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Page 1 Grammar Study Guide for the HESI® exam

The Grammar section of the HESI exam contains 50 questions and is timed for 50 minutes. The questions involve knowing some very basic rules of written English, such as the names and meanings of the various parts of speech, as well as how, and when, to use these words in a sentence. The Grammar section also deals with punctuation―what mark to use and when to use it. If you take a little time to go over the following things, it will be a lot easier on test day. Many online grammar practice sites are available for you to use, so you’ll be even more comfortable with these types of questions. Just search for the following topics online.

Parts of Speech

Remember all the lessons about nouns and verbs? Well, those could come in really handy right about now! Be sure to familiarize yourself with the eight parts of speech: noun, verb, adverb, adjective, preposition, conjunction, pronoun, and interjection. It may also be helpful to know what these mean: pronoun-antecedent, subject, and predicate.

For example, you know a verb is an action or being word. Well, a predicate is just the verb, plus the other words that go with the verb.

Look at this sentence:

Harry wrote the letter neatly.

Wrote is the verb and wrote the letter neatly is the predicate.

Verb Forms and Tenses

Besides knowing what part of speech verbs are, you must know what form and tense of a verb to use in different situations. For instance, do you use ring, rang, or rung, when talking about a bell? The rule for this is: ring is what a bell does in the present tense, rang is in the past, and rung is in the past perfect, and must use has, had, or have. Other words like this include swim and bring (there is no such word as brang). Some very common errors are also made with these words: see, saw, seen.

You can say, “I saw,” but not “I seen.” You have to use have or had with seen. The same goes for ride, rode, and have/has/had ridden. But never use have, had, or has with saw or rode. Yeah, isn’t the English language great?

Pronoun Use

Unless you are about 2 years old, you know that the sentence “Her went to the store” does not sound right. But what about this? Which one is correct?

Jamie called Butch and I to dinner.

Jamie called Butch and me to dinner.

Believe it or not, it’s the second one. The word me is used for objects and I is used for subjects in a sentence. An easier way to determine me versus I is to take the other person out of the sentence and see which sounds right. “Jamie called I to dinner” just doesn’t cut it. It would be “Jamie and I went to dinner” because “Me went to dinner” is just wrong.

Also, practice the use of him and her, as well as when to use himself or herself, instead. Oh, and there is also no such word as “theirselves.”


If you’ve read things on social media lately, you know that some people can go a little crazy with capital letters. Some people use them all the time and some, not at all. For this test, you’ll need to prove you know the rules.

Basically, all sentences and proper nouns (the name of a person, place, or thing) begin with a capital letter. So do titles of people (Mr., Dr., etc.) and a few other word types. You can find a number of lists of capitalization rules online to help you nail this skill.

There are some tricky things to capitalization, too. For example, look at the word dad in these sentences. Both are correct.

My dad is my best friend.

I told Dad to come with us.

Why the difference? In the second sentence, Dad is used as a name. In the first, it is not. Saying, “my dad” is the same as saying, “my ball, my dog, my pencil,” none of which need capital letters.


Punctuation basics are easy, right? A period at the end of a sentence, question mark after a question, etc. But there are some confusing points, too. Here are a few rules to remember:

  • Commas used in a series of words typically include one before the word and in academic writing: I had apples, peaches, and pears for lunch. This is the serial comma, or also known as Oxford comma. It is a matter of style preference, so remember to check the preferred style guide of the institution, or school, for whom you are writing, or read test instructions, and practice consistency.)

  • An apostrophe used to show possession is always directly after the person/s or animal/s that actually possess/es the thing: If the bone belongs to one dog, it is “the dog’s bone,” but if it belongs to two or more dogs, it is “the dogs’ bone.”

  • Looking up other apostrophe rules would be good idea. There are many.

  • Apostrophes are not used just to form a plural! “I love my baby’s” is just not right. It should be babies.

  • Quotation marks: Generally, all other forms of punctuation are written inside the quotes. Jean said, “I am the oldest person here.” And “Hi!” said Tom.

  • Review where to use a hyphen (-).

Confusing Words

The English language has many confusing words. The Grammar section of the HESI exam will test your knowledge of a few of them. To prepare for this section of the test, take note of the following reminders:

  • Know the differences among your/you’re, there/their/they’re, and its/it’s. You should be able to split any two words that are joined with an apostrophe into those two words and have the sentence still make sense.

Example: “I saw you’re house” may sound right, but if you split you’re into two words, it becomes “I saw you are house,” which is not right. By the same token, “Your my best friend” is not right, either. This time, it is supposed to have the equivalent of you are in it, so “You’re my best friend” works.

  • Other tricky words to study include: accept/except, effect/affect, and advice/advise. Example: He gives advice. But, He did not advise her.

  • Know when to use lay and lie, less and fewer, harder and hardest, etc. Trick: Use -er ending when comparing two things and -est for three or more.

  • It should be “I could have danced all night,” not “I could of danced all night.”

  • Its is the only possessive that doesn’t have an apostrophe. It’s, with the apostrophe, means it is.

Sentence Structure

Some of the questions will ask you to decide which form of a sentence is correct. What this means is, “Which form makes the meaning most clear to you, the reader?” This may involve punctuation or word usage. There may be two answers that are actually correct, but only one of them is best.

For example: Jane was just thinking of John, not Tim, when she ran into him. (It is not clear who she ran into.)

This is better: Jane had been thinking of John when she ran into Tim.

Other Items

It would probably be a good idea to know what each of the following items mean and to be able to tell if a sentence has them and where they are in the sentence:

  • dependent clause

  • independent clause

  • weak clause

  • active verb tense

What Now?

All this may sound like a lot, but there are actually only a few questions involving each area above. It’s just a good idea to know what you might be facing and to take a little time reviewing the concepts, one idea at a time.