The Grammar Of English Grammars

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Nobody’s perfect. Nobody knows ALL the grammar rules of English.

But do you know enough not to raise eyebrows when you open your mouth?

Do you know enough of the basic terms and building blocks of English to communicate smoothly with an editor, reader, or another writer?

Here are ten very basic and indispensable concepts of English grammar that you should know by heart, without any hesitation or excuses.

(1) SUBJECT tells us WHO is doing or undertaking an action or has a certain state. In the sentence “Melinda ran the Boston marathon,” “Melinda” is the subject. In “Buddha was a wise man,” “Buddha” is the subject.

(2) PREDICATE of a sentence describes what the subject is doing. It’s usually a verb or verb phrase (see below). Sometimes it is also defined as “everything and anything that is not a subject in a sentence.” In “We saw a movie,” for example, “saw a movie” is the predicate of the sentence. In “The parliament passed a new law,” “passes a new law” is the predicate.

(3) OBJECT is the focus of action; it’s what the subject is using or doing with. An object is usually a noun or a noun phrase (see below). For example, in the sentence “I opened the door,” “door” is the object. In “Can you please turn off the TV set?”, the “TV set” is the object.

(4) NOUN. A noun is thing, location, person, or the name of an object. For example, in the sentence “I need a vacation,” “vacation” is a noun. In “Did you do your homework?”, “homework” is a noun.

(5) ADJECTIVE. An adjective is what qualifies, modifies, describes a noun. For example, in the phrase “yellow jacket”, “yellow” is an adjective and “jacket” is a noun. IN “it’s such a sad story,” “Sad” is the adjective and “story” is the noun.

(6) VERB. A verb describes a motion, an action, something happening, or the state of a person or subject. In the sentence “The leaves are turning brown,” “turning” (to turn) is the verb. In “I am okay,” “am” (to be) is the verb.

(7) ADVERB. An adverb is what qualifies, modifies, describes a verb. For example, in the sentence “She left quickly,” “quickly” is the adverb and “left” is the verb. In “He was questioned briefly,” “briefly” is the adverb and “questioned” is the verb.

(8) ARTICLE. An article tells us whether a noun (object/thing) is a particular and specific noun or a general one. There are two types of articles — definite (the) and indefinite (a or an). “I saw the man” means I saw a particular/definite man whereas “I saw a man” means I just saw a person, no one in particular, and it could have been anyone.

(9) PHRASE. A phrase is a set or group of words that are used together. A phrase usually does not have a subject or a verb. There are many different types of phrases. Here are some of the most commonly used phrases: noun phrase (“bright morning”), verb phrase (“loved every moment of it”), gerund phrase (“waiting for Godot”), infinitive phrase (“to invest in the future”).

(10) CLAUSE. A clause is a  set or group of words that can have a subject and a verb. Sometimes it’s a full complete sentence expressing a fully-developed thought (INDEPENDENT clause) and sometimes it’s incomplete, not enough to express a complete thought, and depends on other clause(s) to make a full sentence (DEPENDENT clause). For example, in the sentence “As soon as I saw her, I understood what was going on,” “as soon as I saw her” is a DEPENDENT clause since it’s not a complete sentence even though it has a subject and a verb, and “I understood what was going on” is an INDEPENDENT clause since it’s a complete sentence on its own.

(Photo courtesy of Niklas Garnholz at Unsplash-dot-com)

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