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Grammar and Usage

Grammar and Usage

The Double Had Had in a Sentence

Have you ever encountered the words “had had” in a sentence and thought you were seeing double?  Well, rest assured that your eyesight is all right and what you were seeing was a perfectly correct grammatical construction called the past perfect tense.

The Double Had Had in a Sentence

Perfect verb tense is used to show an action that is complete and finished, or perfected. This tense is expressed by adding one of the auxiliary verbs — have, has, or had — to the past participle form of the main verb.

Have + eaten

Has + finished

Had + loved

So what’s going on with the had had construction?

To understand the double had you have to remember that The past perfect is formed by using the past tense of have, which is HAD, and a past participle of the main verb, HAVE, which is also HAD. When we use “have” as a main verb we are using to mean  possess, own, hold for use, or contain.

So to be clear, have can be used as an auxiliary verb and as a main verb. Let’s think of this when forming the past perfect tense, when you want to indicate that you possessed, owned an action sometime in the past, but it is completed or perfected now.

You would use the past form of the auxiliary verb have which is HAD. And you would use the past participle of the main verb HAVE which is HAD.

  • Before the parent-teacher meeting, my teacher had (already) had many conferences with me due to my poor grades. (interrupted by an adverb).
  • I had had many opportunities to complete extra credit assignments before my final grade was posted. ( for emphasis) certainly
  • We had not had enough sleep the night before; therefore, we were very tired the morning of the test. (negative adverb not–show it also in the contracted form)

To conclude, please know that the use of ‘Had Had” is becoming less common and that although technically there is a difference between the past perfect tense and the simple past, semantically speaking, there is often little difference as long as the context is understood.




Grammar and Usage

Conjunctive Adverbs

What are Conjunctive Adverbs?

There are three basic types of conjunctions: coordinating, subordinating, and correlative. But there is a fourth type of conjunction that we are going to talk about today. And that is the conjunctive adverb.

In today’s lesson we’ll define what conjunctive adverbs are and compare them side by side to the coordinating conjunction, the subordinating conjunction, and the correlative conjunction. We’ll look at the punctuation rules that govern conjunctive adverbs. 

Adverbs Modify Adjectives, Verbs, Adverbs, Phrases, and Clauses

You probably already know that adverbs are words that modify adjectives, verbs, other adverbs, phrases, and entire sentences. 

And conjunctive  adverbs,  also called adverbial conjunctions, connectors, connective adverbs, linkers, linking adverbs, transition words, and transitional phrases, modify entire sentences, also referred to as independent clauses. 

These types of adverbs are used  to show the logical relationship between two separate independent clauses within one sentence, to show a function between two separate ideas in sentences or paragraphs, and to act as interrupters within the sentence. And this is clearly evident with the punctuation used to set off the conjunctive adverb.

Conjunctive adverbs are used to show addition, cause and effect, comparison, contrast, emphasis, example or illustration, sequence, summary, and time.


Find the Conjunctive Adverbs in this Passage

There is an ongoing debate that continues to divide pet owners. Which is smarter, cats or dogs? Animal behaviorists believe that cats have the intelligence of a two-year-old human toddler. Moreover, cats have complex brains, good short-term memory, and high emotional intelligence.

Hence, cats can remember where an object is located for up to 16 hours and can respond to their human’s cues. Dogs, however, can only remember an object’s location for 5 minutes.

But does this mean that cats are smarter than dogs? Comparatively speaking, dogs are often perceived to be more intelligent because they are more trainable. This is because dogs view humans at the top of the chain of command and have formed bonds over centuries of training. Conversely, cats do not recognize hierarchies and do not see humans as their masters.

Indeed, cats are not interested in following human commands on demand. Cats want to do things on their terms. For instance, a cat will not seek help from its owner to perform a difficult task; accordingly,  they will work on the task until successful. Meanwhile, a dog will seek help from its owner when confronted with a difficult task. To summarize, cats are highly intelligent creatures, and cat lovers will tell you that their fabulous feline is clever and brilliant; however, dog lovers will say the same of their prodigious pups. Surely, this debate will not be settled any time soon.


The way conjunctive adverbs are punctuated sets them apart from other conjunctions. This is because conjunctive adverbs may be found in different places in the clause and depending on their placement, the punctuation will differ

Conjunctive adverbs can appear at the beginning of a sentence. In the middle of the sentence, as interrupters, or at the end of the sentence.

The punctuation structure is as follows:

  • When a CA starts the sentence, place a comma after the CA

CA + comma + Independent Clause

Conversely, cats do not recognize hierarchies.

  • When a conjunctive adverb joins two independent clauses, the conjunctive adverb takes a semicolon in front of it and a comma after. 

Independent Clause + semicolon + CA + comma + Independent Clause

A cat will not seek help from its owner to perform a difficult task; accordingly,  they will work on the task until successful. 

  • You may even find the CA at the end of the sentence.

Independent clause + comma + CA

Dog lovers will probably say the same of their pets, undoubtedly. 

As a rule, the CA will be placed before the subject if starting the sentence, 

Between the subject and the first verb if interrupting the sentence

And at the end of the sentence.

Some grammar sites will tell you that transitional words or phrases are not conjunctive adverbs. And others will tell you that interrupters are not conjunctive adverbs either. Remember that with most grammar subjects, there may be disagreements among your professors, textbooks, and grammar sites. So always consult the style book or follow your teacher’s guidelines and instructions. 

Do not confuse the CA for the Subordinating conjunction or the coordinating conjunction: 

Remember that a conjunctive adverb connects independent clauses.

Cats appear aloof; however, they can be quite loving. 

Subordinating conjunctions, also known as subordinating adverbs, are used to link a dependent clause to an independent clause. 

Although cats appear aloof, they can be quite loving.

coordinating conjunctions are used to link two independent clauses with a comma. Remember the acronym FANBOYS.

Cats appear aloof, but they can be quite loving.

Be careful: COMMA SPLICE***A conjunctive adverb cannot join two independent clauses with a comma. This will create a comma splice which is a punctuation error.***

Correlative conjunctions:

Dogs are not only highly trainable but also incredibly loyal to their human.


When you are familiar with conjunctive adverbs, your reading comprehension will improve because you will be able to recognize the logical progression of  ideas presented in the text. Consequently, by using conjunctive adverbs in your writing, you’ll be able to present a smooth flow of transitions and help your reader follow your reasoning making for a well-ordered flow of ideas.


File name : Common-List-of-Conjunctive-Adverbs.pdf

Grammar and Usage

What is a Gerund?

A gerund is  a type of verbal that has the form of a verb but acts as a noun. In fact, because a gerund looks identical to the present participle some grammarian refer to it as the gerund-participle. This is because both the gerund and the present participle end in -ing and are formed from verbs. 

Let’s clarify: Some grammar sites will tell you that a participle can function as a noun and this is technically true, but you could say that a present participle that functions a noun is a gerund.

What is a Gerund?

But how can a word derived from a verb and called a verbal act as a noun? There’s a simple explanation. The gerund expresses the abstract concept of the verb.

A gerund is a verbal. This means that it expresses and abstract concept, a thing. For example, walking is a thing. You do this thing or you act on this thing.

Thinking is a thing you do

So is loving, eating, swimming, and running.

Let’s delve deeper into what a gerund actually represents. So we know that a gerund is formed from a verb. A verb is defined as either an action or a state of being. A gerund, in effect, represents the concept of the action, not the actual performance. We can use gerunds to talk about these actions or states of being in an abstract way.

So a way to think about gerunds is to view them as a representation of a concept or a thing that you do or are.

For example, let’s think about singing. Singing is something you do. It’s an action when you’re actively doing it. I am singing. In this example, singing is a verb. However, when you think about that action, that thing called singing, you’re actually thinking of an abstract concept, and this representation of that abstract concept is what we call a gerund when the verb form takes on the -ing.

Singing in the shower reduces stress levels. In this example, the concept, the thing of singing in the shower is what is being discussed. In this example singing in the shower is a gerund phrase.

Tips to Identify a Gerund

Two tips to identify the gerund:

Let’s look at the gerund. Let’s begin by sharing a tip that you can use to identify any noun or noun form. If you can replace a word, phrase, or clause with a pronoun, usually, “It” or the demonstrative pronouns “this” or “that”, then you have a noun.

What differentiates the usage of a present participle as a noun (gerund) or as an adjective (participial) is it’s function or place in the sentence and the punctuation around it.

Where can you find a gerund in the sentence?

A gerund can function as  a subject, a subject complement, a direct object, an indirect object, or an object of a preposition. Of you can find the gerund as a phrase as part of any of these forms.

Let’s try it



Bowling is not an Olympic sport.

Meditating helps me relax.

Reading is fundamental.

Quitting your job is not an option right now.

Memorizing the lines requires focus and concentration.

Skiing on compacted snow can be dangerous.


Ralph’s passion is teaching international students.

The baby’s new habit is throwing her food on the floor.

Rick’s new hobby is flying a small plane.


Ralph enjoys teaching English to international students. (answers what of the verb)

Kaylee remembers leaving a message.


Jose gave learning the piano another chance.

Shannon made serving the poor her lifelong career.


Antoine was sent to the principal’s office for cheating.

Father grounded me for driving the car without his permission.



Just because a word ends in -ing does not mean it’s a gerund. Remember that a gerund is a verbal that looks like a verb because it is derived from a verb. However, because of its place in the sentence, it acts like a noun.

ING words like 

  • King
  • Ring
  • Thing
  • Something
  • Everything

are not gerunds although they end in ing.


And then we have the present participle which looks just like a gerund because unless you identify the function in the sentence, you will not know for sure just by looking at it.

Grammar and Usage

Introduction to Reducing Adverb Clauses

Reducing Adverb Clauses

We know that an adverb modifies a verb, an adjective,  or another adverb. It answers the  question of when, where, how, why, to what extent or under what conditions.

In the same manner, adverb clauses add information that elaborates on when, where, why, and how by modifying or describing verbs, adjectives or other adverbs. An adverb clause is a dependent or subordinate clause that has a relationship with the independent or main clause.  The adverb clause is referred to as the dependent clause and it connects to the independent clause with a subordinating conjunction. The subordinating conjunction establishes the relationship between the two clauses: the adverb clause and the main clause.


There may be times when you will want to reduce the adverb clause to an adverbial phrase. Reduced adverb clauses are mostly used in formal writing to add variety and conciseness to your sentence structure. 

When reducing adverb clauses, we must consider four things: 

  1. Both the independent clause and the adverb clause must share the same subject. 
  2. Remove the modal or auxiliary verb in the adverb clause. (There are exceptions to this.)
  3. The reduction must not alter the relationship or time frame indicated in the original sentence.
  4. You may leave the subordinating conjunction with the exception of because, since, or as.


EXAMPLES of Reduced Adverb Clauses


  1. Although the bride was nervous, she was happy to walk down the aisle.
  • The first thing you’re going to do is check the subjects in both clauses: the bride in the adverb clause and she in the main clause.
  • Remove the subject “the bride” in the adverb clause and move it over to the main clause. The pronoun “she” is ambiguous. It could be any person, but you want to make sure your reader knows it’s “the bride”. 
  • Remove the helping verb “was”. 

Reduction: Although nervous, the bride was happy to walk down the aisle.

2.  Once the cake is done, it must cool in the refrigerator.

  • Move “the cake” over to the main clause.
  • Remove the helping verb “is”.

Reduction: Once done, the cake must cool in the refrigerator.

3. Because she did not have breakfast, Minnie was hungry and tired all morning.

  • Remove the subject in the adverb clause.
  • Remove the helping verb did and the subordinate conjunction “because”.

Reduction: Not having breakfast, Minnie was hungry and tired all morning.

4. Before Dee goes to bed, she brushes her teeth.

  • Move the subject “Dee” over to the main clause. 
  • Change the verb “goes” to the present participle “going”.

Reduction: Before going to bed, Dee brushes her teeth.


5. While Father was mowing the lawn, he whistled a tune.

  • Move “Father” over to the main clause.
  • Remove the helping verb “was”.

While mowing the lawn, Father whistled a tune.

Caution: Beware of dangling modifiers.

6. Tom was attacked by a shark when he was swimming in the beach.

  • Tom was attacked while swimming in the beach implies that the shark is the one swimming in the beach.
  • Move the clause to the beginning.

While swimming in the beach, Tom was attacked by a shark.


File name : Introduction-to-Reducing-Adverb-Clauses.pdf

Grammar and Usage

What are Modal Verbs?


A modal verb is a type of auxiliary or helping verb that helps the main verb by indicating the mood of the subject. Modal verbs indicate ability, possibility, obligation, or necessity.

The main modal verbs are can, could, may, might, will, would, must, shall, and should.

There are also quasi-modal, or semi-modal, verbs. These are a subcategory of modals, especially when they function in their negative and interrogative form.

Quasi-Modal Verbs

The main quasi-modal verbs are dare, had better, need, ought to, used to, and would rather.

Examples of Modal Verbs

Look at the examples of modal and quasi-modal verbs in the charts below.

Modal Verb Type or Mood Example
can ability/permission (informal) You can borrow my pencil.

Can I borrow your pencil?



permission, suggestion, request, past ability, future possibility He could leave early if his boss would allow him.
may probability, permission (formal) You may borrow my pencil.

May I borrow your pencil?

might probability/ possibility (future) I might ask my boss for permission to leave early.
will wish/willingness He will agree to it.
would request/past habit/possibility If I had the time, I would travel more.

Would you help me with my homework?

When I was young, I would listen to the radio all day long.

must necessity/obligation You must go out and search for a job.
shall intention/suggestion Shall you help her with her luggage?

I shall help her if you want me to.

should necessity/advice I should exercise more often.


Quasi-Modal Verb Type or Mood Example
dare ability (negation) I dare not go without permission.
had better advice/obligation You had better not go alone.
need request (negation) You need not ask again.
ought to advice/probability/obligation You ought to visit your grandmother more often.
used to previously/habitually I used to go all the time.
would rather intention/ willingness I would rather eat pizza than tacos.


Modal verbs are placed first in the verb phrase, after the subject, and are followed by a verb in the base form.

  • He could leave early. (Could is the modal and leave is the main verb.)
  • I should exercise more often. (Should is the modal and exercise is the main verb.)
  • You may borrow my car. (May is the modal and borrow is the main verb.)
  • I must help my friend. (Must is the modal and help is the main verb.)

The verb following the modal may be a main verb or an auxiliary verb like be or have.

  • He might be late tomorrow. (Might is the modal and be is the auxiliary.)
  • She should have studied more. (Should is the modal, have is the auxiliary, and studied is the main verb.)

Modal verbs are used in conditional sentences.

  • If I had the time, I would travel more. (If I had the time is the if clause in a conditional, would is the modal and travel is the main verb.)

Modal verbs are used in inverted sentences, especially in interrogative sentences. (Verb before subject)

  • May I take your car tonight? (May is the modal. Notice it comes before the subject, I. Take is the main verb.)
  • Would you help me with my homework? (Would is the modal. It comes before the subject, you. Help is the main verb.)

Modal verbs appear in negative form by adding the adverb “not” after the modal verb.

  • I dare not ask for permission. (Dare is a quasi-modal, not is an adverb of negation, and ask is the main verb.)
  • We would rather not eat at the restaurant again. (Would rather is a quasi-modal, not is an adverb of negation, and eat is the main verb.)
  • Shouldn’t you call before you go? (Should is the modal, not is an adverb of negation in the contracted form, call is the main verb. This sentence is in inverted order because the modal shouldn’t comes before the subject, you.)



Modal verbs only have one form.

  1. They have no infinitives using the “to” form. (INCORRECT: to can, to could, to may, to might, etc.)
  2. They have no –ing form, present participle. (INCORRECT: canning, coulding, maying, mighting, etc.)
  3. They have no past tense form. (INCORRECT: canned, coulded, mayed, mighted, etc.)
  4. They do not change form for person. (INCORRECT: he cans, she cans, it cans, he coulds, she coulds, it coulds, etc.)
  5. They cannot be used with another modal. (INCORRECT: Had I known, things may would have been different.)

Remember that a modal verb helps the main verb by indicating the mood of the subject.

Download the handout on modals.






Grammar and Usage

What are Linking Verbs? | Auxiliary Verbs

What are Linking Verbs?

A linking verb is a type of auxiliary verb that links the subject of a sentence to the subject complement.

In today’s lesson we will learn about linking verbs. A linking verb does not show any action. It just links, or joins, the subject of a sentence to a word that identifies or describes the subject, also called the subject complement.

The forms of the verbs to be, to become, and to seem are common linking verbs, but there are many others, including all the sense verbs: look, smell, touch, appear, sound, taste, and feel

Examples of Linking Verbs

Let’s look at some examples of linking verbs.

I am a lawyer. (Identifies)

The teacher is mean. (Describes)

Bill was a magician. (Identifies)

Bill is tired. (Describes)

The children are quiet. (Describes)

They were very sleepy. (Describes)

The baby became tired and fussy. (Describes )

Marcia has become the town gossip. (Identifies)

Ophelia seems distracted. (Describes.)

Linking Verbs are not Action Verbs

One thing to remember is that linking verbs do not express action. They simply link the subject with the subject complement to show their relationship. So when you are unsure is a verb is a linking verb or an action verb, simply substitute a form of the verb to be for the original verb.

Let’s take a look.

Ron tasted the corn chowder.

Ron is the corn chowder? No way. In this example, tasted is an action verb, not a linking verb.

The corn chowder tasted good.

The corn chowder is good. Yes! In this example the substitution makes sense so tasted is used as a linking verb.

Sylvia appears lost.

Sylvia is lost. Yes

Sylvia appears before the court.

Sylvia is the court? No, action verb.

Marlie touched the hot stove.

Marlie is the hot stove? No, action verb.

The bread smells delicious.

The bread is delicious.

Carli smells the wet grass.

Carli is the wet grass? No, action verb

You get the idea.

A linking verb does not show any action. The forms of the verbs to be, to become, and to seem are common linking verbs, but there are many others, including all the sense verbs: look, smell, touch, appear, sound, taste, and feel. When you are unsure if a verb is a linking verb or an action verb, simply substitute a form of the verb to be for the original verb.

Grammar and Usage

Common Irregular Verbs: Past Tense and Past Participle

For most verbs, in order to form the past tense, you simply add the suffix -ed to the main form of the verb called the infinitive. And to form the regular past participle which can be a verb form or an adjective, you usually keep the past tense form of the verb, that is the infinitive plus the suffix -ed. 

This means that the regular simple past and the participle forms of the verb are the same.

Like in this example: 

Love (main verb in the present)

loved (simple past formed by adding ed suffix) and

has/have loved ( past participle formed by adding the helping verb has/have and keeping the past tense form of the verb.


However, there are irregular verbs that do not follow the common structure of adding ed when making the past and past participle.

Download the PDF to see the most common irregular past tense verbs and their verb forms, or past participles.