Most English speakers don’t give much thought to the words that they use to string together a sentence. Much less to the sequencing of sentences required to express a complete idea.
Conversely, those learning English as a second or third language have to make a conscious effort to properly understand the meaning and function of each word that they use. They then have to use each of these words to craft sentences that contribute to the overall expression of an idea.
Since the school year has only recently started up again, let’s take a quick English grammar lesson on the various word types, how to tell them apart and how they are best used in a sentence.
“Without grammar very little can be conveyed. Without vocabulary, nothing can be conveyed.” - David Wilkins
If we think of vocabulary as the building blocks of language, it must be vital to understand how they differ from one another and where they should be placed (in a sentence) for maximum effectiveness.
A noun represents a person, place or thing. In other words, a noun is a naming word. Anything you can touch, see or talk about is described with a name; thus nouns can also be referred to as naming words.
Nouns divide neatly into two types: common and proper.
Proper nouns are names that are given to things. This includes names of cities, rivers, countries, continents, mountains and so on. For example, your name is also a proper noun. In the sentence, “Meet my dog, Rover.” Rover is the proper noun, whereas the word ‘dog’ is referred to as a common noun.
Common nouns represent something and are found in the dictionary, whereas proper nouns are often not. Proper nouns are always capitalised, meaning the first letter is a capital letter, whereas common nouns are not.
Names and Titles of people are always capitalised. Eg. Doctor Cooper, Mrs. James, Chancellor Merkel.
In the UK, you would capitalise The Queen, but if we are talking about queens generally, we would say: the queens that have ruled in Europe (in this example ‘queen’ becomes a common noun, as we are not referring to one specific persons’ title).
Important events are often capitalised: such as the Ice Age, the Great Depression, or World War II.
When referring to the name of a specific building, monument, bridge or tunnel we always use capitals. For example: the Eureka Tower, Westgate Bridge, the Burnley Tunnel, the Big Banana and so on.
However, if we are not specific, it is considered a common noun and we don’t capitalise the first letter. Eg. 'shopping centre' compared to 'Westfield Shoppingtown’.
If you are not entirely clear by now, you can find more explanations on this page refer to this page.
Pronouns in Place of Nouns
When referring to a person, place or thing multiple times, there is no need to use a proper noun over and over to mention it.
Using a pronoun in place of either a proper or common noun gives your text more fluency, precision and variety.
This only works, however, when it is clear what you are referring to when you use the pronoun. If there is any hint of ambiguity, then a naming word (noun) ought to be used in place of the pronoun for clarification. Here’s an example:
Sally told her sister she should go in her place.
This sentence is very unclear because ‘her place’ could refer to either Sally’s place or Sally’s sister’s place. Therefore, in this case one should clarify who the pronoun refers to, as such:
Sally told her sister she should go in Sally's place.
As you can see, this is a much clearer way of expressing the same sentence. The pronoun relates back to the previous noun, that’s why we know that ’she’ is Sally’s sister.
Learn more about using English Grammar Clauses here.
Verbs are for Action! Usually…
Verbs actually have a variety of functions in English grammar rules, but the main one is to say what is being done (ie. an action).
Verbs can also tell us about mental activities like thinking or tell us of a state of being.
Verbs describe action most of the time. Source: Pixabay
By looking at the verb form, you can find out when the action happened.
I am eating an apple - happening right now
I went to school - completed action
I have been studying for two years - a continuous action which began in the past.
There are many things that make future forms difficult in English. First of all, you are unlikely to ever hear ‘going to’ in everyday speech, as native English speakers all over the globe prefer to shorten this phrase into ‘gonna’ when speaking.
For example, I’m gonna take English lessons.
In written form this is incorrect, however, it is acceptable in all except the most formal of speaking scenarios.
'Going to + main verb' is used when something has been planned or it is an intention to do something.
For example, I’m going to see a movie this afternoon.
This differs from ‘will + main verb’, as we will often use this form to refer to decisions made in the moment about the future. For example: 'I will have a hamburger, please’ is an acceptable way to order a hamburger, if you made the decision at that moment.
You can also use will to express an opinion, for example, 'I will never pass my English course' is a statement of opinion/prediction. Going to + verb is also an acceptable sentence structure for predictions such as, 'I think it's going to rain tomorrow.'
However, if I make a promise to you such as, 'I will help you learn English grammar', then I must use will.
Most English learners tend towards 'will' when speaking about the future because it is easier to grasp, however as you can see it is not always the correct future verb form.
As I mentioned earlier, native speakers will express 'going to' as 'gonna' is most speaking scenarios.
This is a slang verb form, which is important to know to build your listening skills but can be confusing, especially for beginner learners who have not been immersed in English speaking environments.
Beyond 'gonna', 'want to' is often expressed as 'wanna', similarly 'have got to' is commonly expressed as 'gotta'.
Eg. 'I wanna learn more English grammar rules', 'you gotta improve your English'.
These forms are informal uses of language, generally spoken between friends or colleagues.
However, please note that it is incorrect to write these forms. In any written scenario, the English grammar rules are so that you must write 'want to', 'have got to' and 'going to' in their original form.
Improve your English by understanding the difference between writing and English speaking.
Adjectives and Adverbs
Adjectives are often explained as describing words. Any word that gives details about a noun is an adjective.
These words are great for giving depth to our language:
For example, compare:
The boy wore some shoes.
The boy wore some eye-catching shoes.
The adjective 'eye-catching' helps us visualise what is being talked about. This gives us a clearer mental picture of the objects and subjects of our sentences.
Beware, saturating your text with too many adjectives can make your language sound confusing and clunky. Best to use just a few adjectives for vital details you wish to describe.
While adjectives describe nouns, adverbs describe the manner in which an action is done. For instance:
The fox jumped quickly over the fence.
In this case, the adverb 'quickly' gives additional information about the manner in which the fox jumped.
Why Describe Verbs?
Adverbs are important because they can change the entire meaning of a sentence. Take the following example:
I wish to speak English fluently.
Without an adverb in this sentence, we would have no idea at which level the speaker wishes to be able to speak English. The descriptive gives us vital information about the key details of the speaker's wish to speak English.
However, as with adjectives, we must only use the most crucial descriptives, to keep our sentences clear and concise.
The general rule for adverb and adjective use is: if the idea can be clearly expressed without additional words, don't use them.