(Almost) Everything you need to know about grammar.
The following is very basic information. But even though it may be taught in school, it’s not well understood by many. So here is a quick look at the basic parts of grammar.
You can skip it if you know your grammar well. You can also skip it if you just don’t care to read it.
Words are like Lego blocks of the language
Words are incredibly cool. The English language is like a giant Lego® set, where you get to choose what parts you want to use to create the effect you want.
Let’s imagine we are back in time, when cavemen were trying to communicate. For example, they wanted to tell each other about someone (Caveman John), what he did (hit), and to what or whom his action was directed (lion).
The caveman hit the lion.
That is a complete, grammatically perfect sentence.
But it’s boring, so the cavemen added a bit more. They added a word to show where the lion was hit (on), and added more about where the action was directed (head).
The caveman hit the lion on the head.
And now that is a perfect sentence, with more added to it.
What if the caveman said this, instead?
On lion caveman head hit on.
It wouldn’t make much sense, would it?
Who said grammar should be confusing? It’s not. You use grammar right now, without even thinking about it.
Words can sound alike but have different meanings. This can make the language confusing. For example, “they’re” sounds like “there.” These confusions are a source of a lot of mistakes.
Words can also be used together to mean something completely different than what you would expect. For example, “give it a shot” means to “try.” These are called idioms and are a source of vast confusion for people, especially foreigners.
How words are used is called the parts of speech. A word can change from one part of speech to another just by the way it’s used in the sentence. For example, in “you run to the store” and “he had a good run,” “run” is being used in two different ways, even though it’s the same word.
So, now let’s look at the parts of speech.
Words are used to name things. These are called nouns
“Noun” comes from a Latin word meaning “name.” Nouns name people, places or things.
fish, house, man, New York.
If you’re naming something specific, you capitalize it.
Tom, Paris, Germany
If it’s not specific, you do not capitalize it:
man, city, country
(Incorrectly capitalizing nouns is a common and very ugly error.)
Nouns can name one thing (singular) or name many things (plural).
boy (singular), boys (plural)
Words can take the place of nouns. These are pronouns
Pronoun comes a Latin word meaning “in place of a noun.”
Pronouns take the place of a noun (words like I, he, him, her, they, or that).
You know all the pronouns. You use them all the time. It’s the word taking the place of a noun in a sentence.
If you didn’t have pronouns, writing would look awkward:
Alex likes cars that Alex can drive fast.
Alex likes cars that he can drive fast.
Different pronouns are used in different situations. Not understanding the pronoun and its different uses is the cause of most major grammar errors. I’ll get into that a bit later.
Words can show action or existence. These are verbs
Verb comes from a Latin word meaning “to speak.” Verbs show action.
swim, love, run
Verbs can also show how something or someone is existing. These are called be verbs because they are all different forms of the word be (be, is, were, am, are, was).
“Hey, how are you?”
“I am okay.”
“Oh good, I was worried that you were not okay.”
Verbs can be used to show that something is happening in the past or present. This is called tense, from a Latin word meaning “time.”
He runs (present).
He ran (past).
To show the future, you add another verb that shows something will happen in the future. Joining two words together creates a compound, which means two or more things combined. So we call it a compound verb:
He will run (future).
I am going to be a rock star (future).
The way a verb changes when it is used in different ways is called conjugation.
Words can give more information. These are adjectives and adverbs
In grammar, “modify” means to give more information about something. Adjectives and adverbs are modifiers – words such as “beautiful,” “ugly,” “fast” or “faster,” used to give more information about another word.
An adjective modifies a noun. An adverb modifies a verb or another adjective, and often ends with “ly.”
Beautiful woman (adjective).
Really beautiful woman (adverb).
She runs fast (adverb).
Adjective comes from a Latin word meaning “added to a noun”; adverb comes from a Latin word meaning “added to a verb.”
Prepositions show relationships
Prepositions are often misunderstood, but they are very simple.
Prepositions show relationship between other words in the sentence. By “relationship” is meant how other words in the sentence are connected to each other.
Is the cup under the table, over the table, or beside the table?
Do you see the idea of relationship there? The cup is related (connected) to the table by being under it, over it, or beside it.
Preposition means “positioned before” because often (but not always), they are placed before the word to which they are showing the relationship.
Words like on, over, under, beside, above, and with are all prepositions.
(Yes, it really is that simple.)
Conjunction comes from a Latin word meaning “joining together.”
Conjunctions join words or groups of words.
If we didn’t have conjunctions, writing would look very awkward.
Bill Tom went to the mall.
Tom went to the mall bought an Xbox.
Heather liked the boat not the car.
Here are the same sentences, with conjunctions:
Bill and Tom went to the mall.
Tom went to the mall and bought an Xbox.
Heather liked the boat, but not the car.
There are different types of conjunctions, such as: and, also, either, or, neither, though, yet, but, however, for, that, because, since, therefore, then, if, and unless.
The word article sounds like something incredibly complicated. But articles are really easy.
Articles are used to communicate whether you’re referring to a specific thing or a general thing.
If it’s a specific thing, it’s called a definite article. If it’s not specific, it’s an indefinite article.
A boy (indefinite article).
An astronaut (indefinite article).
The boy (definite article).
There are only three articles in the entire language: a, an, or the.
An is generally used before words starting with a, e, i, o and u. A is used before words starting with every other letter.
The final part of speech is the interjection, which comes from a Latin word meaning “placed between.” It’s a word (or words) placed in your writing to show emotion. An exclamation mark often follows an interjection, but not always.
Ouch! That hurt!
Whoa! Where did you get that hat?
Oh no. I forgot my homework.
So, the parts of speech are:
And that’s all you have to know for now about the parts of speech.
In grammar, there is the idea of “possession” (ownership), and it’s often misunderstood and leads to major mistakes.
Possession can be actual possession, or the idea of possession.
Bob owns – possesses – the car.
The house’s lights were bright.
The house has lights, but it’s more like the idea of possession.
Some more examples:
His bicycle. Her car. Their house.
There are two ways to show possession: using a pronoun that shows possession (such as his, her, their, your, its); or by using an apostrophe (‘). I will explain apostrophes later in this book.
Not understanding possession is the cause of many embarrassing writing mistakes.
Right now, I just want you to get the idea of possession. Later, I’ll discuss in more detail how to avoid these mistakes.
The subject: who or what is “verbing”
The subject is who or what is doing the action in a sentence. This is a very, very simple concept.
Keep it simple.
Bill went to the mall.
Bill is the subject. Went is the verb.
Since verbs can also show state of existence (the be verbs), you can also have a subject look like this:
Bill is happy.
Bill is the subject. The verb? is.
He had a great time.
She had a better time.
They had a fantastic time.
He, she and they are all subjects in these sentences.
Not understanding what a subject is also causes people to make mistakes. More on that later.
What is doing the action and what is getting the action
This section might be a bit difficult for some. If you can’t get it, don’t worry, as I will give you simple rules later to avoid mistakes. However, it’s worth understanding, so try to follow along with me.
When a noun or pronoun does the action, it’s called the subject. When it’s receiving action, it’s called the object.
Bill hit Tom.
Tom is receiving the action of being hit by Bill. Tom is the object (poor Tom).
Now, certain pronouns are used when receiving action (her, him, it, me, them, us, and you). These are called object pronouns.
Certain pronouns are used when doing action (he, I, it, she, they, we, and you). These are called subject pronouns.
Not understanding this fact will cause you to make silly mistakes. However, you don’t have to learn complicated grammar rules to figure this out. It’s common sense.
Look at this sentence:
Bill hit he.
That looks totally wrong, doesn’t it? You’re using the wrong pronoun. Instead, it should be:
Bill hit him.
John loves I.
“I” is used for subjects, like “I love John.” It is never used as an object.
To make the sentence correct, you would use an object pronoun:
John loves me.
Bill loved her.
Bill hated them.
Not understanding where the action is directed explains why people make this common mistake:
She and him went to the mall.
The wrong pronoun, him, is being used. She and this guy, together, are actually the subject, simply joined by a conjunction.
Him is only used for showing who is receiving an action.
It should be:
She and he went to the mall.
If you understand the idea of the “object” in grammar, you will avoid many mistakes.
But again, if you don’t care or can’t understand this concept, I have some tricks later on that will help you.
This is a basic overview of grammar and will give you a foundation on which to build more knowledge in your own time.