Grammar with graphics: Some illustrated trivia from "Grammar Saves Lives" session

Grammar with graphics: Some illustrated trivia from "Grammar Saves Lives" session

May 13, 2021 By Redieat Abebe Conferences

On the last day of ACES 2021 Online, Jennifer Rowe’s “Grammar Saves Lives” session created a safe haven for grammar enthusiasts to geek out about commas, pronouns, verbs, modifiers, and more. Her session provided editors with tips on how to navigate the complexities of modern grammar.

This is a brief overview of basic grammar along with an opportunity to refresh those grammar skills before watching the session recording. All answers to these practice questions can be found at the end and also in the session.

Subject / Verb Agreement

The subject is what the sentence is about. The verb is the action or state of being.

A singular subject requires a singular verb. A plural subject requires a plural verb.

Collective Nouns

Collective nouns are singular in form but plural in meaning i.e. army, family, group.

Use a singular verb when the collective noun is operating together. Use a plural verb when the members of the collective noun are operating as individuals.

Uncountable Nouns

Uncountable nouns are nouns that have no plural, although they might look plural.

Uncountable nouns may take a singular or plural verb depending on the context.

Indefinite Pronouns

Indefinite pronouns are pronouns that refer to no one or nothing in particular and lack specificity.

Indefinite pronouns can be singular or plural depending on the context.

Intervening Information

Sometimes words, between a noun or pronoun and the verb, confuse matters.

Pronoun /Antecedent Agreement

Pronouns are the players sitting on the bench waiting to take the place of a noun that has been overused. 

An antecedent is a word that a pronoun replaces or references. The antecedent and pronoun must agree in both number and gender.

Distinguishing Restrictive Information

Restrictive: phrase or clause that is essential to the meaning of the sentence.

Nonrestrictive: phrase or clause that is not essential to the meaning of the sentence.

Place commas around the nonrestrictive information. Do not place commas around restrictive information.

Which vs. That

The pronoun which is used to introduce a nonrestrictive dependent clause and is set off by commas. 

The pronoun that is used to introduce a restrictive clause and is not set off by commas. 

Use which for information that merely elaborates and use that when the information must be included.

Who vs. That

Who and that are both relative pronouns used to introduce dependent clauses that include additional information about the noun or pronoun preceding them. 

Who is usually used when referring to people or animals with names. 

That is used with inanimate objects or things.

Subjective vs. Objective

The case of a noun or pronoun shows its relation to other words in a phrase or clause.

Subjective: the subject of the sentence, phrase, or clause

Objective: the object of the sentence, phrase, or clause

Nouns don’t change their form whether they are a subject or an object. Pronouns change their form when in the subjective or objective case.

Who vs Whom

Use who when it is the actor or does something (subjective case). Use whom when something is done to it or it is the receiver of the action (objective case).

Tip: match the m’s

If you can replace the word with “him,” or “them,” use whom. If you can replace the word with “he,” use who.

Misplaced Modifiers

Misplaced modifiers are words, phrases, and clauses that are misplaced in the sentence so as to obscure their meaning.

When you begin a sentence with a participial phrase, the subject of the participle should be the same as the subject of the clause. 

The participial phrase should modify the noun closest to it.

When you begin a sentence with a gerund phrase, the subject of the gerund should be the same as the subject of the clause.

When you begin a sentence with an infinitive phrase, the subject of the infinitive should be the same as the subject of the clause.

Confusing Adjectives and Adverbs

Good vs Well and Bad vs Badly

Good and bad are adjectives and should modify nouns or pronouns. 

Well and badly are adverbs and should modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. 

Linking verbs are always followed by adjectives, not adverbs.

Plurals and Possessives

Use a possessive form after the last word if ownership is joint. 

Use a possessive form after both words if the objects are individually owned. 

Apostrophes shouldn’t be used for non-possessive plural forms of nouns.

Confusing Word Pairs


Adverse means unfavorable. To be averse means you are opposed to or reluctant about something.


Affect is a verb and means to influence, and effect is a noun meaning the result.


Fewer should be used with plural items (ending in “s”), less with quantities or amounts, which are singular.


Subject / Verb Agreement

Collective Nouns

Uncountable Nouns

Indefinite Pronouns

Intervening Information

Distinguishing Restrictive Information

Which and That

Who and That

Misplaced Modifiers

Confusing Adjectives and Adverbs

Plurals and Possessives

Confusing Word Pairs

Registered conference attendees can watch this session through July 31, 2021.

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