What Are Basic English Grammar Rules?

There are hundreds of grammar rules but the basics refer to sentence structure and parts of speech, including nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions. You'll have a great foundation for reading and writing if you can answer the question, "What are the basic English grammar rules?" Let's take a closer look at sentences and parts of speech and how they tie into the rules of grammar.

Sea creatures showing parts of grammar Sea creatures showing parts of grammar
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Basic Parts of Speech

Before we dive into English grammar basics, it's best to have an idea of the components within each rule. The basic parts of speech below are the building blocks of every sentence we write. Let's take a look at the most popular players in the game:

Nouns

A noun names a person, animal, place, thing, quality, idea, activity, or feeling. A noun can be singular, plural, or possessive. For example:

  • This book is filled with intrigue and interest.
  • Please light the fire.
  • I'd like some ice in my tea.

Pronouns

A pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun, like "I," "you," or "they." For example:

  • It is filled with intrigue.
  • Please light their fire.
  • I'd like some of them in my tea.

Verbs

A verb shows action and can be a main verb (such as "run" or "sit") or a helping verb (such as "were" or "has"). Verbs also indicate tense and sometimes change their form to show past, present, or future tense. You'll also find linking verbs, which link the subject to the rest of the sentence (such as "appear" and "seem"). For example:

  • Lexi and Mark walked through the woods.
  • Lexi has walked through these woods before.
  • Mark appears excited to start this new adventure.

Adjectives

An adjective modifies a noun or a pronoun. Adjectives usually, although not always, come before the noun they're modifying. It adds meaning by telling which one or what kind, or describing it in other ways. For example:

  • Lexi wore a pair of faded jeans.
  • This black coffee tastes disgusting.
  • Nothing beats a rainy Monday morning.

If you ever find yourself wanting to include multiple adjectives in a sentence, here's more on how to order them properly.

Adverbs

An adverb modifies a verb and shares more information about it, including how much, when, where, why, or how. For example:

  • She gleefully skipped down the street.
  • He arrived early to their first date.
  • I almost missed the ball.
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Prepositions

A preposition demonstrates a relationship between nouns or pronouns. They're often used with a noun to indicate location, like "beside," "in," or "on." It can also show time, direction, motion, manner, reason, or possession. Note that prepositions must always be followed by a noun or pronoun. For example:

  • The salt is beside the pepper.
  • Take the gift in the living room.
  • She sat on the rock.

Conjunctions

Conjunctions connect two words, phrases, or clauses. Common conjunctions include "and," "but," and "or." For example:

  • He ate leafy greens, tomatoes, and cucumbers.
  • Take the salad dressing but leave the pasta.
  • Would you like the chicken or the steak?

Interjections

Interjections demonstrate emotion. They're typically, though not always, followed by an exclamation point. Examples include "hurray," "uh-oh," and "alas." For example:

  • Yay! I'm so excited you're here.
  • Hey, get back over here, missy!
  • Give me a break, sheesh!

Articles

Articles are very useful little words. There are two kinds: indefinite articles include "a" and "an" and refer to non-specific nouns. Meanwhile, "the" is a definite article and is used to refer to a specific person, place, thing, or idea. For example:

  • Do you have a new book to lend me?
  • I would like to buy an apple.
  • Please take the new student out for a walk.

Basic Grammar Rules in English

With an understanding of the fine parts that make a study of English grammar possible, let's roll up our sleeves and get into the rules.

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Subjects Are Vital

The subject is the star of the sentence; it's the person, place, animal, thing, or idea that's being described or performing the action. Not every sentence needs a subject. An example might be, "Run!" Still, you're going to find them in much of your reading and writing. Here are some examples:

  • Morocco boasts some of the most fabulous resorts.
  • The coffee shop features the most tantalizing aromas.
  • Her hair changes color every week.

Predicates Express Action

The predicate expresses the action the subject is taking or shares something more about the subject. Take a look:

  • Morocco is multicultural and beautiful.
  • The coffee shop bakes fresh croissants.
  • Her hair appears to be purple.

Sentences Need Structure

Some of the most basic and important English grammar rules relate directly to sentence structure. These rules specify that:

  • A singular subject needs a singular predicate.
  • A sentence needs to express a complete thought.

Another term for a sentence is an independent clause:

  • Clauses, like any sentence, have a subject and predicate too. If a group of words does not have a subject and predicate, it's merely a phrase.
  • If a clause can stand alone and make a complete thought, then it is independent and can be considered a sentence.
  • If clauses do not express a complete thought, they are called dependent clauses. An example of a dependent clause, which is not a sentence, is "...when I finish my work." A dependent clause needs an independent clause to make it whole.
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Multiple Parts of Speech May Be Used

As we can see, a single sentence can be filled with many different parts of speech. But, at its core, a basic positive sentence in English will generally adhere to the following formulas:

  • subject + predicate
  • subject + verb + direct object

Of course, not every sentence requires a direct object. "She reads," or "He ran," are two examples of complete sentences that didn't require a direct object.

When predicates are involved, they're providing more information about the subject. Another example is, "The apartment is cozy." In this case, "...is cozy" is providing more information about the subject of the sentence, "apartment." Predicates often work with linking verbs.

Also, these parts of speech may be used in any of the four types of sentences:

  • Declarative Sentences - These questions make a statement. For example: She walked down the runway.
  • Interrogative Sentences - These sentences ask a question. For example: Where did she walk?
  • Exclamatory Sentences - These sentences express strong emotion. For example: What an incredible trip!
  • Imperative Sentences - These sentences make a strong command. For example: Go follow her down the runway!

Direct Objects Are Information Providers

When direct objects are involved, they're providing more information about the verb. For example:

  • She assembled her workstation.
  • He hates fighting.
  • Eric loves Ariel's Taco Shack.

Indirect Objects Work With Direct Objects

Then, there are indirect objects. Indirect objects are receivers of the direct object. For example:

  • James gave Katherine a new diamond necklace.
  • I made my dog homemade biscuits.
  • She baked her husband some chocolate chip cookies.

Once you've constructed a cohesive sentence with all the right elements, including subjects, verbs, and information-providers, it's time to separate those words with proper punctuation.

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Punctuation Rules

Grammar can't be studied without a basic understanding of punctuation rules. This entails capitalization at the start of a sentence, terminal punctuation at the end of a sentence, and other elements. Let's kick things off with the beginning of the sentence.

Capitalization Is Key

Capitalization is important. All sentences must start with a capital, or upper-case, letter. Titles of people, books, magazines, movies, and specific places are considered proper nouns and are typically capitalized. Organizations and company names are also capitalized. For example:

  • Mary went to the library to read her favorite magazine, Writers' Haven.
  • Did you read the new Sherlock Holmes book?
  • Let's board a jet and fly to Italy.

Terminal Punctuation Is Required

Every sentence needs a terminal punctuation mark at the end of it. These include a period, exclamation mark, or question mark. For example:

  • Give me your money.
  • I told you to run!
  • Can you believe the nerve of that man?

Colons Indicate Separation

Colons are used to separate a sentence from a list of items, to introduce a long, direct quote, or to separate two clauses when the second one further explains the first. For example:

  • In my duffel bag, I have: t-shirts, blue jeans, hiking boots, and a bar of soap.
  • According to Goodreads, Nora Roberts once said: "Magic exists. Who can doubt it, when there are rainbows and wildflowers, the music of the wind and the silence of the stars?"
  • She saw everything she needed: a pocketful of sunshine.
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Semicolons Separate Related Ideas

Semicolons can take the place of a conjunction and are often placed before introductory words like "therefore" or "however." As a general rule, it's best to reserve semicolons for two independent clauses. That is, two clauses that could standalone as sentences. Semicolons are also used to separate a list of things if there are commas within one or more units in the list. For example:

  • I brought my duffel bag; however, I wish I also brought my backpack.
  • This is crazy; I'm not going back.
  • I've visited Santa Fe, NM; Denver, CO; Austin, TX; and New Orleans, LA.

Commas Are for Pausing

There are a lot of rules for commas. The basic ones are that commas separate items in a series and they go wherever there is a pause in the sentence. They surround the name of a person being addressed, separate the day of the month from the year in a date, and separate a town from the state. For example:

  • I was scared to leave, despite the fact that I needed to, but I resolved to be brave.
  • If you take all my money, then I will make you pay.
  • For Christmas, she'd like a new pair of Nikes, a laptop, and a corkboard for all her college memories.

Parentheses Add Information

Parentheses enclose words that clarify other words. They contain information that's not essential to the main point, making them full of supplementary (if not interesting) information. For example:

  • I was scared to leave (despite the fact that I needed to) but I resolved to be brave.
  • If you take all my money (whether you mean to or not), I will make you pay.
  • For Christmas, she'd like a new pair of Nikes (which she really doesn't need), a laptop (a MacBook, no less), and a corkboard (for all her college memories).
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Apostrophes Indicate Missing Letters and Possession

Apostrophes are used in contractions to take the place of one or more letters. To show possession, an apostrophe and "s" is added if the noun is singular and an apostrophe alone is added if the noun is plural. For example:

  • This is the writers' haven; it's also Melissa's favorite place on Earth.
  • Don't steal Melissa's dream.
  • You're a grand ol' flag.

Be a Grammarian for Life

Stand tall above the crowd. In a land of BRBs and LOLs, be a member of the crowd that doesn't solely rely on spellcheck and autocorrect. Construct accurate and beautiful sentences as you tell a story, write a paper for school, or conduct an experiment. Being neat and tidy in your prose never hurt a thing. Ready to test your English grammar basics? For a little fun, try out your new-found knowledge in our quick quiz Could You Pass a Basic English Grammar Test?

What Are Basic English Grammar Rules?
What Are Basic English Grammar Rules?

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