March 4 is National Grammar Day. Honor the day by reminding yourself of some grammar basics.
Here are five answers to common questions people have about grammar—including some that might surprise you.
1. When do you use “me,” and when do you use “I”?
Even though many of us have been told it’s always “I” because “me” is for bumpkins, that’s not true.
Use “I” when you’re the subject of a sentence. Use “me” when you’re an object—meaning, if someone is giving or doing something to you or with you.
If you get confused, just take out the other person. You know you wouldn’t say, “Give I the ball” or “Me went to the store.”
2. Is it “good” or “well”?
There’s a misperception out there that you have to say, “I am well” when someone asks how you’re doing because “am” is a verb and adverbs modify verbs.
Either is fine. There’s a kind of verb called a “linking verb.” These link a subject to an adjective. You know this already—you’d never say, “I am happily.” For some reason, though, a lot of people get hung up on the word “well” when it comes after a verb.
Also, there’s a difference between “good” and “well” in terms of meaning. “Well” tends to refer specifically to your health. “Good” can be a more general James Brown kind of state.
3. Can you split an infinitive?
Yes. An infinitive is a “to” plus a verb, e.g. “to organize.” Long ago, people tried to give English the heft of Latin—a language where infinitives can’t be split because they’re one word. So, this is a fake rule you can ignore, especially when the point you’re trying to make comes through more clearly when you split the “to” from the verb. (To boldly go like the Star Trek guys, for example.)
4. Can you end a sentence with a preposition?
Here’s another fake Latin-based rule. You can end a sentence with a preposition, particularly if you’re writing something informal. Remember the Bonnie Raitt song, “Something to Talk About?” Let’s give them something about which to talk sounds stilted. There is one case where a preposition shouldn’t come at the end of the sentence. “Where’s he at?” doesn’t need that “at.” It’s redundant.
5. Can you start a sentence with a conjunction?
But of course! It happens all the time in newspapers and novels. Same with sentence fragments. When you do use these effects with a light hand, they can make your writing flow better, which in turn makes it easier to understand. You might not want to do it in a formal academic paper. But if you’re not a professor, feel free.
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