The Grammar Whiz Quiz

Elisabeth Henderson

Image: making_ultimate / Moment / Getty Images

About This Quiz

Grammar is a beautiful creation. It holds together the chaos of thought and language and organizes it in a system that conveys thoughts from one mind to another. It’s really a magic trick, when you think about it. Anyone who has ever been to a meeting knows that what seems clear in one mind becomes completely muddled when it is communicated by someone else. We have grammar to thank for the development of culture and the growth of relationships. When we don’t speak and write using the same rules of engagement, communication fails—along with our ambitions of working together. 

If you could go on and on with this ode to the benefits and beauties of grammar, then it’s quite likely you’re a grammar whiz. Why would you be so fond of it, if you weren’t a devoted practitioner? However, you may be resting on laurels of grammar whiz-dom earned long ago. When was the last time you actually studied a grammar book? What if some of your surety is misplaced? If you call someone out for a grammar mistake, you had better be certain you’re absolutely correct and have the rule to back you up. So, scroll on to freshen up those skills, or to get the good feeling you know so well—the shine that attends acing a quiz. Of course, after you ace the quiz, you can always pass it along to challenge your friends (who really could benefit from being schooled). 

What is wrong with this sentence? Flying through the air, my daughter saw a kettle of vultures.

A dangling modifier, as you know, is a modifier that is placed too far away from the thing it modifies. The distanced placement creates ambiguity in meaning, sometimes delightfully. But, unless you’re writing poetry, ambiguity is not really what you’re working for. And yes, a kettle is the correct term for a group of vultures in flight.

What grammatical issue does the following sentence misuse? Evan spent the entire meeting crunching, chomping, and slurped his noodle salad.

This sentence has a classic parallel structure ailment. When listing items, each verb in a list should be in the same form. This shows that all the items in the list carry equal weight. Also, Evan is disgusting and needs to learn how not to disrupt a meeting with his foul eating habits.

What punctuation should go in the blank? The wake of vultures gorged themselves__on the carcass.

Nope, no punctuation here, though so many adults will insert a comma here because they learned that commas should be placed wherever there is a pause. No, that’s not how you decide. There are rules here. Am I the only one who cares about the rules? And yes, wake is the correct term for vultures feeding.

Doreen always says a variation of the following: “I’m just trying to not fall asleep in the meeting.” Can you diagnose her problem?

When you have an infinitive, like ‘to fall,’ you should not insert anything in between the ‘to’ and the verb. This splits the infinitive, creating a rift in the order of the universe. Please stop before it’s too late.

What kind of sentence is the following? Waking up early in the morning, the prickle of porcupines crept along the forest floor; they did not know the pack of wolves were waiting in the valley.

As everyone needs to know for daily life, this sentence is compound-complex. A compound-complex sentence can be identified by having more than one independent clause and at least one dependent clause. A prickle of porcupines can be identified at a distance.

A colleauge always uses “nevertheless” inappropriately. How can you explain to him when to use it?

Surely your colleague will appreciate this lesson in proper use of transition. “Nevertheless” is used to demonstrate a contrast with what came before. It’s just like the more common “however,” but it creates a more formal tone.

What is the grammatical term for the name set apart by commas here? The new president of the university, Dr. Powers, inherited a real disaster.

As all grammar whizzes know, an appositive is a noun or noun phrase that clarifies another noun. Here, the appositve clarifies who the new president is. Can you work this word into a sentence at your next social gathering?

What does an ellipsis signify?

Of course we do use the ellipsis to indicate that, you know ... But we also know that the formal significance of the three ominous dots is that something has been left out.

Fill in the blank with the correct form of the helping verb. A band of gorillas ___ running through the forest.

Any good grammar whiz enjoys a subject-verb agreement mistake, especially when it’s made tricky by a singular collective noun that describes a group, as in a band of gorillas. Since the word “band” is singular and is the noun, the helping verb “was” takes the singular form.

What does the past perfect tense signify?

If only our perfect actions in the past received their own grammatical term. Alas, no. The past perfect tense refers to an action completed before something else. It seems uselessly specific, until you really need it.

What is an intransitive verb?

Intransitive verbs are those that do not require an object. They do not do something to something else; they do something complete in itself, as in, “The woman roared.” Roared doesn’t need an object, as does a verb like “throw.” You need to throw something; you don’t roar something.

What is the proper term for the word in this sentence ending in -ing? Howling at the moon was the favorite pastime of the charm of foxes.

A gerund always ends with -ing, as do present participles of verbs. A gerund, though, acts as a noun, whereas present participles modify nouns or complete progressive verbs.

What is the purpose of a dash?

Please do correct anyone who calls a hyphen a dash. It is just wrong, and should be punished. It probably is, in some countries. The dash is properly used to show that more information or clarfication follows.

What is the direct object in this sentence? A fever of stingrays stung the boy on his feet; he had to be airlifted to the hospital.

Direct objects answer the questions “who?” or “what?” following a verb. In this case, the fever of stingrays stung who? The boy, that’s who. Did you know you would learn so much about animal groups in this grammar quiz?

When should you use a semicolon?

Did we get you on this one? The most common (but still misused) use of a semi-colon is to separate independent clauses when there is not a coordinating conjunction. But semicolons can be used to differentiate between items within a list. For example, “he lived in El Paso, TX; St. Louis, MO; and Louisville, KY.”

Fill in the blank with the correct verb form. If I ___ an animal, I would be a platypus.

If you were to answer this correctly, you would likely be familiar with the subjunctive. Many people don’t learn about the subjunctive tense until they take a foreign language in college and have their minds blown with the grammatical complexity of language operating in the hypothetical, only to find out that it exists in English too.

Select the most correct option. ___ high time that people learned to identify a bloat of hippopotami.

That’s right. It’s time people knew that hippopotami as a collective have a perfectly apt name. The opportunity to use this term doesn’t come up often; so you’d better seize it when it comes. “It’s” of course uses an apostrophe to show a contraction for “it is” and not to show possession, like other sensible words.

Fill in the blank with the correct words. Sandra _______ to me _____ of caterpillars to care for.

According to Miriam Webster, a “lot” literally can mean a quanity used to measure, a portion of land, or an “object used in determining a question by chance.” So, it makes sense that these homonyms are easily confused—they have related meanings. Since, “allot” can mean to portion out—a task both related to portions and to chance.

Fill in the blank with the correct choice. I did everything right; I can only hope the fraternity will _____ me.

Accept is the correct form here. The Latin root word here, “cept,” means “taken,” and the prefiix “ac-” means to or towards. So, the hope that a frat will “accept” you is the hope that they’ll take you in. Since “ex-” means out, If they “except” you, they’d literally be taking you out of the list. Fingers crossed!

What option correctly fills in the blank? Between you and ___, I’d rather tour a landfill than this building.

“Between you and me” is the correct phrase here. Since the pronoun here is the object of a preposition, it needs to be objective (me), rather than subjective (I). It really helps to have the real grammatical reason when correcting someone; so be sure to remember this rule.

What is the proper choice to complete this sentence? Hundreds of years ago, ______ was an obstinacy of buffalo roaming these plains.

Even though the passive construction here is totally unecessary, the best choice given is “there.” There is used to show location; whereas the other options show possession (their) and what they are doing. Of course, all the writers are squirming with all the other ways this sentence could be made tighter. Sorry.

I can’t stomach spinach, ___ can I ingest arugula.

If you’re a negative person, you love two negative indepdent clauses strung together with the uncommon conjunction nor. It can also, as you well know, be used in along with neither, in the high-toned “neither/nor” construction that grammar whizzes love to employ. This aversion to spinach and arugula is the foundation of the next fad diet.


This tricky rule separates grammar whizzes from non-whizzes. The incorrect choice here is the one that does not hyphenate 17th century when it comes before England. The reason that this is incorrect is because the two words 17th and century are forming an adjective phrase that modifies the noun, England. When you write “England in the 17th century” on the other hand, “17th” modifies “century”, so they are not joined as a compound noun.

Which punctuation should be used here? Please remember to get all the supplies__a rope, a tin can, a deck of cards, and a book of matches.

A colon is the correct way to introduce a list after a complete sentence. If a list is not preceded by a complete sentence, a colon is not needed. It won’t make you look smarter, more put-together, or better educated to use one.

Which choice best completes this sentence? She balances really ___ on that tightrope.

Bane of grammar whizzes everywhere, good and well are so often confused and mangled, yet they’re so simple to differentiate. Good is an adjective; it describes nouns. Well is an adverb; it describes verbs. Talking about an action or feeling? Use well! Talking about a noun? Use good! Talking about a steak? Use caution.

What is wrong with this sentence? The plate was dropped by Bernie.

This sentence is plauged by the other bane of grammar whizzes, the passive voice. The passive voice should be avoided because it deflects the action of a sentence away from the one doing the action. It makes the action seem accidental, even it wasn’t. In this case, Bernie dropped the plate on purpose, and the sentence should show that.

What is the actual reason to use a semicolon to join two sentences?

Contrary to student practice, there is a reason for using the semicolon to connect sentences. It’s not like seasoning, to be sprinkled here and there. The purpose of a semicolon when connecting sentences is to show that the two ideas are closely connected, so closely connected that they form one sentence instead of two.

What is missing here? It’s good to see you Dan.

In text speak and social media use, this rule has gone way out the window. When addressing someone, it’s grammatically correct to place a comma between the statement and the person’s name. This seems arbitrary, but it comes in handy when you need to differentiate what you mean from other options, as in the “Let’s eat Granpa” example.

What is the Oxford comma?

The raging debate over the usefulness of the Oxford comma continues. Should we use the final comma in a series before the conjunction, or is it redundant? The classic grammar example here is the “A panda walks into a bar eats shoots and leaves” quandary. How do you punctuate this?

How do you spot a progressive tense?

The progressive tense shows continuing action, and it can be found by it’s tell-tale -ing ending on the verb. Quite a different ending than the bumper sticker....although, that’s still happening, so maybe not.

What forms the past progressive?

The past progressive tense is formed by using the past tense of a “to be” helping verb (was/were) connected with a verb ending in -ing. Hybrid cars are the future, ok?

What choice correctly completes this sentence? I have _____ eggs than I thought in my basket.

So few people use this rule that it’s becoming less common. Few refers to quantity and less refers to size. Be the change you want to see in the world.

Which choice correctly completes the sentence? Jane and Roger ___ painting the house.

Jane and Roger form a compound subject here, so the subject is plural and needs a plural verb to agree with it. Now if they could just agree on the paint color.

Which of the following is a definite article?

“The” is the only definite article in the English language. It shows that the thing being referred to is the only one. This is the one thing you should remember about this quiz.

Which choice is the indirect object of this sentence? The conspiracy of leopards gave a fright to the child when they rushed through the village square.

The indirect object indicates who or what has received the action of a verb. It answers the questions “to what” or “to whom.” In this case, the child received the fright (the direct object) given by the leopards. Why the conspiracy? There must be something going on with those leopards that we don’t know about.

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