10 questions on grammar

10 questions on grammar

Grammar is in the headlines with the arrival of a new test for primary school children. How much do you know about apostrophes, semi-colons and dangling participles? (Of course, there are no official rules for English. Everything that follows is debatable.)

Blackboard

1.) Multiple Choice Question

The man next door has a garden that is being overrun with cats. Which of the following questions is correct?

  1. Who's cats are using our neighbours garden?
  2. Who's cats' are using our neighbours garden?
  3. Whose cats are using our neighbour's garden?
  4. Whose cats are using our neighbours' garden?

2.) Multiple Choice Question

Lots of people are confused about when to use "may" and when to use "might". Which one is better here?

  1. The win against Australia might have been a turning point, but it didn't turn out like that
  2. The win against Australia may have been a turning point, but it didn't turn out like that

3.) Multiple Choice Question

Read this sentence carefully. "I'd like to introduce you to my sister Clara, who lives in Madrid, to Benedict, my brother who doesn't, and to my only other sibling, Hilary." Which of the following is correct?

  1. Hilary is male
  2. Hilary is female
  3. It's impossible to know from the context

4.) Multiple Choice Question

Less and fewer often cause people grief. Which of the following is wrong?

  1. There's less water in the river these days
  2. I eat fewer than five apples a week
  3. I drink less than three coffees a day

5.) Multiple Choice Question

Which of the following sentences correctly contains a semi-colon?

  1. My uncle's whiskers are magnificent indeed; but I have no desire to stroke them
  2. Landing a plane isn't hard; I once saw a child do it
  3. There are two countries beginning with Z; Zimbabwe and Zambia.

6.) Multiple Choice Question

"This is the kind of tedious nonsense up with which I will not put!" Which grammar rule was Winston Churchill supposed to have objected to?

  1. Don't start a sentence with but
  2. Avoid splitting an infinitive
  3. Never end a sentence with a preposition

7.) Multiple Choice Question

Sometimes you should use "that" and sometimes "which". Which sentence here is wrong?

  1. The car which ran me over was speeding
  2. The car that ran me over was speeding
  3. The car, which was speeding, ran me over

8.) Multiple Choice Question

Consider this sentence: "Do you mind my asking you?" Which of the following does it include?

  1. Modal
  2. Gerund
  3. Imperative

9.) Multiple Choice Question

Which of the following is not correct?

  1. I was sitting in the chair
  2. I sat in the chair
  3. I was sat in the chair

10.) Multiple Choice Question

"The Queen arrived at the castle with the King by her side, in a dress adorned with hand-sewn embroidered dragons." What kind of mistake is this?

  1. Fallen subjunctive
  2. Misplaced modifier
  3. Dangling participle

Answers

  1. It's the third one. "Who's" is short for "who is", whereas "whose" is used to describe items that belong to someone. The garden belongs to the neighbour (singular) so needs an apostrophe before the "s".
  2. It's might. The use of may or might varies according to context. In this case, because the victory did not result in a turning point, one chooses the more hypothetical might. May would be correct only if the turning point had happened.
  3. He's male. The absence of a comma before "who doesn't" implies that there are other brothers. A comma after "my brother" would mean that there was only one brother.
  4. It's coffees. For "countable" things use fewer. For things that are not "countable" - such as water in the river - use less.
  5. It's landing a plane. Here it links two independent clauses. You do not use it before a conjunction such as "and" or "but". A colon or dash would work better in the last sentence.
  6. It's the preposition. The story is apocryphal. It is likely that the comment came from a memorandum written by one of Churchill's civil servants.
  7. It's the first one. "That" defines something, whereas "which" adds new information in a separate clause, often needing commas.
  8. It's a gerund. A gerund is a noun made from a verb by adding "-ing".
  9. It's "was sat". To use "was" requires the participle "sitting" after it.
  10. It's misplaced modifier. This is a clause placed so awkwardly as to create ambiguity or misunderstanding. A dangling participle is a type of misplaced modifier involving a participle. Fallen subjunctive does not exist.

Your Score

0 - 3 : Colon confusenik

4 - 7 : Promising pedant

8 - 10 : Grammar guru

Read The Magazine's piece on people who hate other people's bad grammar. Improve your grammar and writing skills with BBC Skillswise.

For past quizzes including our weekly news quiz, 7 days 7 questions, expand the grey drop-down below - also available on the Magazine page (and scroll down)

You can follow the Magazine on Twitter and on Facebook

More on This Story

Features

  • The OfficeIn pictures

    Fifty landmark shows from 50 years of BBC Two


  • French luxury Tea House, Mariage Freres display of tea pots Tea for tu

    France falls back in love with tea - but don't expect a British cuppa


  • Worcestershire flagFlying the flag

    Preserving the identities of England's counties


  • Female model's bottom in leopard skin trousers as she walks up the catwalkBum deal

    Why budget buttock ops can be bad for your health


  • Two women in  JohanesburgYour pictures

    Readers' photos on the theme of South Africa


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.