The English language can be difficult to perfect. A lot of people will say English is a tricky language to learn; there are a lot of rules to remember, and many words and phrases simply don’t follow them. Remembering everything can be a huge task, especially when you’re also trying to learn pronunciation, recognise various regional dialects, and master punctuation and spelling. Developing a solid foundation of grammar is the first thing you should do when you start to learn a new language; and once you get your head around the basics, the rest will come easily. We’ve laid out a few of the more common ground-rules that will help you to make sure you aren’t making any obvious mistakes.
Refresh yourself with the basics
Most people will have covered the basics of word types, but it can never hurt to refresh your memory. Knowing the names and definitions of the types of words that exist in English will help you get your head around the more complex aspects of grammar that will come up in the future. Sentences are made up of different types of words, each of which serves a different purpose:
Common nouns are the names of things, including types of people, places or objects. Proper nouns are names for a particular person, place, or thing and always begin with a capital letter.
E.g. Hanna went to Ireland and took her camera with her.
In the above example, Hanna and Ireland are proper nouns, and camera is a common noun. Pronouns are words that take the place of nouns, e.g. he, she, them, there, it.
Verbs are doing words. Every sentence should contain at least one verb.
E.g. Claire ate some watermelon.
In the above example, ate is a verb. Other examples of verbs are run, fall, jump and ring.
Adjectives are used to describe nouns.
E.g. It was a delicious meal.
In the above example, delicious is the adjective, it is describing the meal (the noun). Adjectives can come before or after a noun.
E.g. The meal she had was delicious.
Adverbs describe verbs.
E.g. She ate her lunch quickly.
In the above example, the word quickly is an adverb. It is describing how she ate her lunch (the verb). Adverbs can come before or after a verb.
E.g. She quickly ate her lunch.
- Prepositions, articles and conjunctions
A preposition is a word that tells you where something is in relation to something else. Examples of prepositions include after, before, on and under.
Articles are words that tell you whether a noun is specific or general; they include a, an, the.
E.g. She took a book on the train.
In the above sentence a tells you that the noun (the book) is general. Not a specific book, just any old book.
A conjunction is a word that joins two sentences. Examples of conjunctions include and, but, although, whenever.
E.g. She was going to take her torch but it had run out of battery.
In the above example, but is the conjunction, and connects the two sentences.
A paragraph can be defined as a group of sentences that are about the same topic or subject. Splitting your work up into different paragraphs is essential- no one wants to read huge blocks of text. Paragraphs help to make your writing clearer. Sometimes it can be difficult to decide where a new paragraph should go, there are a few things to bear in mind when it comes to paragraphs. You should consider making a new paragraph:
- If there is a change in time or place in the passage
- If new characters or people are introduced
- If you are discussing a new idea
Many people find it tricky to decide where and when is appropriate to use a semicolon. They are used to add stronger breaks to sentences than a comma is, but are less severe than a full stop. Statements separated by semicolons could stand alone as separate sentences. The topics mentioned in the two statements separated by a semicolon must be closely related.
E.g. Gareth always wore his talisman; he was superstitious.
Even native English speakers often get confused about how to properly use apostrophes. Like a lot of grammar in the English language, apostrophes have many rules, along with many exceptions to these rules. Apostrophes have two main uses:
- To show that some letters have been taken out of a word to shorten it. The apostrophe goes where the letters have been removed.
E.g. Do not becomes don’t
- To show belonging.
To do this, you usually add: ’s
E.g. The dog’s tail (shows that the tail belongs to the dog).
Words that end in S are the exception. The apostrophe should go after the S that is already there.
E.g. The octopus’ legs were wrapped around the seaweed (shows that the legs belong to the octopus)
This is just a brief refresher to some of the countless grammar rules of the English language, there are many more! A lot of the rules covered here can be researched in much greater detail. From the active voice, the perfect tense and the ins and outs of punctuation, English language grammar is tough to master. But once you do, you’ll be well on your way to fluency in reading, writing and speaking in English. If you’re interested in learning more English grammar, or just English in general, check out TLG’s English courses and see if any appeal to you.