The Grammar Gestapo are out there!

If you slip up they’ll be onto you faster than a bull shark on a whale carcass.

Even as I write this, I keep asking myself … should I have put an ellipsis there? And is it ellipsis or ellipses?

You may have had the same thoughts.

Are you making simple grammatical errors when you write? Here’s a quick quiz to help you find out and keep you out of the clutches of the Grammar Gestapo.

1. What is a gerund?

(a) a non finite verb that can function as a noun

(b) an adverbial participle

(c) A sort of hamster

(d) A what?

2. What is a modal verb?

(a) a verb that doesn’t eat very much and poses on the front of sports cars

(b) a verb that always does what it’s told to do

(c) special verbs which behave very differently from normal verbs and cannot be used in the past or future tense

(d) A what?

 3. Which of the following is in the future perfect continuous tense?

(a) You will have been waiting for more than two hours when her plane finally arrives

(b) Yes, and I would like to have been able to get someone to feed my gerund while I’m gone

(c) To hell with it, let’s go and get rat-legged in the bar

(d) Future perfect what?

 4. When should you use a semi colon?

(a) in place of a period to separate two sentences where the conjunction has been left out.

(b) between two sentences joined by a coordinating conjunction when one or more commas appear in the first sentence.

(c) only when writing non-fiction

(d) when you can’t think of what to write next

 5. Should a period go inside parentheses?

(a) No, it always go inside

(b) No, it always goes outside

(c) only if the entire sentence is inside parentheses

(d) only if there’s a gerund with a semi colon in front of it

 6. Which sentence is correct?

(a) There gerund has escaped

(b) Their frantic with worry

(c) We’re going in they’re car to look for it

(d) There was fur in the cat box so they’re going to have their cat X-rayed

 7. What is an apostrophe?

(a) a kind of disaster

(b) like a bishop, only in the Greek Orthodox church

(c) something you use to form plural’s

(d) a punctuation mark used to indicate possession or the omission of words and numbers

 8. Which is correct?

(a) Sorry, weir closed, we have to go to the airport to pick up the wife’s sister

(b) Sorry we’re closed, our gerund escaped while we were gone

(c) Sorry were closed, we have to bury it and the kids are upset

(d) Sorry where closed, we have to go and buy another one

 9.  What is wrong with the following sentences?

(a) But I have promises to keep

(b) And did those feet in ancient times?

(c) Because the world is round it turns me on

(d) And God said, let there be light

 10. What’s a split infinitive?

(a) A semi colon between an apostrophe and a subjunctive mood

(b) When a past conditional perfect tense is put in parentheses

(c) When you put an adverb between the to and the verb root

(d) I’ve had enough of this. I’m going to go and feed my new gerund


1. (a) It’s a non finite verb that can function as a noun. Eg John enjoys swimming.

2. (c) A modal verb is an auxiliary verb that expresses necessity or possibility and cannot be used in the future or past tense. Eg must, shall, will, should. You don’t say ‘musted’ or ‘will must’. Well you can, but if you do you’re probably a member of Congress.

3. (a) It’s something that will have been happening once it’s happened. Clear? You form the tense by using the subject with three auxiliary verbs plus a main verb. It’s easy if you don’t have to think about it, but it’s much harder if you’re a Lithuanian waiting at an American airport trying to explain to an English-speaking friend that your gerund is at home and hasn’t been fed.

4. A semi colon connects two independent clauses. (b) is also correct. In layman’s terms a semi colon is like a super comma. If a comma is a short breath, a semi colon is a dramatic pause. Some people don’t like semi colons; they think they are unnecessary.

5. (c) There is a strict rule for this one (if you like rules). The period only goes inside if it’s a complete sentence. (Like this one, for example.)

6. (d) They’re, their and there sound the same and so are called homonyms, (which is why the Westboro Baptist Church doesn’t like using them). Their is the possessive form of they; there indicates a place or location; they’re is a contraction of ‘they are’.

7. (d) If you answered (c) you’re thinking of the word Stavrophore. Not even close. Take off one point.

8. (b) More homonyms. More trouble with those Westboro boys. Were is the past tense of are. We’re is a contraction of we are. Where refers to location.

9. All four sentences display bad grammar as they begin with a conjunction. If we were to be grammatically correct we would have to tear up the best work of William Blake, Robert Frost, Lennon and McCartney and the Book of Genesis.

10. It’s when you put an adverb between ‘to’ and the verb root, the most famous example of which is: ‘To boldly go where no man has gone before.’    Remember: to split an infinitive you have to be traveling at least at warp speed factor three.


More than 8. You’re a grammar nerd. You’ll never be William Blake or write classic songs.

Between 5 and 7. You should have spent more time with homework instead of feeding your gerund.

4 or less: Were where you when you’re teacher was showing you the rule’s?

COLIN FALCONERColin Falconer, bestseller, historical fiction

Colin Falconer, romance, adventure, bestseller, historical fiction

Come meet me at the Falconer Club, for exclusive excerpts and the chance to win copies of my books. JUST CLICK THE PICTURE ABOVE!


  1. This was fun, I got #4 wrong, answered a. I’m going to feed a gerund now.

  2. I got every damned one right, but I was some kind of super-freak. My folks were feeding me Bram Stoker, Harlan Ellison and James Thurber, at age 8. I don’t remember NOT knowing how to read. I knew what Beethoven was about at one year. At the age of 15, I read, wrote and understood Engrish (sic) as being Post-Doctoral. Some men in black showed up at the front door and my folks said, “Oh. Hell. No.” They sent me to the Jesuits. I majored in music and computers later, when my 2nd husband didn’t like the fact that he couldn’t play with the Moody Blues. Now, I write to annoy and am currently 30k + words in NaNoWriMo 2013. I have no William Blake, nor D. H. Lawrence in me, alas. But a love for the sound of music and the sound of language. Thanks, Colin!

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