Grammar, Usage, and Spelling FAQ

1. Should I use inside or inside of?

Inside is fine on its own because of is part of the meaning (Inside means the interior of something):

He hid inside the house because he was afraid of the neighbours’ aggressive cat.

2. Is it prohibit from or prohibit to?

Prohibit from is correct:

She was prohibited from visiting the zoo after she got into a fight with one of the monkeys.

3. Should I use forbid from or forbid to?

Although forbid works with either to or from in some cases, to is always correct, so it’s best to stick with to:

He forbid the children to say YOLO.

4. Is it toward or towards?

In North America, don’t add the final s (in Britain, it’s added). This rule also applies to backward, forward, upward, downward, onward, and other words of this nature

5. Is lighted or lit correct?

Both are fine as the past tense of the verb light.

6. Is all or all of correct?

Either can be used unless followed by a pronoun (her, them, etc.); use of with pronouns:

He drank all the beer that his roommates had bought, which made all of them very angry.

7. What about both or both of?

The same rule applies as above; don’t use of unless both is followed by a pronoun.

8. Is got or gotten correct?

In North America, use got to indicate possession and gotten to indicate that something has been acquired or obtained (as the past tense of get):

He’s got four pumpkins. (He has, in his possession, four pumpkins.)

He has gotten four pumpkins. (He has obtained four pumpkins from somewhere.)

In British English, gotten is not typically used (got is used to indicate both possession and acquisition).

9. Is the past tense of dive dived or dove?

Either is acceptable. However, some consider dove informal, so when in doubt, use dived.

10. Should I use less or fewer?

This depends on whether or not the item can be counted. You have less money but fewer dollar bills, less food but fewer bars of chocolate, less stress but fewer stressful days.

11. Should I use like or such as?

Like means that something is similar; you’re listing comparable things. Such as means that something is included within a group of things:

Boston’s Museum of Bad Art contains works such as “Lucy in the Sky with Flowers” and “Circus of Despair.” (These are among the works at the museum.)

John prefers ridiculous old shows like “Gilligan’s Island” to ridiculous new shows like “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.” (John likes old shows that are similar to or as ridiculous as “Gilligan’s Island”; however, “Gilligan’s Island” isn’t necessarily included in his list of preferred shows. It just represents the type of show that John prefers.)

14. Which is correct, though or although?

These are typically interchangeable, except when using phrases than include as or even (as though, even though) and when used to mean however or nevertheless:

Although/though Lurlene loved sousaphone players, she hated sousaphone music. (Either although or though works in this sentence.)

Lurlene loved sousaphone players, though she hated sousaphone music. (Because it is standing in for however,  only though works here.)

Lurlene hated sousaphone music even though she loved sousaphone players. (Though must be used here because it is preceded by even.)

Lurlene acted as though she loved sousaphone music just to spend time with sousaphone players. (Because as is used here, only though is acceptable.)

15. Which form is correct: comprises, is comprised of, is composed of, or consists of?

All of these mean the same thing. However, even though it’s not technically wrong, most grammar experts say that of shouldn’t be used with comprised, so it’s safer to avoid this lest you draw the wrath of the grammar police.

16. Should I use while or whereas?

While is most often used to indicate that things happen or are done simultaneously:

He juggles bananas while riding a unicycle.

However, it is also used to balance contrasting ideas within a single sentence in the same way as whereas:

He likes to juggle bananas, while/whereas she prefers to work with kumquats. (Both forms are correct in this sentence.)

17. A lot of verbs have two past-tense forms, one ending in ed and the other in t – which forms are correct?

With verbs such as burned or burnt, spilled or spilt, dreamed or dreamt, and spoiled or spoilt, both forms are correct, but those ending in ed are typically preferred. However, in some cases the t ending is more popular, as in leapt versus leaped and knelt versus kneeled.

18. What is the difference between each other and one another?

Some grammar experts say that there is no difference. Others say that each other should be used for two entities and one another for more than two:

Wanda and Megatron hated each other.

All of the members of the marching band hated one another.

If you use each other and one another interchangeably, you may incur the wrath of certain grammar experts, whereas following the rule of two versus many will keep you safe from raging grammarians, so sticking to this rule is the best strategy.

19. Should I use so or so that?

Use so on its own when it indicates a continuation of action or a response to something:

Will said that he was bringing the water balloons, so Mel decided to bring the squirt guns.

Use so that when explaining or indicating the purpose of something:

Will brought water balloons to the party so that he could throw them at girls he liked.

It’s fine to shorten so that to so, but keep in mind that the punctuation should be different from that used with so as a continuation or response. There is typically a comma before so when it is used on its own as a continuation or response, but not when it’s used as a shortened form of so that.

20. Should I use more than or over?

Most sources say that it’s fine to use these interchangeably, though a few insist that over is not acceptable. Personally, I opt for more than in most cases, except for those where over sounds better:

He was over 100 years old when he tried Marmite for the first time

I also alternate between more than and over to avoid repetition in sentences.

Jake had more than six years’ experience as a bog snorkeler and over six hundred snorkels in his collection.

21. Should I Add s, es, or ies to Make a Word Plural?

When the letter before the y is a consonant, in most cases you should change the y to ies.

    • baby becomes babies
    • body becomes bodies
    • flurry becomes flurries.

When a vowel precedes the y, just add s.

    • boy becomes boys
    • key becomes keys
    • bay becomes bays

Some words ending in o need es rather than just s to make their plurals:

    • buffalo becomes buffaloes
    • domino becomes dominoes
    • echo becomes echoes
    • embargo becomes embargoes
    • hero becomes heroes
    • mosquito becomes mosquitoes
    • potato becomes potatoes
    • tomato becomes tomatoes
    • torpedo becomes torpedoes
    • veto becomes vetoes

There are also words such as mango, halo, volcano, and flamingo that can be made plural with s or es.

If the word ends with ch, s, sh, x, or z, add es to make the plural.

    • match becomes matches
    • gas becomes gases
    • slash becomes slashes
    • mix becomes mixes
    • waltz becomes waltzes

However, if the ch at the end of a word sounds like a k, just add s.

    • stomach becomes stomachs
    • epoch becomes epochs
    • eunuch becomes eunuchs

In most cases, when a noun ends in a single f or fe, change the ending to ves.

    • half becomes halves
    • knife becomes knives
    • leaf becomes leaves
    • wolf becomes wolves

However, roof becomes roofs because the f is preceded by a double vowel and cliff becomes cliffs because it ends with a double f.

Exceptions

The rules above will enable you to create correct plurals for most words, but there are some exceptions.

For the following words, plurals take completely different forms:

    • child becomes children
    • foot becomes feet
    • goose becomes geese
    • man becomes men
    • mouse becomes mice
    • ox becomes oxen
    • person becomes people
    • tooth becomes teeth
    • woman becomes women

For others (usually animals), the word is the same in both singular and plural forms. For example:

    • The plural of deer is deer
    • The plural of bison is bison
    • The plural of swine is swine
    • The plural of moose is moose

There are also some plurals that take Latin or Greek forms:

    • Appendix becomes appendices (appendixes is also accepted)
    • Cactus becomes cacti (cactuses is also accepted)
    • Criterion becomes criteria
    • Focus becomes foci
    • Fungus becomes fungi
    • Index becomes indices (indexes is also accepted)
    • Nucleus becomes nuclei
    • Phenomenon becomes phenomena
    • Syllabus becomes syllabi
    • Thesis becomes theses

Collective Nouns

Collective nouns such as family, staff, jury, herd, team, dozen, crowd, flock, and heap represent more than one person or thing; however, you follow the same rules as those for singular nouns when pluralizing collective nouns:

Compound Nouns

With compound nouns, just make the first item plural:

    • Mothers-in-law
    • Secretaries general
    • Boards of directors

22. Should I use Me, I, or Myself?

Use me after a preposition:

from me, to me about me, near me, by me, like me, with me, between me and you, against me (or against you and me)

When used with prepositions, me is the object of the sentence, while someone or something else is or does something:

She sat near me. (She is the one who sat.)

He is not related to me. (He is a non-relative.)

Use I for statements in which I am the one who is or does something (the subject of the sentence):

I ran a marathon and then came home and ate an entire cheesecake

I am a marathon runner and a lover of cheesecake.

The money should be split between you and me is correct; contrary to popular belief, you and I is not correct in sentences of this type because it is the money that is being split so the money is the subject of the sentence; you and me are just the lucky sentence objects that receive the money.

The situation becomes more confusing when a pronoun is proceeded by than because the meaning can change depending on whether you use I or me:

Jane likes hamsters more than I. (She likes hamsters more than I do.)

Jane likes hamsters more than me. (Jane prefers to spend her time with hamsters rather than in my company.)

Only use myself (or themselves, itself, ourselves, yourselves) for emphasis and self-reference.

Self-reference: He loves himself.

Emphasis: He loves his TV more than life itself.

When using these forms for emphasis, they can be left out without changing the basic meaning of the sentence:

 He loves TV more than life. (This is a full sentence on its own.)

23. What is subject-verb agreement?

A subject (noun or pronoun) is the person, place, thing, or idea that is or does something in the sentence, while a verb represents the action or state of being:

In the sentence, Jane ate turnips with ketchup, Jane is the subject and ate is the verb. In the sentence, Jane was unhappy with her meal, Jane is the subject and was is the verb.

Verbs must be matched to their subjects so that a singular subject is paired with a singular verb and a plural subject is matched with a plural verb.

In simple sentences such as the following, it’s easy to determine whether the verb should be singular or plural:

The pie eating contest was fun. / The pie eating contests were fun.

However, when sentences are more complex, determining which verb form to use becomes more difficult:

The pie eating contest, which included several events, was fun. In this case was is still the appropriate form because the subject, contest is singular, even though extra information has been added between the subject and verb.

To determine which verb form is correct, identify the subject of the sentence (the person, place, thing, or idea that does something or is something):

    • Only one of the applicants was qualified.
    • Spain, along with many other countries in Europe, is a popular tourism destination.
    • Many types of music, including heavy metal, were played at the event.
    • Happiness, which is among the most desirable mental states, often comes later in life.

When using either/or and neither/nor with singular subjects, the verb will be singular as well:

    • Neither Jane nor John plays the didgeridoo.
    • Either Jane or John writes the offensive haikus on the bathroom wall.

When either/or and neither/nor subjects are plural, the verb is also plural:

    • Neither cats nor dogs were allowed in the museum of twine balls and squeaky things.
    • Either fries or potatoes are included with the pancake feast.

When one subject is plural and the other is singular, match the verb to the subject closest to it:

    • Neither the buffalo nor the kangaroos were willing to pull the sled.
    • Either the alligators or the porcupine was responsible for the damage to Mrs. Mulligan’s gazebo.

Pronouns such as each, someone, somebody, everyone, everybody, anyone, anybody, no one, nobody, and every should be paired with singular verbs:

    • Someone is eating the potpourri.
    • Everybody knows what happened to Micheal’s sugar cube collection.
    • Nobody goes there since Nina put a curse on the place.

Collective nouns (nouns that represent more than one person, animal, or thing) such as family, herd, crowd, fleet, and team usually take singular verbs:

    • My family is from a planet in a galaxy far away.
    • The team was responsible for several new initiatives, including Food Fight Fridays.
    • The crew is abandoning ship due to the presence of a large spider on the deck.
    • The committee was unable to function effectively with that angry skunk pacing around the meeting room.
    • The company works with a number of consultants to develop its terrible brands.
    • A herd of buffalo was stampeding through Wal-Mart.
    • The crowd was surging forward to catch a glimpse of the man juggling 16 Mr. Potato Heads.
    • The fleet was relocated to a different port because the original docking site had a sea monster problem.

However, when referring to members of a collective as individuals, plural verbs may be used:

    • The team has arrived. (The team has arrived as a group.)
    • The team have been given their assignments. (The individual team members have received their assignments.)
    • The jury reaches its verdict. (The jury as a whole has made its judgement.)
    • The jury take their seats. (Individual members of the jury each sit down in their assigned seats.)
    • Joe’s family is from Europe. (The origins of his family as a whole are European.)
    • Joe’s family are all taking separate vacations this year because they hate each other.  (Each member of Joe’s family will spend his or her vacation at a different destination due to their mutual animosity.)

Special Cases

A few collective nouns always take a plural verb:

    • People are protesting the failure of science to provide flying cars.
    • The cattle are restless because Farmer Joe keeps giving them coffee.
    • The police are working on the case, but the hamster thief remains at large.

If an adjective (a descriptive word) is used as a collective noun, always use a plural verb with it:

    • The rich get richer.
    • The homeless are throwing water balloons at the rich to protest tax evasion.

For dollars, use a singular verb when referring to particular amounts, but a plural verb with dollars in general:

    • Ten dollars is not a lot of money these days.
    • Canadian dollars are lower in value than American dollars.

There are a few words that refer to a single object but take plural verb because they comprise a pair of something (for example, tweezers, scissors, trousers, pants, pliers, tongs, and glasses):

    • His pants are on backwards and his glasses are upside down.
    • The scissors were dull after Marcus cut Leila out of all the wedding photos and replaced her with pictures of Lieutenant Uhura from Star Trek.

A note about none: As a subject, None can be singular or plural depending on whether the thing it refers to can be counted or is a portion of something:

None of the meals were eaten but None of the food was eaten.

See the main Grammar, Punctuation, and Writer Resources pages for more tips and resources.

References:

    • BBCLearning English. (n.d.). BBC.co.uk.
    • Fogarty, M. (2010). Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips.
    • Lawler, J. (n.d.).  “Gotten.”
    • Merriam-Webster Dictionary. (2013). Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. Merrriam-Webster.com.
    • O’Conner, P. T. (1996). Woe Is I, the Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English. New York, G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
    • Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. (2013). Oxford University Press. OALD8.OxfordLearnersDictionaries.com.
    • Paiz, J. M.; Berry, C.; &  Brizee, A.; OWL at Purdue. (2012). “Making Subjects and Verbs Agree.” The Writing Lab & the OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. Owl.English.Purdue.edu.
    • Regent University Writing Center. (n.d.). “So vs. So That.” Regent.edu.
    • University of Northern Iowa Department of Languages and Literature. (2012). “Frequently Asked Questions.” Dr.Grammar.org.

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