Guide to Basic English Grammar
Grammar is fundamental for correctly speaking and writing a language. It is the study of how the sentences of a language are constructed. This study revolves around the construction of words, phrases, clauses, and sentences.
Over the years, the English language has gone through social, geographical, and historical changes, therefore divergences from the methods and syntax described here may be observed in some variations and dialects of English.
The scope of this article is limited to describing the laws of generalized, present day "Standard English" and its common usage in different types of formal and informal public discourse including academics, journalism, entertainment, broadcasting, and government.
History of the English Language: Here is a summary of the history of English grammar
English grammar: An introduction to English grammar
English grammar is divided into syntax and morphology. Syntax outlines the formation of meaningful phrases, clauses, and sentences out of different words, whereas morphology describes the construction of words.
Darling's Guide to Grammar & Writing: An excellent guide to English grammar and writing developed by an academic
The University of Illinois Center for Writing Studies: This site provides a detailed discussion on a variety of grammar issues
Hyper TextBook: This online book has several features to help you learn about writing in the wired, computer networked, academic and business community of today
Word and Phrase Classes
Also known as parts of speech, there are seven major word classes:
Nouns: These are the broadest word class. Nouns encompass all categories and types of things in the world such as people, animals, events, places, colors, shapes, qualities, and states. For example: James, dog, Christmas, Ontario, anger, and gas are all nouns. Word form is not the focus when identifying a noun, but common suffixes like -ism (communism), -age (shortage) hood (neighborhood) are good indicators of nouns. The conversion of adjectives or verbs can also create nouns. For example: "a funny joke", "a winning streak", "the utter disregard", etc.
- Nouns exist in singular and plural forms
- English language nouns do not have a "gender" unlike some other languages
- As with everything else, practice makes perfect
Capital Community College's grammar guide: A brief and straight forward guide about nouns.
Pronouns: Pronouns are a very narrow word class and function as noun phrases. Pronouns are classified into 3 sub-categories:
Personal Pronouns are further broken down into the following categories:
- Nominative (I, you, he, she, it, we, they)
- Objective (me, you, him, her, it, us, them)
- Reflexive (myself, yourself, yourselves, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, themselves)
- Attributive (my, yours, his, hers, its, our, their)
- Predicative (mine, yours, hers, his, ours, theirs)
Demonstrative pronouns are "this, these, that, those", only when not followed by a noun, for example:
"That is nice", "Those are great"
Relative pronouns are "that", "which", "who", "whom", and "whose". Relative pronouns link a dependent clause and a noun phrase in an independent clause. For example:
"The theory that I am speaking of is outrageous."
"The car of which I am speaking is old."
"The singer whose song was a rage is missing."
Townson University grammar page: This page gives detailed information about pronouns
The Mayfield Handbook of Technical & Scientific Writing: Use this handbook for a very detailed discussion on Pronouns
Verbs: Verbs are used to indicate processes, events, states, and most commonly, actions. This is the second major class of words after nouns.
Examples of verbs are: "pull", "slip", "cry", "confront", etc.
Verbs are further broken down into:
This is an open class which consists of most verbs in the dictionary
This is a closed class, the purpose of which is to add information to other lexical verbs.
English Exercises: Learn the usage of verbs through interactive web based exercises
Adjectives: Adjectives serve to describe the qualities, properties, and/or states of a noun. Adjectives are usually constructed by adding a suffix to a noun. For example: "-ous" ("stupendous," "infamous"), "-al" ("agricultural," "multilingual").
Adjectives can also be constructed from within other adjectives by adding a suffix or a prefix. For example: whitish, impregnable, dismember, irreparable, unbelievable. Quite a few adjectives are formed by adding the letter "a" as a prefix to a verb: "aloft," "afloat," "awry."
Adjectives are further classified into:
This type of adjective has qualities that exist along a scale. For example, in case of the adjective "wet", we can modify the adjective as: "not at all wet", "somewhat wet", "quite wet", "very wet", "and extremely wet".
These are some adjectives that cannot be put on a scale and are non-gradable. This category includes words like "dead", "pregnant", or "married".
Purdue online writing lab: This site can help you get a better understanding of gradable and non-gradable adjectives
North Carolina State University Grammar Supplement: Test your understanding of adjectives by doing these quizzes
Adverbs: Adverbs serve to modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They are especially important for indicating "time, manner, place, degree, and frequency of an event or action.
It is not uncommon for adjectives and adverbs to be derived from the same word, with most of them being formed by adding the "-ly" suffix to the corresponding adjective form.
Learn English: Try these interactive exercises to understand adverbs better
Adverbs: A great collection of web resources about adverbs
Towson University online writing support: Useful information about adverbs
Prepositions: Prepositions are used when a connection between two events in time or two people or things in space is required. They are also used to show an abstract relationship between two entities. For example:
- It rained here after two years
- The batsman looked back to see his stumps flying as he let one through his defenses
Conjunctions: Conjunctions belong to a small class of words that serve as connectors between words, phrases, clauses, or sentences. For example: "and", "but", "however", "furthermore", "moreover".
Choose the best conjunction: Interactive exercise to enhance your understanding of conjunctions
Online writing lab-conjunctions: A brief description of conjunctions with exercises
Baby Flash Cards: Although the name says 'baby' it actually has over 400 different words that can help you with your vocab if you are just starting out. It seems to be free as well.
Useful English Grammar Tips
- Avoid saying "It is him," say "It is he." Similarly, "It is I," not "It is me"; "It is they" not "It is them."
- Affect vs. Effect: This is an easily confused pair of words. Affect with an "a" is usually a verb; effect with an "e" is usually a noun. To understand the difference between the two, look at it this way: When you "affect" something, you have an "effect" on it. The usual adjective is effective, which means "having the desired effect," - an effective remedy, for instance. (It can also be interpreted as "in effect," as in "the new law is effective immediately.")
- Learning a language is not like learning math. Don't try to logically "make sense" of everything. Instead, try to listen to native speakers closely, try to understand the culture of the country of the language's origin, explore their art, history, cinema and literature to better understand the expressions and usage of words.
- Spell checkers that come with most word processing software are acceptable, but avoid using the computerized grammar checkers. Not only do they miss basic grammatical errors, they often give bad advice and try to fix what's not broken. A major reason for this is that they make their suggestions based on a strict set of rules without any sense of context.
- Since the 'comma' is the most frequently used punctuation mark, its incorrect usage is among the top 20 most frequently committed errors by writers. Just because a clause appears to be too small, does not mean that it warrants the use of a comma.
Jack Lynch's Grammar and Style Notes: A well-written guide to a host of grammatical issues
Daniel Kies' Modern English Grammar: This site will provide you with in-depth knowledge and quizzes to test your knowledge
Common errors in English grammar: Describes some of the common errors in English grammar
Capitalization, and Punctuation: A Handbook for Technical Writers: A guide about punctuation errors
Top 10 grammar myths
To have your writing deliver maximum impact, make sure you write correctly and concisely. Clearly expressed ideas with the right punctuation and correct grammar maximize your chances of achieving your writing's desired objective.
Joseph Pulitzer famously said, "Put it to them briefly, so they will read it; clearly, so they will appreciate it; picturesquely, so they will remember it; and, above all, accurately, so they will be guided by its light."
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