split infinitiveSplitting infinitives is no longer a cardinal sin of grammar. Splitting an infinitive is preferable to creating an awkward-sounding sentence or leaving the meaning unclear. Most sentences, however, will sound natural without splitting infinitives.
Unclear: It was difficult to understand actually what she was saying. (To actually understand, or what she was actually saying?)
Better: It was difficult to actually understand what she was saying.
Unnecessary split: To effectively communicate, you must be a competent writer.
Better: To communicate effectively, you must be a competent writer.
subject/verb agreementSingular subjects take singular verbs. Plural subjects take plural verbs.
This rule seems simple enough. Nonetheless, placing a singular noun with a plural verb is a common grammar mistake. Part of the problem is that many singular nouns seem as if they are plural: Group, staff, board committee, and majority are singular (and take singular verbs), for example.
Incorrect: The staff are on vacation.
Correct: The staff is on vacation.
Other nouns that are singular but often used mistakenly with plural verb forms include each, everybody, everyone, anybody, somebody, someone, no one, either, and neither. Many of these words incorporate the word one or body, which serves as a reminder that they refer to one person or thing.
Another common mistake is matching the verb with the word closest to it, rather than the actual subject of the sentence.
Incorrect: The group of accountants are meeting at the hotel. (Of accountants is a prepositional phrase; group, a singular noun, is the subject of the sentence.)
Correct: The group is meeting at the hotel.
Incorrect: The majority [of people] are going to vote for a pay raise.
Correct: The majority is going to vote for a pay raise. (If you mentally delete the prepositional phrase of people, it’s easier to see that the subject of the sentence is majority, which is singular.)
If two singular parts of a subject are connected by and, the subject is plural and takes a plural verb.
Eating and drinking are two of my favorite pastimes.
When two singular subjects are joined by or, the verb is singular.
Bob or Joyce is taking pledges today.
When one part of a subject is singular and the other is plural and they are joined by or, the verb should agree with the part of the subject closest to it.
John or his friends are going to the mall.
Either John’s friends or John is representing the group.
When subjects connected by and are commonly thought of as one item, the verb is singular.
Bacon and eggs is my favorite breakfast.
subjunctiveThe phrase If I were you includes a subjunctive verb. Knowing the verb is subjunctive is not important, but it is important to know when to use was and when to use were.
Use were when an if clause states a situation that is impossible, extremely unlikely, or simply untrue. Use was in all other cases.
If I were you, I would make that phone call. (It is impossible for me to be you.)
If I was asked, I’d go with you. (It is possible that I’ll be asked.)
titlesItalicize names of books, newspapers, magazines, periodicals, movies, and TV shows. Use quotation marks for titles of chapters, articles, reports, poems, songs, and musical works. Do not capitalize articles and conjunctions of three words or less (The Times of London).
Capitalize titles only when they precede a person’s name.
President Bush’s address
the president’s address