If You Ace This Quiz, We’ll Be Impressed by Your Grammar Skills

By: Torrance Grey

Can you identify the sentence that is punctuated correctly?

All of these sentences require what's known as "suspensive hyphenation." The correct example uses it properly: a hyphen seems to hang off the word "second" because "place" is implied. This is a correct, space-saving way to do it. If you wanted, you could also write, "second-place and third-place finishers" as well. The other sentences miss the mark, implying a bus station was "full of Chicago," or that the clientele was entirely of mixed Lebanese-and-Turkish-Americans -- a very specific mix!

All of the following words are nouns. Which one is a "count noun"?

A count noun is just what it sounds like -- a thing which can be counted, or, to be fancier, one which comes in discrete units. But don't be fooled. Though "ethics" sounds plural, it's really not. Consider: How would you count somebody's ethics?

What is the opposite of a count noun?

The formal name for this is "mass noun," though some people simply use "non-count noun." If you thought "irrational noun" was correct, you probably you have a background in math, in which there is such a thing as an "irrational number."

Teachers often say that one part of speech "modifies" another, but what does "modify" really mean?

"Modify" in its grammatical sense can mean all of these and more. Adjectives describe nouns; that's their kind of "modification." Adverbs are more versatile: they can amplify or even de-emphasize a verb. "I frequently dress up" is an example of the former, while "I rarely dress up" is the latter.

Is there anything wrong with this sentence? "Gavin administered the test to Jennie, Kiki and I."

The easiest way to highlight this error is to strip away the fellow nouns "Jennie" and "Kiki." You're left with "Gavin administered the test to I," which definitely sounds wrong. This is because the speaker is the object, not the subject, of the sentence.

Can you identify the proper noun among the common ones?

In casual conversation, we often refer to a proper noun as a "name," and thus, it is capitalized. We included "china" with a lowercase "c" because it's an example of how proper nouns can lend their names to common ones. The type of tableware called china got its name from being first made in China.

Which of these plural forms is incorrect?

What's the rule here? When a word ends with a sibilant sound -- an "s"-like one -- we insert an "e" for easier reading. Except for "ox," which becomes "oxen," thanks to the word coming from far back in the Anglo-Saxon vocabulary, when the rules were different.

Can you tell us which of these pronouns doesn't require an apostrophe to be made plural?

While regular nouns, both common and proper, require an apostrophe to become plural -- "Santiago" becomes "Santiago's" -- pronouns change form. Thus we get "his," "its," "her," and "your." Note: "Its" confuses many people, who feel that the "s" at the end merits an apostrophe, like "man's" or "priest's" would have. It's just not so, however.

Which of these sentences is incorrectly punctuated?

This question deals with hyphenation in adverb-adjective compounds. When the adverb ends in "-ly," it is all right to omit the hyphen -- this means the "utterly adorable" example is correct. Other adverbs, like "much" and "well," require a hyphen.

Of the following verbs, which one is irregular?

An irregular verb is one that doesn't follow the normal pattern of conjugation. "Run" is regular: We say "I run, you runs, he/she/it runs, we run, you all run." Pretty easy. But the verb "to be" follows this pattern: "I am, you are, he/she/it is, we are, you all are." It's more confusing for English-language learners to master.

What's wrong with the following sentence? "Woohoo! The weekend is finally here!"

If you think "Woohoo" is not a word, you'll have to take that up with "Simpsons" creator Matt Groening. However, it can stand alone, with just an exclamation point (in fact, we could have said "...with these sentences" below, but that would have given things away.) "Woohoo!" is an interjection, which is one of the eight parts of speech.

Which part of speech connects words, phrases or clauses?

You'll notice the similarity to the word "junction," as in railroads, and that's not a coincidence. Both deal with hooking things up. Common conjunctions include "and," "but" and "or," and everyday speech would be impossible without them.

Adverbs modify which other part of speech?

Schoolchildren are first taught that adverbs modify verbs, but teachers quickly clarify that they also apply to adjectives and adverbs. An example of that last one: "I almost never eat after 10 p.m." "Never" is the adverb that modifies "eat," but it it isn't true that you *never* eat after 10 p.m., so the adverb, "almost," alters the meaning of "never."

Is one of these a split infinitive?

An infinitive is the root form of a verb, always starting with "to." If you plug a word or words in between "to" and the actual verb, as in "to immediately hire," then it's a split infinitive.

True or false? A split infinitive isn't always bad grammar.

Grammarians generally agree that sometimes a split infinitive is acceptable if it fits smoothly into the flow of the sentence. How do we know whether that's the case? Honestly, it's a matter of opinion; you have to learn to trust your own ear. Or you could ask a grammarian -- but who exactly is that? No one's job title is "grammarian." But when we use that term, we tend to mean teachers, editors, or professional writers.

Identify the sentence that is an example of direct address.

A sentence with direct address will often begin with a name or title. Above, it's "Karen," or it might be, "Sir." However, sometimes "you" is implied. That's the case with the first example. The unspoken subject is "You." "You, go home!"

What is a "serial comma"?

Here's an example of the serial or Oxford comma: "The charity benefit featured some comedians, Sophie B. Hawkins, and Michael Buble." Some people argue -- vehemently! -- that the comma before "and" is unnecessary. However, consider how the sentence would read without it: It might seem that Sophie B. Hawkins and Michael Buble *were* the comedians. This is one reason for the equally vehement defense of the serial comma.

What's wrong with the following sentence? "The dog, Two-Bit, was scratching it's ear."

This was discussed in another question -- "it's" versus "its" confuses a number of people, given that most nouns require an apostrophe "s" to be made plural; we're just underscoring it here. Also, dog lovers feel that a dog should be "him" or "her," not "it" -- but when you don't know the sex, "it" and "its" are acceptable.

What punctuation mark would make the following sentence correct? "She got into her aged car, a Volkswagen and tried to start the engine."

Teachers explain this point by saying, "If you open a door, you have to close it." When you're setting off a phrase with a comma, it's necessary to use another comma to return us to the action of the sentence. In this case, the words "a Volkswagen" are an appositive phrase, one that renames or clarifies a noun.

What is wrong with the following sentence? "While cleaning up after the party, I found a sequined girl's headband."

What's at issue *is* a dangling modifier, but the modifier is "sequined." It's not a girl who is "sequined," obviously, but the headband. Occasionally, when the context is very clear, this is OK. For example, if you'd found "a pair of black women's shoes," no one would think that they can only be worn by black women. At least, we hope not.

What's the issue with this sentence? "When Keiko ran into Sue-Lin in Seattle, she was so happy!"

This sentence raises the question of who was happy? Was it Keiko or Sue-Lin? In doubt, readers will likely assume it's the subject of the sentence, Keiko. But it's still unclear writing; the burden is on the writer to make things as understandable as possible.

Is everything OK with this sentence? "Charles' lawn was browning from lack of water; he really needed to put out some sprinklers."

You could start a fight in some circles with this question. Some guides to grammar, including the classic "Elements of Style" by Strunk and White, and the Chicago Manual of Style, tell you that even when a singular noun ends in "s," it requires an apostrophe-s (e.g. "Charles's lawn"). However, since many forms of public communication (news media, websites, etc) follow AP style, which requires only the apostrophe, that's what we're going with here.

What's the issue with this sentence? "The basics of good writing are simple: omit needless words, keep the reader in mind, and simplicity."

Though not as easy to sum up as subject-verb disagreement, a lack of parallelism is something that instantly strikes the reader or listener as awkward. In the example above, the list starts with two items that are short verb phrases, then switches to just a noun. It "clangs" on the ear. But there are several ways to fix it, for example, ending with "and writing simply" or "and keeping simplicity in mind."

Which punctuation mark would repair this sentence? "My car needed more in repairs than it was worth, I decided to sell it."

In an admittedly informal Twitter survey of writers, the semicolon won the day as their favorite punctuation mark. Without a semi-colon, which links two independent clauses in one sentence, the above example is a run-on sentence.

Can you identify the best definition of a preposition?

Some schoolchildren are taught this with "Preposition Mountain." Things are "on" the mountain, "over" the mountain, "beside" the mountain and so on. It's a quick and vivid way to learn about this part of speech dealing with position, location or relation.

In the sentence "Tomorrow we will go to the beach," what part of speech is "tomorrow"?

We're used to seeing "tomorrow" as a noun. It's the day after today, right? However, here it functions as an adverb, clarifying the verb "go" -- "tomorrow" is when we will "go." This is an example of how fluid language can be.

What's the difference between a noun and a pronoun?

Pronouns replace nouns after it has been established what the noun is. A classic example is "Isabel" or "the woman" can become "she" on second reference. Other pronouns include "me," "you," and "this/that." Be careful when speaking or writing about several people. In a passage involving Kwame, Joe, and Ben, it's not also clear to whom "he" might refer.

What's wrong with the following sentence? "My sister, Jaye, gave a eulogy for our beloved grandfather."

The use of "a" versus "an" is ruled by the sound the following word begins with. Consonant words require "a," while vowel sounds take "an." Hence, we get "a eulogy" and "an honor," despite the fact that, technically, they start with a vowel and a consonant, respectively.

What is wrong with the following sentence? "Today's world can always use more careful ethical journalists."

When two adjectives have equal standing in a sentence​ and serve the same function, they are separated by a comma. No comma is used when the first adjective applies to the second: "A red brick building" shouldn't be described as "a red and brick" building.

The sentence "Stay strong, brother," is an example of what kind of mood?

The imperative mood is a command of some kind. Despite its implication of power (its root is "imperator," the Roman word for "emperor"), the use of the imperative doesn't necessarily imply the speaker has any sort of power, or is being bossy. "Help!' is a good example, or "Breathe" on the walls of yoga studios everywhere.

What does a sentence written in the indicative mood describe?

The indicative mood is the easiest to understand for English-language learners. "I ran toward the finish line," is an example. "Should I run?" is the interrogative mood; "If I were to run," is subjunctive (a possibility or uncertainty); finally, "Run!" is imperative.

What is the subject of the short sentence, "Go get help!"

In the imperative mood, the subject is always the person who hears/reads the statement. After all, it's a command, demand or request. It is usually omitted from the sentence and simply understood.

True or false? A conjunction can be used to cut off words/ideas from each other.

​If you were paying close attention to an earlier question, you might have recognized this because we listed "but" as a common conjunction. "But" doesn't actually link words and phrases, it separates them, and frequently is followed by "not." Hey, sometimes you need a wall, not a bridge (no political commentary intended).

Is it ever acceptable to turn a noun into a verb, as in, "I office out of my home"?

Turning nouns into verbs has been an ​acceptable practice for a long time. After all, we've "shouldered the blame" for centuries. Objections tend to arise when "verbing" (a clever word that literally illustrates its own definition) takes the form of business-world jargon, like "office," above. "Office" was becoming a popular verb in the '90s, but happily, it seems to have died out.

What is wrong with the following sentence? "Firstly, I never even said that I wasn't going to dinner."

​OK, "even" might be a bit much, but that's a matter of opinion. However, "first" is the kind of adverb known as a "flat adverb," meaning it's spelled the same in its adjective and adverb form. Not recognizing this, people often tack on an "-ly." The adverb "thus" often gets the same treatment.

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About This Quiz

Grammar: It's the bane of many a grade-school student, and for some, the fear doesn't abate much when they get into adulthood. Few things can make you look stupider than writing "I believe their is room at your company for a hard worker like me" on the cover letter to a job application. Of course, "their/they're/there" is one of the easier grammar errors to catch, and furthermore, most word-processing programs have grammar-check applications alongside their spellcheckers (Whew!).

But not all grammar issues are so easily caught. Is that really long, complicated sentence actually a run-on? Does the short, sharp sentence "Go away!" have a subject? What about an object? And if not, is it a sentence fragment? If an apostrophe and an "s" make most nouns possessive, like "Jennie's," then why is "the dog scratched it's ear" wrong?

We've got a quiz to help you find out if you've got a handle on all these tricky issues. Don't worry, we're not going to test you on the names of obscure grammar terms. You won't have to know transitive from intransitive or have to define an appositive. Simple grammar terms, though, are fair game. And a bit of this quiz will also involve punctuation because incorrect punctuation is what sometimes makes a sentence ungrammatical. 

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