Leaving Cert English Grammar 101

This article tries to strip off excess lingo and present the minimum effective set of rules for Leaving Cert English punctuation.

Ten percent of the marks in Higher Level English are awarded for Accuracy of Mechanics, so here is our ever expanding, yet concise, set of high-yield grammar nuggets.

To have any chance at figuring out the dreaded commas, you need to be able to spot the main active noun ("the subject") and the main action word ("the predicate") in a sentence. That's what the highlighting is about.

One subject and one predicate form a plain vanilla sentence. 

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. (Shakespeare)
It’s a great advantage not to drink among hard drinking people. (Fitzgerald)
I would love to help humanity on a Warner Brothers salary. (Miller)

Something is the subject of the first sentence. The subject is usually a noun, but it doesn't have to be. Here it is a pronoun. Is rotten is the predicate. "Something is rotten" could be a sentence on its own. The rest is detail. (Technically, it is more complicated, and the real grammar freaks won't like this, but it is certainly enough for the LC and most of (my) adult life (so far)).

Try it for the other two sentences...

It is the subject of the second sentence. Is a great advantage is the predicate.
I is the subject of the third sentence. Would love to help is the predicate.
Longer sentences often involve two sets of subjects and predicates.
As such they are two sentences in one.


Two sentences in one: if, because, while, as, although, since, unless, etc. 


Use a comma if the sentence begins with one of these words.

If he saw a chance of bumping in to Daisy, Gatsby would make sure to use it.
Though this be madness, yet there is method in 't.
When we are born, we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools.

This kind of sentence consists of two, really.
The second part could exist on its own in theory.
However, the first part can't.
You can't just say "If I go to the shop", but you can say "I'm getting a chocolate bar".
In other words, the if part (or clause) is dependent: it can't exist on its own.

Don’t use a comma if the dependent clause (the one with if, when, etc) is at the end of the sentence.

Hamlet decided that he would have enough evidence against Claudius if he was affected by the play.
It is silliness to live when to live is torment, and then have we a prescription to die when death is our physician.

Two sentences in one: and, but, or 


Always use a comma for such a sentence.

Goneril and Regan are rewarded for shameless flattery, but Cordelia is banished for her truthful nature.
There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.
[Here, to simplify things, thinking can be thought of a second subject]
I wasn't actually in love, but I felt a sort of tender curiosity.
Ask no questions, and you'll be told no lies.

Either of these two parts could stand on it's own, so they are said to be independent. 

You can drop "but" and replace is with a semicolon.

Goneril and Regan are rewarded for shameless flattery; Cordelia is banished for her truthful nature.
Reputation is an idle and most false imposition; oft got without merit, and lost without deserving. 

If the independent clauses are more closely related, you can use a colon.

Goneril and Regan's relationship with King Lear is a reflection on his personality: he loved their meaningless flattery.
Nothing will come of nothing: speak again.

Don't get fooled - watch for the two separate subjects and two separate actions.
If there is one subject and two actions, then you don't need a comma. See the examples below and make you sure you understand that there aren't two parts that need to be separated by a comma.

Edmund successfully tricks Gloucester and casts a shadow on Edgar.
What should a man do but be merry?
I stole her heart away and put ice in its place.
I understand a fury in your words but not your words.

Lists

King Lear is domineering, shallow and irresponsible.
King Lear is domineering, shallow, and irresponsible.
Both are correct.
Words, words, words.
I loved her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be

Set off non-essential information with a comma

How do you tell the whether it is essential or not? Remove it from the sentence. If the sentence retains its meaning, then the part you removed was non-essential.

Hamlet had conflicting feelings towards his mother, Gertrude. 

Obviously, he only has one mother, so her name is not essential. 

Claudius made an alliance with Hamlet's friends Rosencrantz and Guildestern. 

Even Hamlet has more than two friends, so which two is so significant to the sentence that you can't wall it off with a comma.

That

That is used to talk about essential information, so no comma is needed.

Men in rage strike those that wish them best.

Which

Which is used to talk about non-essential information, so a it always needs a comma.


O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-ey'd monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on.


Introductions, interruptions, afterthoughts
All of these are non-essential elements, so they should be walled off with a comma.

A conflicted character, Hamlet is presented with a series of difficult choices.
In jest, there is truth.

Hamlet, a complex character, faces a number of ethical conundrums.
There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Hamlet's character is explored through a variety of complex situations, one might argue.
The lady doth protest too much, methinks.


Like, as

If it is a comparison, you don't need a comma.

There is no confusion like the confusion of a simple mind.
Trifles light as air are to the jealous confirmations strong as proofs of holy writ.

If you have specific sentences you are confused about, post them in comments and I will address them.
http://www.625points.com/p/leaving-cert-english-notes-sample.html
Leaving Cert English Sample Essay and Notes



Get Excellent Free Notes From Top Leaving Cert Performers Straight To Your Inbox

* indicates required