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  • Writer's pictureKat Taylor

Mastering the Basics: The 12 Essential Rules of English Grammar

Updated: Mar 5

A female teacher helping students understand English grammar

English grammar can be a daunting subject for many, but mastering the basics is essential for effective communication. Whether you're a student, professional, or language enthusiast, understanding these twelve fundamental rules will help you navigate the complexities of the English language with confidence and clarity.

But first, it may help us to understand, what is grammar?

Grammar is the structure of any language, not just English. It is the set of rules that explain how written and spoken language should be used and sets a standard for how words or groups of words and sentences should be arranged together in order that they make sense.

Now, just what are the rules of English grammar?

Rule 1: Subject-verb agreement

The subject and verb in a sentence must agree in number. So if your subject is singular then your verb also needs to be singular. For example, "She sings beautifully" is correct, while "She sing beautifully" is incorrect. And if your subject is plural then your verb must also be plural. "They sing beautifully".

Rule 2: Use of articles

Use "a" before words that begin with a consonant sound and "an" before words that begin with a vowel sound. For example, "a book" and "an apple." When you talk about something specific or something you've mentioned before, you should use "the". For example, "Pass me the book that's on the table" or "I bought the book we were talking about last week".

Rule 3: Proper use of pronouns

Ensure pronouns (he/she/it/they) agree in gender and number with the nouns they replace. For instance, "He is going to the store" (singular) and "They are going to the store" (plural), or "She forgot her coat" and "They forgot their coats".

Rule 4: Punctuate your sentences

The use of commas, full stops, question marks, exclamation marks, and other punctuation marks have a big effect on meaning and enhance the readability of written sentences. Make sure you know how and when to use each one.

For example, commas make your sentences easier to understand and should be used to connect independent clauses, after introductory phrases, to separate items in a list and to separate non-essential information (also know as a bracketing comma).

Apostrophes should only be used for possessive nouns and contractions.

Rule 5: Use capitalisation correctly

Capitalise proper nouns, the first word of a sentence, and titles to convey importance and clarity. See my blog series, Making Sense of Capitalisation, to help you get to grips with when to and when not to capitalise.

Rule 6: Sentence structure and using complete sentences

Construct clear and concise sentences by following the subject-verb-object order and avoiding run-on sentences and fragments.

The subject of the sentence is I/he/she/you/ we/they/it/Jessica, the verb refers to what the subject is doing, for example eat/sleep/run, and the object is the person or thing that receives the action of the verb. For example, "He (subject) ate (verb) the bread (object)".

A run-on sentence is where you could divide a sentence into two separate thoughts without adding, rearranging or removing any words. Correct use of punctuation will help you avoid this.

A sentence fragment is a sentence that is missing either its subject or its main verb. For example, "Because of the rain." is an incomplete sentence or sentence fragment. "My trip was cancelled because of the rain" has both a subject and a verb and is, therefore, a complete sentence.

Rule 7: Switch word order for questions

When asking a question, your auxiliary verb comes before your subject. In the rule above, your subject goes first, followed by the verb, so for a question, "She is going shopping" would become "Is she going shopping?"

Rule 8: Use the correct verb tenses

Use appropriate verb tenses to indicate the time of an action or event, such as past, present, or future tense and don't mix your tenses within a sentence. If you start your sentence in the past tense, you need to use the past tense until the end of the sentence otherwise you will confuse your reader.

Rule 9: Use of prepositions

Understand how prepositions show relationships between words in a sentence, such as "in," "on", "at", and "to". They tell you where or when something is in relation to something else and getting them wrong can completely change the meaning of your sentence. A preposition is usually found directly before the word or phrase that it relates to. For example, "They walked to the park".

Rule 10: Use conjunctions to link your ideas

Conjunctions are linking words that connect words and phrases to create a complete sentence. You may have been taught never to start a sentence with a conjunction (and/but/so/because, etc.) but this is a misconception and it is perfectly acceptable to begin a sentence with "and", "because" or another similar , however, you should consider your audience before doing so.

Rule 11: Avoid double negatives

Use one negative word in a sentence to avoid confusion and ensure clarity. For example, "I don't want no trouble" should be "I don't want any trouble."

Rule 12: Active vs. Passive Voice

Prefer active voice for direct and engaging writing, while passive voice can be used to emphasize the receiver of an action.

By mastering these twelve basic rules of English grammar, you'll enhance your writing skills, improve your communication abilities, and gain confidence in expressing yourself effectively. Remember, practice makes perfect, so keep honing your grammar skills to become a proficient and articulate communicator. Embrace the beauty of language and let these rules guide you on your journey to linguistic excellence. Happy writing!

If you still need help with any of the above, it's worth enlisting the help of a professional proofreader like me to review your work and show you where you're going wrong.

The twelve rules of English grammar

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