English Grammar Guide

English grammar is an area that many students who do not have English as a first language find challenging. One of the reasons is because grammar rules are different for different languages. Therefore, a new set of rules must be applied to each new language.

For English learners, the complexity comes from the fact that there are many different language rules, as well as exceptions to these rules.

The following English Grammar Guide covers a number of the important areas of English grammar.

Word Form (noun, verb, adjective, adverb)

Noun (n)

This is a name of thing (eg. football, book, computer, tool, Peter, belief, February, group).

  • The manager is working at his desk.
  • Nurses help people to recover.

 

Verb (v)

This is an action word (eg. go, do, make, take, bring, work, predict, eat, throw, give).

  • My boss always works hard. 
  • Tom has a lot of experience in this area.

 

Adjective (adj)

This describes a noun (eg. big, happy, interesting, difficult, urgent, late, cold, beautiful).

  • This is an easy lesson.
  • I prefer watching old movies.

 

Adverb (adv)

This describes a verb (eg. quickly, well, soon, suddenly, very, usually, often).

  • The people spoke loudly at dinner. 
  • He always eats well.

 

Preposition (prep)

This shows the relationship between nouns (eg. in, on, to, over, during, of, with, at)

  • The plate is on the table.
  • I watch TV in the evening.

 

Pronoun (pro)

This shows who is doing the action (eg. I, you, he, she, it, we, they). It can replace a noun.

  •  I like James. He is very friendly.  (He = James)
  •  I don’t like football because it is boring. (It = football)
Articles (a, an, the)

An article (a, an, the) is a word that introduces a noun:

a, an = indefinite article

the = definite article

We use ‘a’ when there is one of many:

  • I live in a house. (There are many houses in the world and I live in one)
  • He bought a new camera yesterday. (There are many new cameras in the world)

We use ‘a’ to say what a thing or person is:

  • This restaurant is a very famous place.
  • Tennis is a popular sport around the world.

We use ‘a’ for types of work:

  • I’m a builder.
  • Peter’s a lawyer

We use ‘an’ for the same reason as ‘a’. However, we use it before words that begin with the letters: a e i o u:

  • There is an expensive car on James Street. (an + expensive car)
  • I ate an apple this morning. (an + apple)

We use ‘the’ when we know the thing we are talking about:

  • The car outside my office belongs to Keith. (It is clear which car we are talking about).
  • The book you are reading is interesting. (We know which book you are reading).

We also use ‘the’ when there is only of something:

  • The internet is an extremely useful resource. (There is only one internet.)
  • The universe is huge. (There is only one universe.)

We use the definite article for the names of rivers, islands, important buildings and where there is only one of something (eg. sun):

  • the Pacific Ocean
  • the moon
  • the Concert Hall

The is not used for countries (except a few such as The Netherlands) or after ‘play’ with sport:

  • We travel to Spain.
  • He plays hockey.

The is also not used for generalizing:

  • He likes green tea.
  • Mathematics is difficult for him.
  • They love travel.
Singular (one) or Plural (many)

A singular noun is one of something:

pen, book, account, window

A plural noun is two or more of something:

computers, offices, workers

To make a plural, we usually add ‘s’ to the noun:

table – tables

helicopter – helicopters

For a noun ending in:  –s / -sh / -ch / -x , you make a plural by adding ‘es’:

bus – buses

fox – foxes

For a noun ending in: consonant + y (eg. …dy, …ty, …ly), you make a plural by adding ‘ies’:

lady – ladies

party – parties

For a noun ending in:  vowel + y (eg. ay, oy, ey), you make a plural by adding ‘s’:

way – ways

boy – boys

For a noun ending in:  –f / -fe, you make a plural by adding ‘ves’:

knife – knives

shelf – shelves

Some words in English are always plural:

trousers

jeans

glasses

Irregular plurals do not end with ‘s’:

man – men

woman – women

person – people

child – children

Countable & Uncountable Nouns

Nouns can be countable or uncountable:

Countable nouns can be counted:

One computer     two computers   three computers

 Countable nouns use a or an for singular: boy, dog, ring, student, phone etc:

  • She has a report to write.
  • Is it true that he owns an aircraft?

If you want to ask about the quantity of a countable noun you ask “How many?” with plural noun:

  • How many computers does she have?
  • How many aircrafts does he own?

Any and many are used for plural countable nouns in a question or negative.

  • Are there any books left on the shelf? There aren’t many girls in the class.

Uncountable nouns are for things we cannot count with numbers and they are used with singular verbs.  They do not take plural verbs: Tea, coffee, sugar, water, knowledge, furniture, progress, beauty, anger, research.

 is/does/has/likes = singular verb                            

are/have/do/like = plural verb

  • Knowledge is  are                                                                                                             
  • This water has a strange taste. have

With uncountable nouns we use words like: some, few, a great deal of, a lot of, much, a bit of, a little, 

or else we use an exact measurement like: a kilo of, an hour, a cup of, a handful of

  • He didn’t have much tea left in the pot.
  • Can you give me some information about the course please?
  • She gave me a great deal of advice about living in Australia.
  • Can I have a cup of coffee please?
Prepositions (in, at, on...)

Prepositions of place are at, on, to, in

  • The cushion is on the chair.

We use at for an address with a number or a building:

  • She lives at 8 Glebe St.
  • I’ll meet you at the library at noon.

We use in for a street, town, region, country or continent and also for an enclosed space:

  • He goes to college in
  • Her books are in her backpack.

On is used for a flat surface:

  • The cups are on the table.
  • The valuable artwork is on the entrance wall.

We use to with movement:

  • They rode from Perth to Sydney on a motorbike.

But the verb arrive is never followed by to, but by at or in.

  • They arrived at the airport at midnight.
  • She arrived in Bangkok this morning.

When describing a map or a picture we say at the top, at the bottom, on the left, on the right, in the center, middle:

  • In the center of the picture is the main subject, the boy.
  • At the bottom on the right is the artist’s signature.

We also use at, in, on when we talk about time.  At is used for exact times and for performances or mealtimes:

  • At Christmas time the lights are beautiful.
  • At 10 pm the library closes.
  • They met each other at

We use in for times of day, seasons, years, months, weeks:

  • We will meet you in the afternoon.
  • I love to see the flowers bloom in spring.
  • They began the course in September.
Sentence Structure (Subject + verb + object)

In English, the following sentence structure is often used:

Subject + verb + object

Positive example:

The manager works on the weekend.

The manager is the subject.

works is the verb.

the weekend is the object.

Negative example:

He doesn’t use the internet.

He is the subject.

doesn’t use is the verb.

the internet is the object.

Question example:

Where can I buy lunch?

I is the subject.

buy is the verb.

lunch is the object.

Always, Usually, Often

 

  1. Before the verb

These adverbs come before the verb:

always, usually, often, sometimes, never, ever, also, all, both, still, just, already

For example:

  • They never arrive early.
  • He usually replies to emails immediately.

 

  1. After the verb ‘be’

These adverbs come after the verb ‘be’:

always, usually, often, sometimes, never, ever, also, all, both, still, just, already

For example:

  • The phone is always on the table.
  • They are both waiting for their results.
There is, There are, It is

There is and There are are common phrases for describing things.

When we talk about a subject for the first time, we can use there is or there are:

  • There is a laptop computer in the office. (singular)
  • There’s a ladder in the store room. (singular)
  • There are a number of problems in the report. (plural)
  • There’re a few mistakes that need to be corrected. (plural)

The negative form can be formed in two ways.

  • There isn’t anything wrong.
  • There’s not a great deal that can be done about it.

The questions form is made by changing the word order.

  • Is there a contact number that I can reach you on?
  • Are there any questions?

 

Auxiliary verbs (also called helping verbs) are be, have, do, and will. They are used to ‘help’ the main verb.

  • There will be a long queue for tickets to that concert tonight.
  • There have been several problems with the project

A pronoun is used if you have already mentioned something or someone.

  • That’s my computer. It’s about two years old now.
  • Sally is my sister. She is four years older than me.
Comparatives & Superlatives (faster, fastest)

The following table shows the way to form comparatives and superlatives for one syllable adjectives:

Adjective Comparative

Adjective + -er

Superlative

The + adjective + – est

Fast Faster The fastest
Tall Taller The tallest
Brave Braver The bravest
Healthy Healthier The healthiest

 

The following table shows the way to form comparatives and superlatives for two syllable adjectives and longer:

Adjective Comparative

 

Superlative

 

Motivated More motivated The most motivated
Interesting More interesting The most interesting
Clever More clever The most clever
Horrible More horrible The most horrible

 

The following table shows examples of irregular comparatives and superlatives forms:

Adjective Comparative

 

Superlative

 

Motivated More motivated The most motivated
Interesting More interesting The most interesting
Clever More clever The most clever

 

Keep in mind the following spelling rules:

Adjective Comparative

 

Superlative

 

fat Fatter

(double the final consonant)

The fattest

(double the final consonant)

pale

 

paler

(ends in –e, just add r)

The palest

(ends in –e, just add st)

tidy Tidier

(-y changes to –ier)

The tidiest

(-y changes to –iest)

 

 

 

Comparing a major difference between the two nouns being compared uses ‘much’ and ‘a lot’ as follows:

An aircraft is

 

a lot bigger than a car.
much

 

Comparing a minor difference between the two nouns being compared uses ‘a little’ and ‘a bit’ as follows:

A rabbit is

 

a little smaller than a cat.
a bit

 

 

Reletive Pronouns (who, that, which...)

We use who, which, what, why, where, when, whose and that to connect parts of a sentence:

A. Defining relative clauses

These give information about people, places, things, possessions and time.

  1. People (who, that)
  • A photographer is a person who takes photos.
  1. Places (where)
  • A swimming pool is a place where you can improve your fitness.
  1. Things (that, which, what)
  • A mobile phone is a piece of technology that helps us to speak to other people easily.
  • This is the supermarket that/which sells the special chocolate.
  1. Possessions (whose)
  • He’s the person whose house is for sale.
  1. Reason (Why)
  • She knows the reason why we were late.
  1. Time (when)
  • Do you know when he will be arriving from New York?

 

B. Non-defining relative clauses

These are a part of a sentence that gives extra information. We need to use a comma before and after this clause.

  • The car, which is red, is very fast.
  • My friend John, who is a real estate agent, drives a BMW.
Possessive Adjectives & Pronouns (my, our, mine...)

Possessive adjectives tell you who owns something (my, his, her, our, your, their, its)

  • That’s my coat.
  • Is that your pen?
  • They didn’t take their friends with them.

Possessive pronouns (mine, hers, his, ours, yours, theirs) are used instead of a possessive adjective plus a noun:

  • His name is Joseph. What’s yours? (your name)
  • That must be hers. (coat) My coat is red.
  • Our house is very small. Theirs is so big. (house)
Demomstrative Adjectives (this, that, those...)

Demonstratives are this, that, these and those. We use them to show or point to something or someone.  When something is near we use this (singular) and these (plural).

When things are more distant we use that and those.

  • Is this your book? (holding it up)
  • No it isn’t. That’s mine. (pointing to another one.)

We can use this, that, these, those, before a noun, or without a noun if it is very clear what you mean.

  • Is this bag yours? (holding the bag)
  • No, it isn’t. That bag is mine  (pointing to another)

We use expressions with this, that, these, those:

  • Those were the days!
  • That’s the right answer!
  • How much is that?
Reflexive Pronouns (myself, herself...)

We use reflexive pronouns when the subject and object are the same.

  • She spoiled herself when she went shopping.
  • He told himself not to worry.

Reflexive pronouns are also used to stress the person who does something;

  • She made the cake herself.
  • I knitted the scarf myself.
Present Simple Tense (We always meet on the weekend)

Uses of the Present Simple

  1. The Present Simple is used for regular actions, habits and routines.

The present simple is often used with the following adverbs: never, occasionally, sometimes, often, usually, always.  

  • I always start work at 6am.
  • The manager often helps with difficult questions.

 

2. The Present Simple is used for facts that are always or usually true.

  • They come from Melbourne.  
  • The cost increases every year.

 

3. The Present Simple is used for timetables and schedules.

  • The first train leaves at 6.42am.
  • Flight 58 to Shanghai departs on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Present Continuous Tense (They are meeting right now)

Uses of the Present Continuous

  1. We use the Present Continuous to show that something is happening at the moment.
  •  He’s using his computer right now.
  •  At the moment they’re watching the presentation.

 

  1. We also use the Present Continuous to show that something is happening in the present period, but not actually at this moment.
  • This term I’m training to be a web designer.
  • James is staying in a hotel this week.

 

  1. The Present Continuous is also used for future arrangements.
  • I’m meeting Tony at three o’clock this afternoon to discuss the project. 
  • What are you doing tonight?

 

Words that are often used with the present continuous: now, at the moment, tonight, on Friday

Past Simple Tense (They met last week)

Uses of the Past Simple

  1. The Past Simple is used to talk about actions which are completed or finished.
  • We completed the project on time.
  • Did he tell you about the seminar? 

 

  1. The time when the action happened is often included.
  • She started her job in January.
  • I met Jeff three years ago. 

 

Keywords – Words that are often used with the past simple: yesterday, ago, last Thursday

Note: Many verbs have irregular past forms.  For example: eat / ate

Past Continuous Tense (We were meeting when he called)
  1. We use the Past Continuous to show that an action was happening at the same time as another action.
  • Was she reading the report when her phone rang?
  • Tom was listening to the presentation when he was interrupted. 

 

2. The Past Continuous can be used in a sentence with another past tense.

  • I was writing my report while my boss was speaking to a client. 
  • She was trying to make a sale while the presentation was in progress

 

Keywords – Words that are often used with the past continuous: when, while

Present Perfect Simple (I have been to India)

Uses of the Present Perfect

The Present Perfect Simple links the past to the present. It can be used for:

  1. Actions that are not finished, but continue into the present.
  • We have lived in this house for 10 years.

               (meaning – we still live here now)

      2. A past action that happened recently and is still news.

  • The government has just changed the employment law.

3. A past action that was repeated.

  • I’ve seen that movie five times already.

 Words that are often used with the present perfect: for, since, all day, just, recently, never, ever, already, yet

Present Perfect Continuous (I’ve been writing this report for two hours)

Uses of the Present Perfect Continuous

The Present Perfect Continuous is used in a similar way to the Present Perfect Simple, because it links the past with the present. It is also used to:

  1. Show that the action is long and repeated.
  • He’s been trying to enter the British market for a long time

 

  1. The action is still in progress.
  • I’ve been doing a lot of research. (research is still in progress)

Compare this with the use of the Present Perfect Simple:

  • I’ve done a lot of research. (complete) 

 

3.  We use Present Perfect Continuous when the action is temporary.

  • Nicky has been working to cover for Emma since Monday.

Keywords: Words that are often used with the present perfect: for, since

Past Perfect & Future Perfect Tenses

Past Perfect

This is used to talk about a past event that happened before another past event.

  • I had studied English before I came to America.

In the example above, ‘came to America’ is the recent past, and ‘had studied’ is the distant past.

 

Future Perfect

This is used to say what event will have occurred, by a time in the future.

  • By the time I’m thirty, I will have been to Japan.
Future Forms (will, going to)
  1. We use ‘going to’ when we talk about our current plans for the future. 
  • I’m going to study in the library tonight. (This is my plan at the moment)

 

  1. Present Continuous

We can also use the present continuous to talk about things we have planned for the future.

  • I’m meeting my friends in the city on Friday night.
  • They’re catching a plane to Boston tomorrow afternoon.

 

      3. Will

We use ‘will’ for events we think will happen without any planning or intention.

  •  I’ll see you when I get to the office tomorrow.

 

We also use ‘will’ for predictions.

  • I think it will be a hot day on Saturday.

 

We use will for spontaneous plans made at the time of speaking.

  • “You’ll need to tell them about our marketing plan.”       
  • “Good idea, I’ll mention this in the meeting on Wednesday.”

 

  1. Future with ‘if’, ‘unless’, ‘when’

After we use ‘if’, ‘unless’, ‘when’, ‘after’, ‘next time’, ‘as soon as’, we use a present form verb.

  • If he works hard, he’ll get a promotion.
  • Unless they pass the exam, they won’t be accepted into university.

These examples are sometimes called the first conditional.

Modal Verbs (must, have to, should, can)
  1. Must / Have to / Have got to

 We use ‘must’, ‘have to’ and ‘have got to’ when we want to say something is very important or essential.

  • You must have a passport to travel
  • They have to be at the meeting on time.
  • I’ve got to send this email today. 

 

  1. Should

We use ‘should’ to say that something is a good idea, or it is the correct way to act.

  • He should try to listen more carefully.
  • Business people should always be professional
  • You shouldn’t treat people badly. 

 

  1. Can

We use ‘can’ to say that something is possible.

  • I can meet you at 6pm because I’m free tonight.

 

We use ‘can’ for ability.

  • He can write very powerful documents.

 

Past modals

To form a past modal, we use: modal + have + past participle

  • I could have gone to the meeting if I had known about it.
  • I would have spoken to him if I had have seen him.

These events were possible in the past, but they didn’t happen.

Passive Voice (He was born)

We use the passive when an action or state is more important than the person who does it:

  • He was born in Indonesia.
  • The bridge was built a century ago.
  • Sixteen boxes of bananas were shipped to the town.

We make the passive by putting the verb ‘to be’ in whatever tense we need and then adding the past participle:

  • The bike was repaired by Charlie.
  • The cakes are made for the Friday market.
  • The lecture will be given tomorrow at noon.

We sometimes add by plus the person or thing doing the action if we feel the information is necessary, but not if it is just a pronoun (like me, you)

  • The picnic was organised by her friend Josephine.
  • Two study tours were planned by Professor Smith.
Conditionals (if + tense)

We use zero conditionals for a situation which is always or often true

(If + present verb, subject + present verb)

  • If Mary arrives late, she never says sorry.

 

We use first conditionals for a probable future action which depends on another action.

(If + present verb, subject + will + verb)

  • If he waits for the bus, he’ll be late.
  • Jenny will work for you if you pay her enough.

NOTE!  We do not use will  after if.  

 

We use the second conditional for a possible, not probable future situation, or an imagined present situation.

(If + past verb, subject + would + verb)

  • If I studied harder, I would be able to pass the course.
Gerunds (verb + ing)

We use gerunds when –ing is added to a verb to form a noun.  It is used after verbs like love, enjoy, hate, avoid, mind, and all prepositions:

  • He always likes riding his bike to work.
  • I love walking in the rain.

It is also used as a subject:

  • Painting is a popular pastime.
  • Leaving work on time can sometimes be difficult.

 

Gerunds are used for common activities

The following phrases are useful for describing common activities. These phrases can also be used to describe routines.

  • I spend one hour +  getting ready for work.                  (This is a positive sentence)
  • I don’t spend any time + checking emails on Monday.   (This is a negative sentence)
  • Do you spend much time + getting organized?              (This is a question)

 

Notice that you can also use the common activity at the start of the sentence.

  • Using mobile phones has become a good way of staying in contact with other people.
  • Playing computer games is a growing trend around the world.
Infinitives (to make)

The infinitive is the simple form of the verb, with or without to.  It is used after to with many verbs such as want to, decide to, ought to, hope to, promise to, manage to, offer to etc.

  • He wanted to go to the principal’s office immediately.
  • I promised to collect her daughter after school.

It is used without to after most modal verbs such as must, can, may, might, should, and also let and make:

  • He never makes him do his homework.
  • She can drive you there.

 List of Grammar Terms

Term Definition Example
Active The subject of the verb does the action He drinks coffee
Adjective A word that describes a noun big, expensive
Adverb A word that describes a verb quickly, patiently
Article A word that introduces a noun a, an, the
Clause A part of a sentence that has a verb as it is necessary
Collocation Words that go together make an investment
Conjunction Word that joins two parts of a sentence and, however
Contraction Two words that become joined I’m, we’re, it’s
Countable A noun that can have a plural form chair, picture
Definite article A word used with some nouns the
Gerund An –ing noun that looks like a verb Listening to music
Idiom A phrase with a special meaning Give it your best shot
Indefinite article A word used with some nouns a, an
Modal verb A verb that tells a mood or opinion would, should, must
Negative A sentence that uses ‘not’ He isn’t hungry
Noun A word that names a person or thing contract, building
Noun Phrase A group of words that act as a noun the top of the building
Object A noun or pronoun that follows a verb David takes the train
Passive The subject is affected by the action The bike was made
Perfect A tense with have + past participle He has eaten dinner
Plural Two or more of something pens, people
Preposition A word used before a noun or pronoun in, from, at, on, for
Pronoun A person who does the action I, you, he, she, it, we
Singular Only one of something book, computer
Subject A noun or pronoun before a verb He listens to music
Tense A verb form that shows the time Present simple
Uncountable A noun that has no plural form information, water
Verb An action word, something you ‘do’ show, make, resolve
Regular Grammar with normal rules cup/cups
Irregular Grammar without normal rules take/took
W/H Question A common question word what, where, how

 

 

 

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