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Grammar Review and Cheat Sheet

Sometimes it’s necessary to simplify. And I believe that time is now. In response to multiple requests from my students, young and old, who live in perpetual fear and fascination of the English language (and for good reason – this sh%t is scary), I present you with a rough but effective cheat sheet with more lessons, examples and good natured stories to follow and expand upon the points made below.

Enjoy your language!

  1. What do we mean by “use proper grammar”?
  • Complete Sentences – Sentences that express a complete idea.
  • Punctuation – marks that allow your reader to know how to read your words
  • Clarity – is your message clear? Effective?
  1. Why is this important?

Stop for just a moment and reflect upon the way that you communicate to others. When you speak to them, you’re using much more than mere words to convey just what you mean. You use the tone in your voice. You pause from time to time to take a breath or begin a new idea. You move your hands, smile, frown. You use your entire body in conjunction with your words to let your listener know not only what you are saying but what you mean by it.

In writing, we don’t have the ability to see the author’s body language, to hear the tone in their voice, or witness their facial expressions. The only thing we have is grammar and punctuation to let us know what mean by what you say. Because of this, it’s impossible to maintain clarity if you write the way that you speak. When you speak, we have these cues to guide us. Without those visual and verbal cues, your spoken words don’t make as much sense on the page. This is where grammar comes in. Grammar gives us rules and guidelines that enable us to better understand how to translate what we say onto the page in a way that is clear and effective.

And that’s why paying attention to how you are writing is equally as important as what you are writing. Below are a series of tips and tricks to help you recognize and reflect upon complete sentences, punctuation, and the elusive search for clarity. Use this as a guide but please, know that this will never quite satisfy or explain this topic as effectively as a trip to the CTU writing lab.

Let’s begin!

  1. Sentences
  • Sentences contain several necessary parts and express a complete idea. Basically, the sentence gives us enough information to continue onto the next sentence with a clear idea of what is happening. Remember our discussion of questions? Well they also power and direct our sentences.

Ex. Adam runs.

  1. What – Nouns – these are considered things, a person, a place, etc. Adam is our noun.
  2. What – Verbs –these are actions, what something does. Runs is our verb – what Adam does.
  3. Conjunctions – and, but, so, nor, etc. these words join two ideas together. Adam runs and feels the wind in his hair.
  4. Where or How – Prepositions – words like about, to, for, on etc. that indicate where or how something is happening

Adam runs and feels the wind (where?) in his hair.

  1. What – Adjectives – these describe nouns, what something looks like, tastes like, feels like, etc.

Adam runs and feels the wind in his thinning gray hair.

  1. How – Adverbs – these describe verbs.

Adam runs quickly and feels the wind in his thinning gray hair.

  • A complete sentence will have, in short, two things:
  1. A subject (the thing or person who acts)
  2. An Action (what this subject does)

Ex. Adam runs.

  • Well, we have a subject and a verb (action). We know that Adam runs. But there are still questions, and responding to these questions makes our sentences a bit more complex and gives them more meaning. The next thing a sentence can contain is a preposition.
  1. What is a preoposition? A list of words that indicate “where” or “how.”

Ex. Adam runs (where?)

Adam runs to the store.

Adam runs down the street.

Adam runs for his team.

Adam runs to escape.

A complete list of possible prepositions can be found here:


About, above, across, after, against, along, among, around, at, before, behind, beside, between, by, during except, for, from, in, into, like, of, off, on, over, through, to, toward, under, until, up with, within, without..

  • Conjunctions

These are words that join sentences together. Why? Because they need one another to make sense! They create relationships, a sense of harmony. In our live chats, we discussed how short sentences create friction and suspense. Conjunctions bring two thought together to create greater depth, greater understanding, and of course, greater sense of what, who, where, why, when and how.

These words can join two complete ideas together or a complete idea with an incomplete one.

Ex. Adam runs and feels the wind in his hair.

We have a conjunction, AND, joining two thoughts together. Let’s see if they make sense apart.

Adam runs – though short this makes perfect sense.

Feels the wind in his hair – though more descriptive, we have a very serious question: who feels the wind in his hair?

To fix this, we can do two things. Make them two separate sentences or combine them.

1 Adam runs. Adam feels the wind in his hair.

2 Adam runs and feels the wind in his hair.

List of conjunctions:

And, but, for, nor, or, so, yet

After, although, as, because, before, if, since, unless, until,

When, whereas, while

Let’s play with these a bit…

Adam runs because he loves to feel the wind in his hair.

Because Adam loves to feel the wind in his hair, he runs.

While running, Adam feels the wind in his hair.

Adam runs until he feels the wind in his hair.

The possibilities are endless. But WAIT you say, where do commas come in to all of this? Well…Let’s discuss that right now…

  • Punctuation

You have only 5 marks to let your reader know what you mean, that is, how to read your sentences. Punctuation is a bit like musical notations. They let your reader know when to stop, when to slow, when to pause, when to breathe, when to connect, when to separate. So much power in such small things!

  1. Period .  This dot separates two complete ideas. They are separate. They have little to do with one another. The reader stops, breathes, and moves on.

I like to think of the period as separating two individuals. They had a fling in the past, but they’ve since moved on. Sure, there’s a bit of history there. They share parts of the same story. But they exist just fine on their own.

Adam runs. Adam feels the wind in his hair.

  1. Comma , This mark separates either two complete ideas, or marks a distinction between a list of several different objects. I like to think of the comma again, in terms of a relationship. The comma indicates unity and conjunction. These things are separate, yes, but in all truth they belong together. They might even just need each other to make sense! The highschool love birds.

Adams runs, and he feels the wind in his hair.

Because Adam runs, he feels the wind in his hair.

The comma also is used to bring together two phrases. In the example above I began with a conjunction, Because.  In the second chart, these words are listed. If you begin a sentence with one of these words, you must put a comma at the end, give your reader a breath, before they start on the main idea.

Ex. After Adam runs, he feels a combination of pain and joy.

The main idea is what Adam feels, but we still need this little phrase to make it all make sense. The comma says – WAIT – there is more to come.

  1. The semi-colon ; In terms of our relationship metaphor, this is the couple that just can’t seem to live without one another. The semi-colon separates two sentences. By all looks and appearances, they should be separated. They don’t like each other and don’t need one another to make sense. HOWEVER, they are still connected; there is still a relationship there. And by bringing them together, you tell your reader to WAIT, don’t leave that previous sentence behind, bring those ideas into this next sentence to make it all make sense. I love semi-colons. I am always happy to see them. Like a spring board, they launch us up and into the unknown.

Ex. Adam runs; he feels a combination of pain and joy.

There are perhaps 1 or 2 cased in your entire paper writing career (for this class!) that semi-colons are the perfect choice. Use them wisely!

  1. ? I don’t need to explore this one too much. ?
  2.  – the dash – interrupts. It marks a dramatic shift from one thought to another.

Ex. Adam runs; he feels a combination of pain and joy. He turns – his smile drops and he crumples to the ground.

  • Lastly, Clarity!

–          How do I know that my sentences are clear and effective?

–          How do I know that I’m doing this, well, right?

It’s actually very, very simple!

  1. READ your sentences out loud. Ask yourself if you stumble over anything. If there are any words that don’t make sense. Pay attention. See if you add any words or leave any out. This says something.
  2. Give your paper to another person to read. Listen to them read it. Listen for the places where you have questions or where something isn’t as clear as you thought it was.

All right! In 5 pages we have summarized nearly 300 years of grammar evolution! I hope this helps!