English Grammar For Dummies (Australia/New Zealand Edition)
Correct grammar is not just for people over 50 or those annoying picky English teachers — everyone needs to be able to communicate clearly and succinctly. But so many rules exist; how do you avoid getting tangled up in misplaced apostrophes and mismatching subjects and verbs? This Cheat Sheet covers some of the basics of English grammar, ranging from defining the parts of speech, through to correct punctuation, stopping off at pronouns, subject–verb agreement and verb tenses along the way.
What Are Parts of Speech in the English Language?
Languages are made up of separate parts of speech, which all work together to create meaningful conversations. Here’s a list of the top eight parts of speech, with examples to show you how you use them in everyday speech.
Noun: Names a person, place, thing, idea (Lulu, jail, cantaloupe, loyalty, and so on).
Pronoun: Takes the place of a noun (he, who, I, what, and so on).
Verb: Expresses action or being (scrambled, was, should win, and so on).
Adjective: Modifies a noun or pronoun (messy, strange, alien, and so on).
Adverb: Modifies a verb, adjective or other adverb (willingly, woefully, very, and so on).
Preposition: Relates a noun or a pronoun to another word in the sentence (by, for, from, and so on).
Conjunction: Ties two words or groups of words together (and, after, although, and so on).
Interjection: Expresses strong emotion (yikes! wow! ouch! and so on).
English Grammar: The Parts of a Sentence
To make a proper sentence, you need a subject and a verb — all other components of the sentence are just icing on the cake! Here’s how to break down the parts of a sentence:
Verb: Expresses an action or state of being.
Subject: The person or thing being talked about. Also the person or thing performing or being the verb, so it must match up with the verb.
Complement: A word or group of words that completes the meaning of the subject–verb pair.
Types of complements: Direct and indirect object, subject complement, object complement.
How to Use Pronouns in English Grammar
Pronouns are important for many reasons, as outlined by the following tips. You can use pronouns to stand in as subjects or objects, or to show possession. Here are some tips for getting your head around pronouns:
Pronouns that may be used only as subjects or subject complements: I, he, she, we, they, who, whoever.
Pronouns that may be used only as objects or object complements: me, him, her, us, them, whom, whomever.
Common pronouns that may be used as either subjects or objects: you, it, everyone, anyone, no-one, someone, mine, ours, yours, theirs, either, neither, each, everybody, anybody, nobody, somebody, everything, anything, nothing, something, any, none, some, which, what, that.
Pronouns that show possession: my, mine, your, yours, his, her, hers, its, our, ours, their, theirs, whose.
Tips for English Language Subject–Verb Agreement
Matching the right subject to your verb can be tricky when you're writing in English. Here are some basic tips to help you work out which verbs are singular and which verbs are plural.
Match singular subjects with singular verbs, plural subjects with plural verbs.
Amounts of time and money are usually singular (ten minutes is).
Either–or and neither–nor: Match the verb to the closest subject (neither the boys nor the girl is).
Either and neither, without their partners or and nor, always take a singular verb (either of the apples is).
All subjects preceded by each and every take a singular verb.
Both, few, several, many are always plural.
Tips for Verb Tenses in the English Language
Verb tense conveys when the action you’re describing took place — the past, present or future. Here’s a list of the grammatical terms for different verb tenses.
Simple present tense: Tells what is happening now.
Simple past tense: Tells what happened before now.
Simple future: Talks about what has not happened yet.
Present perfect tense: Expresses an action or state of being in the present that has some connection with the past.
Past perfect tense: Places an event before another event in the past.
Future perfect tense: Talks about something that has not happened yet in relation to another event in the future.
How to Use Endmarks, Apostrophes and Commas in Written English
Punctuation makes a huge difference in the meaning of a sentence, so it’s vital that you understand how to use it correctly. Endmarks, apostrophes and commas are all key to clear communication in English.
All sentences need an endmark: a full stop, question mark, exclamation mark or ellipsis. Avoid putting two endmarks at the end of the same sentence, unless you’re trying to create a comic effect (for example, ‘She said my cooking tasted like what?!?!). Remember that ellipses are just three dots; you don’t need to add a full stop.
Using possessive apostrophes incorrectly is one of the most common mistakes writers make. To use possessive apostrophes correctly, make sure the s and the apostrophe are in the right order. First, decide whether the noun is singular (one) or plural (more than one), then add the apostrophe.
Singular ownership generally adds’s; plural ownership generally adds s’. For example: knife's blade is singular. Chefs' hats is plural.
In direct address, use commas to separate the name from the rest of the sentence. In lists, place commas between items, but not before the first item or before and unless some of the list items contain and. When combining two complete sentences with a conjunction, place a comma before the conjunction unless the sentences being joined are very short. If you have one subject and two verbs joined with a conjunction, don’t put a comma before the conjunction. Never separate a subject–verb pair with a comma.