1. Introduction

If there is something you do from primary school till you superannuate from your jobs, it is essay writing. In school, you write essays for your examinations. Once employed, you will be writing essays in different forms; proposal writing; essays for your Masters and PHD courses; for a paper you are submitting to your superior and others.

Thus, essay writing is not just confined to schools and examinations. It is a lifelong process.

From the lens of examinations, essays are written for diverse questions, apart from specific questions on essay writing. Though, you are specifically asked to write one essay, all the other descriptive questions are also essays, thus requiring the skills of essay writing.

  • Types of Essays

There are different types of essays, which are explained below. It does not mean that different questions will fit into one form or the others. However, based on the questions, you should understand what kind of essay is required, for the answer.  

2.1 Compare and contrast

Compare and contrast essays are characterized by a basis for comparison, points of comparison, and analogies. It is grouped by the object (chunking) or by point (sequential).

The comparison highlights the similarities between two or more similar objects while contrasting highlights the differences between two or more objects.

When writing a compare/contrast essay, writers need to determine their purpose, consider their audience, consider the basis and points of comparison, consider their thesis statement, arrange and develop the comparison, and reach a conclusion. Compare and contrast is arranged emphatically. (This paragraph is explained fully in the coming pages.)

2.2 Descriptive

Descriptive writing is characterized by sensory details, which appeal to the physical senses, and details that appeal to a reader’s emotional, physical, or intellectual sensibilities. Determining the purpose, considering the audience, creating a dominant impression, using descriptive language, and organizing the description are the rhetorical choices to consider when using a description.

A description is usually arranged spatially but can also be chronological or emphatic. The focus of a description is the scene. Description uses tools such as denotative language, connotative language, figurative language, metaphor and simile to arrive at a dominant impression.

2.3 Dialectic

In the dialectic form of the essay, which is commonly used in philosophy, the writer makes a thesis and argument, then objects to their own argument (with a counterargument), but then counters the counterargument with a final and novel argument. This form benefits from presenting a broader perspective while countering a possible flaw that some may present. This type is sometimes called an ethics paper.

2.4 Exemplification

An exemplification essay is characterized by a generalization and relevant, representative, and believable examples including anecdotes. Writers need to consider their subject, determine their purpose, consider their audience, decide on specific examples, and arrange all the parts together when writing an exemplification essay.

….because refined food is irresistible and easy to eat, it masks how unhealthy it is, leaving people unaware of the poor food choices they’re making.

With reference to the above sentence from the passage, how does refined food mask the unhealthy quality of the food that is consumed?

2.5 History (thesis)

A history essay sometimes referred to as a thesis essay describes an argument or claim about one or more historical events and supports that claim with evidence, arguments, and references. The text makes it clear to the reader why the argument or claim is as such.

2.6 Narrative

A narrative uses tools such as flashbacks, flash-forwards, and transitions that often build to a climax. The focus of a narrative is the plot. When creating a narrative, authors must determine their purpose, consider their audience, establish their point of view, use dialogue, and organize the narrative. A narrative is usually arranged chronologically.

2.7 Argumentative

An argumentative essay is a critical piece of writing, aimed at presenting objective analysis of the subject matter, narrowed down to a single topic. The main idea of all the criticism is to provide an opinion either of positive or negative implication.

As such, a critical essay requires research and analysis, strong internal logic and sharp structure. Its structure normally builds around introduction with a topic’s relevance and a thesis statement, body paragraphs with arguments linking back to the main thesis, and conclusion. In addition, an argumentative essay may include a refutation section where conflicting ideas are acknowledged, described, and criticized. Each argument of argumentative essay should be supported with sufficient evidence, relevant to the point.

2.8 Economic

An economic essay can start with a thesis, or it can start with a theme. It can take a narrative course and a descriptive course. It can even become an argumentative essay if the author feels the need. After the introduction, the author has to do his/her best to expose the economic matter at hand, to analyze it, evaluate it, and draw a conclusion. If the essay takes more of a narrative form then the author has to expose each aspect of the economic puzzle in a way that makes it clear and understandable for the reader.

2.9  Reflective

A reflective essay is an analytical piece of writing in which the writer describes a real or imaginary scene, event, interaction, passing thought, memory, or form — adding a personal reflection on the meaning of the topic in the author’s life. Thus, the focus is not merely descriptive. The writer doesn’t just describe the situation, but revisits the scene with more detail and emotion to examine what went well, or reveal a need for additional learning — and may relate what transpired to the rest of the author’s life.

  • Logical structures of Essays

The logical progression and organizational structure of an essay can take many forms. Understanding how the movement of thought is managed through an essay has a profound impact on its overall cogency and ability to impress.

  1. Introduction

Moreover, we have been taught that every essay should have an introduction, body and conclusion. What should be included in the introduction?

The “hook”

A killer first sentence; you have to suck the reader in, and the best place to do that is the first sentence. It is called throwing the hook. First sentences should be punchy.

Thesis statement

First, however, there are two common misconceptions to dispel. Your thesis is  not an introduction. An introductory paragraph starts with a “hook,” which leads into the thesis. You do need an introduction as well as a thesis.

The thesis statement tells the reader what the essay will be about, and what point you, the author, will be making. You know what the essay will be about. That is your topic. Now you must look at your outline or diagram and decide what point you will be making. What do the main ideas and supporting ideas that you listed say about your topic?

  • Writing the essay

4.1dentify your reader (s)

The first sentence or two of your introduction should pull the reader in. You want anyone reading your essay to be fascinated, intrigued, or even outraged. You can’t do this if you don’t know who your likely readers are.If you’re writing a paper for a class, don’t automatically assume your instructor is your audience. If you write directly to your instructor, you’ll end up glossing over some information that is necessary to show that you properly understand the subject of your essay.

It can be helpful to reverse-engineer your audience based on the subject matter of your essay. For example, if you’re writing an essay about a women’s health issue for a women’s studies class, you might identify your audience as young women within the age range most affected by the issue.

However, while writing essays for examinations, your audience is the evaluator. 

4.2 Different ways to introduce/throw the hook

As stated earlier, in essay writing, coming up with a good introduction or first line is very important. But, this is also one of the most difficult parts. Even when you know everything about your paper’s topic, it’s hard to know how to create a “hook” that makes a reader want to read it. And how in the world do you end satisfactorily?

The fact is that many of us anguish over our intros and conclusions. The problem of introductions and conclusions is really one problem. They are linked, not only in anguish but in content; they are almost mirror images of each other. We will also look at conclusions.

You can make it easier by following one of the given methods.

Illustrate: Show instead of tell.

Challenge: Raise reader expectations.

Quote: Make use of the wordsmiths.

Compare/contrast: Evoke familiarity by comparing or create tension and expectation by contrasting.

Define: Define-or redefine in a unique way.

Make a provocative statement: Offer an amazing statistic or personal insight.

  1. Illustrate

An illustration can be as simple as a personal story or anecdote. It’s natural to think of a personal anecdote as an introduction to a personal narrative, but stories and anecdotes can be effective introductions to any kind of paper.

Let us look at one essay. 

His Majesty the Fifth Druk Gyalpo Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck has been serving as an open, positive and selfless leader – the one who is deeply devoted to the cause of people, for which he is known as the ‘People’s King’.

Discuss some unprecedented initiatives advocated by His Majesty the Fifth Druk Gyalpo to

aptly address him by the other title Kidui Pham of the Bhutanese people.

Beginning through illustration

This is the hook. Your audience will be interested.

Five years back, a 25-year-old man was breathing his last. Hit by a boulder, he had lost blood and his head injured. The man, sole bread earner of his family had five children. However, there was divine intervention, as His Majesty commanded that the person be taken to Bangkok for treatment. Today, he is leading a normal life.

As mentioned earlier, the introduction has no thesis statement. But the statement should be there in the introduction.  The thesis statement tells the reader what the essay will be about, and what point you, the author, will be making. As you pursue higher education and are asked to write an essay of your own, you will need to draft the thesis statement. But in your scenario, you are asked/given the topics. These become your thesis statement.

For instance, the above says: Discuss some unprecedented initiatives advocated by His Majesty the Fifth Druk Gyalpo to aptly address him by the other title Kidui Pham of the Bhutanese people.

You have the hook or introduction. The thesis statement should fit into it in a uniform way.  

Five years back, a 25-year-old man was breathing his last. Hit by a boulder, he had lost blood and his head injured. The man, sole bread earner of his family had five children. However, there was divine intervention, as His Majesty commanded that the person be taken to Bangkok for treatment. Today, he is leading a normal life. This is just one example about the many reforms that His Majesty advocated, which makes His Majesty the Bhutanese people’s Kidui Pham.

The highlighted one is the thesis statement. Observe how it has connected with the introduction. Moreover, by saying that “this is just one example….,” you are saying there are others. These points become the contents of the essay’s body. Thus, you will not need to think about points as you have put it in the thesis statement.


Introductions and conclusions are linked, not only in anguish but in content; they are almost mirror images of each other. Thus, if you are using an illustration, your conclusion should also be an illustration.

A person who had never even seen Bangkok on television or newspaper was immediately evacuated to Bangkok at Royal command.  Additionally, many examples of why His Majesty is rightfully Bhutan’s kidui pham have been highlighted. His Majesty’s actions are examples to world leaders and to us, too, about the need of leaders to serve.

As you see, an illustration is used to conclude and briefly mentioned the core points.     

  • Challenge

A challenge raises reader expectations and creates tension. A challenging opening statement is effective for a thesis that calls for changes to be made in public policies or personal actions, such as in persuasive essays and argument or analysis papers. Let us take this example.

Discuss three major constraints faced by media organizations in strengthening and deepening democracy in Bhutan. What do you think needs to be done to overcome those constraints?


Except for two, there is practically no media in Bhutan. ………….Challenge

Since 2007, Bhutanese private media has been struggling to survive. Though there are many challenges, there are three core areas, which have to be addressed through different means. –Thesis statement, as per question


Invisibility of hard copies of print media suggests that the Bhutanese media is either non-existent or dysfunctional.

As the introduction was a challenge, the conclusion is the same.

  • Make a provocative or startling statement

If the provocative statement is someone else’s, treat it as a quotation. If the provocative statement is statistical, make sure you cite the source. If you have a way with words or an insight of your own, by all means use that:

The pay rises of parliamentarians have been criticized by sections of the population. Discuss.

It is ridiculous and immoral to allow MPs to give themselves pay raises.Hook, a provocative statement

MPs raising their own salaries are not only conflict of interest, but also shows that our rules need to be modified.—Thesis Statement.  

Restricting the ability of MPs to vote themselves raises would go a long way to restoring morality and a sense of public service to public servants.

As you can see, introductions and conclusions are closely linked. Both are provocative.  Once you decide on a strategy, try simply over-writing the introduction (as one student we know regularly did) and then split off part of it to use as the conclusion.

When you begin to think of introductions and conclusions as two pieces of a single puzzle, you will probably find them much easier to write

  • Thesis statement

As mentioned earlier, thesis statement tells the reader what the essay will be about, and what point you, the author, will be making. You know what the essay will be about. That is your topic. Now you must look at your outline or diagram and decide what point you will be making. What do the main ideas and supporting ideas that you listed say about your topic?

Generally, it has two parts:

  1. The first one talks or tells the topic.
  2. The second part states the point of your essay

But as mentioned earlier, as you are asked to write an essay with specific instructions, it becomes the thesis statement.

Let us look at some examples.

What is plagiarism? Make sure to define it and explain what the consequences should be if a student is caught cheating.

Here the topic is plagiarism.

You have to say what the consequences should be.

The thesis statement could be:

Plagiarism, the art of directly duplicating the written works of other authors and owning it, is becoming a major problem in Bhutan. Till date, there has been no definite penalty imposed on students who plagiarize. However, consequences should be borne by students and this can be done by expelling students involved in this; generating awareness on plagiarism and others. 

As explained above, you have, in your thesis statement mentioned that consequences should be borne by students and this can be done by expelling students involved in this; generating awareness on plagiarism and others.

This gives you /writer to write on topics mentioned in the thesis statement, such as expelling students; awareness generation and others.

(Note: Thesis statement comes after the introduction)

  • Paragraphs

A paragraph is a cohesive bundle of specific ideas that are all clearly related to one general idea. That is, one paragraph is about one thing. Paragraphs are not particularly glamorous, but strong paragraphs are the backbones of strong essays and research papers. Conversely, as much as sentence-level errors, paragraph-level errors drag down the quality and clarity of writing.

Unity, coherence, order, and length are important aspects of a paragraph.

Important aspects

Be assertive and confident in your writing. Avoid including fluff such as “In this essay, I will attempt to show….” Instead, dive right in and make your claim, bold and proud.

Your outline should be specific, unique, and provable.

Unity & topic sentences

A paragraph has unity; that is, it makes one point about a single main idea. While the topic of a paragraph may be expressed in a word or phrase, the main idea must be expressed in a sentence. The sentence that states the main idea or central point is the topic sentence. The topic sentence is a sort of summary of the contents of a paragraph.

My family’s property in Khengthongmani was an active place, full of life. (Topic sentence) We had a small vivid farm where we grew all sorts of fruit trees and flowers and raised animals. Wild animals were frequent visitors. As a family we were all active taking care of our responsibilities. My dad loved taking care of the animals, especially when they were young. He liked being close to them, helping and feeding them.

Check to see if your own paragraphs have topic sentences; most paragraphs should. (Implied main ideas, or main ideas that are not found in any one sentence of a paragraph even though the paragraph does, in fact, have unity, are not for beginners.) The test is whether all or most of the other material in the paragraph supports the sentence intended to be the topic sentence. If your paragraph lacks a topic sentence, examine the details of your paragraph and construct a sentence to “cover” them.

Unity & major and minor supporting details

While you are examining your paragraphs, especially in an essay, you may discover sentences with details that do not belong, or sentences that are not grouped logically. You may only realize this when you find it difficult to construct a logical topic sentence broad enough to cover everything in that paragraph. When you find these out-of-place sentences, remove them. Never mind word count–more sentences will not help the paragraph if they are not clearly related to the topic sentence.

(In longer papers, remove unrelated sentences but save them; you may find that this deleted material fits better somewhere else in your paper.) In any paragraph, every sentence that is not the topic sentence should be a sentence containing either major or minor supporting details. Major support consists of the bigger ideas; minor support gives an example, illustration, or explanation.

Making sense: Coherence & transitions

Remember that it is not the reader’s job to make your writing make sense; it is your responsibility to make understanding effortless. Transitions are signals that help you do this. These words and phrases signal the exact relationship between one sentence and another, often in advance by their placement near the beginnings of sentences. The reader understands before he ever reaches the end of the sentence whether you intend to show, for example, contrast, illustration, additional points, or cause and effect. Transitions also clarify the purpose (inform? persuade? entertain? explain?) and order (space? time? importance?) of a paragraph.

Check the order of your paragraphs

Look at your paragraphs. Which one is the strongest? You might want to start with the strongest paragraph, end with the second strongest, and put the weakest in the middle. Whatever order you decide on, be sure it makes sense. If your paper is describing a process, you will probably need to stick to the order in which the steps must be completed.

Avoid clichés and generalizations

Generalizations and clichés, even if presented to contrast with your point, won’t help your essay. In most cases, they’ll actually hurt by making you look like an unoriginal or lazy writer. Broad, sweeping generalizations may ring false with some readers and alienate them from the start. For example, “everyone wants someone to love” would alienate someone who identified as a romantic or asexual.


  • Introduction – Maintain to 10% of total word count
  • Conclusion – Maintain to 10% of total word count
  • First lines very important.
  • Avoid redundancy.
  • Avoid digression.
  • Maintain continuity
  • Don’t say in conclusion etc
  • Each paragraph should have a new idea or a supporting one


 People feel that writing long essays are very difficult. Short write-ups, most believe are easy. IT IS WRONG. It is difficult to condense and write a 150 word summary than to write a 1,500 word essay. Thus, the art of summary writing is difficult, as you have to sum up in 150 words or so contents of a 2,000 word essay.

How do you do this?

Imagine you have attended a meeting. You return to your office. Your friends ask you what the meeting was about. And you tell them about the meeting. You will never be telling the entire detail, but the important ones. This is similar to summary writing. When you tell your roommates what you remember of a particularly good talk in class, you summarize. When you give a brief oral report on a current magazine article, you summarize.

Summarizing is about extracting main ideas, main points, and major support, and omitting the rest. When you summarize, you do not draw any original conclusions, but report facts as they are presented by the author, so that a reader unacquainted with the original gets from your summary the essential facts and point of view of the original selection.

The question is this: how much detail do you include, and what do you omit?

For example you have read a book or essay. It had twenty-eight chapters and covered a thirty-year span in the life of the main character on two continents. There was tragedy; there was triumph over tragedy. You have to write a summary in six to eight pages. You know where to start, all right, but you are at a loss where to go from there.

Start by doing the math. Here is the math for the example above:

  • 28 (chapters) ÷ 7 (pages) = 4 (chapters per page)

This tells you roughly how much to write about each chapter: a fourth of a page.

For shorter selections the math is different. In general, a good summary of a chapter, poem, or passage might be about a third to a fourth as long as the original; your instructor will probably suggest a length.

(However, in your questions, you will be given a certain number of words. If not, use the above).

The main idea of a non-fiction chapter may be stated for you in an overview, chapter summary, or near the beginning of the chapter. This would make summary writing easier. However, in most instances, you are given an extract from an essay or book and asked to summarize. So you will not know exactly what the essay is about.


  • Review the chapter or each paragraph briefly. Imagine yourself telling your roommate what the chapter or paragraph was about. Now write a single sentence containing this main idea.
  • Continue reviewing each chapter/paragraph the same way, constructing one sentence for each.
  • You now have a rough framework, in the form of a series of topic sentences, for your summary.
  • In general, also omit examples, illustrations, and figures of speech.
  • Avoid wordy phrases like, “Chapter one was about…” or “In the first chapter…” Your topic sentences must be lean and mean and contain no fillers.
  • For shorter works, avoid borrowing from the original selection a phrase here and half a sentence there.
  • When you have finished writing a paragraph for each chapter, you will have-a bunch of paragraphs. To make them hang together, you must add the transitional words, phrases, and sentences that help readers make sense of the ideas and events.
  • Words like even though, meanwhile, besides, and because signal important relationships between ideas and events.
  • Re-read your paragraphs and remove those which have been repeated. Similarly, add those, which have not been included.


Most of the time, you are asked to summarize in one paragraph.

  • Do not make one paragraph a one sentence summary.
  • Use short and simple language.
  • For continuity, use words like even though, meanwhile, besides, and because signal important relationships between ideas and events.
  • Handling comprehensions

It is a fact that questions related to comprehension reading has now become a mandatory part of every competition and various examinations, it is used to check one’s logical ability.

From elementary years of schooling itself, almost all the students are taught on how to solve passage reading and comprehension questions as most of the questions are directly asked from the passage.

But in the case of English language tests and various competition exams, answering comprehension question is not an easy task and many students often wonder on how to answer comprehension questions more effectively.

One of the main reasons is that most of the students are so familiarized with an easy level of reading comprehension questions that they easily get flustered when they see passages that have a harder vocabulary and meaning.

Most students fail to understand the language and hence they lose interest reading the text.

What are you expected to do?

You must prove to the examiner that you can:

  • Write well – your answer needs to showcase an impressive vocabulary, to flow naturally from point to point and to offer an in-depth analysis of the text.
  • Pick out relevant information
  • Rephrase answers in your own words (this shows you understand the info)

Handling comprehensions

Try to understand the reading passage

This is one of the most common reasons that many students complain about. Keep in mind that it is not expected of every student to understand all the lines and words of the given paragraph. No one is expecting you to study all the lines and paragraphs and understand each and every sentence.

Try to understand the summary of the paragraph given and try to understand what meaning it is implying to. Though, it may seem contradictory but when simply put, just try to eliminate all the common words, sentences and phrases and understand the true meaning of the given paragraph. Focus and attend on the keywords and the turning points of the paragraph. This helps you to understand the questions even better and makes it easier for you to answer.

One of the many methods that most students use is to first read the passage completely. This allows them to get an idea what the passage is about and they can be familiarized with the meaning of the passage given.

But this method is not comfortable for some students, as they get confused about which keywords they should focus on and there is a chance that they might even forget the important keywords and end up reading the whole passage again.

Another method that one can use to save time is using the “down to top” method. Here, students can first read through the questions given and then read the paragraph so that this can allow them to get the necessary answers required for the given questions.

This saves a lot of time, since the students are familiarized with questions first instead of diving into the passage itself. This also gives the students the fair advantage since they can know how to answer the questions. Try to select any one of these methods that suits your taste and requirements.

Understand the level of the questions

While attending comprehensive questions, keep in mind that the level of comprehensive questions can vary a lot. Comprehensive questions used at school level vary between easy and intermediate level, while questions used for competitive exams such as GRE uses high level comprehensive questions and they have a high difficulty rate.

We cannot compromise with the difficulty level of the question, but we compromise our understanding capability.

Smart reading

For effective reading, try to understand all the important keywords and then focus on them while trying to understand the meaning of the given passage.

  • This will give you an idea on what the passage is about and will also help you to provide satisfactory answers to the questions asked about the passage provided. If you have time, just write in your own words, what the paragraph means. This will help you find your answers, also.

Answer based on the comprehension’s contents

  • Never use information that are not included within the passage topic.
  •  Just rely on whatever information is given in the passage and attempt questions by giving answers that are mentioned in the passage only.
  • Never include your own version of answers.
  • Interpret texts – understand not just the specific points they make but also the view of the world being offered. This means you can see the pieces of the puzzle AND how they join together into a bigger picture or view of the world


Parts of Sentences

Every word in a sentence serves a specific purpose within the structure of that particular sentence. According to rules of grammar, sentence structure can sometimes be quite complicated. However, the basic parts of a sentence are: subject, predicate, object, indirect object, complement.

But the two most basic parts of a sentence are the subject and predicate.

  1. Subject

The subject of a sentence is the person, place, or thing that is performing the action of the sentence. The subject represents what or whom the sentence is about. The simple subject usually contains a noun or pronoun and can include modifying words, phrases, or clauses.

Eg. The man . . .

  • Predicate

The predicate expresses action or being within the sentence. The simple predicate contains the verb and can also contain modifying words, phrases, or clauses.

The man / builds a house – Predicate.

The subject and predicate make up the two basic structural parts of any complete sentence. In addition, there are other elements, contained within the subject or predicate, that add meaning or detail. These elements include the direct object, indirect object, and subject complement. All of these elements can be expanded and further combined into simple, compound, complex, or compound/complex sentences.

Direct object

The direct object receives the action of the sentence. The direct object is usually a noun or pronoun.

The man builds a house. 

The man builds it.

Indirect object

The indirect object indicates to whom or for whom the action of the sentence is being done. The indirect object is usually a noun or pronoun.

The man builds his family a house. 

The man builds them a house.

Subject compliment

A subject complement either renames or describes the subject, and therefore is usually a noun, pronoun, or adjective. Subject complements occur when there is a linking verb within the sentence (often a linking verb is a form of the verb to be).

The man is a good father. (father = noun which renames the subject)

The man seems kind. (kind = adjective which describes the subject)

Note: As an example of the difference between parts of speech and parts of a sentence, a noun can function within a sentence as subject, direct object, indirect object, object of a preposition, or subject complement.

Run-on sentences can be divided into two types. The first occurs when a writer puts no mark of punctuation and no coordinating conjunction between independent clauses. The second is called a comma splice, which occurs when two or more independent clauses are joined by just a comma and no coordinating conjunction.

Example of a run-on sentence:

The flowers are beautiful they brighten the room. (Incorrect)

Example of a comma splice:

The flowers are beautiful, they brighten the room. (Incorrect)

Examples of correct alternatives:

The flowers are beautiful. They brighten the room.
The flowers are beautiful; they brighten the room.
The flowers are beautiful, and they brighten the room.
The flowers are beautiful because they brighten the room.

A run-on sentence is not defined by its length! The fact that a sentence is very long does not automatically make it a run-on sentence. As you will see, the sentence structure and use of punctuation determine whether a sentence is a run-on.

A simple sentence is made up of only one independent clause.

An independent clause is a group of words that contains a subject and a predicate and forms a complete thought when standing alone. The subject refers to someone or something (the subject contains at least one noun or pronoun). The predicate refers to what the subject does or is (the predicate contains the verb or verbs). Both the subject and predicate can contain additional descriptive elements, such as adverbs, adjectives, prepositions, or other modifying phrases, but in its most basic form the subject is the part of the sentence that contains the noun, and the predicate contains the verb.

Without the correct separation, the two independent clauses written together form a run-on sentence. Once you can identify a run-on sentence by its incorrect structure, it is not hard to find a way to correct it.

When two independent clauses appear in one sentence, they must be joined (or separated) in one of four ways:

1. The two clauses can be made into two separate sentences by adding a period.

2. The two clauses can be joined by a comma and a coordinating conjunction (comma plus: and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet).

3. The two clauses can be joined by a semicolon.

4. The two clauses can be rewritten by adding, changing, rearranging, or deleting words. The simplest way to accomplish this is to add a subordinating conjunction between the clauses.

  • Nouns

A noun names something: a person, place, or thing. Most other parts of our language either describe nouns, tell what a noun is doing, or take the place of a noun.

Nouns have these characteristics:

  • They are abstract or concrete.
  • They are proper or common.
  • Most are singular or plural.  
  • Some are collective

In English, nouns are often preceded by noun markers–the articles/adjectives a, an, the, or some for example; or possessive words like my or your. A noun always follows a noun marker, though adjectives or other words may come between them:

my former roommate – My is the noun marker
sunny June day- a – is the noun marker
objective and very thorough evaluation – an is the noun marker
existential angst
Some is the noun marker

1.1 Every noun is either abstract or concrete

Nouns like enthusiasm, willingness and angst are abstract nouns. Abstract nouns name things we cannot see, touch, or detect readily through our senses. Abstract nouns name ideas (existentialism, democracy), measurements (weight, percent), emotions (love, angst), or qualities (responsibility).

Concrete nouns, on the other hand, name persons, including animals (cousins, Roger Rabbit), places (beach, Chico), or things we can see, touch, or otherwise detect through our senses (smoke, beer).

1.2 Every noun is either proper or common.
A proper noun identifies a particular person, animal, place, thing, or idea–Roger Rabbit, for example. The first letter of each word of a proper noun is capitalized.

A common noun does not name a particular person or thing; rather, it refers to a whole class or type. Common nouns do not require capitalization.

1.3 Most nouns are either singular or plural…
Most nouns are made plural with the addition of s or es. Thus, instructor becomes instructors, and class becomes classes. Some nouns have irregular plural forms: man becomes men, and woman becomes women. Child becomes children, and person becomes people.

Many people, both men and women, believe that having children will be a remedy for their existential angst.

Some nouns have the same form in both singular and plural: “A moose is crossing the river. No, wait–three moose are crossing the river!”

1.4 But some nouns are collective.
A collective noun names a collection or group of things. Although a collective noun refers to a group of many things, it is usually singular in form. We think of a collective noun as singular because its members act in one accord:

The army is withdrawing from those Asian countries that are in negotiations.  (Here, army is a collective noun referring to a group of many people acting with one will. We treat it as a singular noun. Countries is a plural noun.

If several countries joined together to form an alliance, we could say this: 

The Asian alliance is united in its determination to repel foreign invaders. 

In some instances a collective noun describes a group that is not acting with one will, whose members rather are taking independent, divergent actions. In this case, the collective noun is treated as a plural to reflect the plurality of the members’ actions:

The jury were unable to come to any consensus. 

If the jury had reached a unanimous decision, we would have said: 

The jury was unanimous in its verdict.

  • Pronouns

Pronouns replace nouns. Without them, language would be repetitious, lengthy, and awkward

Personal pronouns
Since nouns refer to specific persons, places, or things, personal pronouns also refer to specific persons, places, or things. Pronouns have characteristics called number, person, and case.

Number refers to whether a pronoun is singular (him) or plural (them). Thus Karma Tshering becomes he or him, while the his friends would be they or them.

Person is a little more abstract. The first person is the person speaking-I. The sentence “I expect to graduate in January,” is in the first person. The second person is the one being spoken to–you: “You may be able to graduate sooner!” The third person is being spoken of-he, she, it, they, them: “She, on the other hand, may have to wait until June to graduate.”

A pronoun must match (agree with) its antecedent in person as well as number. So graduating students must be referred to as they or them, not as us; a valedictorian must be referred to as he or she, him or her, not as we or you.

Indefinite pronouns
While personal pronouns refer to specific persons, places, or things, indefinite pronouns refer to general persons, places, or things. Indefinite pronouns all are third-person pronouns and can be subjects or objects in sentences.

Indefinite pronouns, singular

no onenobodynothinganotherOne

On the other hand, some indefinite pronouns are plural:

most any all none some neither

A few indefinite pronouns can be either singular or plural, depending on the context:

Relative pronouns
A relative pronoun begins a clause that refers to a noun in a sentence. (A clause is a word group with its own subject and verb.) Who begins a clause that refers to people:

“Tenzin is the math tutor who helped me the most.” That may refer either to persons or things: “Dechen is the math tutor that knows the most about calculus; calculus is the class that I am taking in the fall.”

Which begins a clause that refers to things: “Statistics, which is the interpretation of collected numerical data, has many practical applications.”

Who is a subject pronoun; it can be the subject of a sentence: “Who was at the door?”

Whom is an object pronoun. It cannot be the subject of a sentence, but it can be a direct or indirect object or the object of a preposition: “Don’t ask for whom the bell tolls.” Who and whom often appear in questions where the natural word order is inverted and where the words you see first are the pronouns who or whom, followed by part of the verb, then the subject, then the rest of the verb. So it isn’t always easy to figure out if you should use who or whom. Is it “Who did you visit last summer?” or “Whom did you visit last summer?”

To decide, follow these steps:

Change the question to a statement: “You did visit who/whom last summer.” This restores natural word order: subject, verb, direct object.

In place of who/whom, substitute the personal pronouns he and him: “You did visit he last summer”; “You did visit him last summer.”

If he, a subject pronoun, is right, then the right choice for the original question is who–another subject pronoun. If him, an object pronoun, is correct, then the right choice for the original question is whom–another object pronoun.

Based on step three, above, correctly frame the question: “Whom did you visit last summer?”

Similarly, whoever is a subject pronoun, and whomever is an object pronoun. Use the same test for, “Whoever/whomever would want to run on such a humid day?” Change the question to a statement, substituting he and him: “He (not him) would want to run on such a humid day.” The right word, therefore, would be whoever, the subject pronoun. On the other hand, you would say, “Hand out plenty of water to whomever you see.” You would see and hand the water out to him, not to he; this sentence requires the object pronoun.

 Demonstrative pronouns
Demonstrative pronouns indicate specific persons, places, or things: “That is a great idea!” That is a pronoun referring to the abstract noun idea.

  • Verbs

In a sentence, the verb expresses what the subject does (She hopes for the job) or what the subject is (She is confident).

All verbs are one of three types:

  • Action verbs
  • Linking verbs
  • Helping verbs
  • Action verbs

In a sentence, an action verb tells what the subject does. Action verbs express physical or mental actions: think, eat, collide, realize, dance. Admittedly, some of these seem more active than others. Nevertheless, realize is still as much a verb as collide:

I finally realized my mistake.
The outfielder collided with the second-baseman.
She dances every Friday night.

(In the present tense, statements with subjects of he, she, or it, we add an s to the verb: I go downstairs, we go downstairs, and ballplayers go downstairs, but he goes downstairs and Dechen  goes downstairs.)

Linking verbs
Linking verbs are the couch potatoes of verbs, that is, not very active at all. In a sentence, a linking verb tells what the subject is rather than what it does; linking verbs express a state of being. For example, all the forms of the verb to be are linking verbs:

Linking verbs
Linking verbs are the couch potatoes of verbs, that is, not very active at all. In a sentence, a linking verb tells what the subject is rather than what it does; linking verbs express a state of being. For example, all the forms of the verb to be are linking verbs:

1st person (I, we) 2nd person (You) 3rd person (They, she, he, it
Present Am, are are Is, are
Past Was, were were Was, were
Participle Have (been) \had (been) Have (been) Had (been) Has (been) Had (been)

3.2 Helping verbs

Verbs often appear with helping verbs that fine-tune their meaning, usually expressing when something occurred. The complete verb is the main verb plus all its helping verbs.

Verb tense is the name for the characteristic verbs has of expressing time. Simple present tense verbs express present or habitual action, and simple past tense verbs express actions that were completed in the past; neither simple present nor simple past tense verbs require helping verbs. However, most other verb tenses require one or more helping verbs. Moreover, some helping verbs express more than just time-possibility, obligation, or permission, for example.

…have, has, had

Every verb has three basic forms: present or simple form, past form, and participle form. All participle forms require a helping verb that fine-tunes the time expression:

Comets have collided with earth many times.
Stan had known about the plan for some time.

 Verb family – to be: am, are, is, was, were, been

Verbs with -ing endings require a helper from the to be family of verbs. These progressive verb tenses express ongoing present action, continuous past action or future planned action:

They are still working on the contract.
Phanat was studying all night.
Holly had been reviewing her notes since the day before.
We are holding student elections next September

  • Adjectives

An adjective is a word used to describe, or modify, noun or a pronoun. Adjectives usually answer questions like which one, what kind, or how many:

that hilarious book
the red one
several heavy books

In English adjectives usually precede nouns or pronouns. However, in sentences with linking verbs, such as the to be verbs adjectives can follow the verb

 Descriptive adjectives

Descriptive adjectives (steamy, stormy) call up images, tones, and feelings. Steamy weather is different from stormy weather. Steamy and stormy conjure different pictures, feelings, and associations.

Many descriptive adjectives come from verbs. The verb had broken, without the helper had, is an adjective: a broken keyboard. Likewise, the -ing verb form, such as is running, used without its helper is, can be an adjective: running shoes

Nouns can be used as adjectives, too. For instance, the noun student can be made to modify, or describe, the noun bookstore: the student bookstore. Nouns often combine to produce compound adjectives that modify a noun as a unit, usually joined by hyphens when they precede the noun. When they follow the noun, the hyphens are omitted:

He was an 18-year-old boy, but the girl was only 16 years old.

 Other compound adjectives do not use hyphens in any case. In income tax forms, income tax is a compound adjective that does not require a hyphen.

Demonstrative adjectives answer the question which one(s)? They are the only adjectives that have both a singular and plural form–this and that are singular; these and those are plural. Demonstrative adjectives point to particular or previously named things. This and these indicate things nearby (in time or space), while that and those suggest distance (in time or space):

This novel is the worst I’ve ever read; these biographies are much better.
Tell me more about that author; why does she write about those events?

Possessive adjectives
Possessive adjectives answer the question whose? They include my, our, your, his, her, its, and their:

our joke book
its well-worn pages

Indefinite adjectives
indefinite adjectives include some, many, any, few, several, and all:

some jokes
few listeners

Note that these words can also be used as pronouns: Some were in bad taste; few could carpool.

Questioning adjectives
Which and what are adjectives when they modify nouns or pronouns:

Which joke did you like better, and what reason can you give for your preference?

  • Prepositions

Prepositions are words that are used to link a noun or phrase to another part of the sentence. Some examples of prepositions are “on”, “in”, “to” and “at”.

You will find them used in lots of different ways and various contexts. The most common ways to use prepositions include using them to indicate time, the direction or location of an object, or to introduce something – and an individual preposition can be used in more ways than one.

Prepositions define relationships between their objects and other words in the sentence. Prepositions describe relationships of time, place, direction, location, introduction and space. In the English language, the most common prepositions are simple words of fewer than 5 letters. Complex prepositions, such as the phrase “in spite of,” often develop over time from groups of words commonly used together.

Prepositional phrases function as modifiers of a verb (“walk on water”); modifier of a noun (“wines from California”); complement of a verb (“insist on working alone”); complement of a noun (“an appeal to the court”); complement of an adjective or adverb (“disrespectful to their teacher”); and complement of another preposition (“out of the pot into the frying pan”).

Prepositional phrases consist of three parts: a simple or complex preposition, the object (noun, pronoun or gerund) and the object modifiers. A preposition sits in front of the noun or pronoun object (pre-positioning) in the simplest sentence constructions. There are about 170 prepositions in the English language, including “since,” “above” and “but.” The English language word frequency project at lists the ten most frequently used prepositions as: of, to, in, for, on, with, as, by, at, from. Wordcount ranks “of” as the second most frequently used word in English, while “from” ranks twenty-ninth.

“He put the tiles on the wrong wall.”

“She is going to college in September.”

“I’ll meet you at 5.30.”

Prepositions are always used to indicate the relationship of a noun or phrase to something else. When using a preposition, you must always have the subject and verb before it, and follow it with a noun. You should never follow it with a verb!

Prepositions of position

You can use prepositions to show where an object is positioned, in relation to something else, such as whether it is placed on the surface of something, inside something, or in another position.

Some common prepositions of position are:

On: “She placed the lid on the cooker.”

Above: “The plane flew over the houses.”

“In front of: “The books should go in front of the other items.”

 Prepositions of time

Different prepositions can be used to indicate time in specific ways:

At: this can be used to indicate a specific time, for example:

“We are arriving at 22.50.”

In: this is used to express events taking place during lengthy periods of time, such as a month or year, for example:

“They first moved to the country in 1978.”

“We are going on holiday in March.”

On: Like “in” this is used for specific points in time – in this case, you use this preposition to indicate particular dates or days. For example:

“He’s moving in on Saturday.”

“I will need it back on the 17th.”

  • Adverbs

An adverb is a word used to modify a verb, adjective, or another adverb. An adverb usually modifies by telling how, when, where, why, under what conditions, or to what degree. An adverb is often formed by adding -ly to an adjective.

Conjunctive adverbs form a separate category because they serve as both conjunctions (they connect) and adverbs (they modify). Groups of words can also function as adverb phrases or adverb clauses.

An adverb can modify a verb.

The girls ran quickly but happily through the puddle. (The adverbs quickly and happily modify the verb ran by telling how.)

Go to the administration office first, and then come to class. (The adverb first modifies the verb go, and the adverb then modifies the verb come. Both modify the verbs by telling when.)

They are moving her office upstairs. (The adverb upstairs modifies the verb moving by telling where.)

An adverb can modify an adjective. The adverb usually clarifies the degree or intensity of the adjective.

Karma  was almost finished when they brought her an exceptionally delicious dessert. (The adverb almost modifies the adjective finished and exceptionally modifies delicious by describing the degree or intensity of the adjectives.)

He was very happy about being so good at such an extremely challenging sport. (The adverb very modifies the adjective happy, so modifies good, and extremely modifies challenging by describing the degree or intensity of the adjectives.)

Students are often entertained and sometimes confused, but never bored in that class. (The adverb often modifies the adjective entertained, sometimes modifies confused, and never modifies bored by describing the degree or intensity of the adjectives.)

An adverb can modify another adverb. The modifying adverb usually clarifies the degree or intensity of the adverb.

Eating her lunch somewhat cautiously, Tshering tried to ignore the commotion. (The adverb somewhat modifies the adverb cautiously by telling to what degree.)

Pelden  can discuss the English language very thoroughly. (The adverb very modifies the adverb thoroughly by telling to what degree.)

Even in the other room, Dorji  was never completely unaware of the crying kittens. (The adverb never modifies the adverb completely by telling to what degree.)

In addition to the rules that apply to the use of adverbs, the following points further discuss their formation and function.

Adverbs are often made by adding -ly to an adjective.

adjective: slow      adverb: slowly
adjective: deep      adverb: deeply
adjective: fair        adverb: fairly

However, not all words that end in -ly are adverbs!

nouns: family, homily, rally, lily
adjectives: friendly, worldly, lovely, sly

Some common adverbs do not originate from adjectives.

Very quite only so

 Some adverbs modify by negating a statement. These are referred to as negative adverbs

Hardly never no not scarcely

When using negative adverbs, be careful to avoid a double negative.

 (Incorrect double negative)
He can’t hardly understand the words of the speaker.

He can hardly understand the words of the speaker.

Words that function as adverbs (telling how, when, where, why, under what conditions, or to what degree) and which also function as conjunctions (joining grammatical parts) are called conjunctive adverbs. 

Conjunctive adverbs

Accordingly     finally     likewise     similarly also     furthermore     meanwhile     specifically
anyway     hence     moreover     still besides     however     nevertheless     subsequently
certainly     incidentally     next     then consequently     indeed     nonetheless     therefore
conversely     instead     otherwise     thus

  • Conjunctions

Conjunctions join words, phrases, or clauses. The three different types of conjunctions indicate different relationships between the elements joined.

Coordinating conjunctions link elements of equal value. 

Correlative conjunctions are used in pairs to establish a specific relationship between elements of equal value.

Subordinating conjunctions indicate that one element is of lesser value (subordinate) to another element. 

There are seven coordinating conjunctions in English:

and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet

 (Note: These are often remembered with the acronym FANBOYS.) 

 Coordinating conjunctions link equal elements.

Swimming and reading are my two favorite summer activities. (Swimming and reading are both subjects in the sentence.)
 Please place the papers on top of the desk or in the drawer.  (On top of the desk and in the drawer are both prepositional phrases.)
She wanted to drive the car, but she had never received her license. (She wanted to drive the car and she had never received her license are both independent clauses.)

Use correlative conjunctions in pairs to connect words, phrases, or clauses of equal grammatical value

  •  You must decide either to fly or to drive.  
  • Contrary to my plans, I spent much of my vacation both correcting papers and contacting students.
  • I hope not only that you will attend the play, but also that you will stay for the cast party afterwards

10 Interjections

Interjections are words intended to express different levels of emotion or surprise, and are usually seen as independent grammatically from the main sentence.

Interjections usually stand alone and are often punctuated with an exclamation point. 

Oh!      Wow!      My goodness!

Sometimes mild interjections are included within a sentence and are then set off by commas.

Well, it’s about time you showed up.

11 Verb-Subject agreement

The verb of a sentence must agree with the simple subject of the sentence in number and person. Number refers to whether a word is singular (child, account, city, I) or plural (children, accounts, cities, we).

Person refers to whether the word denotes a speaker (I, we are first person), the person spoken to (you is second person), or what is spoken of (he, she, it, they; Gary, college, taxes are third person).

Third person singular
Choosing verbs to agree with first and second person subjects is not usually much of a problem, but a peculiarity of third person singular verbs causes some students, confusion when working with third person singular subjects.

It matters whether a subject in the third person is singular or plural because the verb form for third person singular often differs from other verb forms. For most third person singular verbs, add an s to the root form of the verb: sit + s = sits, the third person singular form. (Be careful-while an s on a noun usually denotes a plural, an s on a verb does not make the verb plural.) Examples of how the verb form changes in third person singular follow; notice that even irregular helping verbs (to have, to be, to do) add an s –has, is, was, does –– in third person singular:

Only the simple subject
The verb must agree with its simple subject — not with the description or explanation of the subject; ignore the descriptions and explanations. If the simple subject is singular, use the singular form of the verb. If the simple subject is plural, use the plural form of the verb.

The pink and red flowers in the tall vase have wilted.- flowers- simple subject
The old table that my parents gave us needs a coat of paint. –table-simple subject
The back wheels of the car you borrowed are wobbling.- wheels- simple subject

The verb must agree with its simple subject — not with the subject complement. The subject and its complement are not always both singular or both plural. Even if one is singular and the other plural, the verb agrees with the subject:

His only hobby is his pigeons.
Her parents are her sole support.

Compound subjects
A compound subject joined by and is plural and takes a plural verb form:

Rinchen and Ugyen  are looking for the remote control. (They are looking.)

The verb for compound subjects joined by or or by (n)either…(n)or agrees with the subject nearer to the verb:

Rinchen or Ugyen has the responsibility to make the video presentation. (He has.)- Ugyen is nearer
Neither Rinchen nor Ugyen knows if the board will be pleased. (He knows.)
The college president or the trustees interview all the candidates. (They interview.)- Trustees is nearer 
The trustees or the president often asks for a second interview. (He or she asks.)

Relative clauses
Relative clauses begin with the relative pronouns who, that, or which and contain a verb separate from that of the independent clause. The verb in a relative clause agrees in person and number to the word — the person or thing — to which the relative pronoun refers:

Most instructors appreciate students who ask good questions.
The student who asks a lot of questions is a valuable asset to a class.
The logic class, which is known to be difficult, nevertheless attracts a certain type of student.
The classes, which are held in the fall, usually fill up fast.

Verb preceding the subject
In questions, the subject follows the verb, but the subject still determines the person and number of the verb:

Where in the house are the medicines kept? (They are kept.)
Why doesn’t the soup have any noodles? (It does have.)
Under which tree do the mushrooms grow? (They do grow.)

In sentences that begin with a construction such as here is or there are, the subject follows the verb but still determines the person and number of the verb:

Here is the famous flea circus. (It is here.)
Here are the famous fleas. (They are here.)
There is a mouse in the attic. (It is there.)
There are mice in the attic. (They are there.)

Indefinite pronoun subjects
Some indefinite pronouns are always singular, and some are always plural.

Some indefinite pronouns are always singular no matter how much you feel that words like everyone are plural. They require the third person singular verb form:

Nobody knows her.
Has anyone asked?
Everyone says so.
Each gets a ticket.
One uses a hammer.
Another has arrived.

Other indefinite pronouns are always plural and require a plural verb form: 

Several work here.
Many have done it.
Few believe it.
Both were yellow.

Joining the independent clauses by a comma alone is NOT a choice. When two independent clauses are joined by only a comma, this error is called a comma splice.

An independent clause contains one subject/predicate pair and expresses a complete thought.

Music makes my life worth living.

A simple sentence is made up of only one independent clause:

Music makes my life worth living.

A run-on sentence is made up of two or more independent clauses that are not joined correctly or which should be made into separate sentences. A run-on sentence is defined by its grammatical structure, not its length.

Incorrect: My favorite band is in town they are performing now.
Correct: My favorite band is in town. They are performing now.
Correct: My favorite band is in town, and they are performing now.

A comma splice is the incorrect use of a comma to join two independent clauses.

Incorrect: I love classical music, it makes me feel joyful.
Correct: I love classical music because it makes me feel joyful.
Correct: I love classical music; it makes me feel joyful.

A comma plus a coordinating conjunction can connect independent clauses correctly. There are seven coordinating conjunctions (sometimes remembered by the acronym “fanboys“):

for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so

 A complex sentence contains one independent clause and one or more dependent clauses. The dependent clause begins with a subordinating conjunction:

I always think of summer whenever they play that song.


Technically, would is the past tense of will, but it is an auxiliary verb that has many uses, some of which even express the present tense. It can be used in the following ways:

To ask questions:

Would you like some coleslaw? = Do you want some coleslaw?
Would you turn in your assignment now? = Please turn in your assignment now.

With who, what, when, where, why, how:

How would the neighbors react?
What would you do if I sang out of tune?

In the two sentences above, would means about the same thing as will.

To make polite requests:

I would like more coleslaw, please. = I want more coleslaw, please.
I would like you to sit down now. = I want you to sit down now.


The period is used to end all sentences except those that are direct questions or exclamations. Periods are also used in abbreviations.

1. Use a period to end a declarative or imperative sentence.

A declarative sentence makes a statement.

All is fair in love and war.

An imperative sentence issues a request or command.

Please do not leave until you have said good-bye.

Do not use a period if the sentence is a genuine exclamation. Use an exclamation point.

That speech was fantastic!

Do not use a period with a sentence that asks a direct question. Use a question mark.

Will the picnic be canceled?

However, do use a period if the sentence is a statement reporting a question indirectly.

Sara asked if the picnic would be canceled.

Use a period in certain abbreviations.

The following are examples of some abbreviations which use periods:

Mr. B.A. e.g. A.M. or a.m. ft. Mrs. M.A. i.e. P.M. or p.m. oz. Ms. Ph.D. etc. Capt. dept. Dr. R.N. Ave. c.o.d. P.O.

Do not use a period with U.S. Postal Service abbreviations for states.

Long Beach, CA 
Longview, TX
Detroit, MI

Do not use a period with most abbreviated names of organizations or with commonly used abbreviations that replace words.


However, sometimes usage varies, such as in the abbreviation USA or U.S.A., both of which are acceptable. When in doubt, consult a dictionary or style manual, or a publication by the agency or group in question.

If a sentence ends with a period marking an abbreviation, do not add a second period.

You will need to bring your own towels, sheets, blankets, pillows, etc.


The comma functions as a tool to indicate to readers a certain separation of words, phrases, or ideas in order to prevent misreading the writer’s intended meaning. When a sentence is spoken aloud, a comma often represents a pause, which in verbal conversation functions to clarify meaning. The comma is used according to specific rules that relate to grammatical structures within the sentence. Consistency in the use of commas allows the reader to be assured of proper interpretation of the writer’s intentions.

Use of the comma can be categorized into ten rules. In English there are always exceptions to every rule, but in general, if the situation does not meet the requirements of one of these rules, a comma is most likely not necessary.

Use a comma before a coordinating conjunction joining independent clauses.

There are seven coordinating conjunctions in English: and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet. When one of these words is used to join two or more independent clauses (a group of words that could stand alone as a complete sentence), then a comma must always be placed before the coordinating conjunction. The comma creates a pause to indicate that one complete thought is ending before the next one begins.

Lhaki  spotted her favorite butterfly, but she had forgotten to bring her camera.

Tshering  took a trip to Bumthang, and her friend Sonam  joined her there.

Note that if the two independent clauses are very short and there is no chance the separate thoughts will be confusing, the comma can be optional.

I work hard and I play hard.

Use a comma to separate items in a series.

All items in a series should be separated by commas. Generally, this includes placing a comma before the and preceding the last item

Their new kitten was frisky, playful, coy, and mischievous.

The apartment, the car, and the books were more than I could afford.

 A comma is not used if all items are joined by and

Their new kitten was frisky and playful.

The apartment and the car were more than I could afford.

Their new kitten was frisky and playful and coy and mischievous.

The apartment and the car and the books were more than I could afford.

When commas are used to separate items in a series of three or more, it is less confusing to include a comma before the final item, regardless of whether or not and is placed between the last two items. Although some writers and some publications follow other conventions, misunderstanding of the writer’s intentions can occur without the comma. The comma implies that all items in the series are separate. Without the comma the relationship between the last two items is not always clear.


The semicolon is used to separate independent clauses in specific situations. It also separates a series of items which contain internal punctuation.

Use a semicolon between independent clauses when the clauses are closely related in meaning and when there is no coordinating conjunction between them.

Often two independent clauses which are closely related in meaning can be connected by a comma and a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, not, for, so, yet). However, if the relationship between the clauses is clear without the conjunction, the writer can choose to omit the coordinating conjunction and use a semicolon instead. The semicolon tends to emphasize the close connection between the two thoughts.

When you come to Thimphu, Phuntsho, you will stay with me; I wouldn’t have it otherwise.

Be careful and drive defensively; you’ll be glad you did.

Use a semicolon between independent clauses linked with a transitional expression.

Transitional expressions include conjunctive adverbs and transitional phrases.

Conjunctive adverbs

Accordingly finally likewise similarly also furthermore meanwhile specifically anyway hence moreover still besides however nevertheless subsequently certainly incidentally next the consequently indeed nonetheless therefore conversely instead otherwise thu


The colon is used primarily to introduce or call attention to the words that follow it. The colon is also used between clauses when the second clause summarizes or explains the first, or in certain situations to indicate a separation between specific elements.

Use a colon after an independent clause to introduce or direct attention to a list, an appositive, or a quotation.

List: The winning numbers are as follows: four, five, nine, and eleven.

Appositive: Every day my mother packed my lunch: a peanut butter sandwich, two cookies, and an apple.

Quotation: Consider carefully the words of a Zen proverb: “When the mind is ready, a teacher appears.”

Note: A colon is like a stop in function and therefore can be used only at the end of an independent clause (a complete statement).

Use a colon between independent clauses if the second clause summarizes, explains, or gives an example for the first clause.

After the service, the women performed a graceful task: they lit the tiny candles one by one.

Our committee received the board’s recommendation: Finalize the budget tonight!

Note: When an independent clause follows a colon, the second clause may begin with either a lowercase or a capital letter.

Use a colon to separate certain elements, such as after the salutation in a formal letter, between hours and minutes to indicate time, between numbers to show proportions, between a title and subtitle, and between the city and the publisher and date in bibliographic entries.

 Dear Sir:

6:30 A.M.

The ratio of students to teachers was 22:1.

Grammar and Style: A Handbook on College Writing

New York: McGraw-Hill, 1988

Avoid common errors using the colon.
A colon must be preceded by a full independent clause. Therefore avoid using it between a verb and its object or complement, between a preposition and its object, and after such as, including, or for example.
For example, the following uses of the colon are incorrect:
Some of the colors used in the flags are: red, orange, blue, and black. (Incorrect)
The homework consisted of: four pages of dictionary definitions. (Incorrect)
He loves spring flowers such as: the daffodil, daisy, and sunflower. (Incorrect)


Parentheses are used to enclose incidental or supplemental information or comments. The parenthetical information or comment may serve to clarify or illustrate, or it may just offer a digression or afterthought. Parentheses are also used to enclose certain numbers or letters in an outline or list.

Use parentheses to enclose additional or supplemental information that clarifies or illustrates a point.

In a business letter the salutation and body of the letter are flush left (against the left margin).

Everything that went wrong that day (the accident, the missed appointment, the argument) was eventually forgotten in the midst of the joyful celebration.

Use parentheses to offer a digression or afterthought.

The mayor should apologize for his angry outburst (so typical for someone caught in a lie) at the meeting last night.

Your use of citations in the last paper (which was beautifully written, by the way) offered a good example of how to avoid plagiarism.


The hyphen (-) is a mark that joins words or parts of words and is placed directly between letters and with no spaces. As indicated below, the hyphen is used in several ways.

Use a hyphen at the end of a line to divide a word where there is not enough space for the whole word. Follow the rules for dividing words correctly.

Divide a word between syllables. Never divide a one-syllable word.


For effective proofreading, certain strategies are recom-


After taking the workshop on proofreading, it really se-

ems that I am better at editing my own papers.

Do not divide a word between syllables if only one letter remains alone or if only two letters begin a line.


It was difficult to determine whether she was totally a-
fraid of the dark or just trying to gain sympathy.

We realized she was trying to get attention, so we simp-
ly ignored her.

In this case, simply move the entire word (afraid or simply) to the next line.

Always divide a hyphenated compound word at the hyphen.


She was relieved to have the innocuous title of pres-
ident-elect rather than to have real responsibility.


She was relieved to have the innocuous title of president-elect rather than to have real responsibility.


She was relieved to have the innocuous title of president-elect rather than to have real responsibility. 

Divide compound words between the words that form the compound.

Use a hyphen to indicate a word spelled out letter by letter.

The correct way to spell that word in English is h-e-l-l-o.

Use a hyphen to join two or more words to form compound adjectives that precede a noun. The purpose of joining words to form a compound adjective is to differentiate the meaning from the adjectives used separately, such as up-to-date merchandise, copper-coated wire, fire-tested material, lump-sum payment, and well-stocked cupboard.

He was proud of his well-stocked cupboards. (The adverb well describes stocked rather than cupboards.)

Cathy drove her seven-year-old son to school every morning. (If the adjectives were written separately, they would describe her son as seven, year, and old. It is only when the words are joined together with a hyphen that they make sense as a single adjective.)

 Use a hyphen to avoid awkward doubling of vowels.

semi-independence without a hyphen would be written semiindependence

re-elect without a hyphen would be written reelect

pre-eminent without a hyphen would be preeminent

Use a hyphen to prevent misreading of certain words.

Re-collect means to collect again; without a hyphen the word recollect has a different meaning.

Re-creation means to create again; without a hyphen, the word recreation has a different meaning.

Co-respondent without the hyphen could be confused with correspondent.

Use a hyphen to join a prefix to a capitalized word.

un-American, pre-Christmas

Always use a hyphen with the prefixes all-, ex-, and self-, and with the suffix -elect.

all-inclusive, ex-president, self-righteous, governor-elect

Use a hyphen with all compound numbers between twenty-one through ninety-nine, and when writing fractions as words.

fifty-six, two-thirds

Use a hyphen to indicate stammering or sobbing.

“I d-d-didn’t m-mean it.”


The dash (–) is used to set off additional material within a sentence, often in order to emphasize it, to set off appositives that contain commas, or to indicate missing words. Sometimes confused with the hyphen, a dash comes between words as a form of division, whereas a hyphen generally joins words or parts of words to indicate a connection.

When typing, use two hyphens together without spaces to form a dash. Do not put a space before or after the dash. Some word-processing programs have a mark called an em-dash (longer than a hyphen), which can be used with no space before or after it. The word-processing program may form this automatically when two hyphens are typed together.

Use a dash to set off an interruption that is closely relevant to the sentence but not grammatically part of it, such as a list, illustration, restatement, summary, shift in thought or tone, or dramatic point.

Only one person wears that perfume–my mother.
Three of the people in my class–Tom, Dick, and Harry–refused to join the demonstration.
His feelings for Gwendolyn–he is madly in love with her–will never change.

Note: Although they can be used in similar situations, the dash and parentheses serve slightly different purposes. The dash is intended to emphasize supplemental information, whereas parentheses tend to understate it.

Use a dash to set off appositives that contain commas. (An appositive is a noun or noun phrase that immediately follows and renames a noun or pronoun and is usually surrounded by commas.)

Learning the mechanics–the complex, detailed structural components–of the English language is very difficult because the rules are often so inconsistent.

Use a dash to indicate an abruptly unfinished thought or remark. Do not include a period or comma after the dash.

She is a wonderful girl, but–
“Please help me before I–” she cried.


The slash (/) is used to show a division between paired terms or between lines of poetry.

1. Use a slash to indicate that a choice can be made between paired or multiple terms. Do not use a space before or after the slash.

Catherine is taking the course pass/fail.

I am acting as the secretary/treasurer/social chairman since there are only two of us on the board.

2. Use a slash to indicate the division between lines of poetry quoted within a sentence. Add a space before and after the slash.

Wordsworth’s lines, “There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream, / The earth, and every common sight, / To me did seem / Apparell’d in celestial light,” begin one of his most beautiful poems.


Ellipses are made up of three periods with spaces between them (. . .) and are used to indicate that material is missing within a sentence or passage.

1. Use ellipses when material has been omitted from a direct (word-for-word) quotation, whether the omission is a word, phrase, or several sentences.

The absurdity of the situation makes me ponder Hamlet’s query “whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer . . . outrageous fortune.”

2. Use ellipses to indicate a pause, hesitation, or unfinished thought.

The veterinarian spoke softly, “The poor horse is . . . was . . .”

3. Use a 4-period (closed) ellipsis at the end of a partial quote that is nonetheless a complete grammatical sentence (thus including a period at the end of a 3-period ellipsis).

Original sentence:

I have a weathered copy of that photograph in my own personal collection.

Partial quotation using a closed ellipsis:

I have a weathered copy of that photograph . . . .

Note: When used within a sentence, place a space before the first period and after the last period of ellipses. If a mark of punctuation occurs right before the ellipses in the sentence, include the punctuation and follow it with one space before the first period of the ellipses. Do not use ellipses to begin a quotation.


Brackets [] are used to insert comments or information into direct quotations, to identify errors in text, and to enclose parenthetical information within a parenthetical passage. Although similar to parentheses, brackets and parentheses are used for specifically different purposes.

1. Use brackets to insert comments or clarifying information within a direct quotation. The brackets indicate the parenthetical information is not included in the original text of the quotation itself.

“That disaster [February’s earthquake] devastated communities for thousands of square miles.”

2. Use brackets to highlight errors in the original text of quoted material by immediately following the error with the Latin word sic (“thus”) enclosed in brackets. This addition acknowledges the original error and lets it stand as written.

“Words of great excitement should be followed by an explanation [sic] point.”

3. Use brackets to enclose parenthetical information within material that is already enclosed in parentheses, in order to avoid confusion.

Elizabeth served in the role of president (an “honorary” [unpaid] position) because she was sincerely concerned about changing the direction of the organization.


Quotation marks are used primarily to enclose or set off exact words. They are used to indicate a person’s exact written or spoken words, and in certain situations they are also used to set off words, phrases, or specific types of titles. When using quotation marks, certain rules apply regarding punctuation and capitalization.

 Use quotation marks to enclose direct quotations.

The direct quotation of a person’s exact words, whether spoken or written, must be in quotation marks.

“Don’t forget to visit me in London,” Martha said.

Do not use quotation marks around indirect quotations. An indirect quotation does not state the speaker’s exact words.

Martha said that I should visit her when I am in London.

Use quotation marks to indicate words used ironically, with reservations, or in some unusual way.

Declaring it was a symbol of “progress,” they cut down all the trees.

Use quotation marks around the titles of newspaper and magazine articles, poems, essays, short stories, songs, episodes of television and radio programs, and chapters or subdivisions of books.

After I read “The Internet’s Role in Education” in one of my educational journals, I had a much better understanding of the issues.

The class analyzed Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” and eventually agreed that there could be several interpretations.

When using quotation marks, certain rules apply regarding capitalization and punctuation.

Use a capital letter with the first word of a complete sentence of a direct quotation.

The teacher remarked, “The semester is already half over.”

Do not use a capital letter with the first word of a direct quotation that is only part of a sentence.

Tyler asked if I would be “heading out of town on a Harley.”

If the quotation of a complete sentence is interrupted in the middle and then continues after the interruption, do not capitalize the second part of the quotation. Use commas to set off the explanatory words.

“When it comes to cake,” Jessica said, “chocolate cake takes the cake.”

If the quotation continues with a new sentence after an explanatory interruption, use a period at the end of the interruption and continue the quotation with a capital letter where the new sentence begins.

“When it comes to cake, chocolate cake takes the cake,” Jessica said. “In fact, I’d love to have some right now.”

If a quotation begins the sentence, set it off with a comma from the unquoted part of the sentence unless it ends with a question mark or exclamation point. Because the explanatory words simply continue the sentence, do not begin them with a capital letter.

“I don’t know what happened,” he said quickly.

“What happened?” she asked.

“We saw just what happened!” they shouted.

Always place periods and commas inside the quotation marks.

He said, “I enjoy working on automobile engines.”

Although Lawrence had asked for “the best seat in the house,” he didn’t seem to notice they were seated right next to the kitchen.

Place colons and semicolons outside quotation marks.

Dave had replied, “I regret I am unable to attend the wedding”; he was there, however, for the entire ceremony.

Place question marks and exclamation points inside quotation marks unless they apply to the sentence as a whole.

The clerk politely asked, “Would you like paper or plastic?”

What do you mean by “over the hill”?

After a word group introducing a quotation, use a comma, a colon, or no punctuation at all, depending on the context.

Use a comma if the quotation is introduced or followed by an expression such as he said or she remarked.

She replied, “Take it quickly before I change my mind.”

Use a colon if a quotation is introduced by a full independent clause.

He feels the advice of Alexander Pope is especially relevant: “To err is human, to forgive divine.”

When a quotation is blended into the writer’s introductory sentence, no punctuation is needed to separate the introduction from the quoted phrase.

Marisa comes here every day at noon and asks for “a dog and a beer.”

Use single quotation marks to enclose a quotation within a quotation.

The professor explained, “Although Thoreau wrote that most men ‘lead lives of quiet desperation,’ much of his writing expressed the joy in life.”

Use indentation rather than quotation marks to set off long quotations of prose or poetry.

To quote more than four typed lines of prose, use indentation rather than quotation marks. Set off the quoted prose by indenting ten spaces from the left margin of your text and double space the lines. Long quotations of prose are usually introduced by a sentence ending with a colon.

Thoreau exhibits this strength of will in “Civil Disobedience”:

I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion.
Let us see who is the strongest. What force has a multitude?
They only can force me who obey a higher law than I. They
force me to become like themselves. I do not hear of men being
forced to live this way or that by masses of men. What sort of life
were that to live? When I meet a government which says to me,
“Your money or your life,” why should I be in haste to give it my money?

When quoting more than three lines of a poem, set the quoted lines off from the text by indenting ten spaces from the left margin.

William Blake’s “The Tyger” begins with the lines:

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In English there are three articles: a, an, and the. Articles are used before nouns or noun equivalents and are a type of adjective. The definite article (the) is used before a noun to indicate that the identity of the noun is known to the reader. The indefinite article (a, an) is used before a noun that is general or when its identity is not known. There are certain situations in which a noun takes no article.

For the purposes of understanding how articles are used, it is important to know that nouns can be either count (can be counted) or noncount (indefinite in quantity and cannot be counted). In addition, count nouns are either singular (one) or plural (more than one). Noncount nouns are always in singular form.

For example, if we are speaking of water that has been spilled on the table, there can be one drop (singular) or two or more drops (plural) of water on the table. The word drop in this example is a count noun because we can count the number of drops. Therefore, according to the rules applying to count nouns, the word drop would use the articles a or the.

However, if we are speaking of water in general spilled on the table, it would not be appropriate to count one water or two waters — there would simply be water on the table. Water is a noncount noun. Therefore, according to the rules applying to noncount nouns, the word water would use no article or the, but not a.

Specific identity not known: Use the indefinite article a or an only with a singular count noun whose specific identity is not known to the reader. Use a before nouns that begin with a consonant sound, and use an before nouns that begin with a vowel sound.

Specific identity known: Use the definite article the with any noun (whether singular or plural, count or noncount) when the specific identity of the noun is known to the reader, as in the following situations.

Use the article the when a particular noun has already been mentioned previously.

I ate an apple yesterday. The apple was juicy and delicious.

Use the article the when an adjective, phrase, or clause describing the noun clarifies or restricts its identity.

The boy sitting next to me raised his hand.
Thank you for the advice you gave me.

Use the article the when the noun refers to something or someone that is unique.

the theory of relativity
the 2003 federal budget

All things or things in general: Use no article with plural count nouns or any noncount nouns used to mean all or in general.

He was asking for advice. (He was asking for advice in general.)
I do not like coffee. (I do not like all coffee in general.)

When indicating an unspecified, limited amount of a count or noncount noun, use some.

My cousin was seeking some advice from a counselor (not advice in general or advice about everything, but a limited amount of advice).

I would love some coffee right now (not coffee in general, but a limited amount of coffee).

We might get rain tomorrow. Some rain would be good for the crops (a certain amount of rain, as opposed to rain in general).

There are some drops of water on the table (a limited number, but more than one drop).

Geographical names are confusing because some require the and some do not.

◊ Use the with: united countries, large regions, deserts, peninsulas, oceans, seas, gulfs, canals, rivers, mountain ranges, groups of islands

the Gobi Desert
the United Arab Emirates
the Sacramento River
the Aleutians

Do not use the with: streets, parks, cities, states, counties, most countries, continents, bays, single lakes, single mountains, islands

Mt. Everest
San Francisco Bay


Sports and other physical activities do not need an article:

I love to go skiing in the winter.

I play football every day after school.

He loves watching hockey on TV.

She does yoga 3 times a week.

My daughter really enjoys dancing.

Noun + number

He’s staying at the Hilton hotel in room 221.

The train to Paris leaves from platform 2.

My English class is in room 6


An acronym is an abbreviation (a short form) of a name. It uses the first letter of each word to form a new word.

a. If the acronym is pronounced as a word, don’t use the.

NATO ambassadors met to discuss the situation.

You need to use the before acronyms when the letters are pronounced individually, not as a word.

The UN was created after the Second World War.

The is not used before university acronyms:

John Smith got his MBA at UCLA.

She has a Ph.D. from MIT.

I do not want a gun in my house (any gun).
The gun is in his closet (implies there is a specific gun).
I am afraid of guns (all guns in general).

She sent me a postcard from Italy (an unspecific postcard – not a letter, not an e-mail).
It’s the postcard that I have in my office (one specific postcard).
Getting postcards makes me want to travel (any postcard in general).

I have a dog (one dog).
The dog is very friendly (the dog that I have already mentioned).
Dogs make great pets (dogs in general).

Greta needs furniture in her apartment (furniture is a noncount noun).
She is going to select the furniture that she needs (the specific furniture that she needs).
She hopes to find some furniture this weekend (an unspecified, limited amount of furniture).

We are going to see the Statue of Liberty this weekend (the only Statue of Liberty).

Things in general
You don’t need an article when you talk about things in general.

Use plural count nouns:

Cats are great pets!
You’re not talking about one specific cat or one specific pet. You’re talking about all cats and all pets in general.

I love reading books.

Women love it when men send them flowers!

Houses are expensive in that neighbourhood.

Americans drive big cars.

I love listening to music.
You enjoy music in general, not any specific song or kind of music.

She’s afraid of heights, so we couldn’t go to the Eiffel Tower.

I love chocolate!

Have you eaten lunch yet?