Grammar Rules I
Never misplace a comma again.
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The internet is a scary place for grammar; it's chock-full of grammar villains: comma splices, fragments, misplaced modifiers. So that's why we've designed this handy introductory grammar course and stuck it on the internet. In this course you'll get acquainted with all of the grammar heroes of the grammar world: coordinating conjunctions, complete sentences, subject-verb agreement, proper pronouns, and more. Perhaps you'll even become one yourself, fighting the forces of overwhelmingly bad grammar the world over. (We hear comma splice is a worthy nemesis.)
This 16-lesson course is the first of a three part series on grammar. Designed to fulfill all of the 7th grade Common Core Language standards, this course provides a good introduction to grammar to middle school students or a great refresher to older students (psst, SAT-takers).
The complete list of topics covered includes:
- Independent and dependent clauses
- Subject-verb agreement
- Verb Tenses
- Prepositional phrases
- Dangling and misplaced modifiers
- Fixing fragments
- Sentence variety
- Commas, commas, commas
- Restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses
- Wordiness and style
Unit 1. Grammar Rules I
This short course covers the basics of grammar and hits the 7th grade language standards to boot. You'll get cozy with subject-verb agreement, clauses, the rules of commas, and more.
Sample Lesson - Introduction
Lesson 2: Super Sentence Hero Training Camp
If we're going to save the world from unsightly grammar mistakes and defeat radioactive villains driven to plans of world destruction by lingering childhood traumas, our first job is to complete Super Sentence Hero Training Camp. That's right. We have to suit up and run the grammar obstacle course in an inspirational, Rocky-style montage before heading off to our first big fight scene.
The biggest part of our superhero obstacle course is, of course, figuring out the ins and outs of all the bits and pieces that make up sentences. Today, we're looking at independent and dependent clauses. These nifty tools are better known as the basic building blocks of a good sentence, so we're going to get to know them up close and oh-so-personally. Set your sentence senses to stun, with grammar mind bullets at the ready: Things are about to get serious.
Sample Lesson - Reading
Reading 1.2: What's a Clause?
We're glad you asked, hero in training! Clauses are any sentence bit that contains both a subject and a verb. If any sentence bit is lacking either of these two key items, it gets downgraded to "phrase" status.
I fired the photon-ray to destroy the mutant army
I laughed triumphantly
Phrase (missing subject or verb):
to destroy the mutant army
Independent and Dependent Clauses
Sentences, and holiday gift giving, are primarily made up of clauses. In English, we've got two types:
The Independent Clause
The Dependent Clause
The Independent Clause is one that could, if punctuated properly, stand all by itself as a complete sentence. It doesn't need you or anyone else to complete it since it already has its own subject and verb that express a complete thought, thank you very much.
I could not fasten the hammock securely
the coconut dangled dangerously
I tumbled down the hillside
Not all clauses are this strong, though. Some clauses are more like helpless puppies that are really cute but need some assistance finding the water bowl. Also called subordinating clauses, dependent clauses do contain some sort of subject and verb. However, unlike independent clauses, they cannot ever stand alone as a sentence—no matter what kind of punctuation you use—because they do not express a complete thought. These guys are the sidekick of the sentence world to the independent clause's hero.
Dependent clauses are also often introduced by a subordinating conjunction. Subordinating conjunctions are so named because they make a dependent clause subordinate to (dependent on) another clause in order to express a complete thought. Subordinating conjunctions look like one of these beauties:
As the world turns
Once I finish decorating the Bat Cave
Until the death ray could be destroyed
When I organize the bottle caps
Whereas the pickle juice turned purple
So that Dolly could terrorize the squirrels
If the 9th grade revolution succeeds
While riding a hippo
Since you are already in the kitchen
Because radioactivity is not an excuse for bad fashion choices
The easiest way to identify a dependent clause is to ask yourself if, after reading, you are left wondering and curious about the rest of the story. Do you find yourself asking "While riding a hippo what? What happened? Why can't you tell me?!" If this is the case, you have probably found a dependent clause. We know you're still wondering about the hippo, but that's a story for another day. Try not to cry.
Joining Forces: How to Make 2 Independent Clauses into 1 Sentence
When two independent clauses need to join forces to avert global crisis, comma + coordinating conjunction pairs are the glue that hold them together. You may remember coordinating conjunctions from such mnemonic devices as FANBOYS: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so.
I could not fasten the hammock securely, and the coconut dangled dangerously.
Smushing Forces: How Not to Make 2 Independent Clauses into 1 Sentence
Remember a few seconds ago when we said that two independent clauses need a comma + coordinating conjunction pair to hold them together? We thought you might. You absolutely must have both pieces for this to work. You cannot just use a comma. If you do just use a comma, you have made a comma splice. Comma splices are almost (but not quite) as bad as things like disease, war, or the cookie jar being empty:
I could not fasten the hammock securely, the coconut dangled dangerously.
This is not a complete sentence. This is just two independent clauses both clinging for life to one little comma. It's not enough! They can't hang on! They desperately need the conjunction to make this party happen. It's up to you to give it to them. We'll talk more about comma splices later, but for now, just remember that this is a bad, bad thing.
Adding a Sidekick: How to Join a Dependent Clause to an Independent Clause
Independent clauses are, as we discussed, the independent, crime-fighting superhero of this story. Throw a little punctuation in there, and they're good to go. But every Batman needs his Robin on occasion, and that means adding a dependent clause to the superhero social hour. But how do we attach this new sidekick? With really strong tape? Bribery? Decidedly not. In fact, it depends on where we want to attach this sidekick of a dependent clause.
If we add the dependent clause to the front of the independent clause, we support it with a comma, like this:
Because radioactivity is not an excuse for bad fashion choices, I opted for the utility vest.
While riding a hippo, I tumbled down the hillside.
If we add the dependent clause after the independent clause, we don't need to add any extra punctuation, so it looks like this:
I opted for the utility vest because radioactivity is not an excuse for bad fashion choices.
I tumbled down the hillside while riding a hippo.
Rise of the Sidekicks: How to Join 2 Dependent Clauses
Not happening. Can't be done. Don't even try it. Two dependent clauses do not a sentence make. What they do make is a fragment, which we'll also discuss later.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 1.2a: Filling Up the Superhero Utility Belt
In this planet-saving clause adventure, your mission critical is to show your superhero savvy by identifying all the special sentence bits and pieces that will eventually go into your superhero utility belt.
Label each item you see as an independent clause (I), dependent clause (D), or phrase (P) in the spaces provided. When in doubt, go through this handy mini-checklist:
1. Does it contain both a subject and verb? (If it doesn't, it's a phrase.)
2. Does it express a complete thought? (If it doesn't, it's a dependent clause.)
Now let's get cracking.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 1.2b: Beclause, That's Why
Now that we know the difference between phrases, independent clauses, and dependent clauses, it's time to get all mix and matchy. We're going to give you two clauses, and your job is to attach them together—if you can. (Insert diabolical cackle.)
If grammatically possible, re-write the two clauses as one sentence in the fields below, adding punctuation or conjunctions where necessary but not deleting any words. If it is not possible to combine the given clauses, write "No can do, Shmoopetron" or maybe compose a short haiku about pickles instead. It's your call.