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Modern English Grammar

File by Michael Johnathan McDonald

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Transitive verbs take direct objects, nouns that receive the action of the verb

Intransitive verbs act in sentences that lack direct objects.




Present participle:


Past participle:


Lay (put something down)

Lay, lays





Lie (recline)

Lie, lies,






Intransitive: Once you complete your test, please lay your pencil on the desk ( direct object, the thing being laid down).

Transitive:  after working a double shift, I lay on the couch for hours, too exhausted to move.[1]


Intransitive/Transitive, vbs:


Present participle:


Past participle:


raise (elevate something)

raise, raises





rise (get up)

rise, rises,

rising (celestial bodies)

rose (celestial bodies)




We raise our flag for our patriotism. ( Flag is being raised, the thing being raised).

Betelgeuse rises in the east. ( there is no direct object in this sentence!)


Intransitive/Transitive, vbs:


Present participle:


Past participle:


set (place something)

set, sets





sit (take a seat)

sit, sits






Every morning Stanley sets two dollars (direct object, the thing being set) on the table to tip the waiter.

One morning Stanley set three dollars on the table to tip the waiter.


Change in verb tense are sometimes necessary to indicate a shift in time.

My girlfriend sits on my lap if it’s available. (Intransitive verbs act as a direct object).

Last Thursday my girlfriend laid the coffee on the table, and then she sat on my lap. She had raised a ruckus, about how I had lain on the couch watching football all day, last Sunday.  I raised her up onto her feet and I sat back down.  She, then, laid the contents of the coffee all over my head. I arose, and raised my voice. You cannot sit here, and tell me what to do. She told me if I would not stop sitting on the couch all day Sundays, She would set (future tense) divorce papers on the couch – where I would sit to watch football next Sunday. She told me that from now on we will sit on the couch together and watch what she decides. Then if I am a good boy, we will lie together that night.



Academic Writing


Use the present tense to discuss another author’s work or ideas. Texts are enduring; they never become part of the past.


Write clearly.

Do main points agree?

Define terms?

Support the terms.

As in geometry there is an axiom that the whole is equal to the sum of its parts, so the total of the main points made in the body should equal the formulation of the theme. No foreign matter should be included; no related matter excluded. The main points, too, for clarity’s sake, should be worded as closely as possible in terms of the theme.[2]

Verb endings

Verb endings are not always pronounced in speech, especially in some dialects of English. It is also easy to omit these endings when you are writing quickly. Spelling checkers will not mark these errors, so you have to find them while proofreading.[3]


Incorrect:          Jeremy feel as if he’s catching a cold.

Correct:            Jeremy feels as if he’s catching a cold.

Incorrect:          Shelia hope she would get the day off. 

Correct:            Shelia hoped she would get the day off (notice would as a past tense)

Correct:            Shelia hopes she will get the day off.     (notice will as a present tense)



Remember to check carefully for missing s or es endings in the present tense and missing d or ed endings in the past tense.


Present Participles


The present participles function in one of three ways. Used with an auxiliary verb, it can describe a continuing action. The present participle can also function as a noun, known as a gerund, or as an adjective. The present participle is formed by adding ing to the base form of a verb.


Present Participle:         Wild elks are competing form limited food resources. ( are is the auxiliary verb)

Gerund:                        Sailing around the Nimit’s bow is rumored to bring good luck. ( note, titles of ships [and other vessels] and aircraft, never have their possessive italicized).

Adjective:                     We looked for the shells in the ebbing tide.


Linking verbs


Linking verbs join subjects with subject compliments. Linking verbs may also be used in contractions (except in academic writing, it is not recommended) I’d, you’ll, he’s, we’ve, and they’ll.


Houstan, we’ve got a problem ( got is the main verb)

You’ll hear from my lawyer. (hear is the main verb)


Possessive pronouns never use apostrophes to contract a linking verb.

It’s a sure thing she will be elected is a contraction.

The dog lost its collar. ( possessive)

Whose bicycle has the flat tire?

Who’s on first? (Who is on first?)


Pronouns that modify an –ing verb (called a gerund) or an –ing verb phrase (gerund phrase) should appear in the possessive.[4]


Incorrect:          The odds of you making the team are excellent.

Correct:            The odds of your making the team are excellent.


Well, the odds of your making this an issue raise the chances she will leave you for another man. If you’re making a big enough deal about this, then the chances of your making this relationship work are going to comeback and bite your behind.


Subject Compliments


Pronouns that function as subject compliments are in the subjective (the subject of the sentence) case in formal writing. A subject compliment is a word that follows a linking verb such as a form of to be. Objective ( an object of the sentence) pronouns are common in informal contexts, especially It’s me instead of the more formal It is I.


Informal:           Driving home, Thomas thought he saw his wife exit the grocery store and later confirmed it was her.

Formal”            Driving home, Thomas thought he saw his wife exit the grocery store and later confirmed it was she.



Verbals are forms of verbs that function as a noun, adjectives, and adverbs. The three kinds of verbals are infinitives, participles, and gerunds.


Infinitive Verbs

Infinitives are a part of the Verbals’ class of verbs. An infinitive is verb form that begins with to: to give, to receive, to play.



Infinitives:       An infinitive is the base or to form of the verb. Infinitives can be used in place of nouns, adjectives, or adverbs.[5]


Example:          To fly has been a centuries-old dream of people around the world.

                        To fly in this case takes the place of the subject noun.

Example:          Keeping your goals in mind is a good way to succeed.

                        to succeed takes the position of an adjective.


When you begin a sentence with an infinitive phrase, you should not follow it with the passive voice. Instead, name the agent.


Incorrect:          To drive to Beaver Stadium from the west, the Mount Nittany Expressway should be used.

Correct:            To Drive to Beaver Stadium from the west, you should take the Mount Nittany Expressway.

Incorrect:          To lead a dog, place a collar around  the neck and attach a leash to the collar.  ( this is a passive voice and is in the subjunctive)


Correct:            To lead a dog, one must place a collar around the neck and attach a leash to the collar. 


Remember: Sentences that begin with infinitives followed by a main clause must name the agent after the first comma.


Example:          Halloween customs and traditions have been traced back in time to the ancient Druids.


Rewrite:            Historians have traced Halloween customs back to the times of the ancient Druids.


Note: Try to avoid to be verbs, as they generally (not always)  are in the passive voice of a sentence. Historians are the agent in the second sentence.




Participles are either present (flying) or past (defeated).

They always function as adjectives.

Example:          The flying insects are annoying.

Example:          Napoleon’s defeated army faced a long march back to France.





Gerunds have the same form as present participles, but they always function as nouns.

Example:          Flying was all that she wanted to do in life.  





Adjectives modify nouns and pronouns. Some adjectives are used frequently: good, bad, small, tall, handsome, green, short. Many others are recognizable by their suffixes: -able (dependable), -al (cultural), -ful (hopeful), -ic (frenetic), -ive (decisive), -less (hopeless), -ous (erroneous).


Example:          The forgetful manager was always backed up by her dependable assistant.

Adjectives often follow linking verbs

Example:          That drumbeat is relentless.

Numbers are considered adjectives.

Example:          Only ten team members showed up for practice.




Adverbs modify verbs, other adverbs, adjectives, and entire clauses. The usual suffix for adverbs is –ly. Many adverbs do not have suffixes (then, here) and others have the same form as adjectives ( fast, hard, long, well).

Example:          That drummer plays well. [modified the verb play]

Example:          That drummer plays very well. [modifies the adverb well]

Example:          That answer is partly correct. [modifies the adjective correct]

Example:          Frankly, I could care less. [modifies the clause I could care less] [6]



Conjunction Adverbs

Conjunctive adverbs often modify clauses and sentences. Like coordinating conjunctions, they indicate the relationship between two clauses or two sentences. Commonly used conjunctive adverbs are also, consequently, furthermore, hence, however, indeed, instead, likewise, moreover, nevertheless, otherwise, similarly, therefore, thus.


Who or whom


In writing, the distinction between who and whom is still often observed. Who and whom follow the same rules as other pronouns: Who is the subject pronoun; whom is the object pronoun. If you are dealing with an object, whom is the correct choice.[7]


Incorrect:          Who did you send the letter to?

Who did you give the present to?

Correct:            To whom did you send the letter?

Whom did you give the present to?

Correct:            Who gave you the present?

Who brought the cookies?



Correct:            The gardener’s name is Fred, who cut our grass today. (who is the pronoun subject of Fred.



Incorrect:          You sent the letter to she [who]?

Correct:            You sent the letter to her [whom]?

Incorrect:          Him [whom] gave you the present?

Correct:            He [who] gave you the present?


Incorrect:          Her warmth touched whoever she met.

Correct:            Her warmth touched whomever she met.


In this sentence the pronoun functions as a direct object: Her warmth touched everyone she met, not someone touched her. Thus whomever is the correct choice.

Who is always the right choice for the subject pronoun?



A noun is the name of a person, place, thing, concept, or action.

Proper nouns are almost always capitalized.

Common are seldom capitalized.



Subject: The cat climbed the tree

Object: Please feed the cat.

Subject compliment: This is the cat.

Object of a preposition: This is for the cat.

Modifier of other nouns: She moved on cat feet.

Appositive of other nouns: My best friend, my cat, eats mice.

Possessive nouns: The cat’s ball is under the sofa.[8]

Pronouns a sub class of Nouns


Personal pronouns:                  I, you, he, she, it, we, they, me, him, her, us, them.


I gave my old racquet to her. She gave me a CD in return.


Possessive pronouns:               my, mine, his, hers, its, our, ours, your, yours, their, theirs.


My old racket is now hers.


Demonstrative pronouns:           this, that, these, those.


Those are the mittens I want.


Relative pronouns:                    that, which. What, who, whom, whose, whatever, whoever, whomever, whichever


Indefinite pronouns:                   all, any, anyone, anybody, anything, both, each, either, everyone, everything, many, neither, no one, none, nothing, one, some, someone, somebody, something.

Interrogative Pronouns: Who, which, what, where

What would you like with your sandwich?

Reflexive pronouns:                   Myself, ourselves, yourselves, himself, herself, itself, themselves.

Reciprocals Pronouns:  each other, one another

The brothers didn’t like each other.

Punctuation is a system of symbols that helps the reader understand the structural relationship within ( and the intention of) a sentence.


Coordinating nouns

When you use coordinating nouns, the last noun takes the possessive form to show joint possession.

Example:          John Paul and Jeri’s chocolate cake was eaten quickly.

Singluar nouns that end in s may form the possessive either by an apostrophe alone, or by adding  ’s . Here’s tow examples.


Example:          The actress’ career is faltering.

Example:          The actress’s career is faltering.

One syllable singular nouns

Singular nouns of one syllable form the possessive by adding ’s There are no exceptions.

The boss’s coat was in the chair.

Plural nouns ending in s

When you use a plural noun that ends in s (such as a name or title, as in technician), you must only use the apostrophe.

Example:          The technicians’ user guide was written in clear, concise English.

This is also the case when adding a ’s would result in a noun ending in multiple consecutive s sounds.

Example:          The Joneses’ house is being remolded.

Add an additional ’s when employing a possessive noun used as an adjective.

Example:          He is a friend of John Paul’s.

Nouns Preceding Gerunds

Nouns preceding gerunds should be in the possessive case. They require the apostrophe.

Example:          John’s singing isn’t bad.

Example:          Donovan’s building is a new restaurant

Example:          Mary’s painting is nice.

Nouns Modifying Nouns

Do not use the possessive case when one noun is used to modify a second noun.

Example:          State prison

Example:          Public library

Example:          Army stores


Form the possessive of an euphony (noun ending in s or ce) and followed by a word beginning with s by adding an apostrophe

Example:          for goodness’ sake, for acquaintance’ sake, for old times’ sake.

Capital Letters

If a term is either in all capital letters ( as in an acronym), or ends with a capital letter (as with a degree, such as Ph.D.), the apostrophe isn’t required to form the plural.[9]

Example:          The university awarded six Ph.D.s in psychology this year.

Example:          He included 7 ADDs in his computer program.

Plural of a Word

Add an apostrophe if you want to show the plural or a word to call attention to its use.

Example:          There are six and’s in the first sentence.


Parenthetic Comments

Employ brackets when adding parenthetical information within parentheses.


Example:          Marie Curie (French chemist and physicist, 1867-1934 [along with her husband Pierre, 1859-1906]) won the Nobel Prize in 1903.


Foreign Words

Brackets define or translate foreign words used in sentences.


Example:          Her joie de vivre [love of life] intoxicated those with whom she came in contact.


Use brackets to surround the Latin word sic. This shows the writer quotes material exactly as it appears in the original, even though it contains an obvious error.

Example:          “Dr. Smith pointed out that the earth doesn’t revolve around the son [sic] at a constant rate.”


The colon is a mark that notes anticipation. It is also a mark that serves as an introduction that alerts the reader to the close connection between the first statement and the one that follows, or to a list of items that defined the statement.

List and Series

Use a colon when you connect a list or series to a clause, word or phrase with which it is in apposition.

Example:          Of all the distinctions between man and animal, the characteristic gift which makes us human is the power to work with symbolic images: the gift of imagination.

Extending and Amplifying

Use a colon to extend or amplify remarks

Example:          Fire fighting is not a sport: it is a service.

Second main clause

Use a colon to introduce a second main clause when it explains or amplifies the first main clause.


Example:          The American conceives of fishing as more than a sport: it is his personal contest against nature.


Independent clauses

Use a colon to link one statement to another that develops, explains, amplifies, or illustrates the first. Use it also to link two independent clauses.

Example:          A university is faced with two separate, although related, information problems: it must maintain an effective internal communication system, and it must make certain that there is an effective overall communication with the nonacademic community beyond the university compound.[10]


Use a colon to link an appositive phrase to its related statement if greater emphasis is required.

Example:          Only one meal satisfies JP Smith: a stake, corn, and potatoes.


Linking identifying nouns

A colon is essential in linking numbers signifying different identifying nouns. These numbers can be scriptural passages by chapter and verse.

Example:          Acts 10:24 ( chapter 10, verse 24).



Example:          Mix cement with water and sand at 7:5:14 (in this case the colon replaces to)


Rations also reflect mathematical formulas

Example:          7:3 -14:x



A colon follows the salutation ( greeting) in business letters, even when the salutation refers to a person by name


Example:          Dear Ms. Chapman-Smith:

The salutation is written flush with the left margin. It is two lines (spaces) below the inside address. The first line of text follows on the second line after the salutation.


Initial capital letter in a quotation

Retain the initial capital letter of a quotation following a colon if the quoted material originally began with a capital letter

Example:          The proclamation read: “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union….”





Enclosing Elements

Use commas to enclose nonrestrictive clauses and parenthetical elements


Example:          The author, who began to write last month, added 43 pages to her new book. (nonrestrictive clause)

Example:          We can, of course, expect the boss to treat us to lunch. (parenthetical element)



Verbs indicate action, states of mind, occurrences, and sates of being. Verbs are divided into two primary categories: main verb and auxiliaries. A main verb must be present in the predicate. The main verb may be the only verb in the predicate.[11]


Example:          She slept.

Example:          When he heard the starting gun, Vijay sprinted.


Auxiliaries (often called helping verbs) include forms of be, have and do. A subset of auxiliaries are modals: can, could, may, might, must, shall, should, will, would.

Example:          You will be satisfied when you see how well they painted your car.

Example:          She might have been selected for the lead role in the ballet if her strained muscle had healed.


Example:          Fred Rogers has [aux not modal] hosted [main] his children’s television program Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood since 1965.



Subjunctive in the past and present tense

Subjunctive verbs are usually the trickiest to handle. In the present tense subjunctive clauses call for the base form of the verb (be, have, see, jump).

Example:          It is essential the children be immunized before they enter kindergarten.

In the past tense they call for standard past tense of the verb (had, saw, jumped), with one exception. In counterfactual sentences the to be verb always becomes were, for subjects that take was under normal circumstances.



Indicative:         I was surprised at some of the choices she made.

Subjunctive:      If I were in her position, I’d do things differently.

Indicative:         The young athletes fount that gaining muscle was not easy

Subjunctive:      If being muscular were easy, everyone would look like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

First Revision

Crossing out two classes of words: (a) words necessary for grammatical construction, like prepositions, articles, conjunctions, auxiliaries of verbs; and (b) concept words like nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, if they are colorless. Next, read aloud the words not crossed out, to show the class (a) that these words really carry the sense of the passage; and (b) much of the rest is padding which should be eliminated.

Try: rephrase ideas.

Next revision

The second revision should consist of alterations:

(a)                To secure the best position for the important word, phrase, or clause of a sentence.

(b)               To secure flexibility of sentence structure.

(c)                Underline the most important word, phrase, or clause in each sentence, to see where it is located. Revise each sentence in such a way that the important idea shall be placed at the beginning of the sentence, or preferably at the end, not by normal order, but by inverted where possible.

(d)               Identify the primary idea and the secondary idea of a sentence, or the primary idea only.

(e)                Note the structure of succeeding sentences for the following points:

a.       Order of elements: normal or inverted?

b.      Length: any variety?

c.       Grammatical structure: any variety?

d.      Rhetorical structure: any variety?


The sentences should then be so revised as to secure a smooth-flowing result.[12]

Tentative Outlines and Development


In teaching, often the thing not said is as important as the thing said. In the realm of the “not said,” the student draws his own conclusion, and because these conclusions spring from lack of experience they are apt to be based on insufficient or incorrect data. After experience in teaching, a teacher will soon learn to know when and where to safeguard students from pitfalls.

One such is the use of the creative outline—to apply that term to the outline which registers the student’s own work, as distinguished from the reproductive outline, which merely registers the student’s analysis of some one else’s work. Since the student is a creator, the teacher should reiterate continually that an outline must be considered tentative so long as a student is still working at a problem, and should be modified repeatedly as the student progresses in his study. He must be warned continually that he must not allow his own outline to hamper him: instead, creative outlines, one after the other, should merely register his reasoning until he is ready to draft the final form of his paper.
Another pitfall in the use of the creative outline is lack of freedom and spontaneity in development. To this end a teacher should hesitate to require too much minuteness in an outline, unless dealing with some rare student in whose nature it lies to be meticulously exact in planning before executing. It is better for the teacher to err on the side of brevity, requiring the main divisions and more important subdivisions only, in the faith that if these are logical the rest will be. Then at least the student will not fall into the trap of considering that to copy the outline in paragraph form is to develop the outline into an essay. Between the outline and the finished essay lies the word development. The teacher must emphasize this word. It should be shown that the outline bears about the same relation to the essay as the frame of steel girders to a finished skyscraper, or the skeleton to the body.[13]


Used as an indicator for namely for an author’s subject matter to sort out their thinking and writings, their objects and their significance.



D. Davis Farrington, M.A. “The Essay, How to Study and Write” (Richmond: Johnson Publishing Company, 1924), Assistant Professor of English, Hunter College of the City of New York.

Frederick Ide, Arthur, “Punctuation Handbook” (Las Colinas, Texas: The Liberal Press, 1998).


[1]  Lester Faigley, The Penguin Handbook (Pearson & Longman, 2003), 613.

[2] Farrington, D. Davis, M.A. The Essay, How to Study and Write (Richmond: Johnson Publishing Company, 1924), 359.

[3] Lester Faigley, The Penguin Handbook (Pearson & Longman, 2003), 602.

[4] Lester Faigley, The Penguin Handbook (Pearson & Longman, 2003), 629.

[5] Lester Faigley, The Penguin Handbook (Pearson & Longman, 2003), 557.

[6] Lester Faigley, The Penguin Handbook (Pearson & Longman, 2003), 558

[7] Lester Faigley, The Penguin Handbook (Pearson & Longman, 2003), 626.

[8] Lester Faigley, The Penguin Handbook (Pearson & Longman, 2003), 553.

[9] Frederick Ide, Arthur, Punctuation Handbook (Las Colinas, Texas: The Liberal Press, 1998), pp.1-9.

[10] Frederick Ide, Arthur, Punctuation Handbook (Las Colinas, Texas: The Liberal Press, 1998), pp. 12-15.

[11] Lester Faigley, The Penguin Handbook (Pearson & Longman, 2003), 556.

[12] Farrington, D. Davis, M.A. The Essay, How to Study and Write (Richmond: Johnson Publishing Company, 1924), pp. 368-371.

[13] Farrington, D. Davis, M.A. The Essay, How to Study and Write (Richmond: Johnson Publishing Company, 1924), pp. 364-5.



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