..Basic elements of English Grammar - demystified


If you ever have difficulty remembering what a pronoun is, remind yourself of this:

When I was a kid, my teacher looked my way and said “Name two pronouns.” I said, “Who, me?”

A pronoun is used in place of a noun.

Who versus whom

On the subject of pronouns, many people have trouble knowing whether to say “who” or “whom.” Here’s a joke that revolves around this distinction.

Knock knock. Who’s there? To who? It’s to whom!

 The technical difference is that “who” is “subjective” and “whom” is “objective”; what this means is that “who” refers to the subject of the sentence and “whom” to the object. If you have difficulty knowing which to use, there’s a simple way of remembering by replacing the “who” or “whom” with “he,” “him” or “them”; if it ends in an “M,” the pronoun will be “whom.”

Let’s say you don’t know whether to fill in this gap with “who” or “whom”: “       does this belong to?”

The answer to this question would be “it belongs to him,” so it’s “whom” – both end in the letter “M.”

Few more examples:

      are you going to invite?” (Answer: “I’m going to invite him” or “them,” both ending in “M,” so it’s “whom.”)

“Is he he says he is?” (Answer: the pronoun refers to “he”, so it’s “Is he who he says he is?”)

      is responsible for this?” (Answer: “he” is responsible, so it’s “who”.)

How to use the passive voice

‘The bar was walked into’ also ends in an awkward preposition.

“Such and such walked into a theatre” are very popular and this very simple one will help you remember how to employ the passive voice and how it differs from the active voice.

The theatre was walked into by the passive voice.

The passive voice is when the subject of the sentence – in this case the theatre – is acted upon, rather than doing the acting. The normal format of these jokes uses the active voice, with the bar as the object rather than the subject. To give you another example:

“John is baking a cake for Jane.” (Active)

“A cake is being baked by John for Jane.” (Passive)

As a general rule, it’s better to use the active voice when writing: it gives your writing more life and immediacy, while the passive voice can sound stilted and dull. If you catch yourself using it, reword your writing into the active voice to make it more interesting.

The importance of punctuation

This joke that describes a teacher writing on the board will help in understanding the significance of punctuation

“A woman without her man is nothing.” She asks a pupil to add punctuation to this sentence, whereupon a boy adds commas to create the following sentence:

“A woman, without her man, is nothing.”

The teacher corrects this to:

“A woman: without her, man is nothing.”

This humorous example shows that punctuation can completely change the meaning of a sentence, so that you can use the same words but mean totally opposite things according to how you punctuate them. If you say these sentences out loud, you’ll also notice that the punctuation changes the way you say them, by adding meaningful pauses; the first sentence uses commas to add a clause, “without her man”; the second one uses a colon to create a longer pause, with the comma breaking the sentence in a different place and fundamentally altering the meaning in the process.

Apostrophes don’t matter? Think again!

Just whose dogs are these, anyway?

Few people seem to understand how to use apostrophes, with some even advocating their abolition. To eradicate the apostrophe would be a big mistake, however, as they make a big difference, as the following example shows. It’s not a joke, exactly, but it’s a grammar conundrum that highlights why we need apostrophes.

My brother’s friend’s dogs (this refers to the dogs belonging to the friend of one brother). My brother’s friends’ dogs (the dogs belonging to the friends of one brother).

My brothers’ friend’s dogs (the dogs belonging to the friend of more than one brother). My brothers’ friends’ dogs (the dogs belonging to the friends of more than one brother).

It’s only the positioning of the apostrophes here that clarifies what you’re saying; the wording is otherwise exactly the same.

At Sahasriya, we make learning core English language construct such as Grammar and Communicating in English a simple affair for our students. These provide a basic ways of how our Grammar and Communication classes are interesting yet simple.

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