1. Education
Send to a Friend via Email

Grammar Questions & Answers

We welcome your questions about grammar and usage, whether they arrive by email, in forum posts, or in response to blog entries. Here we offer concise answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about grammar.

What Is Language?
The following observations on language, drawn from the works of various writers and scholars, take us beyond simple definitions. Approaching the subject from different metaphorical perspectives, these quotations should serve as points of departure for your own exploration of the mystery of language.

Where Does Language Come From?
What was the first language? How did language begin--and where and when? It's hard to imagine a cultural phenomenon that's more important than the development of language. And yet no human attribute offers less conclusive evidence regarding its origins. Over the centuries, many theories have been put forward--and just about all of them have been...

What Is Linguistics?
Enjoy this brief introduction to linguistics and its many subfields.

What Is Grammar?
"Descriptive grammar" refers to the structure of a language as it is actually used by speakers and writers. "Prescriptive grammar" refers to the structure of a language as certain people think it should be used.

Reflections on Grammar From 1776 to the Present
Consider this an appendix to the article "What Is Grammar?": a gathering of reflections that I hope will contribute to an understanding of what grammar is, what it's not, and why it's well worth studying.

What Is Standard English?
The following comments--from linguists, lexicographers, grammarians, and journalists--are offered in the spirit of fostering discussion rather than resolving all the many complex issues that surround the term "Standard English."

Why Should We Study the English Language?
In his preface to "The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language," David Crystal offers six good reasons for studying the English language.

What Is Good English?
Professor George Krapp's engaging response to the question "What is good English?" remains as provocative as when it was first published in 1909.

What Was "Good English" a Century Ago?
I've been thumbing through old books on business writing and office etiquette to find a reasonable definition of "good English." What I found, however, was a greater interest in good looks than in good language.

Why Is Grammar Important?
From the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), a lucid and sensible position statement on the value of teaching grammar in American schools.

Why Should We Study English Grammar?
In "The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language," David Crystal opens his chapter on "Grammar Mythology" with a list of six good reasons to study grammar.

What Is the Difference Between Descriptive and Prescriptive Grammar?
"Descriptive grammar" refers to the structure of a language as it is actually used by speakers and writers. "Prescriptive grammar" refers to the structure of a language as certain people think it should be used.

What Is the Difference Between Grammar and Usage?
Grammar is the rationale of a language; usage is the etiquette.

What Is a SNOOT?
After reading this article, decide if you are a SNOOT: one of "the Few, the Proud, the More or Less Constantly Appalled at Everyone Else."

Quiz on Common Grammatical Terms
After studying the Top 25 Grammatical Terms, take this multiple-choice quiz to review what you have learned.

What Is a Sentence?
Most of us probably recall the textbook definition of a sentence as "a group of words having a subject and a predicate and expressing a complete idea." But wait. It's not that simple. Not at all.

What Is Sentence Combining and How Does It Work?
An alternative to traditional forms of grammar instruction, sentence combining gives students practice in manipulating a variety of basic sentence structures.

What Are the Parts of Speech?
One way to begin studying basic sentence structures is to consider the parts of speech. Here you will learn the names and basic functions of these sentence parts.

What Is the Subject of a Sentence?
A subject is one of the two main parts of a sentence. Here we'll use examples to show you some of the different types of subjects.

Ten Quick Questions and Answers About Verbs and Verbals in English
In these ten sets of questions and answers, you'll find simplified definitions and brief examples of key verb-related terms in English.

What Is Verbing?
Verbing is a time-honored way of coining new words out of old ones, the etymological process of conversion (or functional shifting). Sometimes it's also a kind of word play.

What Is the Difference Between a "Weak Verb" and a "Strong Verb"?
"Weak verbs" (also called regular verbs) form the past tense by adding -ed, -d, or -t to the base form. "Strong verbs" (also called irregular verbs) form the past tense or the past participle (or both) in various ways but most often by changing the vowel of the present tense form.

Does the English Language Have a Future Tense?
Although there are several ways of expressing future time in English, many contemporary linguists insist that the English language has no future tense.

What Is a Predicate?
A predicate is one of the two main parts of a sentence. Here we'll use examples to show you some of the different types of predicates.

What Is an Appositive?
An appositive is a word or group of words that renames another word in a sentence. Here we'll look at some of the ways in which George Orwell uses appositives in his essay "A Hanging."

What Is a Sentence Adverb?
The sentence adverb has served a useful function in English since the 14th century. In the past few decades, however, one sentence adverb in particular has come in for a lot of criticism. Here we'll look at some examples of sentence adverbs and consider what--if anything--is wrong with the ever-optimistic adverb "hopefully."

What Is a Double Genitive?
Although the double genitive may appear overly possessive, the construction has been around for centuries and it's perfectly correct.

What Is a Present Participle?
In one respect, the present participle is a simple, straightforward construction. Whether "laughing" or "crying," "rising" or "falling," it's formed by adding "-ing" to the base form of a verb. No exceptions. But after that, it gets a bit more complicated.

Present Progressive & Present Participle: What's the Difference?
Find out what distinguishes a present participle ("singing," for instance) from the present progressive tense ("is singing").

What Are Grammatical Zeros and Bare Relatives?
Linguists use the term "zero" to signify the absence of a word in a structure where that morpheme usually appears. Linguists use the term "zero" to signify the absence of a word in a structure where that morpheme usually appears. Thus we have zero articles, zero infinitives, zero plurals, zero copulas, and zero relative pronouns.

What Is the Oxford (or Serial) Comma?
The Oxford (or serial) comma is the comma that precedes the conjunction before the final item in a list of three or more items.

How Many Spaces Go After a Period?
If you grew up using a typewriter, you were probably taught to put two spaces after a period. But like the typewriter itself, that custom went out of fashion many years ago.

What Is a Placeholder?
A placeholder (also known as a tongue-tipper) is a word used by speakers to signal that they don't know or can't remember a more precise word for something--a "thingie," for instance, or a "thingamabob."

What Is an Eponym?
An eponym is a word derived from the proper name of a person or place. Some eponyms ("sandwich" and "valentine," for instance) are well known. But there are hundreds of other eponyms whose etymologies are less familiar. Here are a few.

Which Words in a Title Should Be Capitalized?
Style guides disagree on which words to capitalize in a title (of a book, article, essay, movie, song, or video game). Here's a basic guide to the two most common methods: sentence case and title case.

How Should I Write the Abbreviation for "United States"?
In my job, I frequently have to write the abbreviation for "United States." What is the preferred way to write the abbreviation: "U.S." or "US"?

What Is the Preferred Way to Write the Abbreviation for the United States?
As it happens, there's more than one preferred way to write the abbreviation for United States.

Is It Wrong to Begin a Sentence With "But"?
It has been common practice to begin sentences with a conjunction since at least as far back as the 10th century.

Is It Wrong to End a Sentence With a Preposition?
Quite simply, no. A preposition is not a bad word to end a sentence with. Even in your grandparents' day a preposition was not a bad word to end a sentence with.

What is a "split infinitive" and what's wrong with it?
The so-called "split infinitive" is a construction in which one or more words come between the particle "to" and the verb. And there's nothing wrong with it.

What Is the Correct Pronunciation of "February"?
The loss of the first "r" in the pronunciation of "February" is the result of a process called "dissimilation," where one of two similar sounds in a word is sometimes changed or dropped to avoid the repetition of that sound.

What Is Family Slang?
Family slang refers to words and phrases (neologisms) created, used, and generally understood only by the members of a family. As a rule, these coinages do not appear in any conventional dictionary.

What Is the NATO Phonetic Alphabet?
The NATO phonetic alphabet is a spelling alphabet used by airline pilots, police, the military, and other officials when communicating over radio or telephone.

What Is a Dialect?
One common myth about language is that a dialect is always somebody else's peculiar way of speaking, never our own. But the truth is, everybody speaks a dialect

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.