An adjective describes nouns or pronouns. An adjective may come before or after the word the adjective describes.


  • The Secretary thanked them for their exemplary contribution. The Secretary felt their contribution was exemplary.


An adverb modifies adjectives, verbs and other adverbs. Generally, a word is an adverb if it answers how, when or where. Most adverbs end in -ly.


  • Included are instructions about voting privately and independently. Please carefully read the instructions before completing the form. To file the documents directly, visit the office any weekday between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.
  • The Secretary of State proudly presents the 2008 NASS Medallion honorees.


A noun is a person, animal, place, thing or abstract idea.

Collective noun

A collective noun names a group of things, animals or people. A collective noun should be treated as a singular noun when the group is acting as a unit and as a plural noun when the entities within the group are acting as separate individuals. If a sentence reads awkwardly, consider rephrasing to provide clarification.


  • The collection is on display in the State Archives.
  • The steering committee meets every Monday.
  • The training class was held in the computer lab.
  • The staff is in disagreement about the findings.
  • The staff members are in disagreement about the findings.

Possessive noun

A possessive noun shows ownership of an object or action. Form the possessive case of a singular or possessive noun that does not end in s by adding an apostrophe and s. Form the possessive case of a singular noun that ends in s by either adding an apostrophe alone or adding an apostrophe and s. (Both are acceptable.) However, if the noun is plural and ends in s, the only acceptable way to make the noun possessive is by adding an apostrophe after the s.


  • The certificate’s gold seal was impressive.
  • The children’s lunches were served at the Museum.
  • The bus’s seats were filled with visitors to the Museum.
  • The bus’ seats were filled with visitors to the Museum.
  • The speech in the courtyard was drowned out by the two trains’ horns.

Proper noun

A proper noun always begins with a capital letter, since the noun represents the name of a specific person, place or thing. The days of the week, months, historical documents, institutions and organizations are also proper nouns.


  • Secretary of State Debra Bowen attended a press conference Tuesday.


An object is the noun affected by the verb. A verb may be followed by an object that completes the verb's meaning. At times, objects can be complex, consisting of the simple object and all the words that modify it. Two kinds of objects follow verbs: direct objects (refers to a person or thing affected by the action of the verb) and indirect objects (refers to a person or thing who receives the direct object).


  • The Office of State Printing published the Voter Information Guide. (Voter Information Guide is the object, created by the action of publishing.)
  • The web developer finished the web page he had updated at least 30 times.
  • (The simple object is web page. The complex object is the web page he had updated at least 30 times.)


A preposition is a connecting word showing the relation of a noun or a noun substitute to some other word (with, at, by, to, in, for, from, of and on). Generally, a sentence should not end with a preposition. Do not use extra prepositions when the meaning is clear without them. Never use of in place of have.


  • Incorrect: Where did you get the ballot at?
  • Correct: Where did you get the ballot?
  • Incorrect: The business owner should of filed sooner.
  • Correct: The business owner should have filed sooner.


A pronoun takes the place of a noun. Examples of pronouns include I, you, he, she, we, they, it, me, you, his, her, us, them, our). For purposes of clarity, avoid using pronouns whenever a noun can be used instead.


  • Incorrect: A voter should turn in his/her form to them.
  • Correct: Voter registration forms must be returned to the county elections office.
  • Incorrect: Fill them out and turn them in to them.
  • Correct: Return the completed forms to the Business Programs Division.

A pronoun may be used in rare cases when the pronoun cannot be confused with any other subject or object in the sentence.


  • When the woman went to vote, she was given a provisional ballot.

Possessive pronouns (such as yours, his, hers, its, ours, theirs) show ownership and never need apostrophes.


  • The division had its monthly meeting yesterday.


A subject is a noun or pronoun that performs a verb. A subject also comes before a phrase beginning with of. See also: Grammar/Subject-Verb Agreement


  • The reporter called. (Reporter is the subject.)
  • A cup of coffee sits on the desk. (Cup is the subject.)


A verb shows action or a state of being.

Subject-Verb Agreement

Use a singular verb with a singular subject and use a plural verb with a plural subject. To determine subject-verb agreement in a sentence, first find the verb then ask who or what performed the verb. It may also be helpful to think of which verb would be used with he, she or they.


  • The new employee passed probation. (Passed is the verb. The employee performed the action.)
  • The employees talk to their boss each morning. (Talk is the verb. The employees perform the action.)

When to use singular verbs:

Two singular subjects connected by or, nor, either or neither require a singular verb. Use singular verbs when using either and neither as subjects. When I is one of the two subjects connected by either/or or neither/nor, put I second followed by the singular verb am.


  • The ambassador or her representative is arriving today. Neither Debra nor her secretary is available.
  • Either Cathy or Megan can help with phone coverage. Neither of the invitees can attend the outreach event.

Use singular verbs with singular pronouns each, everyone, every one, everybody, anyone, anybody, someone and somebody. Do not be misled by what follows of. (Note: Everyone is one word when it means everybody. Every one is two words when the meaning is each one.)


  • Each of the candidates speaks well. Every one of the fliers was gone.

Use a singular verb with sums of money or periods of time.


When to use plural verbs

Use a plural verb when two or more subjects are connected by and. When a singular subject is connected by or, nor, either or neither to a plural subject, put the plural subject last and use a plural verb.


Other rules for determining subject-verb agreement

Sometimes the subject is separated from the verb by words such as along with, as well as, besides or not. Ignore these expressions when determining whether to use a singular or plural verb.


When including words that indicate portions, such as percent, fraction, part, majority, some, all, none and remainder, look at the object of the preposition (the noun in the of phrase) to determine whether to use a singular or plural verb.


Commonly Confused Words

    • One-thousand dollars is the average cost.
    • Five years is the maximum sentence for that offense.
    • The ambassador and her representative are arriving today. The folder or the books go on that shelf.
    • Neither Jenny nor the others are available right now.
    • One Republican, as well as one Democrat, filed to run for the office.
    • The attorneys, along with the newspaper reporter, arrived at the front counter.
    • Fifty percent of the county has voted.
    • Fifty percent of the voters have voted.
    • One-third of the office was absent.
    • One-third of the employees were absent.
  • This is a list of commonly confused words and an explanation on how to properly use each word.
    • a vs. an: Use a when the first letter of the word following has the sound of a consonant. Some vowels sound like consonants when sounded out as individual letters. Use an when the first letter of the word following has the sound of a vowel. Some consonants sound like vowels when they’re spoken as individual letters.
      • Examples:
        • a notary public
        • a HAVA requirement
        • a U-turn
        • an SI form
        • an advance health care directive an MOU
    • accept vs. except: Accept is a verb meaning to receive willingly or to approve. Except is a verb meaning to exclude or leave out.
    • affect vs. effect: Affect is generally a verb meaning “to act on” or “to produce a change in.” Effect is generally a noun meaning “a result or something brought about by a cause or agent.” The only use of effect as a verb is to mean “to cause” or “to bring about.” It is usually better to choose a verb such as accomplish, perform, produce, generate or make.
      • Examples:
        • The rain affected voter turnout.
        • The new regulation goes into effect on January 1.
    • allot vs. a lot: Allot is a verb that means to distribute, to assign a portion, or to divide. A lot (two words) is an informal phrase meaning a large portion or large quantity of something. Alot is not a word.
    • beside vs. besides: Beside is a preposition meaning “next to.” Besides is a preposition meaning “except” or “in addition to.” As a conjunctive adverb, besides means “also.”
    • between vs. among vs. amongst: Between is used to refer to the individual subjects or objects and the relations with each other. Among is used when the emphasis is on distribution rather than individual relationships or when referring to the group. Between among and amongst, both are correct but among is more common.
      • Examples:
        • The team compared results, but found few differences between Sacramento,Los Angeles and San Diego.
        • Distribute the information among the two of you.
    • capital vs. capitol: Capital refers to an uppercase letter, or the city that is the official seat of government in a state or country. Capitol is a building or complex of buildings in which a legislature meets.
    • cite vs. site vs. sight: Cite is a verb meaning to quote as an authority or example; to recognize formally; or to summon before a court of law. Site is a noun meaning the actual location or a place of something. Used as a verb, site means to place or locate on a location or position. Sight is a noun referring to the sense of seeing.
    • council vs. counsel: Council is a committee elected to lead or govern. Counsel is a verb meaning “to give advice” or a noun meaning attorney or opinion.
    • e.g. vs. i.e.: E.g. is a Latin term exempli gratia meaning for example. I.e. is a Latin term id est meaning that is or in other words. Always follow both with a comma.
      • Examples:
        • List the contents of the supply box (e.g., registration forms, brochures, pens).
        • The voter requested an absentee (i.e., vote-by-mail) ballot for the June election.
    • enquire vs. inquire: This is two spellings of the same word. Either spelling can be used. However, enquire is preferred for the general sense of “ask” and inquire is used when “making a formal investigation.”
    • everyone vs. every one: Everyone is used when referring to all the people in a group. Use every one when referring to individuals who make up a group.
    • foreword vs. forward: Foreword is a noun meaning an introductory note or preface. Forward is an adjective or adverb meaning toward the front. When used as a verb, forward means to send on.
    • it’s vs. its: It’s is a contraction of it is or it has. Its is the possessive form of it.
    • may vs. shall: May is permissive. Shall is required.
    • maybe vs. may be: Maybe is an adverb meaning perhaps. May be is a verb phrase showing possibility, meaning might be or could be.
    • passed vs. past: Passed is a verb, the past tense of pass, meaning transferred, elapsed, or finished. Passed can refer to movement forwards in time, in space, or in life. Past refers to time gone by as in time or space. Past can be used as an adjective, noun or adverb.
    • precede vs. proceed: Precede is a verb meaning to come before. Proceed is a verb meaning to move forward. When used as a noun, proceed is the total amount derived from a sale or transaction.
    • principal vs. principle: Principal is a noun that means a person who holds a high position or the original amount of a debt on which interest is calculated. Used as an adjective, principal means first in order of importance. Principle is a noun meaning a basic idea, standard of behavior or rule that explains or controls how something happens or works.
    • stationary vs. stationery: Stationary means “having a fixed position; not moveable.” Stationery is writing paper.
    • statute vs. statue: Statute is a law enacted by the legislature. Statue is a three-dimensional sculpture.
    • than vs. then: Than is a conjunctive word used to make a comparison. Then is an adverb telling when or meaning next.
    • that vs. which: That introduces essential clauses (necessary definition or restriction). Never precede that with a comma. Which introduces a nonessential clause (something about the subject that is not absolutely necessary). Always precede which with a comma. Use that and which to refer to things or groups, and never to refer to people.
      • Examples:
        • Please review the project that is overdue.
        • The business owner filled out the documentation that is currently on file.
        • The business owner filled out the documentation, which you have seen, that is currently on file.
    • their vs. there vs. they’re: Their is the possessive form of they. There is used to show existence or a place. They’re is a contraction for they are.
    • to vs. too vs. two: To is a preposition or part of an infinitive, introducing a prepositional phrase or a verb. Too is an adverb meaning also or very. Two is a number.
    • whether vs. weather: Whether is a choice between two or more options. Weather is a noun referring to climate conditions such as temperature, rain, wind.
    • who vs. whom: Who refers to the subject of a verb. Anytime I, she or he feels right, who can be used. Whom is a pronoun used as an object of a verb or a preceding preposition. Use whom when you are referring to the object of a sentence. The difference between who and whom is exactly the same as the difference between I and me, he and him, she and her, etc. Use who or whom to refer to people; use that and which to refer to things or groups.
      • Examples:
        • Who is running for office?
        • For whom should I vote?
        • Correct: The voters, who are sometimes unpredictable, will decide.
        • Incorrect: The voters, which are sometimes unpredictable, will decide.
    • whoever vs. whomever: Whoever refers to the subject of the sentence. Whomever refers to the object of the sentence. If the word can be replaced with he, then use whoever. If the word can be replaced with him, then use whomever.
      • Examples:
        • Whoever is elected will serve a four-year term. The Chief Deputy will be happy with whomever the Secretary recommends.
    • who’s vs. whose: Who’s is the contraction for “who is.” Whose is the possessive version of “who.”
      • Examples:
        • Who’s working on election night? Whose BlackBerry is this?
    • your vs. you’re vs. yore: Your is the possessive form of “you.” You’re is the contraction for “you are.” Yore means “long ago.”