Grammar Exercises – Summary of Lessons





Equative Clause



Life is illusion.

To write is to commit.

Hemingway is a flat-out hero.

To state an unusual and strongly worded truth, to introduce an idea which will be explored in more detail. To sum up, closing a paragraph and set of thoughts. (Formal)

Very Short Sentence (equative, transitive, or intransitive)



Mother thought vegetables were my anathema.  I hated corn.  I hated peas.  I hated lima-beans. However, I secretly loved spinach, Brussels sprouts and string beans, and I cheerfully ate them at the houses of my neighborhood friends.

To punctuate a paragraph and bring it to a halt. To bring a thought or action to a close. To redirect the reader’s attention to a new truth.  (Formal or informal)

Noun fragments before a full sentence



Sparks.  Arcs.  Bursts of sound.  Bouquets of light.  The evening sky was spangled with red and white, green and gold.

To build up a sense of speed and a series of rapid impressions.  (Usually informal)

Full Sentence followed by noun fragments



Arching its long neck out of the loch, the dinosaur lowered its head to boat-level.  I flattened myself against the forward cabin. Green and dripping molars.  A yellow lizard eye.   A millennial stench. 

To slow down the sentence or paragraph. To focus a set of impressions into one single impression.  (Usually informal)

Base clause followed by noun phrases



He was a cheater of extraordinary cleverness, in his sly slight-of-hand, his mesmerizing gaze, his flattering compliments and his Machiavellian strategies.

To create a fuller definition – an explanation or catalogue – of the central subject.
(Formal or informal)

Noun appositives



Maggie was a too-remote shoreline, a roofless shelter, a dying fire, a heartless friend.

The 1990s was the decade of reckless gamblers, the decade of wildly improbable success stories.

To redirect and to reorganize the reader's attention. To add new emphases, to qualify or to confirm an impression.  Useful for opening or closing an argument. 
(Usually formal)

Verb appositives



He sung to himself, rocked himself, hugged himself in the bare crib.


The cat has coughed up, choked up, spit up a hairball.

To gather in one sentence a series of actions in order to clarify or expand what the subject is doing. 
(Formal or informal)

Adverb appositives


(Adverbs are usually  words having an “ly” ending.  However, an adverbial phrase may not have an “ly”.  In function it answers “where,” “how,” “when,” and “in what manner”)

He left his victims around the yard, under the table, in the sandbox and beneath the back steps.

The treasure lies over the ocean, on a small island, 10 feet from the shoreline, near a palm tree, under the bones of a pirate.

To group multiple locations in one sentence or to offer very precise locations for one object.

(Formal or informal)

Gerunds as subjects



Running, swimming and bicycling are elements of the Iron Man triathlon.

Running late is his best event.

To make an action or actions the subject and focus of the sentence.
(Formal or informal)

Gerunds as objects



He excelled at running and swimming, but failed at bicycling.
She hates running to catch the bus every day.

To place an action or a series of actions in direct relationship to the sentence’s subject.
(Formal or informal)





Infinitives as subjects




To create light in darkness is the essence of my work.

To drink and drive is deadly.

To set out a strong truth about an action or series of actions.

Infinitives as adjectives



I want a student to terrorize.


I need a place to sleep tonight.

In Red Riding Hood’s basket were cookies to eat and milk to drink.

A quick and sometimes humorous way of qualifying an object by the way it will be used, or is always used.
(Formal or informal)

Infinitives as adverbs of purpose

(Here the adverbial phrase modifies the entire clause and answers “why”)

I went to apologize, to grovel, and to get my job back.


To find my purpose in life I looked under the couch cushions.  No luck.


Our goals are to save democracy, to bring freedom to the oppressed, and to establish representative government.

To qualify or explain more fully the reasons for action.  Often used to set out policy or to suggest logical unity in a set of actions linked by the grammatical “to”.

Infinitives as right branching free modification of  the verb 

Breathless, I waited to see them loop right overhead, to hear the deep drones of the engines, to feel the dry air flash hot across the meadow.

To make a space for a longer explanation of the primary action (verb) and to organize information.
(Formal or informal)

Present participial phrases


Skimming across the water, sending a big arc of water up behind me, and showing off my new red jet ski, I waved to my friends onshore.


In the melee he lost his balance, falling off the platform, striking his head, and breaking his ankle.

To describe a person or an object by a set of actions happening simultaneously in the present.
(Formal or informal)

Past participial phrases



Buried in the depths of the grave, raised to daylight, the ancient pot sat squat, gold and evil.


To give a “compressed” history of an object, person or event, defining it by relating what happened to it.
(Formal or informal)

Mixture of present and past participial phrases


Smashed on the pavement, and spinning down and out from the fifth floor window, were the plates, the books, the clothes, and all the things he had done to try to save a doomed relationship.

To express, in a short space, the past and present events which have happened to the subject. To allow for comparison between past and present states.

(Formal or informal)





Prepositions as a way to shift location and  perspective

The bells tolled outside, shattering his heavy thoughts; then, slowly, as the vibrations died away, silence settled; but as he feared, the mocking song piped up, filled the spaces, echoing silently against the room’s walls; inside his head it played again and again.


He stood against the wall, poised on the last of his dignity, flattened into the last moments of his short angry life.


To indicate real and symbolic relationships between subjects.   To juxtapose foreground and background, to create “painterly” layers in a scene.

(Formal or informal)




I sat up, I rolled over, I retched.

I came, I saw, I conquered.


To illustrate a quick “sliding” relationship between events with very little space between them.
(Very formal or informal)


Slack Coordination



Lightning wrecked the mouse and blasted the monitor and fried the CPU and ruined her dissertation.


When he had finished, and all the people had left, and chairs were folded up, and floor had been swept, he turned out the lights and went home.


Creates a “disorderly heap” of objects or events, towards which the writer’s attitude may be either amusement or exasperation or, more often, both.  Also allows for a “relaxed” feel; a set of ordinary events happening in the expected order


(Usually informal)

Correlative Conjunctions


Neither flattery nor bribery will assist you now.


As county treasurer, not only had he stolen at least two thousand dollars in petty cash, but also he had issued at least 20 checks to self amounting to something just over 50 thousand dollars.


He had both talent and support; but tragically, he was out of time.

To create a balanced and structured feel in a sentence. To compare and contrast apparently logical and parallel ideas/events.  Can be useful for closing a paragraph.


(Usually formal)