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The 30 Most Common Grammar Rules on the HSPT

The last section of the HSPT is the Language Section, which includes grammar questions, spelling questions, and composition questions. In this post, we’ll discuss the most common grammar rules that show up on the HSPT. If you’re looking for more practice with the language section of the HSPT, check out our comprehensive HSPT workbook which includes hundreds of language questions, over 2500 practice questions covering all five sections of the HSPT, and three full-length practice tests.

Comma Rules

Rule 1: Commas in Lists:

  • Use commas to separate words, phrases, and clauses in a list.

Example: The coach, his teammates, and their opponents were all upset after the game.

  • If two or more adjectives describe a noun, separate the adjectives with commas.

Example: The windy, narrow road was very difficult to drive down in the snow.

Rule 2: Commas with Two Independent Clauses

  • When a sentence contains two independent clauses (a clause that can stand alone as a sentence) joined by a conjunction (and, but, yet, or, nor, for, so), put a comma before the conjunction.

Example: I really want to go to the dance tonight, but I have a lot of homework

to finish.

Rule 3: Commas with Dependent Clauses

  • If a sentence begins with a dependent clause (a clause that cannot stand alone as a sentence), there needs to be a comma after the clause.

Example: Unless it rains tomorrow, we are going on a hike.

Rule 4: Commas in Dates & Locations

  • Use a comma after the date when followed by the year, and use a comma after the day of the week when followed by the month. Use a comma after the year if it appears in the middle of the sentence.

Example: I was born on Tuesday, October 26th, 1991, in a hospital in Connecticut.

  • When a geographical name or location has two or more parts to it, use a comma after each different type of part. A second comma follows the last item, unless it comes at the end of the sentence.

Example: My address is 123 Windy Road, Norwalk, Connecticut.

Rule 5: Commas with Direct Addresses

  • Use a comma after a direct address. The direct address can be addressing a specific person or a group of people.

Example: Brian, will you please help me hang this poster?

Example: Everyone, please take your seats.

Rule 6: Commas with Nonessential Information

  • Use a comma before and after parenthetical words or phrases. Parenthetical words and phrases are words and phrases that are not essential to the meaning of the sentence.

Example: The accomplished doctor, who attended Harvard University, won the award.

Capitalization Rules

Rule 1: Capitalization with Sentences & Quotes

  • Capitalize the first word of a sentence.

Example: The kids went to the store today.

  • Capitalize the first word of a quotation if the quotation is a complete sentence, regardless of its placement within the main sentence.

Example: Daniel shouted, “He is the greatest player alive!”

Rule 2: Capitalization with Titles

  • Capitalize the title of a person (professor, senator, aunt, uncle, etc.) when it is in front of a name.

Example: My favorite class is taught by Professor Jones.

  • Capitalize a title (professor, senator, aunt, uncle, etc.) when it is used as a personal address.

Example: I’ll see you tomorrow, Professor.

  • Do NOT capitalize the title (professor, senator, aunt, uncle, etc.) of a person when it is not used with the person’s name.

Example: My professor didn’t assign us homework.

Rule 3: Capitalization with Directions

  • Capitalize directions such as “north”, “south”, “east”, “west” when they designate definite regions.

Example: the South, Eastern Europe, West Africa

  • Do NOT capitalize directions such as “north”, “south”, “east”, “west” when they are only used to show direction or location.

Example: Drive south for 5 miles.

Rule 4: Capitalization with Proper Nouns

  • Capitalize geographical names such as continents, bodies of water, islands, mountains, streets and highways, parks, forests, canyons, etc.

Example: My favorite ocean is the Atlantic Ocean.

Example: I grew up on Clairemont Ave.

  • Capitalize events and time periods such as days of the week, months, holidays, and time periods.

Example: The last Thursday in November is Thanksgiving.

Example: We learned about the Civil War in history class today.

  • Capitalize languages, religions, and nationalities.

Example: I know how to speak German, Spanish, and English.

  • Do NOT capitalize seasons unless they are part of a proper noun.

Example: My favorite season is summer.

Example: I am attending the Summer Olympics this year.

Punctuation Rules

Rule 1: End of Sentence Punctuation

  • Every sentence must end with a period, question mark, or exclamation mark.

Example: Have you taken the science quiz yet?

Rule 2: Semicolons

  • Semicolons must separate two independent clauses; semicolons are typically used to link two independent clauses that are related to each other.

Example: The dog is very old; it is also very friendly.

Rule 3: Colons

  • Use a colon to introduce a list or to separate two independent clauses. A full sentence must always come before a colon.

Example: I have three favorite colors: red, blue, and green.

Example: I’ll never visit Chicago again: it was the worst trip of my life.

Rule 4: Dashes

  • Use a colon instead of a dash or instead of using two commas around nonessential information.

Example: I’ll never visit Chicago again – it was the worst trip of my life.

Example: The accomplished doctor – who attended Harvard University – won the award.

Rule 5: Apostrophes

  • Use apostrophes to show possession.

Example: George’s car broke down last night.

  • User apostrophes to create contractions (two words joined together as one).

Example: “Do not” becomes “don’t”

Rule 6: Quotation Marks

  • Use quotation marks to separate quoted words, phrases, and sentences. Quotation marks always come in pairs.

Example: Gus shouted to his friend, “Let’s go to the park this afternoon!”

Homophones & Similar Words

Rule 1: It’s vs. Its

  • It’s is a contraction meaning “It is”

Example: It’s very hot outside today.

  • Its is the possessive form of “it”

Example: The chair lost its leg.

Rule 2: There, Their, and They’re

  • There shows location

Example: My house is the one over there.

  • Their is the possessive form of “they”

Example: Their house is the one at the end of the street.

  • They’re is the contraction for “they are”

Example: They’re the youngest players on the team.

Rule 3: Your vs. You’re

  • Your is the possessive form of “you”

Example: I have never been to your house.

  • You’re is a contraction meaning “you are”

Example: You’re my best friend.

Rule 4: Then vs. Than

  • Then indicates time

Example: I went to school, and then I went to soccer practice.

  • Than is used when making a comparison

Example: He is funnier than you.

Rule 5: To, Too, and Two

  • To: Used as a preposition when it comes before a noun, or used as an infinitive when it comes before a verb

Example: I went to Italy last summer.

  • Too: Means “also” or “excessively”

Example: I ate too much food yesterday.

Example: I like to read, but I like to watch movies too.

  • Two: The number 2

Example: Two students were asked to write their answers on the board.

Rule 6: Who’s vs. Whose

  • Who’s is a contraction meaning “who is” or “who has”

Example: Who’s in your science class this year?

  • Whose is the possessive form of “who”

Example: Whose cell phone is this?

Rule 7: Affect vs. Effect

  • Affect is usually used as a verb meaning “to impact” or “to change”

Example: Hurting my ankle affected my performance in the race.

  • Effect is usually used as a noun meaning “the result of a change”

Example: Exercise has an effect on how much energy I have throughout the day.

Rule 8: Who vs. Whom

  • Who refers to the subject of a sentence or clause. (One trick to determine if “who” is correct over “whom” is to see if you would answer the question or statement with “him” or “he”. If you would answer with “he,” then you should use “who.”)

Example: Who is coming to the party? (You would say “he is coming to the party,” not “him is coming to the party,” so who is correct)

  • Whom refers to the object of a sentence or clause. (One trick to determine if “whom” is correct over “who” is to see if you would answer the question or statement with “him” or “he”. If you would answer with “him,” then you should use “whom.”)

Example: I don’t know whom I will see at the party. (You would say “I will see him at the party,” not “I will see he at the party,” so whom is correct.

Rule 9: Farther vs. Further

  • Farther is used when referring to physical distance.

Example: I walked farther than you did.

  • Further is used when referring to an abstract distance or depth.

Example: I want to further my career.

Rule 10: Less vs. Fewer

  • Less is used to modify a singular word.

Example: I wish I drank less soda last night. (“Soda” is singular.)

  • Fewer is used to modify a plural word.

Example: I wish I had drank fewer glasses of soda last night. (“Glasses” is plural.)

Rule 11: Neither/Nor and Either/Or

  • Neither and nor pair together.

Example: Neither Lisa nor David is going to pick me up from school.

  • Either and or pair together

Example: Either Lisa or David is going to pick me up from school.

Additional Grammar Rules

Rule 1: Using Subject vs. Object Pronouns

  • Subject pronouns are the subject of a sentence. The subject pronouns are “I”, “you”, “he”, “she”, “we”, “they”, and “it”.

  • Object pronouns are used as direct objects or objects of a preposition. The object pronouns are “me”, “you”, “him”, “her”, “us”, “them”, and “it”.

  • To determine if a sentence should have a subject pronoun or an object pronoun, cover up the other person in the sentence and the “and” and see if a subject or object pronoun sounds correct.

Example: Determine which sentence below is correct.

  • Frank and I are going to the store after school.

  • Frank and me are going to the store after school.

If you take out “Frank and” and read the two sentences, they will read like this:

  • I am going to the store after school. CORRECT

  • Me is going to the store after school. INCORRECT

Rule 2: Adjectives vs. Adverbs

  • Adjectives modify (describe) nouns and pronouns.

Example: The chair is broken. (Broken describes the chair.)

  • Adverbs modify (describe) adjectives, verbs, or other adverbs.

Example: The chair is really broken. (Really describes the adjective broken.)

Example: The bus stopped quickly. (Quickly describes the verb stopped.)

Example: She spoke too quickly. (Too describes the adverb quickly.)

Rule 3: Subject/Verb Agreement

  • The subject in a sentence must agree in number with the verb. So if the subject is singular, you must use a singular verb, and if the subject is plural, you must use a plural verb.

Example: The women are running the meeting today. (The subject women is plural and so is the verb are.)

Example: The box of apples was heavy. (The subject box is singular and so is the verb was.)


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