Grammar Did Not Give Birth to Your Mother



Question 1 – Grammar is:

A) the nice lady your mother calls Mum, who bakes tasty chocolate chip cookies;

B) your mother singing a telegram; or

C) the branch of linguistics that deals with syntax and morphology.

Ignore that your mouth is probably watering for a chocolate chip cookie or that you are having visions of your mother dancing around in a rabbit suit. Instead, stick around as we explore the correct answer: C.

Grammar is the study and use of the written and spoken word. If you are considering a career as a writer, you need to have a firm grasp on the straightforward and less-known rules of proper grammar.

Nouns & Adjectives

Question 2 – A noun is:

A) empty or without, as in noun-abrasive;

B) a woman devoted to her Catholic faith, living with other nouns; or

C) the part of the English language that denotes a person, place or thing.

Again, the answer is C. A noun is a person, place or thing like a parent, school or cartoon. A proper noun is a specific, identifiable person, place or thing like Mum, Ipswich Grammar School or Tom and Jerry.

Question 3 – An adjective is:

A) a goal, as in “His adjective is to become a doctor.”

B) the wood on the outside of a pencil; or

C) a word or phrase used to describe a noun.

If you answered C, you are correct. Adjectives do not have a singular and plural form, they should never end in a pluralised –s. Adjectives are rarely placed after the noun they describe.

You wouldn’t say “the orange juicy” but rather “the juicy orange.”  However, you may say “This orange is juicy.”

This may seem like ‘common sense writing rules’ so far but you would be surprised how often these grammar mistakes appear. You may have mastered the spoken English language but sometimes get caught up on the rules.

Verbs & Adverbs

Question 4 – A verb is:

A) a green twig used to flavor foods;

B) a man’s name; or

C) the part of the English language that describes an action.

A verb is the part of a sentence that describes what the noun did, does or will do; essentially an action.

Adverbs are similar to adjectives in that they modify verbs. Adverbs typically tell HOW something is done. Adverbs can also modify adjectives.

Tip – There is one specific adjective/adverb rule that is worth special attention, the “good or well” rule.

“Good” is an adjective and only describes nouns – “He is a good doctor.”

“Well” is an adverb and only describes verbs – “He plays well with others.”

Commas, Colons and Semicolons

This “,” is your comma. This “:” is your colon. This “;” is your comma on your colon, i.e. semicolon. Any questions? These three punctuation characters each have a distinct, specific use.

Comma overuse plagues many new writers. Cure thyself by following these common comma rules:

1.     Separate lists of three or more items with a comma. If your audience will be reading your work in a magazine, newspaper, newsletter or online, do not include a comma before the “and”, “or” or “nor.” For books, essays and other writing channels, writers should include a comma before the “and”, “or” or “nor.” Examples: Punctuation is crucial for writers, editors and publishers of magazines and websites. Grammar is important for writers, editors, and publishers of books and essays.

2.     Separate phrases, especially those that are dependant. Example: In order to receive tax benefits, you will need to show proof of residency.

3.     Establish that a direct quote is next. Example: Frankie said, “A man, a dog and a mouse walk into a bar.”

4.     Disconnect related but unnecessary descriptive phrases from a sentence. Example: Your son, the one with the bright red hair, just got off the school bus.

Colons aren’t just part of the digestive system, though they have been known to cause new writers a sour stomach. Colons introduce added detail to or explanation of the preceding idea or they can substitute a comma when introducing a direct quote.


She has a predictable morning routine: she hits snooze once, starts the coffee, lets the dog out then crawls back into bed for 10 minutes.

Frankie said: “A man, a dog and a mouse walk into a bar.”

Semicolons have much more limited use and are possibly the least utilised punctuation symbols. There are just two reasons to use a semicolon; to separate two independent phrases or to separate word groups separated by commas.


Fido enjoys playing fetch; any excuse to run around the yard. (The semicolon separates two independent phrases.)

You should plan to take classes in a foreign language, for quick job placement; business management, for a quicker climb up the corporate ladder; and macramé, for the fun of it. (The semicolon separates groups already separated by commas.)

Numbers or Words

When should you, a writer, spell out a number and when should you use figures? Here are the rules:

1.     When a number starts a sentence, it should always be spelled out.

2.     Spell out numbers one through nine, use figures for numbers 10 or more unless rule 5 applies.

3.     When a sentence contains both numbers above 10 and numbers 9 or below, use all figures. Example: I need 8 samples for each of the 48 lecture attendees.

4.     Fractions should always be spelled out and hyphenated if they are less than one. Mixed fractions should be expressed in figures unless they begin a sentence.
Example: The baker added one-half cup of butter to the mix. She slowly mixed in 4 1/2 cups of flour.

5.     Large numbers should be expressed as simply as possible.

Example: The winner will take home three million boxes of cereal.

6.     Decimals should be expressed as a figure. For decimal numbers less than one, begin with a zero unless the decimal begins with a zero. Example: During normal precipitation, a tree trunk will grow 0.1 inch in diameter per year. In drought conditions, a trunk may grow as little as .02 inches in diameter.

7.     Decades can be expressed as a number or spelled out in lowercase. Example: Prohibition lasted for a dozen or so years in the twenties and thirties. Specifically, the movement began in the early ’20s and ended in ’33.

8.     Spell out approximate times, use numerals to express exact times. Noon and midnight should be spelled out. Example: She was supposed to meet me at three thirty. I waited until 4:13 then went home. She called me at midnight to explain she was ill.

How did you score? All correct I hope. So, next time you hear someone say, “Err, grammar, isn’t she mum’s mum?” you’ll know just what reply to give.

Kristy Taylor is a syndicated freelance journalist with articles and short stories strewn across all forms of media. She has written and published numerous books, and is the executive editor of KT Publishing, which encompasses several web sites. For free listings of short story competitions visit

To contact Kristy, email her at

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