Making Improvements to a Sentence at Word Level (Part 1)

Creating sentences that flow is no easy task, so we're going to take a look at how you make your sentences more cohesive by looking at the six main areas you can improve on:

Using Subject-Verb Agreement

You'll probably find that most people follow a uniform pattern in their speech and writing of subject-verb-agreement.  

For example, he writes, she laughs.  That is to say that we all have our own personal way of adding -s or -es on a verb when it's in the present tense.  If you're using your own particular system, other than that of the standard, you might want to start adjusting your writing style.

What are the Standard Rules?

Subject-verb-agreement becomes more of a problem when it's done in the present tense.  

Let's take a look at the standard rules.

1. Subjects and Verbs Must Agree in Number.

  • The cat meows when she is angry.
  • The cats meow when they are angry.

2. Words Between Subject and Verb

  • The hamster, who is chewing my dress, is usually very good.
  • The colours of the rainbow are beautiful. 

3. When Starting With "Here" or "There", the Subject is Always Placed After the Verb.

  • There is a problem with the electricity bill.
  • Here are the documents you requested. 

4. Identify the Subject Properly Before You Decide on the Verb Form Used

  • Where are the pieces of this glass?
  • Where is the key I left on my desk? 
 5.  Subjects Joined by "And" Require a Plural Verb Form

  • The cow and pig are jumping over the moon.
  • Harry and James are going to the movies.

 6. A Singular Verb is Used if the Two Subjects are Separated by "And", and Refer to the Same Person or Thing as a Whole

  • Kidney beans and rice is my dad's favourite meal.
  • Spaghetti and meatballs is a great meal.

7. If the Words Each, Every, and No Comes Before the Subject, the Verb is Singular

  • No smoking or drinking is allowed.
  • Every woman and man is required to check in.

8. Using Multiple Subjects When Connecting With Conjunction

  • Either Christine or Jane is to blame for this accident.
  • Not only cats but also dogs are available at the animal shelter.

9. When Using Singular or Plural Subjects Connected by Conjunction

  • Either the zebras or the tiger has escaped from the zoo.
  • Neither the zebra nor the tiger have escaped from the zoo.

10. When Units of Measure

  • Four pints of oil was required to get the car running.
  • Fifteen minutes is enough time to get there. 

11. When Using the Object of the Preposition

  • All of the pork is gone.
  • All of the pigs are gone.

12. When Using Infinite Pronouns

  • Everybody wants to be loved.
  • Few were left alive after the flood.

13.  Using Gerunds

  • Standing in the doorway was a bad idea.
  • Swimming in the sea and playing the French horn are my hobbies.

14.  Using Collective Nouns

  • The herd is stampeding
  • The flock is flying west.

15.  Titles of Books are Normally Treated as Singular Using a Singular Verb

  • The Ladykillers is a movie starring Tom Hanks.
  • Man of Steel is my favourite movie of all time.

Rules to the Exception

There are exceptions to the rule, one includes the word I and the other involves the word you.  When using the I and you as subjects they will always appear as base verbs.  

Here are some examples:

  • I want
  • I give
  • I talk
  • You want
  • You talk
  • You give

Despite the fact that I can be singular and you can sometimes be either plural or singular in meaning, each pronoun will agree with a base verb.

Using -Ed Endings

Knowing when to use a -d or -ed ending on the ends of regular verbs or adjectives made from them can be a little bit tricky.

You need a firm understanding of the use of regular and irregular verbs, and whether -d or -ed are required.

Example:

Base Verb

play

Past Tense

played

Past Participle

have played

Some words don't follow this nice smooth pattern, these verbs are irregular verbs.

Example: 

Base Verb

ride

Past Tense

rode

Past Participle

have ridden

If you're not already familiar with the term participle, this simply means a word that is formed from a verb is then used as an adjective or to form verb tense, and more likely ends with -ed, -d, -t, -en, or -n.

Here are examples of -d endings that have been added to the regular verb purchase:

I have purchased the car.

He has purchased the shopping mall.

She had purchased the licence only forty-five minutes before the wedding.

The tainted medicine was purchased in a pharmacy three miles from the victim's home.

Fifteen square acres in the middle of the city were purchased by an international corporation.

Three Hot Spots to Think About

Usually when a writer abandons the use of -d and -ed endings, they will drop them on past tense verbs, past participles, and adjectives that are formulated from verbs.  

Here are the three hot spots think about:

Yesterday the doctor prescribed an antibiotic medication for John. (past tense)

Another specialist has prescribed treatment for him on several occasions.  (past participle)

The prescribed capsules were very effective.  (adjective derived from a verb)

Most people would find (a) to be the easiest because the word yesterday is the clue for the past tense, which helps writer's remember to add -d to prescribe.

There are no clues as to context in (b) and (c) for the past tense.  The clue for adding -d comes in the helping verb has

Spelling Rules You Need to Remember

1. Verbs ending in y, change the y to an i before you add -ed.

Example:

  • try - tried
  • worry - worried

2. Words ending in a constant that are preceded by a short vowel, you would normally double the consonant before adding -ed.

Example:

  • trip - tripped
  • wrap - wrapped

List of the most popular irregular verbs

The list has been laid out so that each verb has a present, past, and past participle form.

Example: 

become, became, have become
begin, began, have begun
break, broke, have broken
bring, brought, have brought
buy, bought, have bought
build, built, have built
choose, chose, have chosen
come, came, have come
do, did, have done
drive, drove, have driven
eat, ate, have eaten
fall, fell, have fallen
feel, felt, have felt
fight, fought, have fought
find, found, have found
forget, forgot, have forgotten
forgive, forgave, have forgiven
get, got, have gotten
give, gave, have given
go, went, have gone
grow, grew, have grown
keep, kept, have kept
know, knew, have known
lead, led, have led
leave, left, have left
lose, lost, have lost
make, made, have made
meet, met, have met
pay, paid, have paid

When to Use a Verb-Tense Shift

Sometimes writers choose to write in a different tense, this is when a verb-tense shift occurs.  The tense refers to the preferred time frame for example; past, present, or future.  A verb-tense shift can be done when you're writing any sentences, or paragraphs.

Is it wrong to use a verb-tense shift?

Often verb tense-shifts within a paragraph or piece of writing can be really useful, and can help tell a story or bring across a message.

Example:

When I opened the door, Katie was standing there in the pouring rain.

Different things are being said by the verbs opened and standing.  The action of the door opening was over pretty quickly in the past.  Although the verb standing tells us that Katie was already standing at the door when it opened, but may not be standing there once the door opens.

With the verb tense shift in the sentence, what we have is important information about the exact actions and what happened in conjunction with one another, and whether or not those actions were in progress or if they were only done once and never again repeated.

There are different reasons for verb tense shifts; literary writer's may utilise them for different settings or characters points of view, or to identify between descriptive passages, or characters dialogue.  They may be used by academic writers to quote or paraphrase secondary sources corresponding to various style guides, such as the MLA and APA.

Verb tense shifts may be accidental in nature by the author, making it confusing to the reader.  If you don't need a verb-tense shift it's best that you don't use it, because it very often is interpreted as an error.

How to ascertain if you have a verb-tense shift

To identify a verb-tense shift you need to ascertain which verbs are being used the same as those being done by the recipient in the sentence.

Example:

When I opened the door, Katie just stands there in the pouring rain.

In the above example two verbs have been identified, these are acting on subjects and have tenses.  That is to say we can determine where on a timeline from past to present to future each of these actions happened.

Next we need to determine if the verb tenses in the sentence(s) are the same or different.  This can be done without knowing all of the grammatical tenses.  Decide if the tenses are different by determining whether the two actions happened at the same point in time or if they happened at different points on the timeline.

Example:

When I opened (past, over and done with)

Katie just stands (present, happening right now)

Each of these verbs at different points on the timeline of actions in the sentence, this is how you know that you have different tenses.  So this sentence does contain a verb-tense shift.

You now need to decide whether the verb-tense shift should be amended.

How to amend a verb-tense shift

If your sentence isn't communicating the right time shift, you need to revise your sentence, so that the verb tenses are consistent.

Example:

When I opened the door, Katie stands there in the pouring rain.

The above sentence needs revising because it confuses the reader as the door being opened takes place in the past, while Katie is standing there in the present.  Putting these two actions in such a manner this particular timeline makes no sense.

Amending the sentence properly

To amend this sentence properly you need to decide whether the verb tenses should take place in the past or present, this relies on what is required in your writing.

Amended example:

When I opened (past) the door, Katie just stood (past) there in the pouring rain.

When I opened (past) the door, Katie was standing (past) there in the pouring rain.

When I open (present) the door, Katie stands (present) there in the pouring rain.

When I open (present) the door, Katie is standing (present) there in the pouring rain.

In the above examples each amendment of verb tenses is either a version of the past or present tense.  Eliminating the verb-tense shift.

Using Apostrophes

Using apostrophes can be confusing, but there are two simple rules to follow when you want to use them:

1. They can be used to show possession.
2. They can be used to indicate that letters have been removed to form a contraction.

Possessives

Possessives need apostrophes, here's why:

1. Apostrophes are used to show someone owns or is a member of something.

Examples:

  • Clare's dance class
  • John's car
  • William's car

Names ending in "s" can vary depending on the preferred style being used.  Either way, it's still correct to add another "s" to create a possessive form, and it's also acceptable if you want to put an apostrophe at the end of singular nouns that end in "s" to make them possessive.

Which means you can demonstrate possession for Thomas in these two ways:

  • Thomas' room
  • Thomas's sports team 

2. Can be used at the end of a plural noun to show possession

Examples:

  • the parents' bedroom
  • the Williams' lives

In this case it's not neccessary to add another "s" at the end of a possessive plural noun.

3. Can be used if plural noun doesn't end in "s", you can add an apostrophe then "s" to create the possessive form

Examples:

  • the children's rooms
  • the bear's beds

Always remember a possessive noun requires an apostrophe and an "s" at the end.  If an "s" is already there just add an apostrophe.  If there's no "s", simply add both.  Apostrophe first, then the "s".

Joint Possessives

When two people have ownership of something, things can be a bit more tricky.  It's all down to ownership.

Joint Ownership

If the object is owned by both parties, you can add the possessive to the final one.

Examples:

  • James and Wendy's car (Both James and Wendy own the car).
  • Peter and June's trip (Both Peter and June are going together on a trip).
  • Christine and Dylan's open house (Christine and Dylan are having an open house).

Separate Ownership

Things change when separate versions of the same item are owned by both parties, then you make both owners possessive.

Examples:

  • Christine's and Dylan's open houses (two different open houses)
  • Peter's and June's trips (two separate trips)
  • Laura's and Steve's cottages (two different cottages

Rule for Contractions

When two words are combined to make a contraction, you always take away some letters, and in their place you put an apostrophe.

Examples:

  • they + have = they've ("ha" is removed)
  • are + not = aren't ("o" is removed)
  • they + will = they'll ("wi" is removed)

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Making Improvements to a Sentence at Word Level (Part 1)

 

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