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Guide to Good English

Guide to Good English

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In this section the traditional names are used for
parts of speech (noun,verb,adjective,adverb,pro-
noun, conjunction, and preposition). Two other

terms are sometimes used in describing grammar. One ism o d i \ufb01 e r, which means any word that modi\ufb01es the meaning of another word (usually a noun). It is broader in scope than \u2018adjective\u2019 and includes, for example,table in table lamp as well as

brightin a bright lampor the lamp was bright. The

other isdeterminer, which means any word such asa,the,this,those, andevery which you put before a noun to show how you are using the noun (as in a \ufb01re, the \ufb01re, this \ufb01re, those \ufb01res, andevery


A noun is a word that names something: a person (woman,boy,Fra n c e s), a thing (building,tree), or an idea (birth,happiness). A common noun names things generally, whereas a proper noun names a particular person, place, or thing. Collective nouns, such asaudience,family,generation,gov-

ernment, team, are nouns which refer to groups of
people or things. They can be treated as singular
or plural: seeagreement below.
Proper nouns

Proper nouns are normally spelled with a capital initial letter and refer to persons or things of which there is only one example (Asia, Ark Royal,

Dickens). The term is sometimes understood more

broadly to include geographical and ethnic desig- nations such asAmerican andAshanti, which behave like common nouns, for example in allow- ing the forms an American and the Ashanti. Some genuinely proper names can also behave like com- mon nouns in certain uses, for example a \ufb01ne

Picasso(= a painting by Picasso), another Callas
(= a singer comparable to Callas). In these uses it
is usual to retain the capital initial letter.
Verbal nouns

A verbal noun (also called a gerund) is a form of a verb ending with-ing that acts as a noun, for examplesmoking in the phrase no smoking and in the sentence Smoking annoys people. It should be distinguished fromsmoking used as an adjective (a smoking \ufb01re) and as the present participle of the verb (The man was smoking).

Because a verbal noun is a part of a verb as well as being a noun, it keeps some of the characteris- tics of verbs in its grammatical behaviour; for example the formsThey objected to me swearing (non-possessive) and They objected to my swear-

ing(possessive) are both established in ordinary

usage, although the second, in whichswearing is treated as a full noun, is often preferred in more formal writing.

A verb is a word that describes an action (go, sit,
put) or state (be, live) and is normally an essential

element in a clause or sentence. A verb is classi\ufb01ed as transitive when the action affects a person or thing called the object (We lit a \ufb01re), and as intransitive when there is no object (She

Using the correct tense

Tense is the location in time of the state or action expressed by a verb. English verbs properly have only two tenses, the present (I am) and the past (I

was). The future is formed with shallor will,

other forms of the past are formed with auxiliary verbs (I have been / I was being), and the past per- fect is formed with the past tense ofhave (I had


The tense used mostly corresponds to actual time, apart from conventional uses such as the so- called \u2018historic present\u2019, used for dramatic effect in narratives (as in George gets up and walks over

to the window), and the future used in polite
requests (as in Will that be all for now?).

However, choice of tense (called \u2018sequence of tenses\u2019) becomes more complex in reported speech. If a simple statement such as I\u2019m afraid I

haven\u2019t \ufb01nishedis put into indirect speech by

means of a reporting verb such as said, thought, etc., the tense of the reported action changes in accordance with the time perspective of the speaker:He said he was afraid he hadn\u2019t \ufb01nished.

The tense of the reported verb can stay the same if the time relative to the speaker is the same as that relative to the person reported: She likes

beans can be converted either to She said she liked beansor to She said she likes beans, and I won\u2019t be here tomorrowcan be converted either to I said I wouldn\u2019t be here tomorrowor to I said I won\u2019t be here tomorrow.

Guide to Good
shalland will

WithI andwe,shall should be used to form the simple future tense (expressing a prediction of a future action), whilewill is used to express an intention to do something:

tI shall be late for work.
tWe will not tolerate this rudeness.
With you, he, she, it, andthey, the situation is
reversed; simple future action is expressed with
will, while shallexpresses an intention or com-
tHe will be late for work.
tYou shall join us or die!
In speech, these distinctions are often not
shouldand would

The situation is similar withshould andwould. Strictly speaking,should is used withI andwe, whilewould is used with you, he, she, it, andthey:

tI should be grateful if you would let me know.
tYou didn\u2019t say you would be late.

In practice, however, it is normal to usewould instead ofshould in reported speech and condi- tional clauses, such as I said I would be late.

Active and passive
Verbs can be either active, in which the subject is
the person or thing performing the action (as in
France beat Brazil in the \ufb01nal), or passive, in which
the subject undergoes the action (Brazil were beat-
en by France). In the passive voice verbs are usual-
ly formed withbe, and the subject is expressed as
an agent introduced by the prepositionby.
The passive is also used for impersonal con-
structions withit:
It is believed that no action should be taken.
It is felt that your complaint arises from a
Other verbs besidesbe can be used to form so-
called \u2018semi-passives\u2019 (as in He got changed, They
seem bothered). Herechanged andbothered are
behaving almost more like adjectives.

The subjunctive is a special form (or mood) of a verb expressing a wish or possibility instead of fact. It has a limited role in English:

It was suggested he wait till the next morning.
Fundamentalist Islam decrees that men and
women be strictly segregated.

In these sentences, the verbswait (in the \ufb01rst) andbe (in the second) are in the subjunctive; the ordinary forms (called the indicative) would be

waitsand are.
There are other typical uses of the subjunctive:
2afterif (or as if, as though, unless) in hypotheti-
cal conditions:
Each was required to undertake that if it were
chosen it would place work here.
2beor wereat the beginning of a clause with the
subject following:
Were I to get drunk, it would help me in the
All books, be they \ufb01ction or non-\ufb01ction, should
provide entertainment in some form or other.
2in certain \ufb01xed expressions and phrases, e.g.be
that as it may, come what may, perish the
thought, so be it, and others.
There are two kinds of participle in English: the
present participle ending with -ing as in We are
going, and the past participle ending with-d or-ed
for many verbs and with-t or-en or some other
form for others, as in Have you decided?,New
houses are being built, and It\u2019s not broken.

Participles are often used to introduce subordi- nate clauses that are attached to other words in a sentence, e.g.

Her mother, opening the door quietly, came into
the room.

A stylistic error occurs with so-called \u2018unattached\u2019, \u2018misrelated\u2019, or \u2018dangling\u2019 participles, when the participle does not refer to the noun to which it is attached, normally the subject of the sentence:

pRecently converted into apartments, I passed
by the house where I grew up.
Certain participles, such as considering, assuming,
excepting, given, provided, seeing, speaking (of),

etc., have virtually become prepositions or con- junctions in their own right, and their use in a grammatically free role is now standard:

tSpeaking of money, do you mind my asking
what you did with yours?
Adjectives and adverbs

An adjective is a word used to describe a noun, such as sweet, red, ortechnical. An adverb is typi- cally a word used to modify a verb, adjective, or other adverb, such as gently, lazily, orvery.


Most adjectives can be used in two positions: either before the noun they describe, where they are called \u2018attributive\u2019, as in a black cat anda

gloomy outlook, or after a verb such as be, become,
grow, look, or seem, where they are called \u2018predica-
tive\u2019, as in the cat was black andthe prospect looks

Some adjectives are nearly always used in the predicative position and cannot stand before a noun (e.g.afraid), while others are only found in the attributive position (e.g.main).

Adjectives following a noun
In many \ufb01xed standard expressions, adjectives
denoting status are placed immediately after the
nouns they describe, e.g. incourt martial, heir
apparent, poet laureate, president elect, situations
vacant, and the village proper. In other cases, an
adjective follows a noun as a matter of sentence
structure rather than peculiarity of expression:
The waiter picked up our dirty glasses in his
\ufb01ngertips, his eyes impassive.
Position of adverbs

Adverbs normally come between the subject and its verb, or between an auxiliary verb and a main verb:

She dutifully observes all its quaint rules.
Roosevelt\u2019s \ufb01nancial policy was roundly
criticized in 1933.

But for emphasis, or when the adverb belongs closely to what follows the main verb, it comes after the verb and before a following adverbial phrase:

There is little chance that the student will
function effectively after he returns home.
Sentence adverbs
Some adverbs (such as clearly, happily, hopefully,
thankfully, unhappily) refer to a whole statement,

and form a comment associated more closely with the speaker or writer than with what is said. In this role they are called \u2018sentence adverbs\u2019. Sentence adverbs often stand at the beginning of the sentence:

Clearly, we will have to think again.
Sentence adverbs are well established in English,
although the use ofthankfully and (in particular)
hopefullycan arouse controversy:
sHopefully the road should be \ufb01nished.

Although objection to such use is arti\ufb01cial, be aware that some people may take exception to these words, especially in written or formal con- texts.

A pronoun is a word such as I, we, they, me, you,

them, etc., and other forms such as the possessive hersand theirsand the re\ufb02exive myselfand them- selves. They are used to refer to (and take the

place of) a noun or noun phrase that has already been mentioned or is known, especially in order to avoid repetition, as in the sentence When she saw

her husband again, she wanted to hit him.
Re\ufb02exive pronouns

Re\ufb02exive pronouns are the type formed with -self, e.g.myself, herself, andourselves, used in sen- tences in which the subject of the verb and the object are the same person or thing, as inWe

enjoyed ourselvesand Make yourself at home.
A conjunction is a word such as and, because, but,
for, if, or, and when, used to connect words, phras-
es, clauses, and sentences. On the use ofand and
butat the beginning of a sentence, seeSENTENCES
A preposition is a word such as after, in, to, and
with, which usually stands before a noun or pro-
noun and establishes the way it relates to what
has gone before(The man on the platform,They
came after dinner, and What did you do it for?).

It is sometimes stated that a preposition should always precede the word it governs and should not end a sentence. However, there are cases when it is either impossible or not natural to organize the sentence in a way that avoids a \ufb01nal preposition:

2in relative clauses and questions featuring
verbs with linked adverbs or prepositions:
What did Marion think she was up to?
They must be convinced of the commitment
they are taking on.
2in passive constructions:
The dress had not even been paid for.
2in short sentences including an in\ufb01nitive with
toor a verbal noun:
It was my dancing he objected to.

In\ufb02ection is the process by which words (princi- pally nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs) change their form, especially their ending, in accordance with their grammatical role in a sen- tence.


Verbs normally add-s or-es to form third-person present-tense forms (changes,wants),-ed to form past tenses and past participles (changed,wanted), and -ing to form present participles (changing,

wanting). However, some verbs form tenses by
changing their stem (throw,threw,thrown), and
others are completely irregular (have,had,had;
go, went, gone).

Verbs drop a \ufb01nal silent -e when the suf\ufb01x begins with a vowel (as in shave, shaving). But a \ufb01nal -e is usually retained to preserve the soft sound of theg intwingeing andwhingeing. It is also retained where it is needed to avoid confu- sion with similar words, for example indyeing (fromdye) as distinct fromdying (fromdie).

English nouns normally form their plurals by
adding -s, or -es if the singular form ends in -s, -x, -
z, -sh, or soft -ch(as in churchbut not loch).

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