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MLA Style Manual: Grammar

 

 

agreement of subject and predicate

Use a singular verb, even if the following phrases intervene between subject and predicate: “with,” “together with,” “including,” “as well as,” “no less than,” “plus.”

Smith, together with Jones, was in a bind.

Two nouns joined by “and” take a plural predicate (unless the thought is definitely singular).

Smith and Jones were in a bind.

Two singular nouns joined by “or” or “nor” take a singular predicate.

Smith or Jones was in a bind.

When a plural and a singular noun are joined by “or” or “nor,” the predicate will agree with the closest noun.

Smith or the librarians were in a bind.
The librarians or Smith was in a bind.

first person

Although authors should generally avoid using the first person, it is acceptable where the alternative would foster awkward subjects or passive voice. In most formal writing, first person is simply unnecessary, because authors are not expressing personal views or opinions.

“We administered the survey to thirty-seven randomly chosen medical students.”

may be used instead of

“The researchers administered the survey to thirty-seven randomly chosen medical students.”

or

“The survey was administered to thirty-seven randomly chosen medical students.”

jargon

Strive to eliminate all jargon, bureaucratese, buzzwords, and clichés.

 

 

none, singular or plural

Whether “none” is singular or plural is governed by the noun following it:

None of the fruit was eaten.
None of the volcanoes are active.

If “not one” is meant, say so.

Not one of the guests has arrived.

nouns

Do not use nouns as adjectives; rather, use an “of” construction, use an adjective, or rewrite the sentence. Often, one sentence clotted with noun phrases can be presented lucidly as two simple sentences. Also, be alert for opportunities to substitute verbs for nouns or adjectives.

prepositions

These words are often used improperly. Exact use of prepositions will strengthen writing. For example, it may be better to use “within,” “inside,” or “into,” depending upon what is meant, than to use “in” for all situations.

Abraham Lincoln had an envelope in his office labeled, “When you can’t find it anywhere else, look into this.”

The word “into” precisely conveys the image of a person picking up the envelope and peering into it. “Plus” is not a conjunction; use it sparingly as a preposition.

verbs

Whenever possible, replace a noun phrase with a verb; for example replace “his speech indicated that” with “he said” or “he hinted.” Replace weak verbs (“get,” “is,” “do,” “go,” “become”) with stronger, more specific ones whenever possible. Verbs that end with “-ize” should be viewed with great suspicion.

Often, sentences that begin “there is,” “there are,” or “it is” can be rewritten for greater clarity and brevity.

“which” versus “that”

Use “which” to introduce nonrestrictive clauses (nonessential) and “that” to introduce restrictive clauses (essential). A nonrestrictive clause is one that adds information but does not affect the primary meaning of the word as used in the sentence; a restrictive clause, however, does so affect the word and without it the sentence could be ambiguous or have a different meaning.

We reflected on the milestones that marked our development.
My computer was linked to the library’s network, which provided access to the web.