English grammar confuses the best of us. Native English speakers have the luxury of knowing by ear that he sees, I see, and they see are correct but will mix up who and whom. Professional writers rarely memorize every grammar rule; rather, they review them from time to time to ensure they apply the rules correctly. Make like a professional writer and show off your grammar smarts by correctly applying the following five grammar rules to your writing.

Grammar rule #1: Know the difference between lie and lay.

Lie and lay are often confused by speakers and writers. Lie means “to recline or rest on a surface,” and lay means “to put or place something.” Lie does not have a direct object:

The chips lie on the counter.

Lay takes a direct object:

Please lay the chips on the counter.

Here’s a tip: The following sentence helps with memorizing the difference:
I lay the Lay’s chips on the table and eat them while I lie on the couch.ˆ

This gets confusing when we need to conjugate:

TITLE 5 Grammar Rules

Your best option is to memorize the table above or keep it in a spot you can easily reference when you’re writing.

Grammar rule #2: Make pronouns and antecedents agree.

A pronoun must refer to a word called an antecedent. A pronoun and antecedent agree when they are both singular or both plural.


The child finished her ice cream cone.


The children finished their ice cream cones.

When using indefinite pronouns such as anybody, anyone, everybody, and everyone, which refer to nonspecific persons or things, they should be treated as singular in formal English.

In this class everyone dances at his or her [not their] skill level.

Grammar rule #3: Distinguish between who and whom.

The general rule for distinguishing between who and whom is that who and whoever are used for subjects and subject complements. Whom and whomever are used for objects.

The prize goes to the dancer who performs the most turns.

[The subject is who.]

You will work with our most senior teacher, whom you will meet tomorrow.

[Whom is the direct object of the verb of the subordinate clause, will meet.]

Grammar rule #4: Understand the subjunctive mood.

The subjunctive is used to express wishes, requests, or conditions contrary to fact. Present-tense verbs do not change form in the subjunctive mood; the base form of the verb is used instead.

It is important that you be [not are] ready for the drive.

We asked that she ride [not rides] more quickly.

Grammar rule #5: Use standard English forms of irregular verbs.

When we use irregular verbs, conjugation can get tricky. When you aren’t sure which verb form to choose, such as went or gone, began or begun, it’s best to refer to a list of irregular verbs. Use the past-tense form if your sentence doesn’t have a helping verb such as have, do, be, can, or could and use the past participle form if it does. Here are some common irregular verbs:


Thanks to the complexities of English grammar, it isn’t likely that you’ll memorize all of the rules necessary to write flawlessly. Reviewing the rules occasionally, however, gives you the opportunity to improve your writing and show off your advanced grammar knowledge.

Read more: The Subjunctive Mood: Why It’s “I Wish I Were,” not “I Wish I Was”