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Writing and Grammar Tips (beta)


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Category : Mechanics

A or An?

The basic rule for the two indefinite articles—“a” and “an”—is simple:

While “a” is used before words that start with consonants, “an” precedes words that begin with vowels (a, e, I, o, and u).

Examples for “a”:

A banana a day kept the monkey happy.

A dog squad always comes in handy for policemen.

It is a rainy day.

A snake slithered along the way.

I bought a new PC.

Ours is a happy family.

In the examples above, note that article “a” precedes words starting with a consonant. There is, however, an exception: If the word has an unsounded “h” as the first letter, then go with “an.”

Examples for “an” before an unsounded “h”:

Sergeant Wilson is an honest police officer.

It was indeed an honor to meet the mayor.

We may take at least an hour to reach Madison.

Examples for “an” preceding without an unsounded “h:”

Ours is a happy family.

A hat was kept on the table.

“An” goes with vowel words.

Examples for “an”:

An open theatre is better for children.

An ant is an intelligent being.

There is an exception to this theory.

Jonny has an egg and a glass of milk for breakfast.

An aunt of mine is visiting us now.

The “an” rule has two exceptions:  When “o” has a phonetic sound of “w”, and “u” has a phonetic sound of “y” (as in “you”), article “a” should be used.

Examples for “an” exceptions:

It was just a one-dollar deal.

“We insist on bonus,” a union member demanded.

The guest trashed a used towel.

Adjectives or Adverbs

Adjectives:

Adjectives are words that modify nouns, whereas adverbs, in general, modify verbs. Adjectives and adverbs offer additional meaning to nouns and verbs respectively. They can appear before or after words they modify.

  • Examples for sentences with adjectives:

Darryl is my favorite uncle.

That’s an old oak tree.

The hot summer is here!

I have two children.

Those were the glorious years of his life.

Identifying adjectives in a sentence is easy: if a question such as “What kind of,” “How many” or “which kind” before a noun offers answers in a sentence, then such words are known as adjectives. Take a relook at the above examples:

Darryl is my favorite uncle. (Which kind of uncle is Darryl?)

That’s an old oak tree. (What kind of an oak tree is that?)

The hot summer is here! (What kind of summers are here?)

I have two children. (How many children I have?)

Those were the glorious years of his life. (What kind of years in your life were they?)

Adverbs:

Adverbs are words that modify verbs. It can even modify adjectives and other adverbs.

In the case of adverbs modifying verbs, the adverb can be identified by dropping a question “how” to the verb.

  • Examples for adverbs that modify verbs:

Sharon sings well. (How does she sing?)

I did my exams badly. (How did I do my exams?)

The monkey danced happily. (How did the monkey dance?)

In the case of adverbs modifying adjectives, the adverb can be identified by dropping a question “how” to the adjective.

  • Examples for adverbs that modify adjectives:

My mom is really nice. (“Well” is an adjective. How nice my mom is?)

His nails were horribly dirty. (“Dirty” is an adjective. How dirty were his nails?)

They were dead tired. (“Tired” is an adjective. How tired were they?)

In the case of adverbs modifying adverbs, the adverb can be identified by dropping a question “how” to the verb.

  • Examples for adverbs modifying adverbs:

The train chugged painfully slowly. (How slowly did the train chug?)

Then she went happily praising him.  (How did she go praising him?)

The teacher spoke really well. (How well did the teacher speak?)

In certain cases, adverbs can even modify nouns and noun phrases. In such contexts, adverbs can also answer a “When,” “Where,” “Which,” “how,” and “Why” clause. Examples:

My duty tomorrow will be challenging. (Duty, when?)

The room upstairs is airy. (Room is airy, which one?)

We had quite a lovely time. (Lovely time it was. How lovely?)

Proofreading for Commas

Appropriate use of commas brings clarity to the copy you are proofreading, and to achieve that one has to follow certain basic rules of comma usage.

  • Items/persons or any other series of noun forms in a sentence must be separated with a comma.

Examples:

The teacher distributed drawing books, color pencils, some water colors and a paint brush.

He wrote a letter to my aunt, her brother, sister, and her mother.

Note that in the second example, a comma precedes the “and” in the sentence, highlighting the fact that separate letters were written to the aunt’s sister and her mother. Without the comma preceding the “and,” the sentence would have read as if a common letter was written to the aunt’s sister and her mother.

  • Two independent clauses can be linked with a comma to make a compound sentence.

Examples:

We had pleasant showers today, but it was better yesterday.

The sky is overcast, yet there is no rain.

Conjunctions such as “for,” “nor,” “yet,” “but,” “and,” etc that can link two independent clauses may be preceded with a comma. Also, a comma should be used before “etc.”

  • An “and” between two adjectives in a sentence can be replaced by a comma.

Examples:

That tall and muscular man is in his 50s.

That tall, muscular man is in his 50s.

  • Names and designations must include a comma between them.

Examples:

Prof Rao, MSc, M Phil, HOD (Botany)

Oh! Here you are, Prof. Rao!

  • Geographic distinctions as well as dates of month followed by year should have commas.

Examples:

Bangalore, Karnataka is known as “the Silicon Valley of India”.

I was born on May 6, 1977.

  • An Introductory word, phrase, dependent clause, adverbial clause, or a non-essential clause must be followed with a comma.

Examples:

Comma after an introductory word: Thanks, you’ve been very kind!

Comma after a phrase: I see, so when will you come home then?

Comma after a dependant clause: Since I am a teacher, I like to emphasize on the importance of good handwriting.

Comma after an adverbial clause: Standing at the doorstep, the little fellow smiled.

Comma in between a non-essential clause: I was, in any case, prepared for the verdict.