Essential English Grammar
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Essential English Grammar

by Philip Gucker

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This English grammar has been specially designed for readers with limited learning time, who wish to gain command of all the important points of grammar needed for everyday speech and comprehension, yet who do not wish to be unnecessarily burdened with archaic, highly literary, or seldom used forms. Summarizing all the major constructions, principles, and basic


This English grammar has been specially designed for readers with limited learning time, who wish to gain command of all the important points of grammar needed for everyday speech and comprehension, yet who do not wish to be unnecessarily burdened with archaic, highly literary, or seldom used forms. Summarizing all the major constructions, principles, and basic terminology, this book will provide readers with a firm foundation in essential English grammar.
The text proceeds in easy, natural steps, beginning with simple sentence structure and advancing logically to more difficult constructions. More than 600 practice exercises and solutions make this an excellent home-study text. Organized with clarity and emphasizing explanation rather than rote memorization, this selective grammar can be used effectively as a course supplement, as an introduction for beginners, or as a reference for students and teachers.

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Essential English Grammar

By Philip Gucker

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1966 Philip Gucker
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-11338-8



Subject and Predicate

The basic unit of written expression is the sentence.

A sentence is a group of words that says something, all by itself. It is complete; it can stand alone. It is followed by a period (or, in certain cases, a question mark or an exclamation point).

In grammatical terms, a sentence is a group of words that contains a subject and a predicate. The subject is the person or thing you're talking about. The predicate (to predicate means to say or declare) is what you're saying about it. For example:

We won.

The subject is we; the predicate is won.

Mr. Canby's house is at the end of the road.

The subject is Mr. Canby's house; the predicate is is at the end of the road.

It is fundamental that a subject or a predicate by itself doesn't say anything. It isn't a sentence. In order to form a sentence you must have both a subject and a predicate.

My favorite program has been discontinued for the summer.
She is always busy doing odd jobs around the house.
Many of the members have resigned.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Transposed Order

You notice, of course, that in these sentences the subject comes first; that's the normal order. But you can't depend upon that. Often, for emphasis or variety, we put the predicate first (transposed order—turned around).

The winning run came across the plate. (normal order)

Across the plate came the winning run. (transposed order)

In such a sentence either way is possible; the writer has his choice.

Each example below of transposed order has been rewritten to indicate the more usual subject-predicate order:

Down the street came a ragged procession of children.

(A ragged procession of children came down the street.)

Now comes the fun.

(The fun comes now.)

On the other side of the tracks was a car dump.

(A car dump was on the other side of the tracks.)

Even more commonly the predicate may be split up, part of it coming at the beginning of the sentence, part at the end. This order is sometimes called mixed.

At the beginning of the season Klein was benched for weak hitting.

(Klein was benched at the beginning of the season for weak hitting.)

Suddenly I heard a voice.

(I suddenly heard a voice.)

Common sense tells you that the expressions "at the beginning of the season" and "suddenly" are not part of the person you're talking about (the subject), but part of what you're saying about him (the predicate).

Practice in Recognizing Subjects and Predicates

Draw a single line under any word that belongs with the subject, a double line under any word that belongs with the predicate.

Every word in the sentence must be underlined. Example: After dinner we all sat around and told stories.

(Answers on page 151)

1. One of the covers is missing.

2. Mrs. Wilkinson settled down comfortably in her favorite rocker.

3. Many years ago I heard the same story with a different ending.

4. New countries in Africa and the Near East have become very important in the U.N.

5. The possibility of a voyage to the moon is no longer remote.

6. Experience is the best teacher.

7. Stamped at the head of the appeal was the single word: "Refused."

8. After many years his father returned.

9. Slowly, but with increasing speed, the water began to seep through the cracks.

10. One of the most important men in the community has gone.



Declaratave, Interrogative, Imperative, and Exclamatory Sentences

So far, every sentence you have been working with has stated or declared something. Such a sentence is called declarative. It is followed by a period.

That is a picture of my father.

A car has just stopped in front of the house.

There are three other kinds of sentences.

An interrogative sentence asks a question:

Is that a picture of your father?

Has the car stopped?

Note that a question mark is used.

An imperative sentence commands or requests:

Please show me the picture of your father.

Look at the license plate.

Use a period after an imperative sentence.

An exclamatory sentence expresses strong and sudden emotion:

Stop that car!

What a picture!

How old he looks!

Isn't that a shame!

How terrible!

The exclamatory sentence is different from the others: it doesn't follow any rules for sentence structure. In fact, as you see in these examples, it may look like a question or a command. There are only three things you can say about it:

1. It is usually short.

2. It is always dramatic or emotional.

3. It takes an exclamation point.

At this point we're going to ignore it, since the rules for subject and predicate do not apply.

Finding the Subject and Predicate

Interrogative and imperative sentences introduce some interesting problems in finding subject and predicate.

Interrogative sentences are often in transposed order. To find the subject and predicate of such a sentence you must rephrase it as a statement (the answer expected):

Was that man at the game?

(that man was at the game)

This was partly transposed. The subject is that man.

Who took my pencil?

(he took my pencil)

This was in normal order. The subject is who.

Where is the best road from here to the coast?

(the best road from here to the coast is ...)

Transposed. The subject is the best road from here to the coast.

How many times must we do this?

(we must do this ... times)

Partly transposed. The subject is we.

Imperative sentences also have a slight peculiarity. The subject is nearly always the word you, even though it isn't expressed. It is called you understood.

(you) Please mail this letter for me.

(you) Take your time.

(you) Let me off at Canal Street.

Practice in Identifying Kinds of Sentences

Label the following sentences D for declarative, Int for interrogative, or Imp for imperative. Example: Please leave your wraps at the door. (Imp) (Answers on page 151)

1. It is very important to remember this date. ( )

2. Remember this date. ( )

3. Why did you take the book? ( )

4. He asked me about the book. ( )

5. In a situation of this kind you should take extra precautions. ( )

6. Take extra precautions. ( )

7. Please don't waste my time. ( )

8. Why has there been so much controversy about the identity of the criminal? ( )

9. Who will be the first man on the moon? ( )

10. He wants to know why. ( )

More Practice in Recognizing Subjects and Predicates

Draw a single line under any word that belongs with the subject, a double line under any word that belongs with the predicate. If the subject is you understood, write the word in. Example: Which of the pencils has soft lead: (Answers on page 151)

1. Take cover.

2. Only one of his many former followers remained loyal.

3. Which road will take me to the coast?

4. After Labor Day the rates are lowered considerably.

5. Where does your friend Stanley keep his car?

6. You will need a great many more tools for such a job.

7. Arrange the cards in alphabetical order.

8. Please don't bother with any of my things.

9. When does the last train for Baldwin leave today?

10. Only then did we realize the seriousness of our predicament.



Recognition of Subject and Verb

In a sentence like this:

The upper branches of the tree tossed violently in the high wind.

certain words are more essential than others. The complete subject is The upper branches of the tree; but the main word is branches. This is called the simple subject. The complete predicate is tossed violently in the high wind; but the main word is tossed. This is called the verb, or simple predicate.

Reduced to its essentials the sentence becomes:

branches tossed

You might call this the framework of the sentence.

Similarly, in every sentence, the main parts of the complete subject and predicate are the simple subject and the verb. From here on, when this book refers to subject and verb, the word subject means simple subject.

In order to analyze any sentence grammatically, you must be able to pick out the verb and the subject. As a rule it is easier to find the verb first, since that is the operative word, the word that makes the statement or tells what happened. Then, by asking yourself who? or what? in front of the verb, you will find the subject.


One of our planes crash-landed safely in a ravine.

(What happened? Something crash-landed. That's the verb. What crash-landed? The subject is one.)

In the doorway stood a tall gentleman with a top hat.

(Somebody stood —that's the verb. Who stood? The subject is gentleman. The transposed order is no problem.)

Annabelle will be eighteen in September.

(Somebody will be. Who will be? The subject is Annabelle.)

The Expletive There

Using the same method you can work out the structure of sentences beginning with there:

There is a fire in the fireplace.

The verb is is—a very common little verb. What is? The answer is fire. A fire is in the fireplace.

Sentences of this construction are very common in English. The word there is never the subject; it's a signal that the sentence is transposed—that the subject follows the verb.

There were pictures on all the walls.

Verb: were. What were? Pictures.

There will be a short intermission.

Verb: will be. What will be? Intermission.

There is still time for one more hand.

Verb: is. What is? Time.

The word there in such a construction is called an expletive (something that fills out the sentence), but the name isn't important. Just remember that there is not the subject.

Verb Phrases

A verb has many forms and may consist of several words—up to four. Note the following:

Martha broke her doll.

Martha is breaking her doll.

Martha has broken her doll.

The doll will break.

The doll has been broken.

The doll would have been broken.

You can probably think of other possibilities.

A verb consisting of more than one word is called a verb phrase. In the sentences above, the words which have been added to break, or breaking, or broken, to vary the meaning or the tense, are called auxiliaries (helpers). They are all "verb words"; that is, they can all be used as verbs:

She is.

She has.

She will.

She has been.

And so on.

However, when a verb consists of several words, it may be interrupted by another word—or words. This is particularly true in questions:

The doll will soon be broken.

It could not have been mended.

Do you approve of him?

When will the work be finished?

You will see that these interrupting words are not "verb words" and are not therefore part of the verb.

The subject of verb forms is fairly complicated and will be studied more completely in Chapter 9, but you should now be able to recognize subjects and verbs. In the first practice exercise below, every verb is a single word; but in the second exercise remember that a verb may contain as many as four words.

Practice in Finding Subject and Verb

Underline the subject (simple subject) with a single line, the verb with a double line. Supply you (you understood) where necessary. Example: Against the deep blue of the sky a solitary eagle soared lazily. (Answers on page 152)

1. We cooked a five-course meal on that little stove.

2. The distance from the water supply added to our difficulty.

3. A dog of that size has a tremendous appetite.

4. Wear your overalls today.

5. I sometimes play a set or two before breakfast.

6. Please come right home after the game.

7. The little boat pitched violently on the choppy water.

8. Haven't you any copies of the latest edition?

9. There are many stories about the origin of the Christmas tree.

10. There is no need to worry.

More Practice in Finding Subject and Verb

Follow the same instructions as in the preceding exercise, but watch for verb phrases. (Answers on page 152)

1. Two of our men were picked for the all-star game.

2. As a result of the fire two-thirds of the trees were completely destroyed.

3. I don't want any part in the affair.

4. He has often been accused unfairly.

5. Why did she decide on nursing as a career?

6. There hasn't been enough time for preparation.

7. Without your assistance many of the cattle would have been lost.

8. We cannot legitimately refuse his request.

9. Don't expect any help from me.

10. In a severe storm that weak spot in the dike would probably be pierced.



The word compound means having two or more parts. It is a word used frequently in grammar.

A subject may be compound:

Basketball and football are challenging baseball as the national sport.

Boxers and German shepherds are often used as Seeing-Eye dogs.

For different temperaments, wealth, power, or simple comfort may provide the chief purpose in life.

A predicate may be compound:

We pushed and fought our way through the crowd.

The story begins well and continues pleasantly.

He tries but seldom succeeds.

The words and, or, and but are called conjunctions (joining words). They will be discussed in Chapter 17.

When a verb phrase is compound, the auxiliaries are often omitted in the second (third, etc.) part of the compound:

The bus had arrived and departed before dawn.

(Actually it had departed, but the had is not repeated.)

The book has been praised and quoted extensively.

As you study new constructions, you will see that many of them can be compound.

Practice in Finding Compound Subjects and Predicates

Underline the subject with one line, the predicate verb with two lines. If either subject or predicate is compound, write a C above each part of the compound. Example: Why don't you wait and see the parade? (Answers on page 152)

1. Men, women, and children were herded into the huge auditorium.

2. Can serious music and jazz appeal to the same person?

3. The great highways and trunk roads have increased the rate of automobile travel.

4. At camp we swam, sailed, or fished practically all day.

5. Gather and preserve the seeds carefully through the winter.

6. Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, and King Lear are usually considered the four great tragedies of Shakespeare.

7. Most of the newspapers have criticized and condemned the work of the committee.

8. Strange birds and insects sang and chirped and hummed in the underbrush.

9. There were three cows and a new-born calf in the pasture.

10. Have you seen or heard anything about the concert?



Identification of Complements

The word complement (not to be confused with compliment) comes from the same root as the word complete. In grammar a complement is a word that completes the predicate. Its normal position is after the verb, and it is, of course, part of the predicate.

Many verbs require complements to make sense:

Harriet made......

Jack is......

The end of the war brought......

The natural question is What? A complement can be considered anything that answers the question What? after a verb.

Harriet made a cake for the picnic.

Jack is my cousin.

The end of the war brought peace and prosperity.

Cake and cousin are complements. "Peace and prosperity" is a compound complement.

A complement, unlike the subject and the verb, is not an essential part of every sentence. Some verbs do not require complements:

The ship disappeared over the horizon.

He talks incessantly.

Finally the train stopped.


Excerpted from Essential English Grammar by Philip Gucker. Copyright © 1966 Philip Gucker. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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