. Quotation marks are not used.

The author of Touched, Jane Straus, wrote in the first chapter:

Georgia went back to her bed and stared at the intricate patterns of burned moth wings in the translucent glass of the overhead light. Her father was in "hyper mode" again where nothing could calm him down. He'd been talking nonstop for a week about remodeling projects, following her around the house as she tried to escape his chatter. He was just about to crash, she knew.

Rule: Use the colon to follow the salutation of a business letter even when addressing someone by his/her first name. Never use a semicolon after a salutation. A comma is used after the salutation for personal correspondence.

Dear Ms. Rodriguez:


Avoid commas, that are not necessary.
- William Safire

Rule: To avoid confusion, use commas to separate words and word groups with a series of three or more.

My $10 million estate is to be split among my husband, daughter, son, and nephew.

Rule: Use a comma to separate two adjectives when the word and can be inserted between them.

He is a strong, healthy man.

We stayed at an expensive summer resort.

Rule: Use a comma when an -ly adjective is used with other adjectives. To test whether an -ly word is an adjective, see if it can be used alone with the noun. If it can, use the comma.

Felix was a lonely, young boy.

I get headaches in brightly lit rooms.

Rule: Use commas before or surrounding the name or title of a person directly addressed.

Will you, Aisha, do that assignment for me?

Rule: Use a comma to separate the day of the month from the year and after the year.

Kathleen met her husband on December 5, 2003, in Mill Valley, California.

Rule: If any part of the date is omitted, leave out the comma.

They met in December 2003 in Mill Valley.

Rule: Use a comma to separate the city from the state and after the state in a document. If you use the two-letter capitalized form of a state in a document, you do not need a comma after the state.

I lived in San Francisco, California, for 20 years.

I lived in San Francisco, CA for 20 years.

Rule: Use commas to surround degrees or titles used with names. Commas are no longer required around Jr. and Sr. Commas never set off II, III, and so forth.

Al Mooney, M.D., knew Sam Sunny Jr. and Charles Starr III.

Rule: Use commas to set off expressions that interrupt sentence flow.

I am, as you have probably noticed, very nervous about this.

Rule: When starting a sentence with a weak clause, use a comma after it. Conversely, do not use a comma when the sentence starts with a strong clause followed by a weak clause.

If you are not sure about this, let me know now.

Let me know now if you are not sure about this.

Rule: Use a comma after phrases of more than three words that begin a sentence. If the phrase has fewer than three words, the comma is optional.

To apply for this job, you must have previous experience.

On February 14 many couples give each other candy or flowers.

Rule: If something or someone is sufficiently identified, the description following it is considered nonessential and should be surrounded by commas.

Freddy, who has a limp, was in an auto accident.

The boy who has a limp was in an auto accident.

Rule: Use a comma to separate two strong clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction--and, or, but, for, nor. You can omit the comma if the clauses are both short.

I have painted the entire house, but he is still working on sanding the doors.

I paint and he writes.

Rule: Use the comma to separate two sentences if it will help avoid confusion.

I chose the colors red and green, and blue was his first choice.

Rule: A comma splice is an error caused by joining two strong clauses with only a comma instead of separating the clauses with a conjunction, a semicolon, or a period. A run-on sentence, which is incorrect, is created by joining two strong clauses without any punctuation.

Incorrect: Time flies when we are having fun, we are always having fun.

Correct: Time flies when we are having fun; we are always having fun.

Rule: If the subject does not appear in front of the second verb, do not use a comma.

He thought quickly but still did not answer correctly.

Rule: Use commas to introduce or interrupt direct quotations shorter than three lines.

He actually said, "I do not care."

Rule: Use a comma to separate a statement from a question.

I can go, can't I?

Rule: Use a comma to separate contrasting parts of a sentence.

That is my money, not yours.

Rule: Use a comma when beginning sentences with introductory words such as well, now, or yes.

Yes, I do need that report.

Rule: Use commas surrounding words such as therefore and however when they are used as interrupters.

I would, therefore, like a response.

Rule: Use either a comma or a semicolon before introductory words such as namely, that is, i.e., for example, e.g., or for instance when they are followed by a series of items. Use a comma after the introductory word.

You may be required to bring many items, e.g., sleeping bags, pans, and warm clothing.


And don't start a sentence with a conjunction.
- William Safire

Conjunctions are words that join or link elements.

Rule: Coordinating conjunctions join words, phrases, or clauses that are grammatically equal in rank. Each clause can stand alone as a sentence. The coordinating conjunctions are and, but, for, nor, or, so, and yet.

Mother and daughter

We found the Easter eggs under the couch and in the closet.

He likes me, but I don't care.

Rule: Correlative conjunctions come in matched pairs: either/or, neither/nor, both/and, not only/but also, and whether/or.

Neither mother nor daughter

We found the Easter eggs not only under the couch but also in the closet.

Either you surrender or I shoot.

Rule: Subordinating conjunctions join unequal elements. A subordinating conjunction joins a clause that can't stand alone (called a subordinate or dependent clause) to a clause that can (called an independent clause).

We will discontinue research in this area unless the results of the experiment are promising.


En Dash. Most authorities recommend using no spaces before or after en or em dashes. To form an en dash with most PCs, type the first number or word, then hold down the ALT key while typing 0150 on the numerical pad on the right side of your keyboard. Then type the second number or word.

Rule: An en dash, roughly the width of an n, is a little longer than a hyphen. It is used for periods of time when you might otherwise use to.

The years 2001-2003


Rule: An en dash is also used in place of a hyphen when combining open compounds. A compound modifier combined with a participle should be joined with an en dash, but a string of modifiers should be joined with hyphens.

a White House-backed proposal

never-to-be-forgotten moments

North Carolina-Virginia border

Em Dash. To form an em dash on most PCs, type the first word, then hold down the ALT key while typing 0151 on the numerical pad on the right side of your keyboard. Then type the second word. You may also form an em dash by typing the first word, hitting the hyphen key twice, and then typing the second word. Your program will turn the two hyphens into an em dash for you.

Rule: An em dash is the width of an m. Use an em dash sparingly in formal writing. In informal writing, em dashes may replace commas, semicolons, colons, and parentheses to indicate added emphasis, an interruption, or an abrupt change of thought. A semicolon would be used here in formal writing.

You are the friend-the only friend-who offered to help me.

Never have I met such a lovely person-before you.


Use ellipsis marks when omitting a word, phrase, line, paragraph, or more from a quoted passage.

Rule: Use no more than three marks whether the omission occurs in the middle of a sentence or between sentences. Note: you may leave out punctuation such as commas that were in the original.

The regulation states, "All agencies must document overtime or risk losing federal funds." becomes The regulation states, "All agencies must document overtime..."

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." becomes "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth...a new nation, conceived in liberty..."

Rule: When you omit one or more paragraphs within a long quotation, use ellipsis marks after the last punctuation mark that ends the preceding paragraph.


A gerund is a verbal that ends in -ing and functions as a noun. The term verbal indicates that a gerund, like the other two kinds of verbals, is based on a verb and therefore expresses action or a state of being. However, since a gerund functions as a noun, it occupies some positions in a sentence that a noun ordinarily would, for example: subject, direct object, subject complement, and object of preposition.

Gerund as subject:

Traveling might satisfy your desire for new experiences.

Gerund as direct object:

They do not appreciate my singing.

Gerund as subject complement:

My cat's favorite activity is sleeping.

Gerund as object of preposition:

The police arrested him for speeding.

The gerund phrase functions as the subject of the sentence. A Gerund Phrase is a group of words consisting of a gerund and the modifier(s) and/or (pro)noun(s) or noun phrase(s) that function as the direct object(s), indirect object(s), or complement(s) of the action or state expressed in the gerund, such as:

Finding a needle in a haystack would be easier than what we're trying to do.

Punctuation. A gerund virtually never requires any punctuation with it.


Make an all out effort to hyphenate when necessary but not when un-necessary.
- William Safire

Rule: To check whether a compound noun is two words, one word, or hyphenated, you may need to look it up in the dictionary. If you can't find the word in the dictionary, treat the noun as separate words.

eyewitness, eye shadow, eye-opener

Rule: Phrases that have verb, noun, and adjective forms should appear as separate words when used as verbs and as one word when used as nouns or adjectives.

The engine will eventually break down. (verb)

We suffered a breakdown in communications. (noun)

Rule: Compound verbs are either hyphenated or appear as one word. If you do not find the verb in the dictionary, hyphenate it.

To air-condition the house will be costly.

We were notified that management will downsize the organization next year.

Rule: Generally, hyphenate between two or more adjectives when they come before a noun and act as a single idea.

friendly-looking man

Rule: When adverbs not ending in -ly are used as compound words in front of a noun, hyphenate. When the combination of words is used after the noun, do not hyphenate.

The well-known actress accepted her award.

The actress who accepted her award was well known.

Rule: Remember to use a comma, not a hyphen, between two adjectives when you could have used and between them.

Rule: I have important, classified documents.

Rule: Hyphenate all compound numbers from twenty-one through ninety-nine.

The teacher had thirty-two children in her classroom.

Rule: Hyphenate all spelled-out fractions.

You need one-third of a cup of sugar for that recipe.

Rule: The current trend is to do away with unnecessary hyphens. Therefore, attach most prefixes and suffixes onto root words without a hyphen.


Rule: Hyphenate prefixes when they come before proper nouns.


Rule: Hyphenate prefixes ending in an a or i only when the root word begins with the same letter.


Rule: When a prefix ends in one vowel and a root word begins with a different vowel, generally attach them without a hyphen.


Rule: Prefixes and root words that result in double e's and double o's are usually combined to form one word.



Exceptions: de-emphasize, co-owner

Rule: Hyphenate all words beginning with self except for selfish and selfless.


Rule: Use a hyphen with the prefix ex.

His ex-wife sued for nonsupport.

Rule: Use the hyphen with the prefix re only when: the re means again AND omitting the hyphen would cause confusion with another word.

Will she recover from her illness?


Remember to never split an infinitive.
- William Safire

An infinitive is a verbal consisting of the word to plus a verb (in its simplest "stem" form) and functioning as a noun, adjective, or adverb. The term verbal indicates that an infinitive, like the other two kinds of verbals, is based on a verb and therefore expresses action or a state of being. However, the infinitive may function as a subject, direct object, subject complement, adjective, or adverb in a sentence. Although an infinitive is easy to locate because of the to + verb form, deciding what function it has in a sentence can sometimes be confusing.

To wait seemed foolish when decisive action was required. (subject)

Everyone wanted to go. (direct object)

His ambition is to fly. (subject complement)

He lacked the strength to resist. (adjective)

We must study to learn. (adverb)

Rule: Do not place additional words between to and the verb in an infinitive. (The so-called split infinitive.)

I like to on a nice day walk in the woods. * (unacceptable)

On a nice day, I like to walk in the woods. (revised)


Interjections are used for exclamations.


Italics and Underlining

Rule: Use italics (characters set in type that slants to the right) and underlining to distinguish certain words from others within the text. These typographical devices mean the same thing; therefore, it would be unusual to use both within the same text and it would certainly be unwise to italicize an underlined word.

Rule: Italics do not include punctuation marks (end marks or parentheses, for instance) next to the words being italicized unless those punctuation marks are meant to be considered as part of what is being italicized.

Rule: Generally, we italicize the titles of things that can stand by themselves. Thus we differentiate between the titles of novels and journals, say, and the titles of poems, short stories, articles, and episodes (for television shows). The titles of these shorter pieces would be surrounded with double quotation marks.

Rule: We do not italicize the titles of long sacred works: the Bible, the Koran. Nor do we italicize the titles of books of the Bible: Genesis, Revelation, 1 Corinthians.

Rule: We italicize the names of vehicles, unless the brand name is included.



Orient Express

U.S.S. Eisenhower (Don't italicize the U.S.S.)

Rule: We don't italicize names of vehicles that are brand names

Ford Explorer

Boeing 747.

Rule: We italicize foreign words or phrases unless they have become so widely used and understood that they have become part of the English language - such as the French "bon voyage"


A noun is a part of speech that names a person, place, or thing.

Rule: Nouns can be singular, referring to one thing, or plural, referring to more than one thing. Nouns can be possessive as well; possessive nouns indicate ownership or a close relationship. Regardless of the type, nouns should always agree with their verbs in sentences; use singular verbs with singular nouns and plural verbs with plural nouns.

Rule: If a noun names a specific person or place, or a particular event or group, it is called a proper noun and is always capitalized.

Niagara Falls


Rule: A noun created from the - ing form of a verb is called a gerund. Like other nouns, gerunds act as subjects and objects in sentences.

Sleeping sometimes serves as an escape from studying.

Rule: When a noun or pronoun precedes a gerund, use the possessive case of the noun or pronoun.

Jane's sleeping was sometimes an escape from studying.

Rule: A word that stands for a group of things is called a collective noun. Usually these nouns are treated as singular, since the emphasis is on a unit rather than its parts.

The team is going on the bus.

The committee wants to find a solution to the problem.

Rule: ut when you want to emphasize the individual parts of a group, you may treat a collective noun as plural.

The team have argued about going on the bus.

The committee want different solutions to the problem.

Rule: The term number refers to whether a noun is singular or plural. While most are made plural by simply adding an s, not all are and you will have to check a dictionary to be sure.

sheep (singular), sheep (plural)

enemy, enemies; wharf, wharves; hero, heroes; goose, geese

Rule: The singular and plural forms of some nouns with Latin and Greek endings have their own forms

data (plural), datum is the (singular); bacterium, bacteria; criterion, criteria; medium, media

alumnus (masculine singular) /alumni (masculine plural), alumna (feminine singular) /alumnae (feminine plural)


Rule: Spell out single-digit whole numbers. Use numerals for numbers greater than nine.

I want five copies.

I want 10 copies.

Rule: Be consistent within a category. For example, if you choose numerals because one of the numbers is greater than nine, use numerals for all numbers in that category. If you choose to spell out numbers because one of the numbers is a single digit, spell out all numbers in that category.

Given the budget constraints, if all 30 history students attend the four plays, then the 7 math students will be able to attend only two plays.

Rule: Always spell out simple fractions and use hyphens with them.

One-half of the pies have been eaten.

Rule: A mixed fraction can be expressed in figures unless it is the first word of a sentence.

We expect a 5 1/2 percent wage increase.

Five and one-half percent was the maximum allowable interest.

Rule: The simplest way to express large numbers is best. Round numbers are usually spelled out. Be careful to be consistent within a sentence.

You can earn from one million to five million dollars.

Rule: Write decimals in figures. Put a zero in front of a decimal unless the decimal itself begins with a zero.

The plant grew 0.79 of a foot in one year.

The plant grew only .07 of a foot this year because of the drought.

Rule: With numbers that have decimal points, use a comma only when the number has five or more digits before the decimal point. Place the comma in front of the third digit to the left of the decimal point. When writing out such numbers, use the comma where it would appear in the figure format. Use the word and where the decimal point appears in the figure format.

$15,768.13: Fifteen thousand, seven hundred sixty-eight dollars and thirteen cents

Rule: When expressing decades, you may spell them out and lowercase them.

During the eighties and nineties, the U.S. economy grew.

Rule: If you wish to express decades using incomplete numerals, put an apostrophe before the incomplete numeral but not between the year and the s.

During the '80s and '90s, the U.S. economy grew.

Rule: You may also express decades in complete numerals. Again, don't use an apostrophe between the year and the s.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the U.S. economy grew.

Rule: Normally, spell out the time of day in text even with half and quarter hours. With o'clock, the number is always spelled out.

She gets up at four thirty before the baby wakes up.

The baby wakes up at five o'clock in the morning.

Rule: Use numerals with the time of day when exact times are being emphasized or when using A.M. or P.M.

Monib's flight leaves at 6:22 A.M.

Please arrive by 12:30 sharp.

Rule: Use noon and midnight rather than 12:00 P.M. and 12:00 A.M.

Rule: Hyphenate all compound numbers from twenty-one through ninety-nine.

Forty-three people were injured in the train wreck.

Rule: Write out a number if it begins a sentence.

Twenty-nine people won an award for helping their communities.


Rule: Use parentheses to enclose words or figures that clarify or are used as an aside.

I expect five hundred dollars ($500).

Rule: Use full parentheses to enclose numbers or letters used for listed items.

We need an emergency room physician who can (1) think quickly, (2) treat patients respectfully, and (3) handle complaints from the public.

Rule: Periods go inside parentheses only if an entire sentence is inside the parentheses.

Please read the analysis (I enclosed it as Attachment A.).


Please read the analysis. (I enclosed it as Attachment A.)


Please read the analysis (Attachment A).


Writing carefully, dangling participles should be avoided.
- William Safire

A participle is a verbal that is used as an adjective and most often ends in -ing or -ed. The term verbal indicates that a participle, like the other two kinds of verbals, is based on a verb and therefore expresses action or a state of being. However, since they function as adjectives, participles modify nouns or pronouns.

Rule: Present participles end in -ing.

Rule: Past participles end in -ed, -en, -d, -t, or -n, as in the words asked, eaten, saved, dealt, and seen.

Rule: A participial phrase is a group of words consisting of a participle and the modifier(s) and/or (pro)noun(s) or noun phrase(s) that function as the direct object(s), indirect object(s), or complement(s) of the action or state expressed in the participle.

Removing his coat, Jack rushed to the river.

Rule: Rule: In order to prevent confusion, a participial phrase must be placed as close to the noun it modifies as possible, and the noun must be clearly stated.

Carrying a heavy pile of books, his foot caught on a step. (There is no clear indication of what or who is performing the action. This is the so-called dangling modifier)

Carrying a heavy pile of books, he caught his foot on a step. (Correct)

Rule: When a participial phrase begins a sentence, a comma should be placed after the phrase.

Arriving at the store, I found that it was closed.

Rule: If the participle or participial phrase comes in the middle of a sentence, it should be set off with commas only if the information is not essential to the meaning of the sentence.

Sid, watching an old movie, drifted in and out of sleep.

Rule: If the participial phrase is essential to the meaning of the sentence, no commas should be used.

The student earning the highest grade point average will receive a special award.

Rule: If a participial phrase comes at the end of a sentence, a comma usually precedes the phrase if it modifies an earlier word in the sentence but not if the phrase directly follows the word it modifies.

The local residents often saw Ken wandering through the streets.

Tom nervously watched the woman, alarmed by her silence.


Rule: Use a period at the end of a complete sentence that is a statement.

I know that you would never break my trust intentionally.

Rule: If the last word in the sentence ends in a period, do not follow it with another period.

I know that M.D. She is my sister-in-law.

Please shop, cook, etc. I will do the laundry.

Rule: Use the period after an indirect question.

He asked where his suitcase was.


Never use prepositions to end sentences with.
- William Safire

Rule: A preposition shows the relationship between a noun or pronoun and another noun or pronoun.

about, above, across, after, against, along, among, around, at, before, behind, below, beneath, beside, between, beyond, by, concerning, down, during, except, for, from, in, into, like, of, off, on, out, over, past, since, through, to, toward, under, underneath, until, unto, up, upon, with, within, without

Some prepositions, called compound prepositions, are made up of more than one word, such as according to, because of, in front of, instead of, in spite of, and next to.

Rule: Be careful not to use a preposition where it isn't needed.

Where have you been? not Where have you been at?

Where is Robert going? not Where is Robert going to?

Rule: Don't use two prepositions when you need only one.

Don't go near the water not Don't go near to the water.

Rule: Avoid ending sentences with prepositions unless doing so makes a particular sentence more natural.

It is a comment to which I will not respond. COMPARED TO It is a comment I will not respond to.

Quotation Marks

Rule: Periods and commas always go inside quotation marks, even inside single quotes.

The sign changed from "Walk," to "Don't Walk," to "Walk" again within 30 seconds.

She said, "Hurry up."

She said, "He said, 'Hurry up.'"

Rule: The placement of question marks with quotes follows logic. If a question is in quotation marks, the question mark should be placed inside the quotation marks.

She asked, "Will you still be my friend?"

Do you agree with the saying, "All's fair in love and war"?

Rule: Only one ending punctuation mark is used with quotation marks. Also, the stronger punctuation mark wins.

Rule: When you have a question outside quoted material AND inside quoted material, use only one question mark and place it inside the quotation mark.

Did she say, "May I go?"

Rule: Use single quotation marks for quotes within quotes. Note that the period goes inside all quote marks.

He said, "Danea said, 'Do not treat me that way.'"

Rule: Use quotation marks to set off a direct quotation only.

"When will you be here?" he asked.

Rule: Do not use quotation marks with quoted material that is more than three lines in length. Offset the quote instead.

Rule: When you are quoting something that has a spelling or grammar mistake or presents material in a confusing way, insert the term sic in italics and enclose it in brackets. Sic means, "This is the way the original material was."

She wrote, "I would rather die then [sic] be seen wearing the same outfit as my sister."


Use the semicolon properly, use it between complete but related thoughts; and not between an independent clause and a mere phrase.
- William Safire

Rule: Use a semicolon in place of a period to separate two sentences where the conjunction has been left out.

Call me tomorrow; I will give you my answer then.

I have paid my dues; therefore, I expect all the privileges listed in the contract.

Rule: It is preferable to use a semicolon before introductory words such as namely, however, therefore, that is, i.e., for example, e.g., or for instance when they introduce a complete sentence. It is also preferable to use a comma after the introductory word.

You will want to bring many backpacking items; for example, sleeping bags, pans, and warm clothing will make the trip better.

Rule: Use the semicolon to separate units of a series when one or more of the units contain commas.

This conference has people who have come from Boise, Idaho; Los Angeles, California; and Nashville, Tennessee.

Rule: Use the semicolon between two sentences joined by a coordinating conjunction when one or more commas appear in the first sentence.

When I finish here, I will be glad to help you; and that is a promise I will keep.

Sentence Structure

If you ain't got a verb, you ain't got a sentence.
- William Safire

Rule: Every sentence has a subject and a predicate.

The subject is the part of the sentence that performs an action or which is associated with the action.

The subject may be a simple subject or a compound subject. A simple subject consists of a noun phrase or a nominative personal pronoun. Compound subjects are formed by combining several simple subjects with conjunctions.

Sometimes the subject is understood and not stated. In the sentence, "Call the plumber, please" the subject is understood: "(You) call the plumber, please."

The predicate consists of a verb or verb phrase and its complements, if any.

A verb that requires no complements is called intransitive. A verb that requires one or two complements is called transitive. A verb may belong to both categories. We may generate the complete sentence "I walk." with no complements. We may also generate "I walk home.", where "home" is a complement of the verb. Further, "I walk my dog home." has two complements: "my dog" and "home". In traditional grammars, these complements are called the "indirect object" (my dog) and the "direct object" (home).

Sometimes a verb will express being or existence instead of action.

Spelling Rules

The rigid rule of "i before e except after c"
raises spelling to a sceince.
- William Safire

Rule: Put i before e; except after c and in words that rhyme with hay, and a few exceptions.

mischief believe field

receiver conceited

eight weigh freight

either, neither, feint, foreign, forfeit, height, leisure, weird, seize

Rule: A final y changes to i when an ending is added, except when that ending is -ing and when the y is preceded by a vowel.

Supply becomes supplies


Obeyed, saying

Rule: A silent e is dropped when adding an ending that begins with a vowel, but kept when the ending begins with a consonant, unless the e is preceded by a vowel.

Advancing, surprising

Advancement, likeness

Argument, truly

Rule: Adding a prefix seldom changes the spelling of a word.

Misspelled, unnecessary, dissatisified

Rule: We form plurals by adding -s or -es. For words ending with -y, change the -y to -I and add -es. For proper nouns, keep the -y.

Shoes, porches, boxes

Toys, companies, Kennedys

Rule: When adding an ending to a word that ends in a consonant, we double that consonant when the ending begins with a vowel and the last syllable of the word is accented and that syllable ends in a single vowel followed by a single consonant.

Admitted, flapped




Verb tenses are formed according to person, number, and tense.

Present tense: action going on now

First PersonI walkwe walk
I amwe are
Second Personyou walkyou walk
you areyou are
Third Personhe/she/it walkedthey walk
he/she/it isthey are

Past tense: action that is over

First PersonI walkedwe walked
I waswe were
Second Personyou walkedyou walked
you wereyou were
Third Personhe/she/it walkedthey walked
he/she/it wasthey were

Future tense: action that has yet to take place

First PersonI will walkyou will walk
I will beyou will be
Second Personyou will walkyou will walk
you will beyou will be
Third Personhe/she/it will walkthey will walk
he/she/it will bethey will be

Present perfect tense: action in past time in relation to present time

First PersonI have walkedwe have walked
I have beenwe have been
Second Personyou have walkedyou have walked
you have beenyou have been
Third Personhe/she/it has walkedthey have walked
he/she/it has beenthey have been

Past perfect tense: action in past time in relation to another past time

First PersonI had walkedwe had walked
I had beenwe had been
Second Personyou had walkedyou had walked
you had beenyou had been
Third Personhe/she/it had walkedthey had walked
he/she/it had beenthey had been


Verbs has to agree with their subjects.
- William Safire

A verb is a part of speech that expresses action or state of being or connects a subject to a complement. They indicate whether the subject performs an action, called active voice, or receives the action, called passive voice.

An action verb animates a sentence, either physically (swim, jump, drop, whistle) or mentally (think, dream, believe, suppose, love).

She leaped high into the air.

He thought of her beauty.

A linking verb doesn't express action but helps complete statements about the subject by describing or identifying it. The verb links the subject to a complement.

Diane is happy.

Clement feels hot.

The term voice refers to the form of a verb indicating whether the subject performs an action (active voice) or receives the action (passive voice).

Mary smashed the ball over the net. (active voice)

The ball was smashed over the net by Mary. (passive voice)

A transitive verb takes a direct object; that is, the verb transmits action to an object.

He sent the letter. ( letter = direct object of sent)

She gave the lecture. ( lecture = direct object of gave)

In these sentences, something is being done to an object.

A transitive verb can also have an indirect object that precedes the direct object.

He sent Robert the letter.

An intransitive verb does not take an object.

She sleeps too much.

He complains frequently.

Verbs (Irregular)

Most verbs take on the past participle form (action completed in the past) by simply adding "d" or "ed" at the end. Irregular verbs form the past participle in other ways; the only way to find out is by using a dictionary.

Present TensePast TensePast Participle
bewas, were(have) been
beatbeat(have) beaten, beat
blowblew(have) blown
breakbroke(have) broken
bringbrought(have) brought
choosechose(have) chosen
comecame(have) come
digdug(have) dug
divedived, dove(have) dived
dodid(have) done
drawdrew(have) drawn
dreamdreamed, dreamt(have)dreamed, dreamt
drinkdrank(have) drunk
drivedrove(have) driven
eatate(have) eaten
flyflew(have) flown
forgetforgot(have) forgotten
freezefroze(have) frozen
getgot(have) gotten
gowent(have) gone
growgrew(have) grown
hang (an object)hung(have) hung
hang (a person)hanged(have) hanged
laylaid(have) laid
leadled(have) led
lendlent(have) lent
lie (recline)lay(have) lain
lightlighted, lit(have) lighted, lit
riderode(have) ridden
ringrang(have) rung
runran(have) run
seesaw(have) seen
setset(have) set
shakeshook(have) shaken
shine (emit light)shone(have) shone
shine (make shiny)shone, shined(have)shone, shined
singsang(have) sung
sinksank, sunk(have)sunk
stayslew(have) slain
speedsped(have) sped
springsprang, sprung(have) sprung
stealstole(have) stolen
swearswore(have) sworn
swimswam(have) swum
taketook(have) taken
teartore(have) torn
wakewaked, woke(have) waked, woke, woken
wearwore(have) worn

Verbs (Moods)

Verb moods are classifications that indicate the attitude of the speaker. Verbs have three moods— the indicative, the imperative, and the subjunctive.

You use the indicative mood in most statements and questions.

He walks every day after lunch.

Does he believe in the good effects of exercise?

You use the imperative in requests and commands. Imperative statements have an understood subject of you and therefore take second-person verbs.

Sit down. ([You] sit down.)

Please take a number. ([You] please take a number.)

You use the subjunctive mood for contrary-to-fact or hypothetical statements.

If I were king, you would be queen. (In the subjunctive, were is used for all persons.)

If he worked, he could earn high wages.

If I had been king, you would have been queen.

If he had worked, he could have earned high wages.

If I study hard, I will pass the test.

If his fever continues to fall, he will recover.

Who versus Whom

Who is a subjective pronoun (a pronoun that performs an action). When the pronoun acts as the subject of the dependent clause use "who." If you can rewrite the clause with he or she, it is subjective. "The prize goes to the runner who collects the most points" and "he collects the most points."

Whom is an objective pronoun (a pronoun that receives an action). When the pronoun acts as the objective of the clause, use "whom." If you can rewrite the clause with him or her or them, use whom. "We need to know whom we can trust" and "We can trust him."