You can reach more bravely into the scary world of sentence construction and accurate communication if you are armed with grammar guidelines. These 11 rules of grammar will help you become a champ at selecting words and punctuation.
1. Use Active Voice
Every human language starts an active sentence with the subject, or the "doer." In English, the verb (what's being done) follows the subject. If there is an object (the receiver of the action), it comes after the verb. The formula looks like this:
S+V+O. This rule is the foundation of the English language.
Here are some examples:
- Mary walked the dog.
- The dog liked Mary.
- I did not like the dog.
2. Link Ideas with a Conjunction
Sometimes you want to link two ideas with a second S+V+O combination. When you do, you need a coordinating conjunction. The new formula looks like this:
S+V+O, COORDINATING CONJUNCTION+S+V+O
Coordinating conjunctions are easy to remember with an acronymic mnemonic device:
3. Use a Comma to Connect Two Ideas As One
FANBOYS are used when connecting two ideas as one in a single sentence, but don't forget the comma.
- I do not walk Mary's dog, nor do I wash him.
- Mary fed her dog, and I drank tea.
- Mary feeds and walks her dog every day, but the dog is still hyperactive.
4. Use a Serial Comma in a List
The serial, or Oxford, comma is a controversial rule of grammar. Some want to eliminate it altogether while others just don't know how to use it. The serial comma is the last comma in a list, usually appearing before "and." The serial comma comes after "dog" in this sentence:
Pets R Us has lizards, dogs, and birds.
Commas separate units in a list. In the above case, each unit only has one part, so it's easy. Where people get confused is when the units are bigger, but the rule still applies:
Pets R Us has lizards and frogs, dogs and cats, and parakeets and macaws.
Notice that the serial comma comes before "and" but not the last "and" in the sentence. The "and" that follows the comma is only there because it sounds better. Grammatically, "and" is irrelevant. Only units matter.
5. Use the Semicolon to Join Two Ideas
A list of grammar rules has to include the scariest of punctuation marks. It might look funny, but don't be afraid of the semicolon; it's the easiest thing in the world to use! Say you want to join two ideas but can't figure out or can't be bothered to use a coordinating conjunction. The two ideas can be separate sentences, but you think that they are so closely connected; they really should be one. Use a semicolon.
- Mary's dog is hyperactive; it won't stop barking or sit still.
- My heart is like a cup of green tea; it's bitter and smoky.
- Mary has to walk her dog every day; it is the most hyperactive dog anyone has ever seen.
6. Use the Simple Present Tense for Habitual Actions
The simple present is the tense you use for any habitual action. The things you always do or do every Tuesday are described with the simple present, which just means you pick the first form of any verb.
- Mary likes dogs.
- I don't walk Mary's dog.
- Mary and I drink tea every Tuesday together.
7. Use the Present Progressive Tense for Current Action
The present progressive tense is for anything that is happening right now. All of the progressive tenses are easy to spot because their verbs always end with "-ing" and get a helping verb. A helping verb is just so we know who and when we're talking about. In the present progressive, the helping verbs are the present tense conjugations of "to be."
- I am drinking green tea.
- The barking dogs outside are driving me crazy.
- Mary is playing with her hyperactive dog.
8. Add "ed" to verbs for the Past Tense
When we talk about the past, we have to add an "-ed" to regular verbs to make the second form. Irregular verbs are tricky and have their own sets of rules. Drink, for example, turns to "drank." Most of the time, though, "-ed" will do.
- I drank a lot of green tea yesterday, but Mary didn't.
- The dogs stopped barking two seconds ago, and I am feeling better.
- Mary played fetch with her hyperactive dog.
9-11. Use Perfect Tenses
Practice makes perfect with the perfect tenses. Here are three rules to finish the 11 rules of grammar. If you remember these, you'll be well on your way to perfection.
9. Use Present Perfect for the Unfinished Past
The present perfect can be confusing for some, but it is one of the most important rules of grammar. When people talk about things that have already happened but consider the time in which they occurred to be unfinished, they use the third form of the verb with a helping verb. The helping verb for the present perfect is the present tense conjugation of "to have."
- I have drunk three cups of green tea today.
- Mary's hyperactive cur dog has bitten me three times so far.
- Mary has walked her hyperactive poodle 100 times this week.
Unfortunately, the only way to know the third forms of verbs is to remember them.
10. Use Present Perfect Progressive for Unfinished Action and Past
When the action as well as the time is considered unfinished, the verb loads up on third form helping verbs ("to be" and "to have") and changes to the progressive form.
- Western countries have been waging wars in the Middle East for thousands of years.
- I have been drinking tea all day.
- Mary's dog has been barking like crazy since it was born.
11. Use Past Perfect for the First of Two Past Actions
When two things happen in the past, we have to mark which one happened first. The one that happened first changes to third form and gets the helping verb, "had."
- By the time I drank one cup of green tea, Mary's dog had barked a million times.
- I had not yet eaten breakfast when Mary walked her dog.
- He could not pay for lunch because he had lost his wallet.
Understanding and consistently following the basic English grammar rules will help you speak and write English correctly and with minimal hesitation.
What Are Basic English Grammar Rules?
There are hundreds of grammar rules but the basic ones refer to sentence structure and parts of speech, which are noun, pronoun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition and conjunction. Let’s look at the way sentences are put together and the words that form them.
Basic English Grammar Rules
Some of the most basic and important English grammar rules relate directly to sentence structure. Some of these rules specify that:
- A singular subject needs a singular predicate.
- A sentence needs to express a complete thought.
Another term for a sentence is an independent clause.
- Clauses, like any sentence, have a subject and predicate too. If a group of words does not have a subject and predicate, it is a phrase.
- If they can stand alone and make a complete thought, then they are independent and called sentences.
- If they do not express a complete thought, they are called "dependent clauses." An example of a dependent clause, which is not a sentence, is “when i finish my work”.
So, what are the other basic rules for sentence structure?
Subjects and Predicates
Basic to any language is the sentence, which expresses a complete thought and consists of a subject and a predicate.
- The subject is the star of the sentence; the person, animal, or thing that is the focus of it.
- The predicate will tell the action that the subject is taking or tell something about the subject.
Basic Parts of Speech
Once you have a general idea of the basic grammar rules for sentence structures, it is also helpful to learn about the parts of speech:
- A noun names a person, animal, place, thing, quality, idea, activity, or feeling. A noun can be singular, plural, or show possession.
- A pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun, like: “I”, “you”, or “they.”
- A verb shows action and can be a main verb or a helping verb, like: “were” or “has.” Verbs also indicate tense and sometimes change their form to show past, present, or future tense. Linking verbs link the subject to the rest of the sentence and examples are: “appear” and “seem.”
- An adjective modifies a noun or a pronoun. It adds meaning by telling how much, which one, what kind, or describing it in other ways.
- An adverb will modify a verb and tell more about it, like how much, when, where, why, or how.
- A preposition shows a relationship between nouns or pronouns. It is often used with a noun to show location, like: “beside”, “in”, or “on”. It can also show time, direction, motion, manner, reason, or possession.
- Conjunctions connect two words, phrases, or clauses, and common ones are: “and”, “but”, and “or.”
Mention needs to be made about other types of words that are considered by some, but not all, to be parts of speech.
- One of them is the interjection. It shows emotion and examples are: “yea”, “hurray”, “uh-oh”, and “alas.”
- Articles are very useful little words that are also sometimes considered to be parts of speech. The articles are: “a”, “an”, and “the”. Indefinite articles are “a” and “an” and “the” is a definite article.
To fully understand basic grammar rules, you also need to look at punctuation rules.
- All sentences must start with a capital, or upper case, letter.
- Titles of people, books, magazines, movies, specific places, etc. are capitalized.
- Organizations and compass points are capitalized.
- Every sentence needs a punctuation mark at the end of it. These would include a period, exclamation mark, or question mark.
- Colons are used to separate a sentence from a list of items, between two sentences when the second one explains the first, and to introduce a long direct quote.
- Semicolons are used to take the place of a conjunction and are placed before introductory words like “therefore” or “however.” They are also used to separate a list of things if there are commas within each unit.
- There are a lot of rules for commas. The basic ones are commas separate things in a series and go wherever there is a pause in the sentence. They surround the name of a person being addressed, separate the day of the month from the year in a date, and separate a town from the state.
- Parentheses enclose things that clarify and enclose numbers and letters that are part of a list. Apostrophes are used in contractions to take the place of one or more letters and to show possession. An apostrophe and “s” is added if the noun is singular and an apostrophe alone is added if the noun is plural.
So, now you know some basic grammar rules and you'll be well on your way to becoming a grammar expert.