Website Writing Guide

Grammar and spelling

Grammar

Grammar is a vast topic. There are extensive online resources and many books covering the subject. Here are the aspects of grammar that seem to be the greatest problem areas for writers.

Prepositions

Split infinitives

Subject-verb agreement

Which or that?

 

Prepositions

Although not wrong, try to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition, as it often leads to awkward sentences.

  • Tell me the name of the shop where you bought the bread.
  • Tell me which shop you bought the bread from.

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Split infinitive

To split the infinitive means to split two parts of a verb with an adverb eg. to not go. Strictly speaking this is not wrong, but often leads to awkward sentences.

  • He has decided not to participate.
  • He has decided to not participate.

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Subject-verb agreement

The rule is that singular subjects need singular verbs, while plural subjects need plural verbs. For example: My friend is a doctor. My friends are all doctors. However, there are many anomalies in subject-verb agreement in English. A number of the commonly occurring inter-relationships are listed below:

  • The indefinite pronouns anyone, everyone, someone, no one, nobody always require a singular verb.
  • Some indefinite pronouns — such as all and some — are singular or plural depending on what they are referring to.
    • Some of the cars have left.
    • All of the water is gone.
  • None can be either singular or plural.
    • None of the food is fresh.
    • None of the children have gone to bed.
  • Everyone, everybody and each always require singular verbs.
  • Phrases such as together with, as well as and along with will change the verb from plural to singular.
    • The coach and the team are taking the bus.
    • The coach, as well as the team, is taking the bus.

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  • Neither and either require singular verbs unless there are two subjects joined by or or nor, in which case the verb is determined by the subject closest to the verb.
    • Neither of the two forwards is going to break the record this week.
    • Neither the Blues' full forward nor the Tigers' full forward is going to break the record this week.
  • Nouns such as glasses, pants and scissors require plural verbs unless they are preceded by the phrase pair of, in which case the word pair becomes the subject.
    • His glasses are broken.
  • Some words end in s, but are singular and require singular verbs.
    news, measles.
  • Other words ending in s refer to a single thing, but require a plural verb.
    earnings, thanks.
  • Names of sporting teams that do not end in s require a plural verb.

    Adelaide Lightning are training tonight. This implies the 'players' - plural.

    Adelaide Lightening is recruiting players for next season. The club as a single business entity is doing the recruiting.

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Which or that?

That is the defining or restrictive pronoun. Which is non-defining or non-restrictive (Elements of Style, Strunk and White). Use which if the clause adds information and use that if it restricts.

  • If you can’t stay at home, there are housing options that provide support and care.
  • If you can’t stay at home, there are housing options which provide support and care.

 

In the correct example, that refers to the options. In the incorrect example, which refers to the act or idea of providing housing options, yet that clearly is not what the writer meant.

Other topics in this section

Guide Home | Grammar | Spelling | Tricky words and phrases |

 

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