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McGraw-Hill Education Handbook of English Grammar & Usage

The go-to guide for perfecting your grammar and communication skills in every situation

English teachers aren't the only ones who expect careful and correct language choices. Precision in language can be the deciding factor when it comes to getting a job or winning a promotion. Whether your skills need drastic improvement or a quick brush-up, The McGraw-Hill Handbook of English Grammar and Usage will get your grammar back on the right track.

Written by two expert grammarians, the book provides bottom-line definitions, tips, and simple rules that summarize the essentials you need to know. You’ll find clear examples of usage and as well guidance on communication via text, email, and social media.

The new, third edition of The McGraw-Hill Handbook of English Grammar and Usage features:
•Straightforward explanations of common mistakes and why they happen
•Hundreds of correct and incorrect sentence examples, with errors clearly marked
•Quick tips for fixing your most stubborn grammatical mishaps
•Catchy memory aids for writing correctly the first time, and more
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This chapter deals with two types of modification problems:

1.   Misplaced and squinting modifiers: In the first section, we examine misplaced modifiers. Sentences containing misplaced modifiers are not ungrammatical. The problem is that misplaced modifiers make sentences say something the writers do not intend to say. Here is an example with the misplaced modifier almost:

Senator Blather almost spoke for two hours.

Now, it is (barely) possible that the sentence means exactly what the writer said, that Senator Blather was scheduled for a two-hour speech but mercifully something happened to prevent it from being given. However, it is much more likely that what the writer meant to say was this:

Senator Blather spoke for almost two hours.

In other words, Senator Blather did indeed speak, and the speech lasted nearly two hours.

2.   Dangling modifiers: In the second section, we deal with dangling modifiers. A dangling modifier is an out-and-out grammatical error. The error results from incorrectly formed modifying participial or infinitive phrases. These modifiers are said to dangle because they are improperly attached to the rest of the sentence. Here is an example (dangling modifier in italics):

X  Having hiked all day, my backpack was killing me.

What the writer meant to say was that as a result of his having hiked all day, his backpack was killing him. However, what the writer actually said was this:

X  My backpack hiked all day and was killing me.

Misplaced and Squinting Modifiers

A misplaced modifier is a modifier placed in a position where it modifies something that the writer does not intend it to modify. A squinting modifier is an adverb that can be interpreted as modifying two completely different things. Misplaced and squinting modifiers result in writers’ saying things they don’t mean.

Modifier errors are much more common in ordinary conversation than in writing, but speakers and listeners rarely notice them. When we talk, most of us do not carefully plan out exactly ; what we are going to say. We rarely go back over what we have said and edit it, unless it is grossly wrong. (Remember in the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when Willy Wonka would get excited and say phrases backward? He would stop, make a revolving motion with his hands, and then correct himself.) Likewise, our listeners are quite tolerant of all kinds of verbal mistakes. Part of the reason is that we are primarily listening for what people are saying, not how they are saying it.

When we write, however, it is a different story. Writing, unlike conversation, is planned and corrected in private. When we show our writing to others, there is an expectation of correctness far beyond our expectations of day-to-day conversational language. Mistakes that are routinely accepted without notice in conversation are glaringly apparent in writing. Nowhere is the difference between the standards of casual speech and writing more apparent than in the correct placement and use of modifiers.

Misplaced Modifiers

Misplaced modifiers do not make sentences ungrammatical. Misplaced modifiers are wrong because they say something the writer did not intend to say. The placement of an adverb can make a world of difference in meaning. For example, the placement of the adverb only in the following sentences changes the meaning rather considerably:

Only I love you.

I love only you.

Most of the misplaced modifier errors fall into two main categories: misplaced adverb qualifiers and misplaced prepositional phrases.

Misplaced Adverb Qualifiers. Suppose you intended to comment on how much chicken your friend Portly Bob ate, and you wrote this:

Bob nearly ate the whole chicken.

Unfortunately, what you actually said was that Bob did not eat any chicken at all, though he did contemplate eating a whole one. The problem is the placement of the adverb modifier nearly. What you should have written is this:

Bob ate nearly the whole chicken.

The problem this writer encountered is that nearly is one of a group of adverbs that have the unusual property of being able to modify noun phrases (like the whole chicken above) in addition to their usual adverb function of modifying verbs. The mistake the writer made was to unthinkingly place the adverb in front of the verb because that is where adverbs normally go.

Here are some other adverbs like nearly: almost, just, and only. When using these adverbs, we need to be aware that they are easily misplaced. We need to check the possibility that they really modify something following the verb—usually, but not always, a noun phrase. Here are three more examples of misplaced adverb quantifiers:

Alice almost spent $200 on a new CD player.

Now, did Alice actually get a new CD player or not? If she did not, then almost is correctly placed. However, if she did get her new CD player, then what the writer really meant was this:

Alice spent almost $200 on a new CD player.

We just located two vendors for that product.

If the writer meant that they just now located two vendors, then the modifier is correctly placed. But if the writer meant that they were able to find only two vendors, then this is what the writer should have written:

We located just two vendors for that product.

The committee only meets on Wednesdays.

In this example, the differences are more subtle. The placement of only in front of the verb meets implies that the committee takes no action at its Wednesday meetings. Presumably, the committee takes action at some other time. However, suppose the writer really meant to say that the committee has just a single weekly meeting—on Wednesdays. In that case, the adverb needs to follow the verb:

The committee meets only on Wednesdays.

The moral of this presentation is the following: watch out for the adverb qualifiers almost, just, nearly, and only. Sometimes these adverbs do not modify the verb as one might expect, but rather they modify a noun phrase or another structure following the verb.

Misplaced Prepositional Phrases. Prepositional phrases can play two different roles: adjectives and adverbs. One problem with prepositional phrases at the end of a sentence is that the reader interprets the prepositional phrase as one part of speech, while the writer intended the other. Here is an example with the prepositional phrase in italics:

The runners stood ignoring the crowd in their lanes.

It seems as though the writer is using the prepositional phrase as an adjective modifying crowd. The sentence seems to say that the crowd was in the runners’ lanes, a highly unlikely situation. What the writer meant was for the prepositional phrase to be used as an adverb telling us where the runners stood. Here is what the writer should have written:

The runners stood in their lanes ignoring the crowd.

A second problem with prepositional phrases is that when there is more than one clause, adverb prepositional phrases can be placed so that they modify the wrong verb. Here is an example of such an adverb prepositional phrase (in italics):

He went to a hospital where he underwent emergency surgery in a limousine.

On first reading, we interpret the adverb prepositional phrase in a limousine as modifying the nearest verb, underwent:

X  He underwent emergency surgery in a limousine.

What the writer meant, of course, is for the prepositional phrase to modify the first verb, went:

He went to a hospital in a limousine.

The best way to correct the misplacement is to move the prepositional phrase next to the verb it modifies:

He went in a limousine to a hospital where he underwent emergency surgery.

The best way to monitor for misplaced prepositional phrases is to always make sure the prepositional phrase is directly attached to the word that it should modify. Pay special attention to prepositional phrases at the ends of sentences. They are the ones most likely to be misplaced.

Squinting Modifiers

Squinting modifiers are adverbs that are placed at a boundary of two clauses or phrases with the unfortunate result that the reader cannot tell which clause or phrase the adverb should go with. These modifiers are called “squinting” because they seem to look in two different directions at the same time. Following are two examples of squinting adverbs (in italics):

The mayor promised after her reelection she would not raise taxes.

Here, the modifier is the adverb prepositional phrase after her reelection. The adverb phrase “squints” because we can interpret it in two different ways:

1.   After her reelection modifies the preceding verb promised. We can paraphrase this interpretation as follows:

After the mayor was reelected, she promised that she would not raise taxes.

That is, the mayor has already been elected.

2.   After her reelection modifies the following verb would not raise. We can paraphrase this interpretation as follows:

The mayor promised that after she was reelected, she would not raise taxes.

That is, the mayor is making a promise about what she would do if and when she were reelected.

In the following example

Students who practice writing often will benefit.

the modifier is the adverb often. The adverb “squints” because we can interpret it in two different ways:

1.   Often modifies the preceding verb writing. We can paraphrase this interpretation as follows:

Those students who often practice writing are the ones who will benefit.

2.   Often modifies the following verb will benefit. We can paraphrase this interpretation as follows:

Students will often benefit when they practice writing.

Sentences containing squinting modifiers are not ungrammatical per se. The problem is that the squinting modifier creates an unintended and undesired ambiguity. Once the writer realizes the confusion, the ambiguity is easily resolved one way or another. The problem, of course, is that the writer sees only the intended meaning, not the unintended one.

There is no simple solution or test for squinting adverbs. Nonetheless, it is helpful for writers to be aware of the condition in which squinting adverbs can occur. Squinting adverbs occur at the boundary between two clauses or phrases. Once writers are aware that this boundary is a squinting adverb danger zone, they can take the extra second to consciously check to see if adverbs at the boundaries can be interpreted in more than one way.


Misplaced and squinting modifiers are difficult problems for all of us because we know what we meant. It is really hard to train our eyes to see not just what we meant but what we actually said.

Misplaced modifiers are modifiers put in the wrong place so they modify something we do not intend for them to modify. The most likely culprits are the adverb qualifiers almost, just, nearly, and only because they can modify both verbs (as we would expect) and also noun phrases. Other common misplaced modifiers are adverb prepositional phrases at the end of sentences that can be interpreted as modifying the nearest verb rather than the more remote intended verb.

Squinting modifiers are modifiers that are used at the boundary of two clauses or phrases. The result is that the reader cannot tell which clause or phrase the modifier should go with.

The only real defense against misplaced and squinting modifiers is to be aware of the kinds of modifiers that are likely to be misused and the places that modifier mistakes are most likely to occur. Forewarned is forearmed.

Even the most experienced writers never outgrow the need to consciously check high-risk modifiers and places for unintended meanings.

Dangling Modifiers

A dangling modifier is said to dangle because it looks like it might fall off the sentence it is attached to. Dangling modifiers are adverbial phrases of various sorts, participial and infinitive phrases being the most common. Here are some examples with the dangling modifier underlined (and some questions that suggest why the modifier is dangling):

X  Regretfully declining the dessert menu, the waiter brought us our bill. (Who declined the dessert menu? It sounds like the waiter did.)

X  Worried about being late, a taxi seemed like a good idea. (Was the taxi really worried about being late?)

X  After getting a new job, my commuting costs have doubled. (Did my commuting costs get a new job?)

X  To recover from the surgery, the doctor recommended bed rest. (How’s the doctor feeling now?)

The problem is that these modifiers break a basic rule of grammar that we will call “the man who wasn’t there” principle. You may know this poem:

As I was going up the stair

I met a man who wasn’t there.

He wasn’t there again today.

I wish, I wish he’d stay away.

—“Antigonish” (1899), Hughes Mearns

“The man who wasn’t there” principle of grammar means that it is OK to not be there as long as you don’t go away. In other words, we can drop something out of a part of a sentence if we can get it back from somewhere else in the rest of the sentence.

Here is an example of a modifier (underlined) that correctly obeys “the man who wasn’t there” principle:

Turning the key in the lock, Holmes quietly slipped into the room.

In this sentence, the subject of the verb turning has been dropped. But in this example, we can find out who did the turning by looking at the subject in the main part of the sentence. It was Holmes: Holmes turned the key in the lock. In other words, we can legitimately drop the subject Holmes from the modifier because we can get it back from the main sentence.

We can find out if the modifier is dangling or not by a simple two-step process that tests to see if the subject in the modifier has been legitimately dropped:

1.   Move a copy of the subject of the main sentence into the subject position of the modifier:

[image: Images]

2.   Change the verb in the modifier so that it agrees with the restored subject:

Holmes turned the key in the lock.

Now ask yourself this question: Does this new sentence make sense? If the answer is no, then it is a dangling modifier. If the answer is yes, then the modifier is correct. In this case, the answer is yes, so we know that the modifier is not dangling.

Now we can see what is wrong with the first four examples: the subject of the main sentence does not make sense when it is used as the understood subject of the modifier, and therefore it was not legitimate to have dropped the subject from the modifier in the first place. To see that this is the case, let’s go through the two-step process:

X  Reluctantly declining the dessert menu, the waiter brought us our bill.

1.   Move a copy of the subject to the modifier:

[image: Images]

2.   Change the verb in the modifier to agree with the subject:

X   The waiter reluctantly declined the dessert menu.

This doesn’t make sense because it was the customers who declined dessert. Therefore, the modifier is dangling, and either the modifier or the main sentence must be rewritten.

X  Worried about being late, a taxi seemed like a good idea.

1.   Move a copy of the subject to the modifier:

[image: Images]

2.   Change the verb in the modifier to agree with the subject:

X   A taxi worried about being late.

This doesn’t make sense. Therefore, the modifier is dangling, and either the modifier or the main sentence must be rewritten.

X  After getting a new job, my commuting costs have doubled.

1.   Move a copy of the subject to the modifier:

[image: Images]

2.   Change the verb in the modifier to agree with the subject:

X   After my commuting costs got a new job, my commuting costs have doubled.

This doesn’t make sense. Therefore, the modifier is dangling, and either the modifier or the main sentence must be rewritten.

X  To recover from the surgery, the doctor recommended bed rest.

1.   Move a copy of the subject to the modifier:

[image: Images]

2.   Change the verb in the modifier to agree with the subject:

X   The doctor recovered from the surgery.

This doesn’t make any sense. The doctor did not undergo surgery—the patient did. Therefore, the modifier is dangling, and either the modifier or the main sentence must be rewritten.

You can do one of two things to correct a dangling modifier:

1.   Change the modifier to make it compatible with the main part of the sentence.

2.   Change the main part of the sentence to make it compatible with the modifier.

You should explore both possibilities to decide which one you like the best. For example, let’s go back to the first example and explore both options:

X  Reluctantly declining the dessert menu, the waiter brought us our bill.

1.   Change the modifier to make it compatible with the main part of the sentence:

Collecting the dessert menus, the waiter brought us our bill.

2.   Change the main part of the sentence to make it compatible with the modifier:

Reluctantly declining the dessert menu, we asked for our bill.

Obviously, there are many other ways to rewrite the original sentence with the dangling modifier corrected, but these two revisions illustrate the main alternatives. Both revisions are now grammatical, but which alternative is best is a stylistic question that you will have to decide for yourself. Often the choice hinges on what you want to emphasize. In version 1, the emphasis is on the waiter. In version 2, the emphasis is on the people eating. If the focus of the whole passage is on the waiter, then version 1 is probably better. If your focus is on the people, then version 2 is probably better.


A dangling modifier is typically some kind of adverbial phrase at the beginning of a sentence. The phrase dangles because the implied subject of the verb in the adverbial phrase is not the same as the subject of the sentence it modifies.

The way to check for dangling modifiers is to see if the subject of the main sentence makes sense as the understood subject of the verb in the adverbial phrase. If it does not, then the adverbial phrase is dangling, and either the adverbial phrase or the sentence must be rewritten.


Dashes, Hyphens, and Other Punctuation

This chapter covers punctuation marks that, in formal writing at least, are used less frequently than commas, periods, and other punctuation we previously covered. Indeed, some uses of the punctuation discussed in this chapter are occasionally viewed as inappropriate for formal writing, while other functions are fully acceptable.

The punctuation marks covered in this chapter are not as simple as one might think, meaning they can easily result in errors. The hyphen alone has at least 13 functions, although most are straightforward. After a brief summary, this chapter covers the dashes, hyphens, parentheses, brackets, and slashes.


The dash technically has two forms: the en dash (–) and the longer em dash (—). The em dash is the one most people consider a “true dash.” Our discussion uses dash to refer only to the em dash, unless noted otherwise. A dash can clarify or emphasize words in three ways.

1.   Replacing a colon to set off ideas. This kind of dash sets off words that are “announced” by the rest of the sentence. Almost always, the dash and announcement come at the end of a sentence. What comes before this dash must be able to stand alone as a complete sentence. In this way, a dash can take the place of a colon that sets off an idea which readers would expect to see because of what the sentence says before the dash. Because of the wording in the first part of this sentence, we anticipate the writer to tell us the musician’s name.

I have an autograph of the first female inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—Aretha Franklin.

2.   Phrases that contain commas: Multiple commas close to one another can be confusing, especially if they do not share the same function. A dash can sometimes assist in clarifying things, though not often because it requires a certain sentence structure.

In the confusing example below, the first and fourth commas set off three nouns that form a list. Commas 1 and 4 seem necessary because the list is an appositive for the noun members. However, the list itself contains two commas (2 and 3) that separate three nouns.

[image: Images]

Dashes replace commas that would otherwise “surround” a group of words that, for whatever reason, must have their own commas. Another option would be parentheses, which are more formal but less emphatic. In any case, commas can be replaced by dashes only when you could use parentheses, as illustrated below.

Correct: Three committee members—the chair, co-chair, and treasurer—must leave early.

Correct: Three committee members (the chair, co-chair, and treasurer) must leave early.

3.   Emphasis: Although often considered overused and informal, the “emphatic dash” can set off ideas a writer wants to stress. Regardless of whether these dashes set off objective information or the writer’s opinion, they can emphasize ideas at almost any point in a sentence.

If you put your finger in your ear and scratch, it will sound like Pac-Man from the old video game—but don’t scratch too hard!


Unlike the em dash, a hyphen (-) merges individual terms (or numbers) into a single idea. Although there are over a dozen specific ways in which it does so, the hyphen should be used sparingly. Here are its more common functions:

1.   To join parts of certain compound adjectives and nouns. Examples: five-month-old baby, sister-in-law, and Asian-Americans.

2.   To indicate a range of numbers or dates, as in the years 2018-2020.

3.   To spell out fractions or numbers from 21 to 99 or fractions, as in one-third and thirty-two.

4.   To attach certain prefixes and suffixes, as in mid-June, re-evaluate, and self-sufficient.


The major function of parentheses is to add something that is generally not considered necessary. This so-called “parenthetical comment” usually clarifies meaning or helps make a sentence more readable by breaking some of it into a smaller portion. In all cases, do not put anything inside parentheses that is grammatically essential to the whole sentence.

The three major functions of parentheses are as follow:

1.   To provide extra ideas. The wording inside parentheses clarifies previous wording in the sentence or, less often, adds something the writer believes is interesting. Example: “I was contacted by my neighbor (the same person who called you and five other people in the neighborhood”).

2.   To avoid awkward sentence structure. In long or complicated sentences, the occasional use of parentheses can help separate some words so that readers can better follow the whole sentence. Example: “Many dieticians suggest that you eat (especially in times of stress and physical fatigue) a higher proportion of high-protein foods, vegetables, and whole grains.”

3.   To clarify abbreviations. When you want to use an abbreviation that might be unfamiliar to readers, use the full term first and immediately follow it with the abbreviation within parentheses. Thereafter, use just the abbreviation. Example: Organization of American States (OAS).

Parentheses often involve punctuation that is inside, outside, or both inside and outside the parentheses. There are several scenarios that cause writers problems, but most involve either (1) a comma that goes right outside the final parenthesis or (2) a period that goes outside the final parenthesis. In most cases, this period indeed goes outside the parenthesis but with no punctuation needed before the last parenthesis. And almost never is a comma placed immediately before any parenthesis. The placement of a question mark or exclamation point depends on the meaning of the overall sentence as well as what is within parentheses.


Aside from highly technical or specialized writing, all brackets in formal writing set off wording that you add to a quotation. This overall purpose leads to four specific functions:

1.   To clarify wording in a quote. Because the quotation is lifted from its original context, some wording might need brief clarification. Example: “We were ordered to disregard his [Mr. Sanders’] testimony.”

2.   To point out errors in the quote. Usually this error is grammatical, and you want to let your readers know it was not your mistake. Example: “I had a mindgrain [migraine] all day!”

3.   To help show where words were omitted. To be concise, you can use spaced periods (ellipses) to show where you omitted words from a quote. The formal approach is to have spaces between the periods and place them within brackets to make it clear they did not appear in the original. Example: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, [ . . . ] that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

4.   To insert changes to fit your style or sentence structure. When you do not so much set off the quotation as work it into your sentence, the wording does not always match up with your syntax or style. In such cases, brackets can add wording within the quotation to make it fit. Example: “As Captain Kirk might say, I want you ‘to boldly go where no [person] has gone before.’” In that sentence, the original word man was replaced by a term that matches the writer’s nonsexist style.

Along these lines, brackets can also be used to indicate where you deleted objectionable words from a quote. Brackets can also be inserted where you used boldface or another special font in order to add emphasis.


The slash ( / ) is not common despite many possible uses. The vast majority of slashes share one basic purpose: to indicate a close connection between letters, numbers, words, or lines. This purpose translates into several specific uses. Except with the fourth function, do not place a space before or after the slash.

1.   To stand for or. When used this way, it should be possible for the slash to be replaced by or, as in he/she, right/wrong matter. Never use a hyphen as a substitute for the “or slash” even though there are times when other types of slashes can be so replaced.

2.   To stand for versus. If the meaning is clear because of your context, a slash can indicate an adversarial relationship. Example: “The Mariners/Yankees game this weekend will decide who advances in the playoffs.”

3.   To stand for and. This is the most debatable type of slash, and we suggest avoiding it. It is commonly used to emphasize that something or someone is “both X and Y”—often more emphatically than using these actual words (both, and) or using a hyphen instead. Example: “The specimen has highly atypical male/female characteristics.”

4.   To indicate a line break. A slash can indicate where a poem or song originally had a line break—where there was a line that was indented. Use this slash only when you are working the lines into your sentence, not when you show the line breaks by indenting them yourself. Example: “The poet Gwendolyn Brooks wrote, ‘And if sun comes / How shall we greet him?’”

5.   To abbreviate numbers and ratios. A slash can be shorthand for certain numerical concepts. For instance, a slash can stand for per, as in “a limit of 35 miles/hour.” A slash can also abbreviate dates, as in 12/21/19. A slash can indicate a time span, as in the 2018/19 season. Or a slash can express fractions such as 1/3.


Despite its simple appearance, the dash (—) is surprisingly complex and misunderstood. One misconception is that it has dozens of purposes, whether in a text message or a résumé. Another misconception is that all of these purposes are technically or stylistically wrong.

In terms of formal writing, the truth is that there are widely accepted rules for using a dash, although in only a few types of sentences. While some readers consider the dash overused or informal, it can clarify or emphasize what the writer is attempting to communicate.

What’s the problem? 

Dashes entail more than one issue and concern. We focus on four matters: defining, typing, spacing, and usage.

Defining “Dash”

One problem is accurately defining what we mean by a “dash” in formal writing. A dash actually has two forms, but most word processing programs and computer keyboards (digital or physical) make it difficult to produce either type in a single keystroke. Below are the most common definitions of the two types of dashes used in the United States.

em dash: the “long dash,” which most people associate with a dash. Its most common function in formal writing is to set off words from the rest of the sentence (but only in certain situations, as explained below). Example: In 2003, the Academy Award for best original song was given for the first time ever to a rap song—“Lose Yourself.”

en dash: the “short dash” (–), which is longer than a hyphen but shorter than the em dash. Used correctly, the en dash usually means “through” (as in “to”). It thereby can indicate some sort of range (normally involving numbers or, less often, letters). Example: Read pp. 14–31 in your book.

Grammar Trivia: The Long and the Short of Dash Etymology

According to one theory, the em dash gets its name from being about the width of the letter m, while the en dash is so named by being about the size of—you guessed it—an n. Another theory claims the more precise etymology is that the names were taken from typesetter jargon: en and em refer to units of measurement in typesetting. But even this jargon can be traced back to conventional widths of m and n.

To complicate matters, there is the hyphen (-), which many people mistakenly assume is like the em dash. As explained later, the hyphen is usually reserved for separating parts of a word (as in pre-examination) or for joining two or more words (as in modern-era politics).

In truth, few readers notice or care if a hyphen is used in place of the en dash to separate numbers or letters (as in Rows a-f versus Rows a–f). At one time, the en dash was available only to professional typesetters, but technically it is now available on most word processing programs, complicating matters for everyday writers. Most writers can use a hyphen in place of the en dash, and we recommend doing so unless you are aiming for publication-worthy material, such as a company brochure or website.

Our discussion focuses on the em dash. Unless noted otherwise, we henceforth use the term “dash” to refer specifically to the em dash (—).

Grammar Tip

Use the em dash (—) only to separate parts of a sentence. Do not use this dash to combine two or more words, to separate a word into its parts, or to mean “through.”

Finding the Dash on a Keyboard

Rarely will you find just one key on a keyboard to type a dash, but it is still easy to produce or imitate: Type two hyphens, but with no space before, between, or after them (--). The hyphen (-) is normally found at the top of the keyboard, to the right of the zero (0). Most word processors auto-format (or auto-correct) a double hyphen into a solid dash (—).

If a solid dash does not appear, the double hyphen (--) is acceptable to most readers, unless the writing is meant to appear clearly professional and polished (e.g., a published article). Once again, though, never confuse the single hyphen with a dash.

You can enable or disable the auto-formatting by accessing the appropriate option in your word processing program. Most versions of Microsoft Word require users to go to the “Insert” tab, select “Symbols,” choose “Special Characters,” select “em dash,” and then click on “AutoCorrect” to find the auto-format option you prefer. Another way to produce the em dash is to press the Alt key and type 0151 on the numeric keypad.

Auto-format in Microsoft Word can also produce the en dash: Type the range of letters or numbers you want, placing one hyphen between them. Leave a space before and after the hyphen for auto-format to work. This way, the en dash automatically replaces a hyphen if you type “the years 1940 – 1945” but only if you place a space before and after the hyphen, meaning you must then delete the spaces once the en dash appears (as in “the years 1940–1945”). You can enable or disable this auto-format option in Microsoft Word by again accessing the aforementioned “Insert” and “Symbols” tabs. Or press the Alt key and type 0140 on the numeric keypad.

Spacing and Dashes

Many organizations and publishers have their own preferences about having a space before or after a dash, but following are the most common conventions in the United States:

The “regular” (or em) dash: Do not place a space before or after this dash. And if you must use two hyphens to serve as a dash, do not put a space between the hyphens. Examples: Water—one resource we can never replace. Water--one resource we can never replace.

The “short” (or en) dash: Do not set off with spaces before or after. Examples: Groups A–G. Ages 2–6.

To automatically produce the en dash, some word-processors (such as Microsoft Word) require you to type a space before and after a hyphen. Thus, after the en dash appears because of auto-format, delete these spaces. The en dash will remain. However, most people routinely use and accept a hyphen that takes the place of an en dash.

Using the Dash 

For some individuals, a dash (—) is considered “all-purpose” punctuation used when they are in doubt about what to use. Or they just like dashes and assume we all do. With informal writing, most readers are tolerant of overused dashes, but dashes should be sparingly used in formal contexts. Indeed, some readers and organizations prefer no dashes at all, even when they are technically correct.

In this section, we focus on the three major uses of the em dash (see the previous definition), but even these dashes could be replaced with other punctuation or, at times, with nothing at all. As noted previously, em dashes set off words from the rest of the sentence.

Note: All three uses discussed below illustrate how the dash should be reserved for setting off a group of words that is not grammatically essential. The ideas set off by a dash might be very important in terms of meaning, but the sentence would be grammatically complete without it.

Function 1: To Set Off an Introductory or Concluding Idea

A dash can often replace a colon because both can set off words that were “announced” in the other part of the sentence. Typically, this announcement comes after the colon; it is information that readers expect because of what the rest of the sentence says (see the section on colons in Chapter 13). Most often, this dash acts like a colon to set off the concluding part of the sentence, especially lists. What comes after the dash “announces” or “amplifies” a specific idea or word that we expect to see explained. In the following two examples, items and fine are used in a way that makes us expect more detail:

The customer requested several items—pencils, ink cartridges, envelopes, and hummus.

The judge imposed a harsh fine—$25,000.

At times, however, these ideas or lists appear at the start of the sentence, and a dash (or colon) sets of them off from what follows. This “introductory announcement” is used in the following variations of the previous two examples:

Pencils, ink cartridges, envelopes, and hummus—the customer requested all these items.

$25,000—that was the harsh fine the judge imposed.

Grammar Tip

Not just any introduction or conclusion can be set off with a dash or a colon. First, it should be an idea that the rest of the sentence seems to “announce,” clearly creating an expectation for more detail. Second, whether you use a dash or a colon to set off an idea at the start or end of a sentence, make sure that the rest of the sentence can stand alone as a complete sentence.

Function 2: To Set Off Phrases That Contain Commas

In some complicated sentences, a group of words might need two types of commas: (1) commas between the words and (2) commas that set off the whole group from the rest of the sentence. A pair of dashes can replace the second type of comma. Consider how confusing this sentence would be if commas were used instead of the dashes.

Correct: Dr. Lopez—a calm, reasonable, and respected physician—will serve as our consultant.

Remember: Dashes cannot replace any comma. As seen in the above example, dashes correctly replace commas that set off a single group of words that have their own commas. Put another way, dashes replace the “outside” commas for a distinct group of words, while the “inside commas” remain because they are needed to separate words within the group.

Although parentheses de-emphasize the idea being set off, they can replace dashes in this type of structure. Use this type of dash, then, only when you could opt for parentheses, as seen in the following revision of the above example:

Correct: Dr. Lopez (a calm, reasonable, and respected physician) will serve as our consultant.

Function 3: To Emphasize an Idea

Now we come to the dash most likely to be overused or unappreciated in formal writing: the dash whose sole purpose is to emphasize part of a sentence. Unlike the previous two functions, this “emphatic dash” deals not so much with syntax as with a particular concept the writer wants to highlight. That subjectivity is one reason why many readers do not care for dashes in formal writing. These comments are often called “parenthetical remarks” because parentheses can be used instead of dashes to show that an idea is (supposedly) superfluous.

In brief, emphatic dashes set off words and often do not replace any required punctuation. The next two sentences correctly use emphatic dashes, and if they were omitted, no comma (or other punctuation) is firmly required. If commas were used, they too would be for stylistic effect and emphasis, not because of a rule requiring punctuation. Dashes or commas are thus optional in these examples:

Optional punctuation: Report for work by 8:00 a.m.—no matter how far away you live.

Optional punctuation: I am giving you official notice—for the second time—that your punctuality is required.

At times, however, the emphatic dash does replace required punctuation: a comma of some sort. (Why these commas might be required is too varied and complicated to discuss here, so we refer you to Chapter 11 on their many functions.) In these next examples, dashes replace commas that would otherwise be required.

Required punctuation: My only neighbor—Audie Phillips—is moving to Kansas City.

Required punctuation: Audie—who has lived here for 50 years—has mixed feelings about the move.

Finally, some emphatic dashes go further: calling attention to an idea but also suggesting that it is “tossed in” as a personal aside or comment that perhaps is unnecessary. While such dashes suggest that these ideas might be unnecessary, in truth they can convey what the writer really wants readers to notice, as seen in the following second example in particular:

The mayor—and it pains me to say this—resigned last night.

We had heard about her “indiscretions”—and you know what that means—for months.

This variation of the emphatic dash is similar to the “just saying” remark people use informally to say something that is emphatic even though it is allegedly “just” a casual observation. Given such ambiguity, the “just saying” remark should be used sparingly in formal writing.

Grammar Trivia: Setting Things Straight With Dashes

The em or en dash are sometimes called an “em rule” or an “en rule”—not because they deal with a law but because they are a straight line, like a ruler.


The hyphen (-) is no less complicated than the visually similar dash. Indeed, dictionaries and usage guidelines do not agree on several aspects of hyphenation, such as when to use the slightly longer en dash (–) or when to use nothing at all in a particular compound word.

As stated previously, the em dash (—) should never be mistaken for a hyphen. Thus, to understand what a hyphen does and does not do, read the previous discussion on the dash, especially the em dash. Both the hyphen and the slash ( / ) can join words, so also read the section later in this chapter on slashes.

Unlike the em dash, the en dash can almost always be replaced by a hyphen in formal writing. The en dash (–) is shorter than an em dash (—) but longer than a hyphen (-). Some punctuation guidelines still require the en dash in certain situations (e.g., a range of page numbers or even with certain types of compound words). Still, relatively few readers or organizations expect people to use the en dash even in unpublished formal writing, as this dash is normally the concern of professional typesetters and editors.

We therefore suggest using a hyphen even in situations when a publisher or typesetting specialist might replace some hyphens with en dashes.

When to Use a Hyphen

A thorough list of when to use a hyphen is daunting, but keep in mind this overarching function:

Hyphen = combining two or more language choices into one idea

Whether the hyphen combines two words (well-being), adds a prefix to an adjective (half-empty glass), or it can, like an en dash, indicate a range of numbers (pages 2-12)—the hyphen creates a single idea out of two or more concepts. But keep the hyphen in reserve for when it is truly needed, such as clarifying the intended meaning of a word. For instance, one might use re-sign (as in signing a document again) rather than resign (to quit).

Grammar Tip

Although not in total agreement, dictionaries are still a good resource for determining if a word is hyphenated, especially with Categories 2, 9, and 10 below. Most spellcheckers are similarly useful with these three categories. If a dictionary provides both a hyphenated and nonhyphenated spelling, the latter version has increasingly become the preferred choice in the United States.

For those needing more detail, below is a summary (in no particular order) of the most common situations permitting or requiring a hyphen. Categories marked with an asterisk (*) are explained more fully afterwards.

1.*   To join complete words in certain compound adjectives. More specifically—to join two or more complete words that together serve as a single adjective which describes a noun that comes afterwards: well-dressed person, a one-way street, ten-year-old child, state-of-the-art computer, two-person bed, a grown-up’s approval, half-empty glass, check-in time, five-dollar fee.

2.*   To join complete words to create certain compound nouns: my mother-in-law, your well-being, several four-year-olds, a pick-me-up, a stop-off, a recent break-in, editor-in-chief.

3.*   To indicate a relationship between people or things in a compound noun or adjective: the suburban-urban population, a mother-daughter connection, a McGraw-Hill publication, Chicago-Detroit flight, U.S.-British policy, African-Americans, Jane Doe-Smith, Soviet-European tensions.

4.   To spell out compound numbers from 21 to 99: forty-two, fifty-fifth, sixty-eight, one hundred and thirty-two.

5.   To spell out fractions or proportions: one-fourth of the winnings, two and one-half miles, two-eighths of a meter, a half-hour discussion.

6.   To separate numbers that are in numeral form: from 2001-2005, a score of 14-3, vote of 42-12, pages 13-21, 2-3 odds, ratio of 2-1. (A colon can also indicate odds or ratios, as in 2:3 odds or a ratio of 2:1).

7.   To join a letter to a word. B-team, X-ray, X-Men, T-shirt. (Some dictionaries provide a nonhyphenated option for a few words, such as X ray.)

8.    To join a prefix with a number, an abbreviation, or a proper noun: pre-1900, mid-80s, pre-NATO, mid-April, non-American, Trans-Pacific, neo-Aristotelian.

9.   To join a prefix to a word that starts with the same vowel that ended the prefix. Examples: anti-immune, anti-intellectual, re-enter, retro-orbital, semi-informal, semi-identical, co-op, pre-emptive.

Note: Despite many exceptions, a hyphen is sometimes used when different vowels are involved (as in semi-arid, anti-aging, meta-ethnic). While some style guides say that it all depends on certain combinations of vowels and that the hyphen helps with pronunciation, these details are difficult to remember. A reliable dictionary is the best tool.

10.   To attach certain other prefixes: all-knowing, self-aware, self-service, ex-president, half-baked, quarter-pounder, semi-illiterate.

Note: The prefixes all-, self-, and ex- usually require a hyphen, but hyphenation with other prefixes is again difficult to predict, largely because it is a matter of whether the word “looks awkward” or could be mispronounced. Again a credible dictionary will usually resolve the matter.

11.   To attach the suffixes -type, -elect, and -designate: administrative-type decision, the president-elect, the governor-designate.

12.   To divide a word at the end of a line if the entire word does not fit. The hyphen is placed between syllables: super-visory, docu-ment, semi-relevant.

13.   To indicate that you are creating a word having distinct parts: a Kennedy-esque incident, semicolon-ize the sentence, three not-cat pets. This “invention” is usually done in a payful (and one-time) way.

Grammar Tip

People often overhyphenate because they start seeing compound words everywhere. As the saying goes—if in doubt, it’s usually best to leave it out. Most words in a given sentence are somehow associated with nearby words, so do not consider the hyphen the norm. Hyphenating a compound is the exception and is prudently used to prevent confusion, mispronunciation, or awkward wording. The same caution applies to prefixes and suffixes: hyphenate sparingly.

More on Hyphens With Compound Adjectives

In Category 1 above (compound adjectives), each sample adjective precedes a noun. The hyphen makes it clear that certain words work together as a single concept describing a noun. The first sentence below uses one of the examples, while the second sentence incorrectly omits the hyphen.

Correct: Your check-in time is 3:30 p.m.

X   Your check in time is 3:30 p.m.

Readers of the first version probably would not think it refers to “your check” or to “in time.” The second sentence, however, looks awkward, especially compared to the hyphenated version.

Still, compound adjectives are not always hyphenated, especially when there is little or no chance of misreading them or awkwardness. Hyphenation often depends on where the adjective appears in relation to the word it modifies. Remember the following rule of thumb:

Grammar Tip

When a compound adjective appears after the noun it modifies, do not hyphenate.

A typical example of this tip occurs when a compound adjective appears after a linking verb (such as is, are, was, were). The adjective “bends back” to describe the subject of that verb. In the following three correct linking-verb sentences, no hyphen is needed for the underlined compound adjectives:

That street is one way.

Mr. Dibny was well dressed as usual.

The glass appears half empty.

Even though they are listed above in Category 1, the single-underlined adjectives above all come after the double-underlined nouns they modify. As a result, the adjectives are neither confusing nor awkward, suggesting that they should not be hyphenated.

Grammar Trivia: Verb-izing the Hyphen

The hyphen is the only punctuation that developed a verb form in English (to hyphenate). One does not “comma-ize” or “semicolon-ate,” while the verbs quote and exclaim predate the use of quotation and exclamation marks.

More on Hyphens With Compound Nouns

As with compound adjectives, avoid hyphenating every concept that is composed of separate words. Admittedly, whether or not a compound noun is hyphenated might seem arbitrary, yet there are reliable guidelines and resources.

Compound nouns are likely to appear in credible dictionaries, and spellcheckers are also useful in determining if a noun needs a hyphen. Some dictionaries indicate that the hyphen is optional in some words. Again, the preference nowadays in professional or formal writing is the nonhyphenated option. In fact, some compound nouns that once were frequently hyphenated no longer have a hyphenated option in many (but not all) current dictionaries and style guides, email and chatroom being relatively recent examples.

Don’t confuse compound nouns with compound adjectives. Some terms, with slight modification, can be either. It depends on how they are used in a sentence.

Hyphenated compound adjective: Several four-year-old children ran amok in the theater.

Nonhyphenated compound adjective: The children running amok were four years old.

Compound noun: Several four-year-olds ran amok.

Compound noun: I saw several four-year-olds run amok.

The first sentence above correctly hyphenates the compound adjective because it appears before its noun. The second sentence correctly omits the hyphen in accordance with the tip given above. That is, four years old appears after the noun it describes. And the last two sentences contain compound nouns that all grammar style guides would hyphenate, no matter where the words appear in a sentence. The aforementioned grammar tip for compound adjectives is thus irrelevant for compound nouns.

More on Hyphens Indicating a Relationship

Although hyphens join words and ideas that are closely related, Category 3 in our list refers to how some hyphenated words reflect even more of a “joint venture” or partnership—emphasizing the nature of that relationship as a whole, not the meaning of each individual word. In mother-daughter connection, for example, the term mother is not describing daughter. Instead, the two words work equally together to refer to how two family members relate to each other. Using a hyphen rather than a slash is considered more acceptable (see our section on slashes above and later in this chapter).

In regard to the example Jane Doe-Smith, we can assume that Jane used a hyphen to establish a name that reflects an identity associated with two families. As with many compound proper nouns, this hyphen is optional and is up to the discretion of the individual whose name it is.

Similarly, the hyphen has long been used to join words to create proper nouns and adjectives that indicate ethnicity or cultural identification (Afro-American, Asian-American, Irish-Americans, Anglo-American, etc.). Although there are strong opinions on this matter, the current trend across a diverse range of communities and contexts is to omit the hyphen.


Parentheses come in pairs (as shown here), but the term parenthesis refers to just one mark. The most widespread use of parentheses is to set off words, phrases, a sentence, or even many sentences that are not strictly necessary—either grammatically or in terms of meaning.

First, we offer a more complete list of when parentheses can be used. Then, we provide a guide for using other punctuation placed near parentheses.

Grammar Tip

You should be able to “lift out” anything in parentheses and still have a complete sentence remaining, which should retain the same punctuation. Never put anything in parentheses that is grammatically essential to the sentence. Example: On my birthday (October 23), I will be in Boston.

Function 1: To Provide “Extra Ideas”

This function results in what people call a “parenthetical comment”: an idea that might not be essential but that adds clarity or, less often, something the writer believes is interesting—such as an aside, a digression, or humor. While commas or a dash can achieve the same purpose, parentheses may be sparingly used in most writing to set off extra ideas.

Beware of putting truly essential information in parentheses, but sometimes a sentence is not completely clear without a parenthetical clarification. That apparent contradiction means that the rules can be flexible in this regard. In the first example below, parentheses set off a definition that most people would need, but parentheses are still correct because the sentence technically provides all the needed information.

Fortunately for him, Tarzan did not suffer from dendrophobia (a severe fear of trees).

In the next example, the parenthetical comment might clarify the matter but is supposedly not truly essential. A reader might still wonder if this particular information is a “hint” about a point the writer wants to make without explicitly stating it. In any case, the parentheses are technically correct even if misleading about the writer’s real point.

Four employees (two newly hired, two long-time employees) forgot their badges this week.

The next two examples fall more into the “aside” category: an interesting fact or comment. The first sentence below seems more like a trivia item when compared to both of the previous examples. The final parenthetical comment provides a personal opinion, not just information:

Mel Gibson was the first actor to portray Mad Max (whose real name according to the first film was Max Rockatansky).

Max was played by one other actor (the one who also played a great villain in a Batman film).

It is often difficult to distinguish between a parenthetical comment intended as useful information versus an aside with less-functional commentary, innuendo, or minutia. The context might clarify the intent, but clear communication avoids parenthetical comments that invite people to read between the lines (or between parentheses) to discern the author’s meaning.

Function 2: To Avoid Awkward Syntax

While they should not be overused, parentheses can set off related words to make a sentence more readable. This function is similar to the previous category of parenthetical elements, but parentheses do not always depend on simply whether the language adds content or is interesting. By setting off a group of words, parentheses can also make complicated sentences easier to read.

Commas (or dashes) can achieve the same purpose, but often parentheses make a sentence less confusing by cutting down on the number of commas already within it. Note the complexity of the following examples and how setting off certain parts makes each sentence easier to follow:

The most famous features of peacocks (the crested head, brilliant plumage, and extremely long feathers) are found only among the males.

Despite numerous exceptions, a hyphen is sometimes used after a prefix that ends with a vowel different from the other than the vowel that starts off the root word (as in semi-arid, anti-aging, meta-ethnic). Dictionaries and style guides are not in agreement about many of these words, so use the form that is consistent with the resource you or your organization normally follows.

Grammar Trivia: Parenthetical Minutiae

Outside the United States, parentheses are sometimes called curved brackets (or even round brackets).

Function 3: To Clarify an Abbreviation

This category is also a type of parenthetical comment but deserves its own discussion due to the importance of this overlooked (or sometimes overused) function. In brief, parentheses can explain an abbreviation that might be unclear to readers.

The most common approach is to use the full form of the word or words in the abbreviation first and immediately follow it with an abbreviated form that is placed in parentheses. Thereafter, use only the abbreviation, assuming your readers have seen and remembered what it means.

The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) made a surprising announcement early this morning. Six hours later, the BBC retracted the announcement.

Another approach is to start with the abbreviation and follow it with a parenthetical clarification. This option works satisfactorily when most, but not all, of your readers already know what the abbreviation means.

Paul said that he will BRB (be right back). He’d better BRB if he wants to ever text me again.

Grammar Tip

Many abbreviations are needlessly placed in parentheses. If you use the full term just once, there is little point in providing the abbreviation. Similarly, when all readers know what the abbreviation means, there is no reason for a parenthetical explanation, which could be seen as condescending. For instance, if your readers are British adults, they should know what BBC stands for, just as American readers understand the meaning of USA.

Function 4: Specialized Uses

Parentheses have a few other purposes, mostly relating to certain types of writing or situations. Below are three specialized uses:

1.   In writing that incorporates formal research, most documentation systems call for parenthetical citations to indicate the writer’s sources. Two of the most common systems requiring parentheses are the MLA (Modern Language Association) and the APA (American Psychological Association). In all these systems, any ending period goes outside the parentheses. Example: The governor spent $450,000 on advertisements in the last month of the election (Greene, 2018).

2.   To enhance readability or be emphatic, you can also place numbers or letters inside parentheses to separate related items, such as in a list. Keep the same grammatical structure after each parenthesis. Example: You need to provide (1) evidence that your trip dealt with company business, (2) receipts for all expenses for which you seek reimbursement, and (3) a written explanation covering why you took a three-day detour to Miami.

3.   Parentheses are also often used in technical writing, especially when dealing with mathematics, formal logic, chemistry, or computer sciences. Example: If (a AND b) OR (c AND d) then . . . .

Parentheses and Other Punctuation

No matter which function is involved, parentheses sometimes appear right next to other punctuation, most notably at the end of a sentence. The following guidelines apply to practically any function of parentheses:

•   For sentences ending with parentheses, the most common pattern by far involves a normal (declarative) sentence. It requires a period outside the closing parenthesis, usually with no end punctuation that appears immediately inside the closing parenthesis. Accordingly, none of the following three correct examples should have a period inside the parentheses.

One major change with this product concerns its UPC (Universal Product Code).

Rubber bands last longer when stored in a refrigerator (they can also be easier to find).

A landmark study supports this claim (Fries and Snart, 2001).

As seen below, a final period is required even if whatever is inside parentheses is a question or and exclamation. But in those rare situations, place a question mark (?) or an exclamation point (!) immediately inside the final parenthesis.

The only U.S. state having a name with just one syllable is Maine (is this an important fact really?).

The officer gave me a speeding ticket (I was only 10 miles over the limit!).

Grammar Tip

Pretend to lift out everything inside the parentheses. Would you place a question mark or an exclamation point at the end of what you removed? If so, use the same punctuation inside the parenthesis when you put the material back where it belongs. Otherwise, do not put any punctuation at all right before the closing parenthesis. You will still need punctuation of some sort after the parenthesis but this tip determines what punctuation, if any, goes immediately before the closing parenthesis.

•   If the entire sentence is a question or an exclamation, place a question mark or an exclamation point outside the final parenthesis, regardless of what is inside the parentheses. Again, there is no need for a period before the final parenthesis.

Can you attend the interrogation of Mr. Nygma this Friday (7:30 a.m. in room 111)?

On rare occasions, however, end punctuation is used twice. As seen in these two examples, place the question mark or the exclamation point inside the final parenthesis if that material by itself is a question or is exclaimed.

Did you know that the movie Blade Runner is based on a novel by Philip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)?

The officer gave me a speeding ticket (I was only 10 miles over the limit!).

Because the first sentence as a whole is a question, a second question mark is needed outside the parenthesis. The second sentence needs a period outside the final parenthesis, even though there is a nearby exclamation point for the parenthetical statement.

•   If the entire parenthetical comment is a complete sentence, putting the comment entirely outside the previous sentence is optional. In such cases, place appropriate punctuation inside the final parenthesis, not after it.

Fredric Baur invented the method for packaging Pringles. (When he died, his ashes were buried in a Pringles can.)

Steve left work early today. (Or was it yesterday?)

•   Do not put a comma immediately preceding any initial parenthesis. A comma might be needed after the second parenthesis, but it has nothing to do with using parenthesis.

When completing the required document (the Project Management Report), be sure to initial each page.

Shel Silverstein is known for his children’s books (such as The Giving Tree), but he also wrote the song “A Boy Named Sue,” made famous by country singer Johnny Cash.


In the United States, the word bracket by itself refers to a specific punctuation mark that always comes in pairs: [ ]. Outside the United States, these are sometimes referred to as square brackets. Except for specialized uses in technical fields (e.g., phonetics, mathematics, and computer programming), almost all brackets are limited to one basic purpose:

Brackets = setting off material that is inside a quotation—but not part of the actual quote

This general purpose leads to several more specific functions.

Function 1: Clarifying Quoted Material

First and foremost, brackets are used inside direct quotations in order to clarify wording that might otherwise be confusing, mainly because the quotation appears out of context. Clarifying a quoted pronoun is especially common, although other terms might also need a bracketed explanation.

In her e-mail to the chief engineer, Dr. Landers stated, “She [the assistant engineer] must request approval for additional supplies.”

The plaintiff said, “My new employer [Dunder Mifflin, Inc.] offered a higher salary and better working conditions.”

Brackets can also clarify by translating foreign terminology, but only within a direct quotation (in other situations, use parentheses).

Our Swahili friend wrote, “Although I hope we meet again, kwaheri [good-bye] for now.”

I replied with the traditional Klingon farewell, “Qapla’ [Success]!”

Function 2: Identifying Errors

Brackets can indicate that you as the writer realize that a direct quotation contains an error, usually a grammatical or spelling mistake. Appearing immediately after the error, the bracketed material either corrects the error or uses the term sic (usually italicized) to point out that the mistake is not the writer’s doing.

You wrote in your report that, “you had enuf [enough] of your supervisor’s attitude.”

You wrote in your report that “you had enuf [sic] of your supervisor’s attitude.”

While not the traditional approach, it is largely acceptable to use just the bracketed correction, omitting the original error.

You wrote in your report that “you had [enough] of your supervisor’s attitude.”

Grammar Trivia: A sic Mistake

When used inside brackets, sic means “as is, including the mistake.” It is an old Latin word and, contrary to what some people believe, is not an abbreviation that stands for something akin to “said in context” or “spelled incorrectly.”

Function 3: Indication of an Omission

Brackets used with ellipses (spaced periods) indicate the place where you left out part of a direct quotation for the purpose of being more concise. Some style guides indicate that brackets are not needed with ellipses, but brackets clearly indicate that you added ellipses and that they were not in the original:

In Lord of the Rings, J. R. R Tolkien wrote, “It was as if they stood at the window of some elven-tower, curtained with threaded jewels [ . . . ] kindled with an unconsuming fire.”

Function 4: Making Other Stylistic Changes

Brackets can indicate that you changed someone’s language to make part of the quote fit into your own syntax or style. The first sentence below uses lowercase (rather than the original capital letter) in those to make it fit the way the sentence integrates the quote. The second example replaces Johnson’s original he with us so that all pronouns in the sentence are plural (and not gender specific). Take great care not to use new wording that distorts the original meaning:

I agree with John F. Kennedy that “[t]hose who dare to fail miserably can achieve greatly.”

As Samuel Johnson would remind us, our true measure as a people rests in how we “treat someone who can do [us] no good.”

Grammar Tip

Reading through numerous brackets or parentheses in a document is like reading through venetian blinds. They interrupt the flow of reading, so use them sparingly and be as brief as possible with whatever goes inside them. If you are using brackets to get a quotation to fit into your sentence, consider rewording your sentence so that no brackets are needed at all.

In addition, brackets can indicate that original words were deleted entirely because they were offensive or incomprehensible.

According to the audio recording, the salesperson said, “Take your [expletive deleted] credit card and shop elsewhere!”

The customer walked away and said: “Fine, but I will talk to your supervisor before I go to [inaudible wording].”

Finally, if you use a special font (e.g., underlining, italics, boldface) to emphasize words, the conventional approach is to place [emphasis added] within the quotation.

As Martin Luther King wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere [emphasis added].”


Despite a surprising number of functions, the slash ( / ) is rarely used in formal writing, although it appears relatively often in programming languages, web addresses, chemistry notations, and even some social media messages. Technically, this punctuation mark is a forward slash, as opposed to the backslash ( \ ) that has no conventional use in formal writing. The term virgule and solidus refer to a forward slash, and at one time it was frequently called an oblique.

We use slash to refer specifically to a forward slash ( / ).

Grammar Trivia: Getting Medieval with Slashes

In medieval times, the slash was sometimes used in places where we now use a comma. Today’s slash has almost no connection to commas. An exception is a slash that indicates line breaks in poetry—a function that still retains a semblance of the “pause” quality of commas.

Almost all slashes in formal writing come down to one overarching purpose:

 A slash indicates a close connection between letters, numbers, words, or lines

Regardless of its specific use, a slash rarely has a space right before or after it. The exception deals with lines from a poem or song, as discussed below.

What’s the problem? The problem with the slash involves the first three of the five functions we describe below. Put briefly, readers might not know whether a slash is used to combine a pair of words stands for or, versus, or and.

Indeed, the most common function of a slash in nontechnical writing is to connect two words, but only in specific cases. Some instances allow either a hyphen or a slash, but not always. As seen in the following two sentences, hyphens and slashes can have different meanings:

Use your student-teacher discount. (A discount for someone who is both a student and a teacher.)

Use your student/teacher discount. (A discount for someone who is either a student or a teacher.)

Although context can clarify such matters, it is best to avoid a slash for combining words unless you are sure that it is used clearly and correctly. Even when the slash is technically correct, consider the alternatives, such as replacing the slash in the last example above with the coordinating conjunction or (as in student or teacher discount). When using a slash effectively, it will usually achieve one of the following purposes.

Function 1: To Mean Or

As noted, a slash can mean or—as in one or the other of something, but not both. This type of slash, even though it can almost always be replaced by or, is one of the most common uses:

Each person should complete his/her own report.

Your grading for this course will be pass/fail.

Every man/woman who served in the military will receive a discount.

We can begin the meeting only if/when the CEO arrives.

You can use this voucher for lunch and/or dinner.

The last sentence above might appear to refer to both words (and, or). However, and/or is still making a distinction between two options: using the voucher for both meals or using it for just one.

Grammar Tip

When combining two words, the slash meaning “or” is the most widely accepted function of a slash. Unlike some other slashes, this type can never be replaced by a hyphen because a hyphen will never mean or. Thus, if you can replace a slash with or, you almost certainly made a correct choice, even if some readers would rather you simply used or instead. The term and/or is a rare exception to replacing the slash with or.

Function 2: To Mean Versus

Some slashes take the “or” distinction between ideas further by indicating a conflict or competition. This function is effective only when the sentence and context make this meaning clear. In the following examples, the noun after each italicised term helps readers interpret the slash as versus. This slash cannot be replaced by or, and a hyphen would incorrectly indicate a collaborative, rather than competing, relationship between two ideas.

The liberal/conservative division in this state has intensified.

I am interested in the Cowboys/Eagles game this weekend.

The creationism/evolution debate is far from settled in many areas of the country.

A rural/urban rivalry arose once the government cut agricultural funding.

Function 3: To Mean And

For better and for worse, a slash is often used to replace the coordinating conjunction and. More specifically, think of this slash as emphasizing how something is “both X and Y”:

[image: Images]

Important: This use of a slash is the most precarious of all its functions. Some style guides discourage or prohibit a slash meaning and because people overuse it, especially when a hyphen is needed or preferred (see our previous discussion on hyphens with compound nouns and adjectives.)

Even so, an occasional slash can sometimes effectively mean “both X and Y,” much like certain hyphens. Compared to a hyphen, a slash creates a firmer boundary between X and Y so that the reader understands that X is not modifying Y. We suggest using this slash only when a hyphen might not convey the intended meaning, especially for readers unfamiliar with a given term or idea.

My cousin is interested in the MA/MFA program at a nearby university. (To readers unfamiliar with graduate programs, MA-MFA can suggest a progression from an MA to MFA—or perhaps a type of MFA.)

Paulo is our secretary/treasurer. (Readers unfamiliar with organizational titles might assume that the hyphenated form is a type of treasurer, rather than one person being both secretary and treasurer.)

We will study the legacy of the Reagan/Bush approach to economics (For many readers, Reagan-Bush can suggest a progression from one president to another, but the slash can refer to an approach formulated by both men and not necessarily just during their presidencies.)

In sum, use a slash to stand for and only when the hyphenated form might be confusing.

Function 4: To Indicate a Line Break

In contrast to the above three functions, some slashes do not involve meaning. They just show where a line break originally occurred in something you are quoting—such as lines from a poem, song lyrics, or any instance when the original line break is important. Normally, one sets off such lines by indenting all of them and providing line breaks exactly as they appear in the original work. The slash is used only when you directly quote two or more lines within your own sentence.

In a poem about the Cuban Missile Crisis, Margarita Engle describes what she did in school during “duck and cover” drills: “Hide under a desk. / Pretend that furniture is enough to protect us against perilous flames. / Radiation. Contamination. Toxic breath.”

The rock song “Sweet Child o’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses begins with a loving tribute to one band member’s girlfriend: “She’s got a smile it seems to me / Reminds me of childhood memories / Where everything / Was as fresh as the bright blue sky.”

Because this type of slash combines more than just two words, it is the only slash that can have a space before and after.

Function 5: To Abbreviate and Condense Numbers, Dates, and Ratios

Although usually considered informal at times, a slash can serve as shorthand for concepts involving numbers or ratios. Below are instances of the “abbreviating slash” (outside the United States, these conventions might differ, often calling for a hyphen instead):

To stand for per in a ratio: $15/hour wage, a speed of 65 miles/hour, gas mileage of 40 miles/gallon.

To abbreviate dates: 7/1/57, 8/12/2018, the events of 9/11. Spell out most dates in formal writing (9/11 is an exception), but slashes or hyphens are frequently used to provide dates on forms and applications.

To indicate a time span: the 2018/19 fiscal year, 1992/3 basketball season (this format is acceptable but not as common). The slash is limited to indicating two consecutive years, and the second year must be abbreviated to one or two numbers. A hyphen is often used to indicate a time span and is more flexible, because it can cover more than two years and the last year does not have to be abbreviated (2018-2019 is thus correct).

To express fractions in numeral form: ½ or ¼ (use hyphens if written out, as in one-half or one-fourth).


•   Dashes come in two forms: the em dash (—) and the en dash (–) which is shorter than the em dash but longer than a hyphen (-). The en dash is normally only the concern of publication specialists and can normally be replaced by a hyphen.

•   The em dash (—) is often considered informal but has several legitimate functions. All functions involve a dash being used to set off words from the rest of the sentence, but only in certain situations and sentence structures.

•   A hyphen (-) combines two or more language choices into one idea. A hyphen should be used only in certain circumstances, such as spelling out fractions (one-fifth) or indicating a range (2012-2019).

•   The most common use of parentheses is setting off “extra ideas” from the rest of a sentence. The words inside parentheses should not be grammatically essential to the rest of the sentence.

•   Brackets are primarily used to set off clarifying material that is placed inside a direct quotation but is not part of the original quote.

•   A slash ( / ) is used in special circumstances to indicate certain connections between letters, numbers, or words. One of the more common functions is to stand for “or” (he/she).


Please note that index links point to page beginnings from the print edition. Locations are approximate in e-readers, and you may need to page down one or more times after clicking a link to get to the indexed material.

Note: Bold page numbers indicate Glossary terms.


capitalized, 350

emoticons, 334, 335, 341, 344–345

grammar checkers and, 350

hyphens to attach prefixes to, 287, 298

parentheses to clarify, 287, 304–305

plural, apostrophes with, 255

slashes with numerical concepts, 289, 314–315

in textspeak, 334, 340–344

Abstract nouns, 6, 373

Action verbs, 6, 28–29, 373

active voice and, 91–93

complements of, 33–36, 37

linking verbs as, 32

Active voice, of verbs, 91–93, 373

Acts, capitalization of, 323

Adjective(s), 3, 8–12, 373–374. See also Adjective clause(s)

adverb clauses as modifiers of, 49, 50, 54–55

adverbs as modifiers of, 14–15

adverbs vs., 9–10

categories of, 233

commas with, 212, 232–235

comparative forms of, 11–12, 55


compound nouns vs., 301

hyphens to indicate relationships in, 298, 301–302

hyphens to join parts of, 287, 297, 299–300

as plural singulars, 39

converting this and that to, 161

coordinate, commas and, 232, 233, 234

defined, 232

descriptive, 11–12

as determiners, 10–11, 233

forms of, 11–12

hyphens to indicate relationships in, 298, 301–302

infinitive phrases as, 106

as noun modifiers, 8–10

as object complements, 35, 36

possessives as, 10, 17

as predicate adjectives, 8–9, 30, 32, 36, 37, 43, 50, 54–55, 108–109

prepositional phrases as, 39–41

proper, 302

substantive, 55

superlative forms of, 11–12

Adjective clause(s), 55–62, 374

commas with, 210–211, 221–225, 349–350

nonrestrictive, 60–62

as postnoun modifiers, 127–128

relative pronouns for, 55–62

restrictive, 60–62

third-person pronoun test for, 56–57

Adjective object complements, 37, 374

Adjective prepositional phrases, 39–41, 374

as postnoun modifiers, 127–128

subject-verb agreement errors and, 41

third-person pronoun test for, 40–41

Adverb(s), 3, 12–15, 374. See also Conjunctive adverbs

as adjective modifiers, 14–15

adjectives vs., 9–10

adverb clauses as modifiers of, 49, 50, 55

as adverb modifiers, 15, 50, 55

adverb prepositional phrases as modifiers of, 43–44

at beginning of sentence, 218, 226–227

comparative forms of, 55

infinitive phrases as, 106–109

misplaced adverb qualifiers, 199–200

movement test for, 13–14, 42–43, 69–70

prepositional phrases as, 42–44

question test for, 13

as sentence modifiers, 218

as squinting modifiers, 197, 198, 202–203

as verb modifiers, 12–14, 218

Adverb clause(s), 49, 50–55, 374

as adjective modifiers, 49, 50, 54–55

as adverb modifiers, 49, 50, 55

at beginning of sentence, 226–227

characteristics of, 226

commas with, 52–53, 211, 225–229

at end of sentence, 227–228

movement test for, 53–54, 65, 68–69

as verb modifiers, 49, 50, 51–54

Adverb clause movement test, 53–54

for conjunctive adverbs, 68–69

for noun clauses, 65

Adverb infinitive phrases, 106–109

modifying predicate adjectives, 108–109

modifying verbs, 107–108

Adverb movement test, 13–14, 42–43, 69–70

Adverb of place complements, 374

Adverb prepositional phrases, 42–44, 375

adverb movement test for, 42–43

to modify other adverbs, 43–44

to modify predicate adjectives, 43

as squinting modifiers, 202–203

Adverb quantifiers, 199, 375

Adverb question test, 13

Adverbials, 375

adverbial phrases, as dangling modifiers, 204–208

Age, adjectives for, 233

Agents, 375

Agreement, 375

pronoun-antecedent. See Pronoun antecedents

subject-verb. See Subject-verb agreement


with coordinate adjectives, 235

pronoun replacement test for compound subjects joined with, 139–140

reflexive pronouns followed by, 165–166

slashes to stand for, 289, 313–314

Antecedents, 375

avoiding vague pronouns and, 157–159

nouns between pronoun and, 159–160

pronoun agreement with, 145–146, 170–177

reflexive pronouns and, 18–19, 163, 164–165

Apostrophes, 237–256

in contractions, 238, 246–250

in expressions of time, value, and measure, 238–239, 251–252

history of possessive, 240–241

to indicate subjects of gerund phrases, 239, 252–254

indicating possession, 237–238, 239–245

for numbers, 255

omitting in textspeak, 339

in plural abbreviations, 255

for plurals of letters, 239, 254–255

for uppercase letters, 255

Appositive(s), 229–232, 376

commas with, 211, 230, 231–232

confirming, 229

as introductory elements, 218

lists as, 286

Appositive phrases, 23, 24–27, 376

commas with, 24, 211, 230, 231–232

confirming, 229

essential vs. nonessential, 25–27

inverted appositives, 24–25

Are test, for plurals, 174

Articles, 376

as determiners, 10

the test for common nouns, 4–6

Bacon and eggs rule, for compound subjects, 138–140

Base form of a verb, 74–79, 376

Base-form predicate adjective, 54, 376

Base verb phrase complement, 376


apostrophes in contractions with forms of, 246

forms of, 31, 74–75, 140, 246

as linking verb, 31

in passive voice, 91–93

Because sentences, 116–118

Block quotations, 279

Brackets, 288–289, 308–310, 376

to clarify wording in quotes, 288, 308

to identify errors in quotes, 288, 308–309

to indicate deleted objectionable words, 289

to indicate omissions in quotations, 288, 309

to insert changes to fit style or structure, 288, 309–310

Can, as helping verb, 33

Capitalization, 317–326

of abbreviations, 350

of acts, treaties, laws, and government programs, 323

avoiding overuse in e-texts, 351

beginnings of sentences and, 325

after colons, 268, 325–326

and common nouns, 317–318

of cultural movements, 323

in direct quotations, 276–277, 325

of direct quotations inside paraphrases, 278

of events, 323

of names of groups of people, 320

of organization names, 322

of personal names, 317, 318–320

of place names, 317–318, 320–322

in poetry, 326

of proper nouns, 317–324

in textspeak, 338–339, 351

of things, 318, 322–324

of titles of persons, 318–320

of titles of works, 325

Cardinal numbers, 10, 377

Cases, 251–252, 377

Causative verbs, 189–191, 377


colons in bibliographies, 264

parenthetical, 305

Clauses, 48–70, 377

dependent. See Dependent clauses

adjective. See Adjective clause(s)

adverb. See Adverb clause(s)

noun. See Noun clauses

independent. See Independent clauses

lost subject test for, 131

subject-verb agreement errors in, 131

Colons, 257–258, 264–271, 377

avoiding problems with, 265–266

capitalization after, 268, 325–326

dashes to replace, 285–286, 293–294

functions, 264–265

to amplify previous words, 267

to indicate odds or ratios, 298

to set off direct quotations, 264, 276, 277

importance of using, 270–271

after independent clauses, 266

inside quotation marks, 281–282

lists and, 268–270, 285–286, 293–294

sentence fragments and, 270–271

with special formatting, 271

Color, adjectives for, 233

Comma(s), 209–235, 377

with adjective clauses, 210–211, 221–225, 349–350

with adjectives, 212, 232–235

with adverb clauses, 52–53, 211, 225–229

with appositives/appositive phrases, 24, 211, 230, 231–232

in comma splices, 114, 122–124, 349

compound sentences and, 209, 213–216

coordinate adjectives and, 232, 233, 234

coordinating conjunctions and, 209, 212–216, 219, 223

dashes in sentences with multiple, 286, 294–295


to avoid misreading, 220

to combine sentences, 213–216

to correct fragments, 118, 119

to correct fused sentences, 121

to prevent misreading, 220

to set off appositive phrases, 24, 211, 230, 231–232

to set off direct quotations, 276, 277

with introductory elements, 42–43, 209–210

with parentheses, 288, 307

parentheses vs., 302, 304

“punctuation butterflies,” 47

with quotation marks, 274, 280–281

with transitional terms, 262

Comma splices, 68, 114, 122–124, 377

avoiding, 122

correcting, 123–124

grammar checker for, 349

Commands/imperative sentences, 47, 74, 387

Common nouns, 377–378. See also Noun(s); Proper nouns

identifying, 4

proper nouns vs., 4, 317–318

the test for, 4–6

Comparative adjectives, 11–12, 55, 378

Comparative adverbs, 55

Comparative-form predicate adjective, 55

Complements, 378

object, 35–36, 37

of verbs, 27–36

action verbs, 33–36, 37

linking verbs, 29–32, 36, 37

transitive verbs, 33–36, 37

Complements of prepositions, 378

Complete predicate, 27, 378. See also Verb phrases

Complete subject, 23–24, 379

Complex items, semicolons for separating, 262–264

Complex sentences, 70–71, 262–264, 379

Compound, as term, 379

Compound adjectives

compound nouns vs., 301

hyphens to indicate relationships in, 298, 301–302

hyphens to join parts of, 287, 297, 299–300

as plural singulars, 39

Compound-complex sentences, 70–71, 379

Compound names, possessive form of, 243

Compound nouns

compound adjectives vs., 301

hyphens to create, 287, 298, 300–301

hyphens to indicate relationships in, 298, 301–302

Compound numbers, hyphens in, 287, 298

Compound prepositions, 39

Compound sentences, 70–71, 113, 379

commas and, 209, 213–216

pronouns in, 151–152, 165–166

semicolons and, 260

Compound subjects

agreement with, 126, 135–141

bacon and eggs rule, 138–140

each and every rule, 138

one and the same rule, 137

formation of, 135–137

Concluding elements

adverb clauses as, 227–228

dashes to set off, 293–294

punctuation. See Exclamation points; Period(s); Question marks

sentence-ending prepositions, 44

Conjunctions, 3, 20–22, 380

coordinating. See Coordinating conjunctions

correlative, 21–22, 136, 330–331

subordinating. See Subordinating conjunctions

Conjunctive adverbs, 257, 260–261, 380. See also Adverb(s)

adverb clause movement test for, 68–69

with adverb clauses that modify adjectives, 54

commas with, 262

deleting or moving, 261

flag words for, 68

as introductory elements, 218

for joining independent clauses, 67–70

list of common, 67

semicolons and, 260–261

subordinating conjunctions vs., 68–70


apostrophes in, 238, 246–250

in formal writing, 247–248

in textspeak, 339

Coordinate adjectives, 380

commas and, 232, 233, 234

placing and between, 235

switching, 234

Coordinating conjunctions, 20–22, 380

commas and, 209, 212–216, 219, 223

“FANBOYS” to remember, 21, 212–213


to correct comma splices, 124

to correct fused sentences, 121

to form compound subjects, 135–137

parallelism and, 327, 328–329

slashes vs., 311–312, 313–314

Correlative conjunctions, 21–22, 380

in forming compound subjects, 136

parallelism and, 330–331

Cultural movements, capitalization of, 323

Dangling modifiers, 197–198, 204–208, 349, 380–381

Dangling participles, 102–103

Dashes, 290–296, 381

em dash/long dash/true dash, 285, 290, 291, 292, 296

en dash/short dash, 285, 290, 291, 292–293, 296–297

functions, 285–286, 293–296

to emphasize ideas, 286, 295–296

to replace colons, 285–286, 293–294

to set off ideas, 285–286, 293–294

to set off phrases that contain multiple commas, 286, 294–295

to set off superfluous ideas, 295

hyphens vs., 287, 290, 291–292, 296–297

parentheses vs., 286, 294–295, 302, 304

spacing and, 292–293

word processors and, 291–293


hyphens for ranges, 287, 298

slashes to abbreviate, 289, 314–315

Declarative sentences, 46, 381

Defective verbs. See Modal verbs

Definite articles, 10, 381

Degree, of descriptive adjectives, 381

Demonstrative pronouns, 381

list of, 20

modifying adjectives vs., 20

Demonstratives, as determiners, 10

Dependent clauses, 48–67, 381

adjective, 49, 50, 55–62, 210–211, 221–225

adverb, 49, 50–55, 211, 225–229

flag words for, 49, 57, 62–67

noun, 49, 50, 62–67

Descriptive adjectives, 11–12, 382

combining, 12

comparative forms of, 11–12

superlative forms of, 11–12

Determiners, 382. See also Modifiers

adjectives as, 10–11, 233

subclasses of, 10–11

Digital communication, 333–353

abbreviations and emoticons, 335, 340–345

capitalization in, 338–339, 351

as misleading term, 334

online submission of résumés and job applications, 337–338

spelling checkers and grammar checkers, 334, 345–351

spelling in, 338–339

textspeak and, 334, 335, 336–345

guidelines for using, 341–342

in hardcopy writing, 339–340

two laws for, 333, 335, 337–338, 340

Direct address, 382

capitalization of personal titles in, 319

as introductory element, 218

Direct objects (DO), 34–35, 36, 37, 382

Direct quotations, 382

block format, 279

brackets with

to clarify wording in quoted material, 288, 308

to indicate deletion of objectionable words, 289

to indicate errors, 288, 308–309

to indicate omissions, 288, 309

to insert changes to fit style or sentence structure, 288, 309–310

capitalization and, 276–277, 278, 325

colons to set off, 264, 276, 277

commas to set off, 276, 277

quotation marks with, 274–279

tags with, 277

E-mail. See E-texts (electronic texts); Textspeak

E-texts (electronic texts)

avoiding textspeak, 334

capitalization in, 351

grammar and spelling checkers for, 334, 345–351

grammatical etiquette for. See Digital communication

overdoing and underdoing use of, 334, 351–353

punctuation in, 351, 352–353

Each and every rule, for compound subjects, 138

Economic events, capitalization of, 323

Eggcorns, 347–348, 367–371, 382–383

Electronic writing. See E-texts (electronic texts)


to indicate omissions from quotations, 288

sparing use in e-texts, 351–352

Em dash/long dash/true dash, 285, 290, 291, 292, 296, 383. See also Dashes

Emoji, 345

Emoticons, 334, 335, 341, 344–345


brackets with [emphasis added], 310

dashes and, 286, 295–296

parentheses and, 305

quotation marks and, 275

reflexive pronouns and, 163, 167–169

Emphatic dash, 286, 295–296

Emphatic pronouns, 163, 167–169, 383

En dash/short dash, 285, 290, 291, 292–293, 296–297, 383

-Er/-est patterns, 11–12, 55

Essential appositive/appositive phrases, 25–27, 383

Ethnic groups, capitalization of, 320

Events, capitalization of, 323

Exclamation points

avoiding overuse in e-texts, 351

with exclamatory sentences, 47

with imperative sentences, 47

parentheses with, 288, 306, 307

quotation marks with, 282–283

on road signs, 248

Exclamatory sentences, 47, 383

Existential sentences, 126, 132–135, 383–384

Fall/fell, 189–191

FANBOYS, 21, 212–213, 384

Faulty parallelism, 327–328, 384. See also Parallelism

Fell/fall, 189–191

Finite verbs, 384

First-person pronouns, 17–18, 384

Flag words, 384

for conjunctive adverbs, 68

for dependent clauses, 49, 57, 62–67

fragments and, 116–118

improper use of, 116–118

relative pronouns as, 49, 50

For/of paraphrase test, 252

For/to test for indirect objects, 35

Foreign words

capitalizing names of foreign origin, 318

in direct quotations, brackets to clarify, 308

Forms. See Verb forms


hyphens to spell out, 287, 298

slashes to indicate numeral form, 289, 315

Fragments, 113, 114–119, 384–385. See also Sentence(s)

avoiding, 115–116, 117, 270–271

correcting, 116–119

grammar checkers and, 348

“I realize” tip for identifying, 114–115

intentional, 118

sentences vs., 45–46, 113, 114–119

Fused participles, 99, 385

Fused sentences, 113–114, 119–122, 385. See also Sentence(s)

correcting, 120, 121

period test for, 120

Future perfect tense, 81, 87, 90, 91, 385

Future progressive, 88, 89, 90, 92, 385

Future tense, 73, 74, 75, 81, 90, 385

for irregular verbs, 7

in passive voice, 91

for regular verbs, 7

for simple tense verbs, 81, 83–84, 90, 91


pronoun agreement and, 171–172, 173, 175–176

in pronoun-antecedent agreement, 146

sexist pronouns, 146, 175–176


plural forms and, 63

present tense for, 82–83, 85, 181

Genitive case, 251–252

Gerund(s), 96–98, 252, 385

Gerund object of preposition, 97–98, 105

Gerund phrases, 90, 95, 96–99, 386

apostrophes for indicating subjects of, 239, 252–254

as compacted forms of complete sentences, 98–99

it test for, 97–98

as objects of prepositions, 97–98, 105

as objects of verbs, 96, 97

parallelism and, 327, 328–329

possessive pronoun test for subjects of, 253–254

subject of the gerund, 99, 239, 252–254

Government programs, capitalization of, 323

Grammar checkers, 334, 345–351

and cut/paste from e-texts, 350–351

eggcorns and, 347–348, 367–371

Have, apostrophes in contractions with, 246

He or him, 143–144, 147–149

Heads, of phrases, 23, 27, 386. See also Verb heads

Helping verbs, 386

contractions with not, 246–247

modals as, 80

in passive voice, 91–93, 349

permissive can, 33

will test for verbs, 7–8

will to indicate future action, 89

Her or she, 143–144, 147–149

Him and whom, 154–155

Him or he, 143–144, 147–149

Historical events, capitalization of, 323

Historical present, 182, 386

Homophones, 346–348, 355–361, 386

Hyphens, 296–302, 386

dashes vs., 287, 290, 291–292, 296–297

functions, 297–299

to attach prefixes or suffixes, 287, 298–299, 304

to create proper nouns and adjectives, 302

to divide words, 299

to indicate range of numbers or dates, 287, 298

to indicate relationships, 298, 301–302

to indicate word with distinct parts, 299

to join parts of compound adjectives, 287, 297, 299–300

to join parts of compound nouns, 287, 298, 300–301

to separate numbers in numeral form, 298

to spell out fractions or numbers, 287, 298

slashes vs., 289, 301, 311, 313–315

sparing use recommended, 287, 299

word processors and, 291–292, 300

I or me, 143–144, 147–149

Imperative sentences, 47, 74, 387

Indefinite articles, 10, 387

Indefinite pronouns, 19–20, 387. See also Pronoun(s)

agreement errors and, 170, 172–174, 175

lists of, 19, 20, 173, 174

modifying adjectives vs., 20

Independent clauses, 48–49, 67–70, 387

colons following, 266

conjunctive adverbs to join, 67–70

in fused sentences, 119–122

semicolons with, 68, 70, 258, 259–260

Indirect objects (IO), 34–35, 36, 37, 387

Indirect quotations (paraphrases), 275, 387

of/for paraphrase test, 252

quotation marks and, 274, 277–279

in of test for possessive nouns, 244

that with, 276

Infinitive form, 77, 387. See also Verbal(s)

split infinitives, 77

Infinitive object of preposition, 105

Infinitive phrases, 90, 95, 96, 103–109, 388

as adjectives, 106

as adverbs, 106–109

as dangling modifiers, 204, 207

it test for, used as nouns, 104–105

as nouns, 104–105, 106

as objects of prepositions, 105

parallelism and, 327, 328–329, 330

pronoun replacement test for, modifying nouns, 106

subject of the infinitive, 103–104

Intensifiers, 15, 388

Intensive pronouns, 163, 167–169, 388

Interjection(s), 3, 218, 388

Interrogative pronouns, 388

Interrogative sentences, 46, 388

Intransitive verbs, 388–389

transitive/intransitive verb pairs, 180, 189–195

transitive verbs vs., 33–34, 36

Introductory elements, 389

commas and, 42–43, 209–210

dashes to set off, 293–294

moving, 217

types of, 218

Inverted appositives, 24–25, 389

Irony, quotation marks to indicate, 274

Irregular past participles, 78–79

Irregular verbs, 7, 389–390

be, 31, 74–75, 140

past form for, 7, 76–77

past participle form for, 78–79

present form for, 7

with same form in different tenses, 94

as “strong” verbs, 109

Isocolon, 328

It, as pronoun, 160

It is test, 249–250

It test

for gerund phrases, 97–98

for infinitive phrases as nouns, 104–105

for noun clauses, 62–63

It’s and its, 238, 248–250

Job applications, 337–338

Laws, capitalization of, 323

Lay or lie, 180, 189, 193–194

Letters (correspondence)

colons after salutations, 264

job application, 337–338

Letters of the alphabet


apostrophes with plural, 239, 254–255

hyphens to join to words, 298

omitted, in contractions, 238, 246–250, 339

with parentheses in lists, 305

plural, apostrophes to indicate, 239, 254–255

Lie or lay, 180, 189, 193–194

Line breaks, slashes to indicate, 289, 314

Linguistic groups, capitalization of, 320

Linking verbs, 6, 28–33, 390

as action verbs, 32

complements of, 29–32, 36, 37

compound adjectives following, avoiding hyphens in, 300

types of, 31–32


colons with, 268–270, 285–286, 293–294

dashes to set off, 286, 293–294

parentheses with, 286, 305

semicolons in, 263–264

Lost subjects

subject-verb agreement and, 125, 126–132

test for, 128–131

Main clauses. See Independent clauses

Main verbs, 390

“The man who wasn’t there” principle of grammar, 204–205

May, as helping verb, 33

Me or I, 143–144, 147–149

Measures, apostrophes in expressions of, 238–239, 251–252

Misplaced modifiers, 197, 198–201, 390–391

adverb qualifiers, 199–200

prepositional phrases, 200–201

Mockery, quotation marks to indicate, 274

Modal verbs, 74, 80–81, 391

future tense and, 83–84

as helping verbs, 80

past tense and, 81, 84

present tense and, 84

and third-person singular, 81

Modifiers, 197–208. See also Determiners

of adjectives, 14–15, 50, 54–55. See also Adverb(s)

adverb clauses as, 49, 50–55. See also Adverb clause(s)

of adverbs, 15, 50, 55. See also Adverb(s)

dangling, 197–198, 204–208, 349

misplaced, 197, 198–201

of nouns, 8–10. See also Adjective(s)

parallelism and, 331–332

prepositional phrases as, 39–44. See also Prepositional phrases

squinting, 197, 198, 202–203

of verbs, 12–14, 50, 51–54. See also Adverb(s)

Modifying adjectives

demonstrative pronouns vs., 20

indefinite pronouns vs., 20

pair test for, 8–10

More/most patterns, 11–12, 55

Movement test

for adverb clauses, 53–54, 65, 68–69

for adverb prepositional phrases, 42–43

for adverbs, 13–14, 42–43, 69–70

for noun clauses, 65

Nearest-noun agreement error, 127, 391

Nonessential appositive/appositive phrases, 25–27, 391

Nonrestrictive adjective clauses, 60–62, 392

Nonrestrictive participial phrases, 102, 392

Not, apostrophes in contractions with, 246–247

Noun(s), 3, 4–6, 392

as antecedents of pronouns, 158–159

as antecedents of reflexive pronouns, 18–19

appositives. See Appositive(s)

common. See Common nouns

dashes to set of lists of, 286

inferred, 55

infinitive phrases as, 104–105, 106

nearest-noun agreement error, 127

as object complements, 35, 36

possessive, 244

between pronoun and antecedent, 159–160

proper. See Proper nouns

as verbs, pronunciation of, 105

Noun clauses, 49, 50, 62–67, 392

it test for, 62–63

that type, 63, 64–65

third-person pronoun test for, 62–63, 64–65

wh- type, 63, 65–67

Noun modifiers, adjectives as, 8–10

Noun phrase object complement, 393

Noun phrases, 23–24, 30, 392–393. See also Gerund phrases

as complements of transitive verbs, 34–35, 37

noun clauses as, 62–67

parallelism and, 331–332

prepositional phrases as modifiers of, 40

as pronouns, 25

Number, 393. See also Plural forms; Singular forms

are test for plurals, 174

pronoun agreement and, 171–172, 173–174, 175–176


apostrophes for, 255

cardinal, 10

hyphens with

to attach prefixes to, 287, 298

for ranges, 287, 298

to separate numbers in numeral form, 298

to spell out numerals, 287, 298

ordinal, 10

with parentheses in lists, 305

slashes to abbreviate, 289, 314–315

Number words, as determiners, 10

Object(s), 34–36, 393

direct, 34–35, 36, 37

indirect, 34–35, 36, 37

Object case, 251

Object complements, 35–36, 37, 393–394

Object form, of personal pronouns, 147, 148–149, 150, 248–250

Object of the preposition, 38, 62, 64

gerund phrase as, 97–98, 105

infinitive phrase as, 105

Object of the verb

gerund phrases as, 96, 97

infinitive phrases as nouns, 104–105

Of/for paraphrase test, 252

Of test, for possessive nouns, 244


ellipses to indicate, 288

of letters, in contractions, 238, 246–250, 339

in quotations, brackets to indicate, 288, 309

One and the same rule, for compound subjects, 137

Ongoing states

present perfect tense for, 81, 85–86

present tense for, 85

Online communication. See Digital communication; E-texts (electronic texts); Textspeak

Or, slashes to stand for, 289, 312

Ordinal numbers, 10, 394

Organization names, capitalization of, 322

Origin/location, adjectives for, 233

“Oxford comma,” 223

Pair test, to modify adjectives, 8–10, 14–15

Parallelism, 327–332, 394

coordinating conjunctions and, 327, 328–329

correlative conjunctions and, 330–331

faulty, 327–328

gerund phrases and, 327, 328–329

infinitive phrases and, 327, 328–329, 330

noun phrases and, 331–332

predicate adjectives and, 330

predicate nominatives and, 330

prepositional phrases and, 331

verb phrases and, 327, 328–329

Parallelism stacks, 328–332

Paraphrases. See Indirect quotations (paraphrases)

Parentheses, 302–307, 394

capitalization of direct quotations in, 278

commas vs., 302, 304

dashes vs., 286, 294–295, 302, 304

functions, 287–288, 302–305

to avoid awkward sentence structure, 287, 303–304

to clarify abbreviations, 287, 304–305

to provide extra ideas, 287, 302–303

to set off lists, 286, 305

specialized uses, 305

with other punctuation marks, 288, 306–307

commas, 288, 307

exclamation points, 288, 306, 307

periods, 288, 306, 307

question marks, 288, 306, 307

Parenthetical citations, 305

Parenthetical comments, 287, 295, 302–305, 307

Participial phrases, 95–96, 99–103, 394

as dangling modifiers, 204–208

nonrestrictive, 102

as postnoun modifiers, 127–128

pronoun replacement test for, 101

restrictive, 102

Participles, 99–103, 394. See also Verbal(s)

dangling, 102–103

fused, 99

past, 78–79, 99–101

irregular, 78–79

with passive voice, 91–93

with perfect tenses, 81, 84–87

regular, 78

present, 78, 99–101

Parts of speech, 3–22, 394

adjectives, 3, 8–12. See also Adjective(s)

adverbs, 3, 12–15. See also Adverb(s)

conjunctions, 3, 20–22. See also Conjunctions

function in determining, 11

list of, 3

nouns, 3, 4–6. See also Noun(s)

prepositions, 3, 22. See also Preposition(s)

pronouns, 3, 15–20. See also Pronoun(s)

verbs, 3, 6–8. See also Verb(s)

Passive voice, of verbs, 91–93, 349, 395

Past form, 76–77, 395

Past participial phrases, 100–102, 395

Past participles, 78–79, 99–10, 395

irregular, 78–79

with passive voice, 91–93

with perfect tenses, 81, 84–87

regular, 78

Past perfect tense, 81, 86–87, 90, 91, 395

for past-time events, 179–180, 184, 187–188

Past progressive, 88–89, 90, 92, 395–396

Past tense, 396

historical present and, 182

for irregular verbs, 7, 76–77

modal verbs, 81, 84

in passive voice, 91

for past-time events, 179–180, 184, 185

for regular verbs, 7, 76–77

for simple tense verbs, 81, 83, 91

tense shifting between present and past, 179, 180–184

time and, 182

Past-time events, choosing tense for, 179–180, 184–189

Perfect tenses, 81, 84–87, 90, 91, 396

future, 81, 87, 90, 91

past. See Past perfect tense

present. See Present perfect tense


in correcting comma splices, 123–124

in correcting fragments, 119

in correcting fused sentences, 120, 121

with declarative sentences, 46

with imperative sentences, 47

with independent clauses, 68, 70

with parentheses, 288, 306, 307

with quotation marks, 274, 280–281

semicolons vs., 259

in textspeak, 339

Personal pronouns, 15–19, 396–397

choosing correct form of, 143–144, 146–156

first-person pronouns, 17–18

list of, 143

object form of, 147, 148–149, 150, 248–250

possessive form of, 147, 248–250