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Grammar  Check
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January 2, 2001

Modals are verbs used with other verbs to show a wide range of possible actions:


1. can, could
(shows ability or potential--can think or can work; could run or could finish)

Jeremy can think for himself.

Jeremy could finish the job by 5 p.m.

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2. have to, must
(shows necessity--must complete, have to accept)

Sharika must complete her report by January 31.

Sharika's boss will have to accept her report as written.

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3. may, might
(shows permission or possibility--may leave, might try)

Harry may leave the country tonight.

Harry might try to earn a promotion this year.

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4. should
(shows obligation--should report)

All employees should report to their work stations immediately.

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5. will, would, shall*
(shows intention or plan, sometimes conditionally--will leave; would start; shall have)

Karen will leave for New York tomorrow.

Karen would start a diet if she could find the will power.

Karen shall have the best of both worlds.

*Note that "shall" is less commonly used than other modals. In addition, in legal jargon "shall" means the same as "will." 

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"Would" and "should" also show conditional action or speculation--i.e., would apply.

Victor would apply for that position if he were qualified.

Victor should apply for that position if he really wants it.

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6. Modals can be used as request or question words as well:

Can Michael come outside to play?

Would you please pass the salt?


Could the weather be affecting my computer?

Will they buy a new home this year?



When finalizing a document, be sure that all corrections are neatly made so that readers will be unaware of their existence. Word processing options like spelling and grammar checkers make it easier to catch and correct observable errors. Misspelled names or incorrect dates can be avoided by checking facts before releasing the document.



WAIVE (wav) [verb]: 1. to relinquish or give up (a right or claim) voluntarily.

Did Claudia waive her claim to John's inheritance?



QUESTION: You advise using two spaces between sentences. Wrong! That usage has been passe for years, and formerly was needed back when font size was uniform; it was used to help break up the paragraph. Today you don't need two spaces with the proportional fonts we have, and two spaces between sentences actually are a detriment to easy reading. You're instructing people totally against what we grammar and English purists are fighting so hard to keep!

GRAMMARCHECK: We agree and disagree with your comments. You are right in pointing out that several sources indicate the need for one space rather than two between sentences these days. To be technically and academically correct, writers (in theory) should use just one space between sentences. 

However, not all writers today use proportional fonts. (In fact, some writers prefer to use typewriters!) Being from the manual typewriter era, we still prefer two spaces between sentences, as do many of our academic colleagues, but has correct grammar come to this? Are we going to argue over one or two spaces between sentences? 

In the interest of maintaining subjective grammatical purity, how about these guidelines in descending order:

1. For academic writing, ask instructors whether they prefer one or two spaces between sentences.


2. Check pertinent style guides (e.g., APA, MLA, etc.) for spacing requirements.


3. Use only one space after end marks when using proportional fonts.


4. Use two spaces after end marks when using other fonts.

In our opinion, two spaces between sentences make the text more readable and "clean" in appearance. We have found that some corporations and academics do not yet require one space between sentences. Since this trend is relatively new, generated mostly within the last five years or so, it is a principle that is still evolving and has not yet become common practice. Perhaps some grammarians will insist it be so, but we are satisfied with the two spaces between sentences for everyday usage. E-mail, however, requires just one space between sentences. 

As for language purists, the spacing trend is quite recent and in our opinion, shouldn't be held up as a model of language purity.

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QUESTION: Is it grammatically correct to use a preposition at the end of a sentence? 

GRAMMARCHECK: If the preposition naturally lands there, leave it. But if it can be reworded or moved for smoothness or clarity, do so.


She is not a person to be taken advantage of.


Is your address a hard place to get to?


Is your address difficult to find?

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QUESTION: I need to know if "face to face" is hyphenated.

GRAMMARCHECK: Many compound phrases like this one are joined by hyphens, though others may be joined by a space or fused into one word:

step-mother (joined by a hyphen)

horseback riding (joined by a space)

eyeglasses (fused)

Some uses change over time, beginning as two words, becoming hyphenated, and finally evolving into one word. 

Complex compounds (made up of three or more words) are usually hyphenated when placed as a modifier before a noun:

Jackie preferred a face-to-face meeting with her supervisor.

However, when the compound follows a verb, it may not be hyphenated:

Jackie preferred to meet with her supervisor face to face.

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QUESTION: Which is correct?

Bond College is your best choice for study abroad.


Bond College is your best choice for studying abroad.

GRAMMARCHECK: Both are correct. Your choice of usage depends on whether you want to emphasize "study" as a noun ("study abroad") or as a verb ("studying abroad"). 

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QUESTION: What exactly is a comma splice, and how do I avoid making them?

GRAMMARCHECK: A comma splice occurs when two independent clauses are joined with a comma. Remember that an independent clause (also called a "main clause") could stand alone as a separate sentence, but for some reason is part of a longer sentence.

Larry went home late. (independent clause)

Larry went home late after the party. (independent clause + dependent clause)

Larry went home late, he slept on the sofa. 
(independent clause + comma + independent clause)

[This last sentence shows a comma splice, since two independent clauses are joined by a comma which is not strong enough to connect them. Here are three ways to correct a comma splice:

Larry went home late; he slept on the sofa. (change the comma to a semi-colon)

Larry went home late so he slept on the sofa. (change the comma to a coordinating conjunction--"so")

Larry went home late. He slept on the sofa. (change the comma to a period to make two simple sentences)

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To avoid comma splices, read each part of a sentence to see if it can stand alone and check whether it is followed by another independent clause. When you find two independent clauses in the same sentence, follow one of the above methods to punctuate them correctly.

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