The Elements of Style: Rules 7-11

By Sydney Everett and Sam Miano

7. Use a colon after an independent clause to introduce a list of particulars, an appositive, an amplification, or an illustrative quotation.

A colon tells the reader that what follows is closely related to the preceding clause.

Ex. Cats possess three potent weapons: claws, fangs, and a deadly stare.

Join two independent clauses with a colon if the second interprets or amplifies the first.

Ex. Cats spend most of their days planning the destruction of the world: they only pretend to be kind, docile creatures.

A colon may introduce a quotation that supports or contributes to the preceding clause.

Ex. The look my cat gave me reminded me of something Mike Tyson once said: "I want to eat your children."

8. Use a dash to set off an abrupt break or interruption and to announce a long appositive or summary.

A dash is stronger than a comma, less formal than a colon, and more relaxed than a parentheses.

Ex. A cat's only intent in life--its natural calling, so to speak--is world domination.

Use a dash only when a more common mark of punctuation seems inadequate.

9. The number of the subject determines the number of the verb.

Words that intervene between subject and verb do not affect the number of the verb.

Ex. My first cat,even with all of its emotional problems, will always be my favorite.

A common blunder is the use of a singular verb form in a relative clause following "one of..." or a similar expression when the relative is the subject.


Use a singular verb form after each, everyone, either, everybody, nobody, and someone. With none use the singular verb when the word means "no one" or "not one." A plural verb is commonly used when none suggests more than one thing or person.

Ex. Everybody thinks cats are innocent.

None of the cats is innocent.

None are as evil as my cat though.

A compound subject uses a plural verb, unless the compound is so inseparable that it's considered a single unit.

A single subject remains singular even if other nouns are connected to it by with, as well as, in addition to, except, together with, and no less than.

Ex. The cat's demeanor as well as its personality is very questionable.

A linking verb agrees with the number of its subject.

Some nouns that appear to be plural are usually construed as singular and given a singular verb.

Ex. Economics is...

10. Use the proper case of pronoun.

The personal pronouns, as well as the pronoun who, change form as they function as subject or object.

Ex. Will Sam or she be hired, do you think?

A pronoun in a comparison is nominative if it is the subject of a stated or understood verb.

Ex. My cat plans better than I.

In general, avoid "understood" verbs by supplying them.

Ex. I think my cat enjoys violence more than anyone else (does).

The possessive case of pronouns is used to show ownership. It has two forms: the adjectival modifier, your hat, and the noun form, a hat of yours.

Gerunds usually require the possessive case. A present participle as a verbal, on the other hand, takes the objective case.

Ex. My cat ignored our coaxing it out from under the bed. Vs. My cat ignored us coaxing it out from under the bed.

11. A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject.

Ex. Sneaking through the house, the cat overheard its owner's plans for taking it to the pound.

Sneaking refers to the subject of the sentence, not the owner. To make it refer to the owner, the writer must recast the sentence.

Ex. The cat overheard its owner, sneaking through the house, making plans to take it to the pound.

Participial phrases preceded by a conjunction or by a preposition, nouns in apposition, adjectives, and adjective phrases come under the same rule if they begin the sentence.

Ex. When returning home, his cat ignored him. Vs. When returning home, he was ignored by his cat.


Fix each sentence.

1. Ms. Hutchinson hates many things about cats. Their teeth, claws, and existence.

2. Ms. Hutchinson loves dogs particularly when they chase cats.

3. Ms. Hutchinson--her stares, her expectations, her hatred for cats--are scary.

4. Will Sydney or (blank) get a better grade in English.

5. Wrapping up the presentation, Ms. Hutchinson applauded Sam and Sydney.