Category Archives: Grammar

Give Your Content Writers a Grammar Quiz

By My Web Writers

Maybe your content writers learned it sitting in a wooden desk with a teacher in front of the classroom writing on a chalkboard. Maybe it was in a computer lab and they learned at their own pace. No matter how they learned, it’s often too easy to forget the basic rules of grammar. Give this grammar quiz to your content writers as a review of grammar basics.

1. Choose the letter of the correctly written sentence.

a. Jennifer went to the store and bought eggs, milk, cheese, and bread.

b. Jennifer went to the store and bought eggs, milk, cheese and bread.

c. Jennifer went to the store and bought, eggs, milk, cheese, and bread.

Answer: A

When listing three or more and they are linked with “and” or “or,” put a comma after all items except the last one.

2. Choose the letter of the correctly written sentence.

a. After the movie we went to grab a bite to eat.

b. After the movie, we went to grab a bite to eat.

c. After the movie we went, to grab a bite to eat.

Answer: B

A transitional phrase holds content together. Put a comma after a transitional phrase.

3.  Using a semicolon, how could you combine the following two sentences?

Jason has worked for the company for 30 years.

He is an important part of the manufacturing team.

Answer: Jason has worked for the company for 30 years; he is an important part of the manufacturing team.

Use a semicolon where you would normally use a period. A semicolon is used to link two sentences related in topic.

4. Choose the letter of the correctly written sentence.

a. Mr. Kline teaches four subjects: algebra, geometry, physics, and history.

b. Mr. Kline teaches: four subjects, algebra, geometry, physics and history.

c. Mr. Kline: teaches four subjects- algebra, geometry, physics and history.

Answer: A

Use a colon after an independent clause and before a list.

5. Which of the following sentences is correct?

a. It’s engine is so overused that its going to collapse after the race.

b. Its engine is so overused that it’s going to collapse after the race.

c. Its engine is so overused that its going to collapse after the race.

Answer: B

“Its” and “it’s” are homophones – words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings.

its = possessive

it’s = “it is”

There are many homophones that are often used incorrectly: their, there, they’re, your, you’re, whether, weather, accept, and except. Even the most experienced content writer can get his or her homophones mixed up.

6. Which of the following sentences is correct?

a. Smith’s resume impressed the manager’s at the office.

b. Smiths resume impressed the managers at the office.

c. Smith’s resume impressed the managers at the office.

Answer: C

Use an apostrophe to show possession (the resume belongs to Smith)

7. Which of the following examples of dialogue is correct?

a. “Jefferson Products will soon be expanding its company around the globe,” said Jones.

b. “Jefferson Products will soon be expanding its company around the globe” said Jones.

c. “Jefferson Products will soon be expanding its company around the globe.” Said Jones.

Answer: A

Punctuation at the end of a quote inside the end quotes before telling who said it. Use a comma where you would otherwise use a period.


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Verb Tense Review

by My Web Writers

It may seem like a basic skill, but how many blogs or articles have you read that left you questioning your verb tense knowledge? Check out this verb tense tutorial to test how much you really know.

Past Tense Verbs…

Tell an action or event that happened in the past. Most past tense verbs end in –ed, but there are some special irregular verbs that take on a different look and sound.

Past Tense Verb Example:

Jump becomes jumped.   He jumped over the fence.

Irregular Past Tense Verb Example:

Take becomes took.   They took our candy.

Present Tense Verbs…

Tell a repeated or similar unchanging action.  Present tense verbs exist right now.

Present Tense Verb Example:

He chooses a favorite color.

Future Tense Verbs…

Describe actions that will happen in the future. Future tense verbs can only be formed using will or shall before the main action verb.

Future Tense Verb Example:

They will finish their speech tomorrow.

Subject/Verb Agreement

When a subject is plural it usually ends in “s”. A plural subject’s verb must also be plural (not ending in “s”).  In turn, when a subject is singular, the verb that accompanies it must also be singular (most often ending in “s”).

Examples of Plural Subject/Verb Agreement:

 Incorrect: The animals plays in the forest.

 Correct: The animals play in the forest.

Examples of Singular Subject/Verb Agreement

 Incorrect: The animal play in the forest.

 Correct: The animal plays in the forest.

Proofread to ensure that your piece is grammatically correct and free of verb tense or subject/verb agreement errors.


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Which vs. That – Two Schools of Thought

by My Web Writers

Which is that – or is it? This question plagues users of the English language trying to communicate in a more sophisticated fashion. Let’s address this issue by explaining the basics of relative pronouns and then by looking at the two schools of thought driving the choice between that and which.

A pronoun is a word that allows one to reference a previously stated noun without having to repeat the noun. Consider the following:

Martha makes friends easily. She has a fun personality.

In the first sentence, Martha is one of the nouns. The second sentence elaborates further on Martha but, in an effort to avoid redundancy, uses the pronoun “she” instead of Martha.

Why are the pronouns described as relative? Relative simply means that a common element or idea exists between two sentences or phrases. Consider the two following sentences.

Martha is reading a book. The book is on the table.

“The book” relates the two sentences together.

To express the above idea in two, short sentences recalls the simplicity and choppiness of the “See Jack run” books used when learning to read. This works if you are writing children’s books. However, if writing for a more discerning audience, a higher level of sophistication is expected. The correct use of relative pronouns helps writers, print and web writers alike, meet that level of sophistication.

The choice between that and which enjoys at least two basic schools of thought.

1. These relative pronouns have their own unique environments which prohibit using one in place of the other.
2. These relative pronouns are interchangeable in the sense that where which is appropriate, that can also be used.

Let’s consider the two schools of thought.

If the clause being embedded inside of another sentence is essential, one uses that. If the embedded clause is non-essential, the relative pronoun is which. Since the appropriate environment hinges on the notion of essential or non-essential, let me explain. Essential means that the additional information of the embedded clause bears real weight on the sentence’s meaning. Non-essential means that the additional information can be removed without compromising the sentence’s meaning.

Here are some examples of essential and non-essential clauses as used with that or which.

I need the map. The map gives directions to the airport.

The map is the common element of both sentences. Because the information in the second sentence references a specific map, the one that gives directions to the airport, the relative pronoun is that. The combined sentence reads:

I need the map that gives directions to the airport.

My son’s jacket fell in the puddle. I just washed the jacket yesterday.

The jacket is the relative concept found in both sentences. In this instance, because the jacket having been washed the day before has no bearing on the jacket ending up in the puddle, the correct relative pronoun is which.

My son’s jacket, that I just washed yesterday, fell in the puddle.

Those espousing the thought that the two relative pronouns are interchangeable would argue that, in the case where the embedded clause is non-essential, one has the option of using either that or which. Note that the overlap of that and which only works with non-essential clauses. If the embedded clause be essential to the meaning of the sentence then that must be used.

Should the common element of the two sentences be a person, then the relative pronoun would be who. However, that has been used in relative clauses dealing with people. For example:

The candidate that is working the crowd hopes to win over the voters.

I began the study of that vs. which with the questioning statement “Which is that – or is it?” The answer depends upon the school of thought one espouses. For some, because which and that are interchangeable, then the statement “which is that” is correct. For those who espouse that each relative pronoun works only in a very specific environment, then “which is that” is not correct. That will always be that, and which will always be which. In the end, consistency is key. Choose your school of thought and then follow it on a consistent basis.



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Second Person Narrative—Hey, I’m Talking to You!

The word "You!" in 3-D.

Write in second person to speak directly to your reader.

by My Web Writers

Using “You” for Web Page Content Writing
Have you noticed how most Web page content is written in second person? Using “you” is more common than ever—and for good reason. Employing second person narrative creates an engaging and friendly voice in your writing, one that talks directly to the reader. But more importantly, it allows you to write with searchable keywords in a conversational, easy-to-understand manner. At the same time, it invites the reader (who is on a mission to find something!) to pause and read your Web page.

When someone is sitting at the computer, he or she is probably leaning forward and looking for something specific. The content that you write is what draws this person forward and into what you are saying. When you write in second person, you create a conversational dialogue of information for the person who is actively seeking what you have to offer. Your keywords help provide the search engine results so that your reader finds your page, but using the second person narrative draws one in to take a moment and check out what is on the page. It allows Web page content to be inviting and persuasive.

What About First and Third Person Narratives? Where Do They Fit In?
When you write in first person, like in a blog, you can express your passion and share what you know from your own experience. But a word of caution—you don’t want to come across as being overbearing and opinionated, or you might lose your reader.

When you write in third person, the language is more formal and less figurative. In her article “The Power of ‘Point of View’,” Daphne Gray-Grant says with regard to third person, “The overall impact is much more authoritative — but this comes at the expense of friendliness.”

Deciding the Narrative That’s Right for You
Understand your audience and determine the goal of your article before you choose first, second, or third person narrative for your Web page content.


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How to use Hyphens

by My Web Writers

Through the years, hyphens have diminished in use. Its decreasing role in written English stems from at least a couple sources. For one, it looks an awful lot like the dash and the minus sign. When writers feel incapable of distinguishing between the three, they avoid them. Another reason for the hyphen’s decline arises from the inconsistent hyphenation guidelines prescribed by various writing style manuals. This blog aims to refresh your mind about some of the contexts in which the hyphen should be used.

compound adjectives before a noun
Compound adjectives can occur in four different ways: noun + adjective, noun + participle, adjective + participle, and adverb + adjective.

  • noun + adjective : I love to eat oven-ready meals.
  • noun + participle : He preferred using computer-generated drawings.
  • adjective + participle : Sadly, I fell prey to a smooth-talking salesman.
  • adverb + adjective : She had more-important reasons for not attending the conference.

Note that when the adverb in an “adverb + adjective” ends in an –ly, no hyphenation is used. It should also be noted that context must be taken into consideration when determining whether or not to add a hyphen. If “more-important” expresses the meaning of something being more important, then add the hyphen. If suggesting that additional reasons will follow, then there should be no hyphen. For example, the above example of “more-important” means that whatever she attended to that precluded her attendance at the conference was of greater importance. If the sentence wishes to communicate that she had multiple reasons for not attending the conference, then you would write “She had more important reasons for not attending the conference.

prefixes ending in a vowel before a word beginning with the same vowel
This rule protects both the readability and pronunciation of the word. The presence of the hyphen encourages the reader to approach the word as two separate yet conceptually unified parts. If also assures that an individual, when reading the word out loud, will articulate each occasion of the vowel.

  • The president’s speech pre-empted the normal television programming.
  • His goals are rather ultra-ambitious.
  • He argued an anti-industrial position.

connecting numbers and words
This rule applies when communicating weights, and measures.

  • I have a two-year-old.
  • She put 3 14.5-ounce cans of diced tomatoes in her chili.
  • Our most popular mayor was our three-term mayor.

verb + preposition used as a noun
The English language employs many compound or phrasal verbs.

  • She hands out samples to the shoppers.
  • My child breaks down when he’s too tired.

However, when used as a noun, the verb and preposition are joined with a hyphen.

  • Some people refuse to accept a hand-out.
  • My car has had too many break-downs.

These are just a few of the contexts in which hyphens should or could be used. Take some time to verify that you have neither over-used nor under-used hyphens. Type the phrase into a search bar and see what comes back. Chances are that you will see it both with and without the hyphen. At that point, consider your audience. Do your readers prefer an informal or a formal style? Leave the hyphen out, and the text will appeal to your less formal readers. Leave it in, and impress your more formal reading audience with your sophisticated handling of the hyphen.


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Capitalizing Words Correctly

by My Web Writers

Every writer knows how basic capitalization works. But sometimes, knowing when to cap a word is tricky! Generally speaking, the rules of using capital letters have not changed:

  • Begin all sentences with a capital letter.
  • Capitalize the pronoun “I.”
  • Capitalize proper nouns like Indiana, Mrs. Bansemer, the Red Cross, the Japanese tsunami, Microsoft Word, and Mother Nature.
  • Capitalize titles only when they come before a name such as Professor Starbuck, Mother Theresa, former Justice O’Connor, and Ambassador Jet Li.
  • Capitalize the names of organizations and brands: Major League Baseball, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Pittsburgh Penguins, Ritz crackers, Xerox paper, and Kleenex tissues.

These capitalization rules make sense. But sometimes, determining when to capitalize a word raises questions. For example, do you capitalize the “i” in Internet?

Do you capitalize “Internet”?
Yes, when you are referring to the global system of linked computer networks, you capitalize the “i” in “Internet,” but leave “internet” lowercased when you are referring to local networks that may not even be connected to the Internet. Accordingly, capitalize the World Wide Web. Note that Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (Eleventh Edition) still caps “Web site,” but Microsoft has disregarded that spelling and just uses “website.” Consequently, we see a variation of spellings with “web,” like webcast, webcam, and web page (which isn’t even in the Webster’s Dictionary!).

What about capping the words for family members, like mother, father, sister, and brother? No, unless you are referring to them directly, which usually means there is not a pronoun or modifier in front of them.

  • Mother and Father will be arriving on the noon flight from Atlanta.
  • But, my mother and father are only staying two nights.

Also, capitalize the expressions “O” for “oh” and “OK” for “okay.”

Trickier yet is when you are capitalizing words in titles and headings!
For most headings and titles, always capitalize nouns, verbs, and the first and last words, no matter their length. According to the Gregg Reference Manual (Tenth Edition), you should capitalize all words with four or more letters. That includes four-lettered pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, and subordinating conjunctions (for example, Living With a Chocoholic Roommate). Also, capitalize the first word following a dash or colon in a title (Capitalizing Questions: When Are Certain Words Capped? or To Cap or Not to Cap—That Is the Question). But, you don’t need to cap the following words in headings and titles:

  • a, an, and, at
  • but, by
  • for
  • if, in
  • of, off, on, or, out
  • nor
  • the, to
  • up

Note that “not” is not on this list. For example, the word “not” is capitalized in the title of this article: “Three Reasons to Not Come to Work.” Capitalize “per” in a title; for example, “Number of Spectators Per Claim.” Also, capitalize each word in a hyphenated title, except articles, prepositions, and short conjunctions.

Some grammarians are still old school about not capping words like “with,” “that,” and “about.” Even the AP style varies from the Chicago Manual of Style. And maybe you’ve noticed how newspaper article headings and often web page headings now capitalize only the first letter in a heading and proper nouns. Is this a new rule of some kind? It’s definitely a trend, and if this is your company or client’s preferred style, then you wouldn’t cap the first letter of a word following a colon or dash, either. In fact, the APA (American Psychological Association) says that their Level 3 headings should be indented, boldfaced, with a capitalized first letter, lowercased letters for the remaining words, and to end with a period. Perhaps this new style preference is due to technology allowing writers to easily use boldface font. So be sure to check with your company or client’s style guide to make sure you have it right. For further reading, check out the following Web sites:


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I Have Got a Grammar Question

by My Web Writers

English teachers and lovers of grammar cringe when they hear improper grammar spoken and they can’t wait to whip out a correcting pen when they see improper grammar written on the page. It is as natural as breathing for this type of person to immediately pounce to fix a grammatical blunder. How do I know this impulse exists so strongly in these fine people? I know because I am one of those people whose mouth begins to dry out, who begins to break into a sweat, and is increasingly annoyed if a grammatical infraction is not quickly addressed. Recently, a talented fellow writer from My Web Writers posed the question whether the phrase “have got” is correct English or not. This pricked my attention and I began to say “have got” sentences aloud. For example, “I have got a stomach ache” versus “I have a stomach ache”. Another statement I audibly blurted (to myself) was, “I have got to find out whether ‘have got’ is good English, or if it is proper to say I have to find out whether ‘have got’ is good English.”

As it turns out, ‘have got’ is proper English even if it does not sound pleasing to the grammarian’s ear. In American English, “have got” is an intensive form of “have”, and adds emphasis a bit differently than merely dropping the word got and using the word have (1). To give an example of this possessive emphasis, if I say, “I have got a dog.” there is a stronger emphasis on possessing a dog than if I say, “I have a dog.” “Have got” is considered less formal than simply using the verb “to have”. Interestingly, “have got” is more frequently used in British English speech than it is in American speech, so Americans tend to say, “have” and the British tend to say, “have got” (2). For instance, in America a person might say, “I have a bad cold.” while in Britain a person might say, “I have got a bit of a sniffle.”

Even though the verb “have” is more formal than the verb “have got”, it is perfectly acceptable to use either form. Therefore, a grammatically inclined person can withhold the correcting pen on this one, and feel free to continue to use “have” in their speech and writing if they are so inclined.

1. Garner, B. Garner’s Modern English Usage. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2003, pp. 381-82.
2. Accessed March 26, 2011.



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