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Learning Grammar Basics

Learning a foreign language is never easy because you need to learn the rules of its sentence structure. The English language has many grammar rules to follow.

Knowing the rules of grammar does not mean that you will become a good writer, but at least it will help you avoid bad writing. In addition, knowing the essentials of grammar may give you the following advantages: avoiding grammatical errors in your sentences; providing clarity to your writing; giving credibility to your readers

Knowing grammar basics means knowing the eight parts of speech in English words and writing:


A noun names a person, place, or thing.

A noun can be singular (referring to only one) or plural (referring to more than one). Generally, you make a singular noun plural by adding an “s”; however, some nouns do not follow this general rule:

e.g. enemy becomes enemies
e.g. goose becomes geese
e.g. hero becomes heroes
e.g. sheep remains sheep

Some nouns are countable

e.g. books, while some are not, 
e.g. hunger and thirst.

A noun can be possessive (indicating ownership).

e.g. David and Daniel’s house (NOT David’s and Daniel’s house)
e.g. Jesus’ miracles (NOT Jesus’s miracles)
e.g. the bottom of the box (NOT the box’s bottom)
e.g. the characters of Star Wars (NOT Star Wars’ characters)

From the above, a possessive noun is applicable only to a person, and not to a thing.

A noun MUST AGREE with a verb in a sentence, that is, a singular noun requiring a singular verb, and a plural noun requiring a plural verb. A singular verb in the present tense generally needs an “s”; of course, there are exceptions, such as the following:

e.g. The data show (NOT shows) that people prefer this to that. (data is the plural form of datum.)
e.g. The criteria for selection are based (NOT is) on the recommendation of the mayor. (criteria is plural)
e.g. Human rights is an important issue in this country. (singular: human rights treated as a single unit and thus requiring a singular verb)
e.g. Human rights are ignored in many parts of the world. (plural: human rights considered individual rights of people)
e.g. Six thousand dollars is a lot of money. (singular: a monetary unit)

A proper noun names a specific person, place, or event, e.g. James BondNew York, and the Civil War.

A proper noun is always capitalized, e.g. The Great Depression (BUT an economic depression).


An adjective describes a noun. Adjectives often give precision and meaning to sentences; in other words, they add color to your writing.

Beware: some words are both adjectives (describing nouns) and adverbs (modifying verbs).

e.g. This is hard work. (an adjective)
e.g. He works hard. (an adverb)

Linking verbs, such as bebecomelookseemsmelltaste, require the use of adjectives rather than adverbs.

e.g. He is happy.
e.g. She became angry. (NOT angrily)
e.g. He looked angrily at you. (it was the action expressed in the look)
e.g. The man looked angry. (it was the expression, not the action)
e.g. The cake smells wonderful. (NOT wonderfully)
e.g. The wine tastes good. (NOT well)


Conjunctions are connecting words, phrases, or clauses in sentences, and they are either coordinating or subordinating conjunction.

Coordinating conjunctions

Coordinating conjunctions are andbutornorforso, and yet. They join two or more complete or independent sentences.

e.g. He likes coffee, and so do I (like coffee).
e.g. He likes cheese, but I do not (like cheese).
e.g. (You ) work harder, or you will not succeed.
e.g. I don’t want to go, nor will I (go).
e.g. Summer is approaching, for the days are getting longer.
e.g. He worked hard, so he passed his exam with flying colors.
e.g. He worked hard, yet the result was far from satisfactory.

Subordinating conjunctions

Subordinating conjunctions join unequal elements in a sentence or clause that cannot stand alone.

e.g. When we arrived at the station, the train had left.
e.g. We will not succeed unless we get your support.
e.g. I will help you as long as you ask me.
e.g. I will help you whenever you ask me.
e.g. I will help you provided (that) you ask me.
e.g. I will help you if you ask me.
e.g. Although I am your brother, I will not help you.
e.g. You will stay here till everything is done.
e.g. He behaved as though he were better than you.
e.g. Though he had lost his fortune, he remained cheerful.
e.g. Since spring is coming, we have to prepare the garden.
e.g. Because spring is coming, we have to prepare the garden.


A preposition is a word that shows the relationship between a noun or pronoun and that of another noun or pronoun.

e.g. The book is on the table.
e.g. This telephone message came from your wife.
e.g. Everybody can go except you.
e.g. The house is situated between the river and the wood.
e.g. That piece of cake was shared among the three boys. (NOT betweenbetween is for two; among is for more than two)
e.g. Just between you and I (not me), the company will go bankrupt soon.

Some words can be a preposition as well as a conjunction.

e.g. He stood before the window. (preposition indicating the relationship between the man and the window)
e.g. Before the police came, the man had fled. (before is a subordinating conjunction joining two otherwise independent clauses the police came and the man had fled)

Consider the following sentences:

e.g. The police came, the man had fled. (incorrect: without a conjunction)
e.g. The police came, and the man had fled. (correct with a conjunction)
e.g. Before the police came, the man had fled (improved: showing the sequence of events with the addition of the subordinating conjunction before)

Do not use prepositions unnecessarily

e.g. Where are you going to? (NO to)
e.g. Don’t go near to the lake. (NO to)
e.g. The child fell off from his bike. (NO from)

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

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