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Basic English Grammar Tips

Posted on October 28th, 2019 by Jacqueline Schultz

Let’s face it, learning a new language is hard. Despite this, there are many reasons to pick up a second language for travel, educational, business and personal purposes. However, depending on your native language, English may be particularly difficult to master. Even more difficult than vocabulary, grammar tends to be the most difficult part of learning and writing in English. To get you started, check out these 8 basic English grammar tips.

1. Include a Comma in a Compound Sentence

A compound sentence is primarily used to list items in a sentence when there are multiple subjects and predicates. The subject of a sentence may be understood as what the sentence is about, while the predicate highlights or describes the subject of the sentence. One of the more common mistakes for non-native English speakers is not including a comma in a compound sentence.

Incorrect: She went to the store for eggs and milk and bread.

Correct: She went to the store for eggs, milk, and bread.

2. They’re vs. Their vs. There

A homophone is a word that is pronounced the same, but has 2 or more spellings and definitions. One of the more common homophones to mix up is they’re versus their versus there.

Ex: They’re going to the movies.

“They’re” is a contraction (where you combine two words) for “they are.”

Ex: Their car drives well.

“Their” indicates that the noun of the sentence possesses or owns something.

Ex: She decided to meet us there.

“There” points to a place or location.

3. Adjective vs. Adverb

An important part of writing in any language is utilizing adjective and adverb to give the sentence a little bit of zest. However, it is important to understand the difference between what an adverb versus an adjective is and what they complement.

An adjective is used to describe a noun. Adjectives service as a nice way to add quality to sentences.

Ex: The smelly cat needs a bath.

The adjective here is “smelly” because it describes the noun of the sentence, which in this case, is the cat. Even though this extra word is not necessary for the sentence to make sense, it provides a reason as to why the cat needs a bath. Without the adjective, all we would know is, “The cat needs a bath.”

Similar to an adjective, an adverb is a word of phrase that modifies a verb, adjective or even another adverb. It may help you to differentiate between and adjective and adverb by remembering that an adverb specifically “adds to a verb“!

Ex: She speaks English quickly.

The adverb in this sentence is quickly, because the word modifies how she speaks. Again, it would not be incorrect without the adverb, but we now have a better idea of how she speaks.

Extra tip: Adverbs almost always end in an “ly.”

4. Omitting Articles

Even though the English language only uses two articles, “a” and “the,” these two little words are incredibly important in using grammar correctly. Articles are actually adjectives that are always used in association with nouns. A common mistake in English grammar is omitting articles within sentences.

Ex: The little girl lost her balloon.

The article here is “the” and the noun is “girl”. In this case, the article “the” signifies a specific subject- the little girl.

Ex: The little girl lost a balloon.

The article in this case is “a”, and refers to the “balloon”. Unlike the previous example, however, there is nothing specific about the possession of the balloon.

5. A vs. An

As stated in point 4, “a” is an article. However, it is important to note that “a” takes on two forms depending on if the article precedes a vowel or consonant. Please see the bolded letters below of the English alphabet to identity vowels:

ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ

The bolded letters indicate the vowels of the alphabet and should use the article “an”. If the word that precedes the article begins with a consonant (or the not bolded letters), then the correct article to use would be “a.”

Ex: An apple a day, keeps the doctor away!

The form of the article in this sentence is “an” because the noun it modifies (apple), begins with the letter “a,” which is a vowel.

Ex: An apple a day, keeps the doctor away!

The form of the article with this example is “a” because the noun it is modifying is “day.” Since “day” begins with a “d”, it is a consonant.

6. Affect vs. Effect

Like with many aspects of the English language, much of how words are used depends on whether it is a noun or a verb. The same may be said with affect versus effect. When used as a verb, the correct word is “affect”. When used as a noun, the correct word is “effect”.

Ex: The hurricane affected our ability to use power.

“Affect” here is used as a verb because and has an impact on the “ability to use power.”

Ex: The effect of practicing the song over and over, is that I did well in the recital.

The use of “effect” is not nearly as common as “affect” and usually means that something is produced as a result of an action.

7. Capitalizing Nouns

In English, certain nouns, like the names of people and specific places, are capitalized. It is important to know that we should not capitalize all nouns. While this is probably more specific to individuals who speak German, it is important to touch on.

Incorrect: My Friend, Josh, and I went to the Beach.

Correct: My friend, Josh, and I went to the beach.

8. Incorrect Word Order 

When learning any language, it is always hardest to put your grammar skills into practice. However, the more grammar that you familiarize yourself with, the more complex ideas you will be able to communicate. It is important to keep in mind that word order is going to vary depending on the language you are speaking. One of the most common grammar errors when first learning English is using incorrect word order. To see the difference in word order between Spanish, German, and English, you can take a look at the examples below!

Spanish:

Cuando estudies en los EE. UU., deberás comprar un seguro de salud.

German:

Falls Sie in den USA studieren, Sie sollen immer Krankenversicherung haben.

English:

When studying in the US, you should always buy insurance.

Mastering any language, including English, is a difficult process. However, these basic English grammar tips are a great way to begin addressing some of the main rookie mistakes. One of the best overall ways to learn a English as a non-native speaker, is by spending time in an English-speaking country. The U.S. has many different opportunities for learning English. International students may be able to study in the U.S. on a short term basis at English Language Schools or can participate in a pathway program to prepare them for college in the U.S. This provides international students the opportunity to live and learn abroad, fine-tuning their English skills, experiencing a new culture and making many new friends!

Written by Jacqueline Schultz

Jacqueline joined the EIC team in 2017. She has a BA in International Relations from Rollins College. Prior to joining EIC, she has worked in sales and the nonprofit sector. Her passion for international education led her to Envisage.

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4 Responses to “Basic English Grammar Tips”

  1. Kwizera Steven Says:

    I am international student from Rwanda look scholarship to study in USA

  2. Connor Blay Says:

    Hi Kwizera,

    You can use our free school search tool to find the perfect school for you. If need a scholarship, you can use our free scholarship search tool. Hope this helps!

  3. MBAIRANE BIENVENU Says:

    I am interested to grammar, and I would like to keep learning in whole its characteristics.

  4. Connor Blay Says:

    Hi MBAIRANE,

    If you would like to learn more about English grammar, consider enrolling for an English as a Second Language (ESL) program.

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