4 Grammatical Rules That Always Stick Together

Tuesday, January 103 min read

In English, some grammatical concepts depend on each other. For example, an indirect object doesn’t work in a sentence without a direct object. Likewise, a dependent clause doesn’t make sense unless paired with an independent clause. In other words, it’s hard to understand one of these concepts without learning about the other. Here are four examples of grammatical rules that almost always work together.

Direct and Indirect Objects

A complete sentence typically has a subject (noun or pronoun) and a predicate (verb). Some sentences also have an object. A direct object is the thing receiving the action of the verb. For example, in the sentence, “Angela threw the ball,” the direct object is “the ball.” That’s because it’s the item being acted upon (thrown) by the subject (Angela).

Here’s a quick tip for determining the direct object: Ask yourself “[verb] what?” or “[verb] whom?” In the previous example, the question would be, “Threw what?” and the answer would be “the ball.”

Indirect objects are slightly different because they are affected not by the verb but by the direct object. Instead of receiving the action of the verb, they receive the action from the direct object. Here’s the same sentence with a minor tweak: “Angela threw the ball to Marco.”

There’s a trick to finding the indirect object, too. Ask yourself: “to whom?” “for whom?” or “for what?” In the above sentence, the ball (the direct object) was thrown “to whom?” The answer is “to Marco.” So the indirect object here is Marco.

It’s essential to know a sentence can have a direct object on its own, but it cannot have an indirect object without a direct object.

Common Nouns vs. Proper Nouns

In grammar basics, a noun is a person, place, thing, or idea. A common noun is just that — the general designation for a person, place, thing, or idea, such as “president,” “river,” or “movie.”

In contrast, a proper noun is a specific name for a particular noun, such as “Abraham Lincoln,” the “Mississippi River,” and “Star Wars.

The most significant difference between these two types of nouns is capitalization. Proper nouns are always capitalized, no matter where they appear in a sentence. Conversely, common nouns aren’t typically capitalized, unless they’re at the beginning of a sentence.

Independent vs. Dependent Clauses

A clause is a part of a sentence that contains a subject and a predicate. As its name suggests, an independent clause can be a full sentence. It’s a complete thought all by itself.

A dependent clause relies (or depends) on the main clause to help it make sense — it doesn’t form a complete sentence on its own. Sometimes it’s connected to the main (independent) clause by a coordinating conjunction (such as “because,” “since,” or “though”) or a relative pronoun (such as “that,” “what,” or “which”). The clauses can also be connected with punctuation, such as a comma or an em dash.

Here are some examples of both types of clauses and how they form sentences:

Full sentence: Although it’s snowing, we are going on a hike.

Dependent clause: Although it’s snowing

Independent clause: We are going on a hike.

Full sentence: Mike started to laugh when Janice threw a snowball.

Dependent clause: when Janice threw a snowball

Independent clause: Mike started to laugh.

Notice how the independent clauses read as their own short sentences, while the dependent clauses don’t make sense on their own. Two independent clauses can also be joined together with conjunctions, such as “and,” “but,” “for,” “nor,” “or,” “so,” or “yet.”

Active vs. Passive Voice

English has two grammatical voices: active and passive. Active is generally preferred in writing, but passive can also be useful in certain situations.

In a sentence using active voice, the subject is performing the action. It’s the “actor,” which is performing the action of the verb.

Dana watched the movie.

Our family loves playing board games

Monroe donated money to the school.

Sentences in active voice have a direct and clear tone. These statements are not overly wordy or complex, and the message is usually short, concise, and easy to understand.

Passive voice, on the other hand, is all about the verb. That means, in sentences using passive voice, the subject has an action performed on it. Here are examples of the earlier sentences in a passive voice:

A movie was watched by Dana.

Playing board games is loved by our family.

Money was donated to the school by Monroe.

Notice how these statements are less clear and straightforward. The speaker may seem ambivalent, submissive, or removed. Writers might use passive voice to seem objective or neutral on a subject, or when they want to convey an air of mystery.

Featured image credit: Antonio Suarez Vega/ iStock

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