Give me an “A”: a vs. an

The indefinite articles a and an both mean the same thing. The definite article the refers to a particular thing (“Give me the ring! The wedding ring!”) while a and an refer to any item of a certain type (“Please hand me a nail, any nail.”) But when do you use a and when do … Read more

Go Ahead, Put that Preposition at the End!

Commenting on one of my posts about prepositions, Annette writes: When did the rule about ending the sentence with a preposition change? It’s always been one of my pet peeves (in written word more than spoken) because we learned it was wrong in high school grammar…. but now I’m reading that it’s acceptable? Could all … Read more

Companies Are It, not They

A common error in modern writing looks a little like this: “Microsoft announced they are releasing a new Xbox console next week…” Since Microsoft is a company made up of many people, it’s easy to make this mistake. But companies are always its, not theys. “Microsoft announced it is releasing…” Another variation on this rule … Read more

What is the Difference Between “These” and “Those”?

Thomas, one of our readers, asks, “What is the difference between “these” and “those”? Can they just be interchanged?” In order to understand the difference between these two terms we need first to understand the difference between “this” and “that,” since “these” is the plural of “this” and “those” is the plural of “that.” The … Read more

TV’s War on “Me” and “I”

Television scriptwriters — or perhaps actors who are failing to read what has been written for them–seem to be determined to reverse the functions of the pronouns “I” and “me” in American speech. Refresher I is the subject form of the first person personal pronoun. It stands for the person speaking. This subject form is … Read more

Six Rules for Making Subjects and Verbs Agree

If you want to write proper English, you have to follow a rule called “subject-verb agreement.” That means that if the subject is plural (ducks), then the verb needs to be plural (quack). If the subject is singular (duck) then the verb needs to be singular (quacks). This issue is not as picky and unimportant … Read more

Comparative Forms of Adjectives

Adjectives have inflections. That is, adjectives change in spelling according to how they are used in a sentence. Adjectives have three forms: positive, comparative, and superlative. The simplest form of the adjective is its positive form. When two objects or persons are being compared, the comparative form of the adjective is used. When three or … Read more

Can You Start Sentences with “And” or “But”?

In the past, English teachers used to preach that one should never start a sentence with conjunctions like and or but. Does this rule still apply today? Not entirely. It is already acceptable to start sentences with such conjunctions. Some authorities, in fact, even defend that for some cases conjunctions will do a better job … Read more

The Many Forms of the Verb TO BE

After reading O Second Person Where Art Thou reader Bill G asks: How can I explain to my students why the singular “you” takes the plural verb “are?” Is there something obvious I am missing? Even “thou” took “art.” What is the history of this shift? The answer to the first part of this question … Read more

O Second Person Singular, Where Art Thou?

Ricardo, a reader, wonders why the second person singular pronoun dropped out of English. In the earliest form of English, the difference between the pronouns thou and ye was one of number. Thou (object form: thee) was singular and ye (object form: you) was plural. In the 11th century (1066) the French-speaking Normans invaded and … Read more

Smart People, Bad Grammar

Stanley Bing, a novelist and columnist for Fortune magazine, recently published an enlightening – let alone hilarious – piece on his blog. Titled “When Smart People Use Bad Grammar,” the article describes the common confusion around the usage of the personal pronouns “I” and “me.” I’m sitting at a lounge last week in Los Angeles … Read more