Reverend Jan's Grammar Primer
O'Rourke's Usage Rules
As handed out by my 11th grade English teacher (Mrs.
Soucy) for our edification, and modified with examples both correct and incorrect by
Reverend Jan, for yours.
- A pronoun used as the object of the preposition except is in
the objective case.
Everyone except him likes grammar.
Everyone except he likes grammar.
- Do not use had or hadn't before ought. Ought
is not a participle.
You ought to enjoy this page.
You had ought to enjoy this page.
- A verb agrees in number with its subject. Nouns or pronouns in phrases
modifying the subject do not affect the number of the verb.
He learns about grammar, but he does not use it.
He learn about grammar, but he do not use
- Do not run too many independent clauses together with and,
There are not too many pages like this one, but here are a few.
There are not too many pages like this
one, but some can be found at the link above, and they are really worth
visiting, but if you don't that's okay, and I will understand, and everything
will be okay.
- Adverbs, not adjectives, are used to modify verbs.
It is really challenging to think of examples.
It is real challenging to think of examples.
- All important words in a title are capitalized.
Revenge of the Grammar Nerds opens this Friday at theaters everywhere!
Revenge Of the grammar nerds opens this Friday at theaters everywhere!
- Titles used without names are not capitalized unless they identify
Somewhere, the president of a software company is enjoying his cash
Somewhere, the President of a software
company is enjoying his cash flow.
- Do not use quotation marks for an indirect quotation.
She said that we wouldn't get bored with this page, but I'm not so sure.
She said "that we wouldn't get bored" with
this page, but I'm not so sure.
- A pronoun used as the object of a preposition is in the objective
case, even when it is followed by a noun in apposition to it.
This page has been created by her.
This page has been created by she.
- Lie (lying, lay, lain) means rest. Lay
(laying, laid, laid) means put or place.
I am going to lie down. It is time to lay down this mouse and keyboard.
- Direct quotations are enclosed in quotation marks.
"You will not get bored with this page," she said.
You will not get bored with this page,
- A pronoun used as an indirect object is in the objective case.
I have given them many examples so far, but there are more to come.
I have given they many examples so far,
but there are more to come.
- The possessive forms of the personal pronouns do not have apostrophes.
This page is hers.
This page is her's.
- The possessive case of the plural noun not ending in s is formed
by using an apostrophe and an s.
The sheep's fears are numerous, outnumbering even the rabbits'.
- Do not use the plural demonstrative adjectives these and those
with the singular nouns kind and sort. They must agree.
Also, do not use the word a after kind of or sort of.
These sorts of examples are a kind of torture.
These sort of examples are a kind of a
- A pronoun used as a direct object is in the objective case.
Give all of your money to her.
Give all of your money to she.
- Good is an adjective. Do not use good for well
to modify a verb.
You are doing quite well so far.
You are doing quite good so far.
- Do not run two independent clauses together as a compound sentence
without using a comma and a conjunction or a semi-colon, between them.
When the clauses are very short, it is not necessary to use the comma
before the conjunction.
I am writing this at work right now, and I keep getting interrupted.
I am writing this at work right now I keep
- The words north, south, east, and west
are capitalized when they refer to regions of the country, likewise
Midwest, Far North, etc.
The weather in July was really awful in the South.
It was much better in the midwest.
- When the name of a state follows the name of a city within a sentence,
use a comma after the name of the city and also after the state.
I worked in Seabrook, NH, at the nuclear power plant, but I was just
an administrative assistant.
I worked in Seabrook NH at the nuclear
- Do not use of in place of have in expressions like could
have or might have.
I might have worked at UNH, but I was only the second choice candidate.
I might of worked at UNH - it could of
been my grammar that kept me out.
- Verbs denoting impressions of the senses are usually followed by predicate
adjectives, not adverbs. [You wouldn't say, "I am feeling ill-ly," but
rather, "I am feeling ill."]
I am not feeling good today. (Implies that one is feeling ill.)
I am not feeling well today. (Implies that
one is having difficulty feeling.)
- Adjectives derived from proper nouns should be capitalized.
She dressed to reflect Victorian sensibilities.
Her sister preferred the more edwardian
- The name of the person addressed is set off by commas.
Is that a copy of The Elements of Style in your pocket, David,
or are you just happy to see me?
- When the subject of a verb in a modifying clause is who, which,
or that, the verb agrees in number and person with the noun or
pronoun modified by the clause.
It was the rabid dog which ran away with my homework.
Who were that masked man?
- An adverbial clause at the beginning of a sentence is set off by commas.
Without warning, the quiet administrative assistant suddenly
went postal, delivering mail right and left.
In her defense she was expected
to do so.
- In a clause expressing purpose, use may, can, and shall
and will when the verb of the main clause is in the present,
present perfect, future or future perfect tense. When the main verb
is in the past tense, use might, could, should,
It may be the case that I will get a better job soon; I shall continue
to hope so.
I may have gotten a better job if I can
have used better grammar.
- A colon is used before a series of items introduced by the words the
following or as follows.
The following list is completely random: cows; hard work; watery eyes;
doctor; freeze tag.
- Do not combine in a compound sentence two or more ideas that have
no close relation to each other.
I am really hungry, the trees are still
green, and the photocopier is broken.
- Do not put a comma between a verb and its object or predicate nominative
unless there is a phrase requiring commas.
He was walking. ~and~ He, in all of his insipid glory, was walking.
He, was walking.
- Use that, not because, to introduce a noun clause following
the reason is or the reason was.
The reason for my concern over grammar is that I hate reading badly-written
The reason for my concern over grammar
is because I am rule-happy.
- In using participles and participial phrases, be sure that the word
to be modified is expressed and that the references are clear. When
a participial phrase begins a sentence, the participle must modify the
first noun or pronoun after the comma.
While sleeping on the job, I was rudely awakened by my boss.
While sleeping on the job, my boss rudely
- When like is used as a preposition, a pronoun following it
is in the objective case.
That woman's cat looks just like her.
That woman's cat looks just like she.
- Nouns or pronouns occurring in modifying phrases introduced by such
expressions as together with and as well as do no affect
the number of the verb.
That violin player, as well as the violists, is confused by her part.
That violin player, as well as the violists,
are confused by her part.
- When two or more elements in a sentence are joined by coordinating
conjunctions, they should be of parallel construction.
You can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose.
You can pick your friends, and you can't
pick your friend's nose.
- Differ with expresses disagreement of opinion. Differ from
expresses unlikeness between persons or things.
I differ with him on the subject of nose-picking, but then, our noses
differ from each other.
I differ from him on the subject of nose-picking,
but then, our noses differ with each other.
- May and might refer to asking or giving permission.
Can and could refer to the power or ability to do something.
"Can I pick your nose?" she pleaded. "No," he replied, "for you have
no fingers with which to pick it."
- Indefinite pronouns such as each, everyone, anyone,
either, and neither require singular verbs.
Everyone desires his or her own web site.
Everyone desire their own web site.
- When two singular nouns that are being compared refer to the same
person or thing, use the article before the first noun only.
The guest on Jerry Springer was either a man or woman, but no one could
The guest on Jerry Springer was either
a man or a woman.
- When a pronoun is in the predicate nominative after is or some
other form of the verb to be, use the nominative form.
Am I the next guest? Indeed, it is I.
Is me to be the next guest? Indeed, it
- Do not omit the subject and the verb of a subordinate clause when
the subject is different from the subject of the main clause.
Blessed are the meek, for the rest of us can benefit from their submission.
Blessed are the meek, for their submission.
- When two or more persons are thought of as a combination, the possessive
is formed by adding the apostrophe and s to the last noun only.
Jan and David's wedding was an unusual affair.
Jan's and David's wedding was an unusual
- When one series is used within another, the conjunction should not
be omitted in the first series.
We eat beans, like garbanzos, favas, and kidneys, rice, and pasta.
We eat beans, like garbanzos, favas, and
kidneys, rice, pasta.
- When two or more nouns joined by and refer to the same person
or thing, use the article before the first noun only.
Some beans, particularly the navy and black beans, are more musical
Some beans, particularly the navy and the
black beans, are more musical than others.
- Do not put a comma between the subject and the verb unless there is
a phrase requiring commas.
He ran as fast as the wind would, if the wind was really slow.
He, ran as fast as the wind.
- Do not use like in place of as to introduce a subordinate
Her hair wafted slowly in the breeze, as would an octopus on a bad acid
Her hair wafted slowly in the breeze, like
an octopus on a bad acid trip.
- Use die of, not die with, to express cause of death.
Franz Schubert died of typhus, although he did die with syphillis in
- A pronoun used as the subject is in the nominative case even when
it is followed by a noun in apposition to it.
"What are these?" we asked, pointing to the unfamiliar white heaps on
"Them are grits," she
said, grinning just wide enough to expose her missing teeth.
- Do not use the adjective real for the adverbs really,
"These grits are really good," we agreed, struggling to keep from spitting
"And y'all are real good customers," the
- Do not use the adjective sure when the adverb surely
"This restaurant is surely one of the nicest we've been in on our visit
to the South," said my mother.
"You sure don't get around much, do you?"
snickered another customer.
- Do not use when or where clauses as predicate nominatives
in definitions or explanations.
"It's just like a Faulkner story, with seedy characters and the dialogue
to boot," I sighed.
"It's just like a Faulkner story, when
you have seedy characters and the dialogue to boot," mimicked the customer.
- The conjunction but is used to join clauses that express contrasting
The customer was big, but it looked as though beer and grits had contributed
more to his physique than had football.
- The nominative form who is used when the relative pronoun is
the subject of the clause it introduces.
"Who are you, anyway?" demanded my father, standing to his full height
"Whom is asking?" snivelled the customer,
backing towards the door.
- Do not use the preposition of after the words remember,
"I don't recall of talking to no one,"
he half-apologised on his way out.
"I will remember this, however," said Dad,
sitting down to his grits again.
- Parenthetical expressions are separated from the rest of the sentence
This, we decided, would be our final meal at the Bumpkin Barrel in Georgia.
- Use into, not in, to introduce a prepositional phrase
that implies entrance into something.
We all piled into our car, still regretting eating the grits.
"Y'all come back in the restaurant whenever
you're hungry again," yelled our waitress.
- Do not omit the second as in comparing two persons or things.
We were as disgusted as we had been at the ManureWorld food pavillions.
- The comparative degree is used in comparing two persons or things;
the superlative degree is used in comparing more than two.
I would have to say that the ManureWorld food was better than Bumpkin
Barrel's; in fact, Bumpkin Barrel had the worst food of any we had tasted
on our trip.
"Yeah, but it ain't worst than my cookin',"
said the customer, worming his way into the narrative.
- A pronoun whose antecedent is a singular indefinite pronoun, such
as everyone, each, etc., is in the third person singular.
Everyone has his own vacation nightmare, and each story is a different
Everyone have their own vacation nightmare.
- A nonrestrictive clause, which can be omitted without materially changing
the meaning of the sentence, is set off by commas.
If you have read this far, and I assume that you have, you're a wonderful
- When a pronoun refers to two or more singular words joined by or,
the pronoun is singular.
It is raining cats or dogs.
They are raining cats or dogs.
- A clause should not modify a word in the possessive case.
The hair that was hers was long and greasy,
and matched the color of her teeth.
- When the interrogative pronoun is the subject of a verb, use the nominative
who. When it is an object, use whom.
"Who is this in the picture?" "It is the man with whom I fell in love."
- The pronoun following to be is in the objective case when the
infinitive links the pronoun to a noun or another pronoun in the objective
"It is good to be me," said the king in the movie.
"It is not so good to be I," thought the
piss boy, damning his lack of grammar, for with a better grasp of English,
he could have been the king.
- The case of whoever is determined by its function in the clause
it introduces and not by the function of the entire clause in the sentence.
Whoever has read this far in the page shall be granted eternal grammarical
wisdom, or at least a close approximation thereof.
Whomever has given up will be doomed to
a life of grammarical idiocy, and shall suffer greatly for it at some
time in the future. (So sayeth Reverend Jan.)
- When the antecedent of a pronoun is a collective noun, the pronoun
is singular if the group is thought of as a single unit and plural if
the members are thought of as separate individuals.
The MicroSoft hive of employees is now ready to pursue its true destiny:
total galactic domination.
The members of the Anarchists' Collective
is bypassing the rules of conduct, and it will pay!
- A compound personal pronoun should not be used as a substitute for
the nominative form of a simple pronoun.
so happy," droned the lone Microsoft employee, "we can scarcely keep
our shoes on."
- Do not use commas with a restrictive clause, which cannot be omitted
without changing the meaning of the sentence.
If only I could think of a clever example for this rule!
If only I could think, of a clever example,
for this rule!
- Avoid the use of unnecessary prepositions such as up after
divide, rest, and finish, and in after start.
"It is time to divide the spoils of our conquest," said Gates. "Two
for me, none for you. Two for me, none for you. Two for me... whew!
I will have to finish this later!"
"Aw, I hate when he divides up the loot,"
muttered the Georgia drone. "At least we get to rest up before next
week's takeover, when we finish up our competition."
- When the subject of a verb consists of two or more singular words
joined by or, either-or, or neither-nor, use a
Neither Gates nor the drone has any idea what will follow.
Neither Gates nor the drone have any idea
what will follow.
- Usually a relative clause should immediately follow the antecedent
of the relative pronoun that introduces the clause.
Here is the penultimate sentence, which determines the fate of Gates
and the drones. Well, maybe it doesn't. What will happen next?
- Do not use whomever as the subject of a clause.
Whomever doubts the accuracy of Reverend
Jan's predictions is absolutely right to do so.
- When the subordinate clause states a present or permanent fact, its
verb should be in the present even though the tense of the principal
verb is past.
Reverend Jan is wrong in all of the lugubrious poems she wrote, and
therefore her predictions cannot be trusted.
Reverend Jan was wrong in all of the lugubrious
poems she wrote.
- Fewer means smaller in number; less means smaller in
She is less wrong when she makes fewer predictions. Less money = fewer
She is less wrong when she makes less predictions.
- Between is used in speaking of two persons, things, or groups.
Among is used in speaking of more than two.
Just between the two of us, you are among the smartest people I know.
Just among the two of us, you are between
the smarter people I know.
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