How Solid Is Your Grasp of English Grammar?

By: Torrance Grey
Image: YouTube

About This Quiz

This subject is so important that in some places, elementary school used to be called simply "grammar school." Do you know your pronouns from your prepositions? Find out now with our quiz!

What are nouns, verbs, adjectives, pronouns and the like called?

English has eight parts of speech: nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, articles, conjunctions and interjections. A "determiner," mentioned above, is another word for "article."

In the sentence "I came to drink and stayed to dance," what part of speech is "and"?

Conjunctions stand at the "intersections" of sentences, sometimes linking phrases or clauses, but sometimes cutting them off from each other. "Or," for example, means someone has to choose one or the other. (Sidebar: Nobody understands the importance of conjunctions better than computer programmers).

Is "bigly" grammatically incorrect?

A couple of things need to be said about this: First, it was likely then-candidate Trump was saying "big-league." Second, "bigly" really is an adverb, as confirmed by editors from Merriam-Webster and the Oxford English Dictionary. Just because something is rarely used doesn't make it wrong.

A change in a verb's form indicating past, present or future is called its _____.

Verb tenses are one of the first things an English student learns. It's the difference between "eat," "ate" and "will eat."

To change a verb's spelling to reflect the type and number of actors is called ______.

Verb conjugations in English are often as simple as adding an "s" or not. "I walk, you walk, he/she/it walks, they walk." This, oddly, is what can make learning English verbs so frustrating for foreign-language speakers: The changes are small but important.

What is wrong with the sentence, "Deer is a hazard to drivers on country roads"?

"Deer" is one of the rare words in English that is spelled the same whether singular or plural. The context makes clear whether the verb should be singular or plural.

Words like "to, from, up, over" and the like are _______.

Some of us were taught these words with "Preposition Mountain." You could go up the mountain, down the mountain, over the mountain, to the mountain ... et cetera.

In the sentence, "Gemma gave the keys to Charlie," what part of speech is "Charlie"?

"Keys" is the object, and "Charlie" is the indirect object. Gemma, of course, is the subject of the sentence: More than anything, it's about what Gemma did.

Is the word "the" a definite or indefinite article?

In other words, it definitely identifies a thing. "Bring me the book" says something different from "Bring me a book."

The sentence, "Courtesy is given great importance by the Japanese," is written in ______ voice.

Writing teachers often tell students to avoid the passive voice, as it is "weak." But putting "courtesy" first, as the subject of the sentence, draws attention to it. If you want to stress "courtesy" more than "the Japanese," then this construction is the right choice.

Which of the following words could be a present participle?

The present or active participle takes an "-ing" ending and refers to a action happening in the present. "She is running for mayor." It can also be used as a "progressive" participle: "She was running for mayor." In that sentence, it's clear that the action is in the past, but the use of "running" means the speaker is referring to a time in the past when it was ongoing.

"At a certain stage in my drinking I decided that karaoke -- oh yes! -- was a great idea." In this sentence, what is "oh yes"?

An interjection need not be flashily set off by dashes and an exclamation point. It can be drier, as in, "At that time, the newspaper was still selling ads for, ahem, 'adult services.' "

In the sentence "Running can be hard on the joints," what part of speech is "running"?

A present participle that functions as a noun is called a gerund. People use these frequently, though few remember the actual name for it.

When a verb form is changed to suggest that the action is hoped, feared, wished, etc, what is this called?

Often students don't really learn the subjunctive until they study a foreign language, because most foreign languages mark a verb as subjunctive more clearly than English does. English used to differentiate more clearly, too: We would say "If he be going to marry her ..." if that were only a possibility. Now, we say, "If he is going to marry her," and only the "if" cues you that "is" is subjunctive.

Which of the following are moods, like the subjunctive?

The indicative mood is the one we use most often; it simply tells facts. "Jane runs nearly every morning." The imperative is a request or demand: "Give me the gun, Bob!"

What is the subject of the short sentence, "Get out!"

Though short, this really is a sentence, with the implied subject "You" and the verb "get."

When a noun has units and can be counted, e.g. "birds," what is it called?

English speakers, however, have a tradition of turning non-count nouns into count nouns. We refer regularly to a business's "moneys" or a person's "loves."

True or false: Is it acceptable to begin a sentence with "And," "But," or "Or"?

To do otherwise would sometimes lead to choppy writing. "And" makes a smooth transition when one idea follows naturally follows another. "But" or the classier "However," makes a clear transition when you are about to bring up exceptions to a rule you've been talking about.

When is it all right to use two independent clauses without starting a new sentence?

It's perfectly acceptable to say, "He went to Grandma's house, or he went to cousin Jake's." A semicolon is for formal writing, when you want one idea to flow smoothly into another: "She had dozens of admirers; no one was immune to her charm."

Which of these is an example of an infinitive?

An infinitive is the verb's "stem," or how we refer to it when we're referring to it as a word. For example, "The verb 'to keep' comes to us from middle English."

Is it always wrong to split an infinitive?

It's acceptable to split an infinitive if the sentence still reads clearly. For example, "The army went on to entirely destroy the city."

In the progression, "good, better, best" what is "best"?

"Better" is the comparative in that progression, and "best" the superlative. This means it can't be improved any more. Though "superlative" sounds like praise, it also applies to words with negative meaning, like "worst."

A comma before the second-to-last item (" ... rice, tofu, and sake") in a list is called an ______ comma.

The Oxford or serial comma is a point of debate among grammarians. Proponents of leaving it out say it's unnecessary because of the conjunction ("and" or "or"). But leaving it out can lead to confusion. For example, in the sentences, "We invited the Claphams, Avery and Emma" we can't tell if the Claphams were invited in addition to Avery and Emma, or if those two people *are* the Claphams.

"Third person" means the the person in question is _______.

The phrase "Third person alert!" was coined to mock someone who talks about himself or herself in the third person. Celebrities are prone to doing this, maybe as a way of implying that there's a public, objectified them that the world sees and a private self that only friends and family know. (It's still pretentious).

Second person implies that the person in question is _______.

The word "you" implies that you (whether a person or a group) is being directly addressed. However, on rare occasions it's used in fiction as a subject: "You climb the stairs and open the door ..." on the idea that making the reader the story's subject creates immediacy and empathy. (It's still pretentious.)

Does an adverb always take the "-ly" ending?

"Quite" is one such adverb. A person has to be "quite smart" or "quite handsome" or similar. He can't just be "quite." Therefore, it's an adverb.

Can an adverb apply to another adverb?

If your mother told you "quite angrily" not to do that again, that's different from her telling you "somewhat angrily." That's why we need adverbs for other adverbs.

Can an adjective modify another adjective?

This happens all the time. Without it, you couldn't have a "red brick house" or a "pale yellow moon."

An uncomparable adjective cannot be ______.

This is another rule English speakers break a lot. We refer to things as being "fairly unique" when in fact, something's either one-of-a-kind or not. Or we'll say, "She's very pregnant." (She's either pregnant or not, but people use this to denote the stage of pregnancy).

"This is an historic occasion." How should this sentence be rewritten?

Sometimes words that start with "h" require "an," but only if the "h" is silent, as in "an honorable person." This keeps the vowel sounds from running together. If the "h" is pronounced, "a" is needed.

What is wrong with the following sentence? "It's really not our problem."

The point here is that inadequate information is not a grammar problem. For all we know, this sentence is part of a longer passage that contains the antecedent for "it," the antecedent for "our," and enough information to tell the reader whether "really" is justified. On a sentence level, those issues are -- wait for it! -- really not our problem.

What is wrong with the following sentence? "Marie who likes modest clothing was embarrassed by the costume."

It's clear from a reading of the sentence that the phrase about modest clothing needs to be set off somehow. You can tell this because the sentence would still work in the phrase was removed: "Marie was embarrassed by the dress." Dashes would work, but commas are more common.

Marie who likes quiet nights in is not the same as Marie who loves Mardi Gras.

The key here is that the sentence wouldn't work without these phrases: You'd be left with "Marie is not the same as Marie." (Very Zen, we know). More broadly, this points out the way that punctuation is there to reproduce the way a sentence would sound when spoken aloud. When you read it, you hear no pauses (commas) in your head.

Which of the following contains an appositive?

An appositive word or phrase is one that re-states or clarifies a noun. "Your dog is out in the street" works as a sentence, but "Your dog Claude is out in the street" provides more information. Contrary to what some grammar teachers might tell you, setting the name off with commas is not necessary if the sentence reads clearly without them.

"If a driver cuts you off in traffic, it is best not to confront them." How should the preceding sentence be rewritten?

The first choice, "he" or "him: was the traditional way to deal with the gender of an unknown or theoretical person. This gradually changed to the third option, which is wordier but acknowledged both options. Alternatively, someone might choose the second option -- to use "her" as readily as "him." Of course, all this leaves out the fact that increasingly, "they" and "them" is used for a person whose identity is known, but who is genderfluid or nonbinary.

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