12 English Grammar Terms You Need To Know

These are Essential to Know


Imagine a cook who wants to be at the top of his game but doesn't own any pots and pans.  Mission impossible!  That's what learning English is like when you don't know the following twelve grammatical structures.  (I couldn't narrow it down to just ten this time.)


We also included some helpful links to give your practice a real lift.  But first, dig in and enjoy!


Articles: a, an and the


There are only three articles:

  1. a (indefinite article)
  2. an (indefinite article)- similar to "a" but used with nouns that begin with a vowel or a consonant that sounds like a vowel.
  3. the (definite article).

Although there are only three of these grammatical words, it can be extremely challenging to learn all the rules and uses. I suggest putting some time aside to do some reading while paying close attention to these various examples of a, an and the:


"I saw a cat on (-) Adanac Street. The cat was gray and had (-) blue eyes."


*I placed this symbol (-) where the article should not be used in that part of the sentence.



Now look where the article appears. Ask yourself why is this article here and not there?  Why do some nouns not have one at all?



# 11

Relative clause


A relative clause is a part of a sentence that gives more information about a noun (a person, place or thing). These clauses usually begin with a relative pronoun such as: that, which, who, whom, where, and whose.  We use relative clauses to combine two sentences into one, or to identify the noun we are talking about. So, I could say, "I have two brothers. They live in Montreal." Or, better yet, "I have two brothers who live in Montreal." 


Look at any book or article when you get a chance and take four minutes to see how many relative clauses you can find. I bet you'll be surprised because they are used all the time.


# 10



Prepositions are little words that express location, time, or a noun's relationship to other words nearby.  It may help to remind yourself that "pre" means before.  These grammar words are called "pre-positions" because they almost always come before a noun or pronoun.  Some examples of prepositions include: on, beside, under, in, for, with, about and so on.


# 9

Phrasal verb


A phrasal verb is just a main verb and one, two or three prepositions working together to convey meaning. 


Take a look at these:

run into someone

go over something

ask someone out


Phrasal verbs are super cool because they can have both literal and metaphorical meanings. For example, to run into could be used literally to mean a person moved very quickly into a room. 


The same verb can also be used to say that you met someone you know by chance. "Sunny ran into her old classmate at the grocery store."  


Phrasal verbs are awesome super heroes that we can find all over the place! English speakers love them because they are informal and usually pretty short. Remember that when I say informal, I mean natural.  




Coordinating conjunctions are words that connect two or more words, phrases and clauses.  There are seven of these magnetic words:  for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. 


Many people use the acronym* ‘FANBOYS' to help remember them all.  Remember that as a conjunction for means because.


*An acronym is a type of abbreviation that uses the first letter of a set of words to create a new word.  The UN is an acronym of The United Nations.


remember conjunctions with fanboys


Auxiliary verb


Auxiliary verbs are often called "helping verbs" and there's a simple reason for that.  These little guys help make questions, verb tenses and negatives.  Be, do and have are often used as auxiliary verbs when used with another main verb.  

Here are some examples of  verbs working hard as auxiliary verbs to add meaning to a main verb.

Example:  "Where are you? I have been waiting for 30 minutes!" (Both have and been are helping the main verb wait. In this sentence they are auxiliary verbs, making the present perfect continuous.)

Example:  "Kevin doesn't like to go to bed late during the workweek." (If you guessed that the auxiliary verb here is doesn't, then you get it! It's making like negative.)  


Modal Verb Examples:

... will, would, may, might, should, can, could ...
Example Sentence: Alejandra  could  swim like a fish by the time she was nine.


Modal verb


These verbs are a type of auxiliary verb, which means they are always used with a main verb. They are helpful because they tell us something about why the speaker is talking or how they feel. They can express so many specific modalities, from permission, ability, speculation (meaning: guessing), advice, prohibition and more. 


Here is a short list of some modal verbs:

may, can, could, must, might, can't, and mustn't





We use punctuation to clarify meaning, pause, and tone in sentences; just like when we are talking, and we leave a space between words; or raise our voices to show we have a question; or speak loudly when we are excited.  That's what punctuation does in written English.  Here are the most common forms that you should know, use and practice.

Punctuation on chalk board

If you're looking for some more answers on punctuation or would like to practice, check out these links.

Using the comma @ Grammar-quizzes.com


Guide to punctuation @ About.com


Gerund Examples:

... walking, talking,fishing, enjoying, living, trying, doing ...
Example Sentence:  Learning  a new language is hard sometimes, but never give up!




This one is pretty simple.  A gerund is just a verb with –ing.  We use these words when we want to make a verb a noun- the subject or object of a sentence.  "Smoking is bad for your health."  Smoking in this example is the subject.  "Mark quit smoking last year."  Smoking is the object here. Some common verbs that are followed by a gerund form include: quit, enjoy, admit, suggest, recommend, avoid, dislike, and keep.

Here's a really helpful Quick Tip. We almost always use gerunds or nouns after prepositions. That means phrasal verbs too. "Patty is looking forward to going to Seattle during her break from school." "I'll have to put off calling him back until I have more time." 
If you'd like more help with gerunds, click on this link.

An excercise to help you with gerunds vs. infinitives over @ englishpage.com




The Infinitive


Similar to gerunds, many main verbs can be followed by the infinitive form of a verb.  Some common examples are: want, plan, arrange, would like, need, have, and decide.  "My brother wants to study engineering at university."  It would be wrong to use the gerund form of "study" after the main verb "want".


A useful quick tip is to keep in mind is that we use the infinitive form of a verb after adjectives.  That's why we say, "I'm happy to hear you are enjoying your new job."  "This coffee is too hot to drink right now."




Click here for an advanced exercise to help you with infinitives @ englishpage.com 



Base Form

Instead of "base form", some people call these verb forms the "bare infinitive". They are simply the infinitive form without "to". You should use the base form with modal verbs: can, may, might, must, should, would, will.

Example: Joon Ho might come to the party later tonight if he has time.


Past Participle Examples

  ... been, walked, done, said, loved...
Example Sentence: Annie has already  finished her dinner.


Past Participle


Every English verb has three forms. There's the present form, the past form, and the past participle. Often the past and past participle forms are the same, but not always. So watch out for those irregular ones!    

The past participle is an amazing little worker because it can do many things. It can form different tenses, the passive and conditional structures. Often, even adjectives are made from participle forms.
Take a look at just a few examples.

Example:  "I have worked here for over five years."  (Worked here is a past participle. It's making the present perfect simple.)

Example:  "The thief has been arrested and charged with illegal break and entry."


Can you spot the past participles here? There are three.  Arrested and charged are both past participles, and so is been.  They are forming the present perfect passive voice.



I reccomend my favourite grammar book which comes with an excellent list of both regular and irregular verb form. It also explains all the main grammar concepts and has a ton of exercises too. It's called:  Understanding and Using English Grammar Workbook

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