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Introduction: Grammar? What Grammar? v 1 Together Forever: Subjects and Predicates 1 2 The Indispensables: Nouns and Verbs 6 3 Get Tense: Verb Tense, Principal Parts, and Irregular Verbs 16 4 Tall, Dark, and Wordsome: Adjectives 30 5 Inevitably, Adverbs 41 6 Among the Prepositions 52 7 You and I and the Personal Pronouns 65 8 You Did What? Verbs and Their Complements 81 9 All Together Now: Conjunctions, Compounds, and
Subordinate Clauses 91 10 Sentencing Guidelines: Building Sentences with Clauses 113
11 Relative Clauses, Which We Need 126 12 I Know That You Know What They Are: Nominal Clauses 140
13 They’re So Dependent: Distinguishing Dependent Clauses 147 14 What, More? Verbs and Voice, Infinitives, and
Passive Complements 158 15 They’re So Common: More on Nouns 168 16 Zowie! Interjections and the Eight Parts of Speech 179 17 Those Verbing Verbals: Gerunds and Participles 185 18 To Boldly Verb: Infinitives 197 19 What’s That? More Pronouns 212 20 Many Things (But no Cabbages or Kings) 221 21 Keeping Those Little Puncs in Line: A Brief Review
of Punctuation 233 Answer Key 251 Glossary 316
Index 338 Introduction
Grammar? What Grammar? When we speak or write, or listen or read, we create sentences
with words and phrases. Grammar is the system of rules that
guide us as we make and comprehend the sentences of others. All
languages have some kind of grammar.
When we use the word grammar in the sense discussed here,
that “system of rules” does not necessarily include rules like “Never
end a sentence with a preposition,” or “Don’t dangle your participle
around here, bub.” That kind of rule may often be helpful, but it’s
not what this book is generally about.
So what rules are we talking about here? To begin with an
example, we might say this:
On Tuesday, Devlin caught Alicia in the wine cellar.
Or I could say this:
On Tuesday, Alicia caught Devlin in the wine cellar.
(On Tuesday, Alicia and Devlin had more fun than I’ve had all
But the point is this: Those two sentences contain exactly the
same words. The only difference is the placement of Devlin and vi | Brehe’s Grammar Anatomy Alicia, and that difference alters the meaning of the sentence
Sometimes we can move words around without changing the
meaning at all:
Alicia and Devlin are characters in Hitchcock’s film Notorious.
Devlin and Alicia are characters in Hitchcock’s film Notorious.
If we put some words in a certain order, it makes one meaning,
and we change the meaning when we rearrange certain words.
Other changes don’t alter the meaning at all. Those are some of
the things we mean by the rules of grammar: Certain word orders
and changes are meaningful in certain ways and others aren’t.
Here’s another example. Suppose we alter the sentence this way:
Tuesday on caught cellar Alicia Devlin wine the in.
(If you talk like that, you’re spending too much time in the
In this example, we’ve used the same words but arranged them
haphazardly, and with that order, the words make no meaning at
all. That’s what happens when you break too many grammar rules.
There are still other kinds of rules:
He caught her in the wine cellar.
She caught him in the wine cellar.
(Just where is this wine cellar and how do I get there?)
We know, as speakers of English, that he and him both refer to
Devlin, and she and her refer to Alicia. So why do we have to use
different words? Why not use he and she in both sentences, and
forget about him and her?
We can’t, because the rules of English say so: We have to use
one form—one inflection—of he and she if they appear before Introduction: Grammar? What Grammar? | vii caught, and another inflection (him and her) if they appear after
If you’ve spoken English all your life, you already know that
rule, even if no one ever taught it to you. You learned it intuitively
when you were very young—that is, you learned it simply by listening to other English speakers—and now you seldom have to stop
and think about when to use he and when to use him.
But a speaker who is just learning English may have to study
and practice rules like that. At this point, we should stress that,
for beginning students of English as a second language, there
are definitely more helpful books than this one. For you, this book
may not be the best starting place.
Here we will assume that our reader has an intuitive understanding of many such rules of English. We’ll often refer to them,
because they’re helpful in learning about other matters of English
grammar. BUT WHY? WHY?
Understanding the basics of English grammar is helpful whenever we study language. When we’re learning to become better
writers, for instance, we have to discuss language, and that requires some knowledge of the terms and concepts of sentence
structure—that is, of grammar.
For example, we may discuss improving something we wrote
by rewriting a passive sentence as an active sentence. But discussing that improvement—and making it—means we need to recognize
a passive verb and know how to change it into an active verb,
and then make all the related changes in the sentence.
The terms and concepts you learn in English grammar apply to
other languages, too. Many of the grammatical concepts of English
apply to other European languages, and some apply to nonEuropean languages as well. That means that English speakers can
use grammatical terms and concepts they already know to help viii | Brehe’s Grammar Anatomy them learn a new language. For example, it’s easier for English
speakers to learn about direct and indirect objects in German
if they already understand these concepts in English.
Any time we want to learn about language or discuss it, basic
grammatical terms and concepts are likely to be useful. We
encounter those terms and concepts in dictionaries and other
reference works; we encounter them in books on linguistics and
So why study grammar? To become a better writer? To learn a
new language? To study linguistics? To become an English teacher?
To use a dictionary more effectively? If you want to do any of these
things, you’ll find a basic knowledge of grammar helpful. SENTENCING GUIDELINES
The simple declarative sentence is the usual basis of all
grammatical study. Other kinds of sentences are important, but
we begin with declaratives.
A declarative sentence doesn’t ask a question or give an order. It simply makes a statement, an assertion. All of the following
sentences are examples of declarative sentences:
Mr. Morton lives in our neighborhood.
Mr. Morton is a pest.
I like Mr. Morton.
High Street takes you out to the city park.
The old train station stands on Front Street, by the river.
In the chapters that follow, we’ll primarily focus on declarative
But what is a sentence? One common definition—one you
may have heard before—goes like this: Introduction: Grammar? What Grammar? | ix A sentence is a unit of language that contains a subject and a
predicate and expresses a complete idea.
Audiences of professional linguists, when presented with this
definition, hiss, boo, and throw vine-ripened tomatoes. (They’re
an unruly lot.) They raise plenty of objections about it too, especially concerning the vague notion of “a complete idea.” But we
often encounter this definition in introductory grammar courses
because it doesn’t require students to know many grammatical
terms or concepts. For the time being, we’ll settle for this familiar
definition. But hold your fire; we’ll return to the task of defining
the sentence later, after we’ve learned a bit more. (And we will
explain subjects and predicates in the first chapter.) WHAT KIND OF GRAMMAR?
There are various approaches to grammar. For example, you
may have heard of the approach called generative grammar (or
sometimes transformational-generative grammar), associated
with the linguist Noam Chomsky. That is an important and influential approach to language, but not one that we’ll discuss in this
course. You may encounter it, however, in books on linguistics,
where you’ll also encounter many of the terms discussed here.
The approach in this book is sometimes called traditional
grammar or classroom grammar because it is often used in
English and modern language classrooms, where it has long been
taught. (Grammar is always taught long and never short. Suck it
up.) WHAT YOU SHOULD DO OR WHAT YOU DO
DO? Approaches to grammar can also be classified as prescriptive
or descriptive. x | Brehe’s Grammar Anatomy Putting it simply, prescriptive grammar tells students how
they should speak and write to communicate in the standard
dialect of their language, the variety of English used by educated
Descriptive grammar describes the ways language is actually used, even by speakers of non-standard dialects. Descriptive
grammar seldom makes explicit judgments about what is right or
wrong in a sentence.
Like many approaches to grammar, the approach in the
following chapters is to some extent a combination of the
prescriptive and descriptive. This book describes the grammar
of Standard American English—the variety educated Americans
usually speak and write in professional situations—and so this
book implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) prescribes standard
uses over others. But much of what we’ll learn here applies to any
variety of English.
Every language has its own internal logic, however inconsistent
it may sometimes be. Learn a few premises, usually simple ones,
concerning things like word order, or number, case, and tense,
and you’ll understand something of the logic of a language, even
if you don’t yet know all the cases and tenses. You’ll see that many
features of English grammar are clearly and simply logical. And
some aren’t. (And some aren’t even trying.) HOW MUCH GRAMMAR?
This is an introductory book: It gives you the most basic, the
most frequently used terms and concepts of English grammar.
By comparison, A Comprehensive Grammar of the English
Language (by Quirk, Greenbaum, and others) is 1792 pages long.
The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (by Pullum,
Huddleston, and others) is 1860 pages long.
This book is nowhere near as complete, or as long. (You’re
welcome.) Introduction: Grammar? What Grammar? | xi But even a basic book like this one offers challenges. This book
contains roughly 200 grammatical terms, some that you may
have encountered before, and others that may be new to you. The
workings of English (or any other language) is a vast topic. Even
an introductory text, if it aims to give you a good start, will cover
a good deal of territory. That’s why it’s important to know about—
and use—the resources available in this book. USING THIS BOOK
One way to get a good grasp of what you learn here is to do the
exercises at the end of each chapter and check your work by looking
up the answers in the back of this book. If you make mistakes,
reexamine the exercises you missed until you understand your
mistake. Don’t write the answers in your text—that way, you can
return to the chapter and use the exercises again for review and
When you don’t remember what a particular term means,
you can always find out by using the index or by consulting the
glossary in the back of the book, which will also refer you to the
As we’ll remind you again and again, having a dictionary
handy is important when you’re studying English grammar (or
any language for that matter). Dictionaries can help you figure out
if a particular word is an adverb or a preposition or a conjunction,
or the right form of a verb or plural noun.
Good online dictionaries make looking up words fast and
easy, and they have the kinds of grammatical information you’ll
sometimes need. Here are some online dictionaries you could
• xii | Brehe’s Grammar Anatomy •
(the online American Heritage Dictionary)
The online Oxford English Dictionary, the massive historical
dictionary, is a wonderful resource, but it may overwhelm you with
the sheer quantity and range of its information. We’d recommend
that you do not refer to it as you begin to learn about grammar.
(But it’s still fun to browse through.)
And now we’ll find out more about those declarative sentences;
on to Chapter 1. 1 Together Forever
Subjects and Predicates We’ll begin with declarative sentences, sentences that make
a statement instead of asking questions or giving orders. All of the
examples you’ll see in the next several chapters are declarative
As we begin, it’s helpful to know that declarative sentences in
English usually follow this basic pattern:
Subject + Predicate
The subject comes first, and the predicate follows—usually. IT’S ALL ABOUT THE SUBJECT
The subject is the star, the prima donna, of the sentence. It’s
the part of the sentence that names who or what the sentence is
The predicate always tells us something about the subject.
Usually, the predicate tells us what the subject is doing (or has
done), or it describes the subject.
These very simple sentences follow the simple Subject +
Predicate pattern: 2 | Brehe’s Grammar Anatomy Subject Alice
Hammerstein + Predicate
composed. As these sentences illustrate, the subject and the predicate
can each be only one word, so it’s possible to write a complete
declarative sentence in just two words. (We cheated with The cat
smiled.) In longer sentences, which we’ll see shortly, identifying the
subjects and predicates of sentences becomes easy with practice. THE SIMPLE AND THE COMPLETE
Every simple declarative sentence that we’ve seen contains a
subject and a predicate, and the subject usually appears to the left
of the predicate, at the beginning of the sentence or near it.
In these cases, the complete subject and the complete
predicate are each just one word long. There’s one exception:
We can add more words to those subjects and predicates. We can
add modifiers, words that describe the subject and the predicate:
birds in the United States fly well. In this longer sentence, we call birds the simple subject and
fly the simple predicate.
We call Most birds in the United States the complete subject,
and we call fly well the complete predicate. That is, the simple
subject and all its modifiers make up the complete subject. And the Together Forever: Subjects and Predicates | 3 simple predicate with all its modifiers is the complete predicate.
So, in Birds fly, the simple subject and the complete subject are
identical, and so are the simple and complete predicates.
Here are more examples, with the simple subjects and
predicates in boldface:
A beautiful day like today
Mary’s cat comes too seldom.
ran away yesterday. As the examples above show, some modifiers appear immediately before the word they modify: A, beautiful, Mary’s, too. But
some modifiers can appear afterward, too: like today, seldom,
In the next examples, we begin with the sentence Irises grow.
In each example, the simple subject and predicate are in bold; the
complete predicate is underlined; and the rest of the sentence (the
part not underlined) is the complete subject:
In the spring irises grow.
grow well near the garage.
grow well in our garden. Here again, some modifiers of grow appear immediately before
or after the word they modify: well, near the garage, in our garden.
And some modifiers of the predicate can even appear at some
distance from grow: Sometimes, In the spring.
Here are some more pairs of sentences, with the simple subject
and the simple predicate in bold type and the complete predicate
Many birds in the U. S. fly south in the winter.
In the winter, many birds in the U. S. fly south.
Oscar Hammerstein composed rapidly in the winter of 1927.
In the winter of 1927, Oscar Hammerstein composed rapidly. 4 | Brehe’s Grammar Anatomy As you see in the second sentence of each pair, parts of the
complete predicate can appear before the subject. This is a
common sentence pattern, and we’ll have more to say about it in
later chapters. TRANSPOSED ORDER
In some sentences, it’s possible to put the entire predicate
before the subject; this is called transposed order (also known
as inverted order). In the following sentences, the simple subjects
and predicates are in bold type, and the complete predicate is
Into the quiet village roared the rain.
the steam locomotive. Use transposed order with restraint, or it can become just a
way of showing off with words.
In the next few chapters, we’ll learn more about subjects,
predicates, and modifiers. EXERCISES
Answers to these exercises are in the back of the book. After you
answer one set, check your answers before you go on—sometimes
the answers will help you with the next set.
1a. Write the definitions of the simple subject and the simple
1b. In the following sentences, identify the simple subject and the
simple predicate. To help you, the complete predicate is underlined. Together Forever: Subjects and Predicates | 5 1. Rain falls.
2. Edward knocked at the door.
3. In the morning, the family ate on the porch.
4. In the morning, pancakes seemed like a good idea.
5. Into the night, into the darkness, recklessly rode Rudolpho.
1c. You’ll get no help with these! Once again, identify the simple
subject and the simple predicate. Then identify the complete
subject and the complete predicate.
1. Wendell behaved politely.
2. Tonight that nice family ate on the porch again.
3. Backward ran sentences. [Modified from Wolcott Gibbs.]
4. In the spring, the calla lilies were in bloom again.
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