Grammar Guidelines

It’s hard to take someone seriously when they leave you a note saying, ‘Your ugly.’

My ugly what?

~ Cara Lynn Shultz, Spellcaster



PLEASE: If you notice any type of error, grammatical or otherwise, (on this page in particular–but really anywhere on my blog) please email me at

jodie. morgenson @ district145 . org (no spaces).

I am a human being, and I make mistakes. Often. And, it’s embarrassing. Thank you for your consideration. ~ JM


To show that a noun is possessive, add an apostrophe (‘).

  • the penguin’s leash
  • a boy’s mother
  • a tiki torch’s flame

If the noun is plural, to make it possessive, add the apostrophe at the end of the word. (This applies to plurals ending in s.)

  • the penguins’ leashes
  • the boys’ mother
  • the tiki torches’ flames

Use an apostrophe to signal to your reader that a letter is missing from a word.

  • can’t (cannot)
  • don’t (do not)
  • nothin’ (nothing, shortened to mimic speech)


Capitalize the first letter of every sentence, all proper nouns, and the proper pronoun I.

  • Molly and I took our pet guinea pigs on a trip to Rome, Italy.
  • Frank took a trolley through San Francisco.
  • Mergatroid wanted to take Felipe on a tour of Waverly High School. I told her she should.


Use end punctuation to fit the purpose/type of the sentence you are writing.

  • My parakeet has magical powers. (declarative: shares information)
  • Go to your room. ~ OR ~ Go to your room! (imperative: delivers a command)
  • Boy, am I tired! (exclamatory: a declarative sentences that includes an exclamation, conveys excitement)
  • Do you like cheese? (interrogative: poses a question)


Use complete sentences. Here are some examples of types of complete sentences.


  • The girl ran.
  • A turkey gobbled.
  • The girl and the turkey raced.
  • The girl and the turkey raced and gobbled.


  • The girl ran, and the turkey gobbled.
  • The girl ran; the turkey gobbled.
  • Mercer was known for his long-winded talks, and Marley was known for listening well.


  • A student who is hungry does not concentrate very well.
  • The boy climbed the mountain, even though he was tired.
  • Because he was tired, he didn’t move as quickly as he normally did.


  • While the sun set, Marcy picked cherries, and the turkey gobbled.
  • Minnie forgot her friend’s graduation, so she sent her a card, when she finally remembered.
  • Though Marvin prefers historical fiction, he borrowed a science fiction novel, and he enjoyed it more than he expected he would.

Do not use fragments (unless you are doing so intentionally for stylistic effect).


  • Kicking and screaming, while everyone watched.


  • Kicking and screaming, Horatio pitched an epic fit on the soccer field, while everyone watched.


  • Because of his love for animals.


  • We knew we could trust Ralphy with Sparkles, our pet iguana because of his love for animals.


  • If you want to take me shopping.


  • If you want to take me shopping, all you have to do is ask.

Do not use comma splices (unless you are J.K. Rowling).


  • I took out the trash, Marquis cleaned the guinea pig cage.


  • I took out the trash, and Marquis cleaned the guinea pig cage
  • I took out the trash. Marquis cleaned the guinea pig cage.
  • I took out the trash; Marquis cleaned the guinea pig cage.
  • I took out the trash, while Marquis cleaned the guinea pig cage.

Do not use run-on sentences.


  • One of my favorite dishes is spaghetti it is so garlicky and delicious.


  • One of my favorite dishes is spaghetti because it is so garlicky and delicious.
  • One of my favorite dishes is spaghetti. It is so garlicky and delicious.
  • One of my favorite dishes is spaghetti; it is so garlicky and delicious.


  • Why do you do this your goals are so unclear.


  • Why do you do this? Your goals are so unclear.


When directly addressing someone in a sentence, use commas to separate the name from the rest of the sentence.

  • Malificent, please take out this trash.
  • I wish you wouldn’t go to Spain without me again, Mother.

Use commas to separate items or actions in a series.

  • I like cherries, apples, pineapples, and oranges.
  • Even though Bertha danced with Charles, ate sandwiches with Ricky, gave Malorie her birthday present, and played Scrabble with the Robinson twins, she still made it home before midnight.

Use a comma to offset an introductory word, or mild interjection.

  • Yes, I will play Dungeons and Dragons with you.
  • Oh, I don’t think you need to use my crayons again.

Place a comma before a conjunction, when combining two complete sentences (independent clauses) to make a compound or a compound-complex sentence.

  • I paid for Merlin’s trip to Egypt, and I want him to pay me back.
  • Ferdinand taught me how to play the piano, but Bartelby taught me how to play it well.

Use a pair of commas to set off a word or phrase that interrupts the main idea of a the sentence.

  • Millie, who is next in line at the post office, is married to Charles.
  • The pterodactyl, which you can see in this computerized reconstruction, is the only known flying reptile.

Use a comma to separate a modifying (dependent) clause from the rest of the sentence.

  • After dinner, I am going to bed.
  • Look over there, under the porch swing.

Use a comma to introduce, continue, or conclude dialogue.

  • Herbert said, “You better not come back here!”
  • “You just keep to yourself, buddy boy,” said Herbert.
  • “I told those kids,” sputtered Herbert,”get out, and stay out!”
  • “I told the kids to get out,” said Herbert. “My old heart just can’t take any more startling.”

Use commas to set off appositives.

  • Bill Clinton, former president of the United States, will be in town for a speech tomorrow.


Use quotation marks to indicate dialogue.

  • “I just adore chicken alfredo,” said Herman, as he shoveled the cheese-covered noodles into his mouth.
  • “It’s obvious,” began Minnie, “that Mickey doesn’t know what he’s talking about!”

Use quotation marks to indicate that you are quoting someone else’s words.

  • In the book Suckerpunch by David Hernandez the narrator says, “I hadn’t seen my dad in a year, but I was always bumping into someone who reminded me of him.”


its = possessive (belonging to it)

  • The dresser was exquisite. Its finish was so shiny!
  • It was a shame that its leaves were turning yellow.
  • Don’t spill any grape juice on its surface.

it’s = contraction of it is or it has

  • It’s going to snow.
  • I can’t believe it’s so ugly!
  • I like how it’s calm and cool in the hollow.

your = possessive (belonging to you)

  • Your boat is floating away!
  • Are you going to eat your sushi?
  • Your toast is burnt.

you’re = contraction of you are

  • You’re going to be so happy when you see your present.
  • If you’re taking Mimi to the party, you’ll have to call her mother.
  • I think you’re fantastic, Marshall.

their = possessive (belonging to them)

  • Their cat is super fluffy.
  • Will you deliver their food right away, please?
  • I can’t take their nonsense anymore!

they’re = contraction of they are or they were

  • They’re going to be in so much trouble.
  • Do you think they’re going to meet us in Miami?
  • I think they’re making a big deal out of nothing.

there = indicator of place

  • Spray some silly string over there.
  • Her ponytail holders are there, on the shelf.
  • Why wasn’t Elmer there?

Do not use abbreviations or relaxed slang in formal writing, unless you are writing a story that requires dialect.

The following are a small sampling of abbreviations that should be avoided: &, +, b/c, w/o, gonna, kinda, cuz, 4 (in place of for), luv, wanna, u (in place of u), r (in place of are).

  • (Slang changes too rapidly to document in a meaningful way.)

Use who as a subject.

  • Who is in the basement right now?
  • I know who stole my pet turtle.

Use whom as an object.

  • With whom are you going to the circus?
  • Lillian took out a picture of her hedgehog, Nellybean whom she adores.

Tip: When in doubt, use the he/him test. Replace who/whom with he/him. If it makes sense to use he, use who. If it makes sense to use him, use whom. (Note that him and whom both end with an m.)

Use could have (not could of) and would have (not would of), etc.

Please know how to spell the following words for the given context.

  • a lot (It’s always two words.)
  • definitely Vs. defiantly
  • lose Vs. loose
  • whether Vs. weather
  • which Vs. witch
  • all together Vs. altogether
  • all ready Vs. already
  • affect Vs. effect
  • lie Vs. lay
  • whose Vs. who’s
  • apart Vs. a part

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