Operational improvements: Grammar is the system that structures a language, and every language has its own guidelines. But grammar isn’t so much about rules as it is the conventions that determine how we speak and write, and it includes things like spelling, inflecting words for different purposes, and the way words are arranged to form sentences. While it’s good to remember that languages are living things that constantly change, it’s also important to know that proper grammar is still necessary for communication. Luckily, there are plenty of resources and style guides available to help people who want to improve their grammar.
1. Know the parts of speech.
- Nouns are the elements that usually perform the action in a sentence, such as a person, place, thing, idea, emotion, animal, or event. Nouns include Sally, Paris, sand , philosophy , happiness, dog, and birthday.
- Adjectives modify nouns and describe aspects or characteristics of nouns. Adjectives include red, funny, lazy, large, and short.
- Pronouns take the place of nouns. There are personal subject pronouns (such as I, she, and they), personal object pronouns (such as us, you, it, and them), personal possessive pronouns (such as mine, yours, his, hers, and theirs), and relative pronouns (such as who, which, that, and whose).
- Verbs indicate actions or states of being and tell what the noun is doing. Verbs include run, sing, type, be, and walk.
- Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, conjunctions, prepositions, and other adverbs. They are words like quickly, well, and slowly. These words often end in –ly.
- Prepositions indicate relationships in time, space, or direction. Prepositions include to, in, on, over, of, and across.
- Conjunctions join nouns, clauses, phrases, and sentences. Coordinating conjunctions link independent clauses, and they are for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so (remember FANBOYS). Subordinating conjunctions link dependent clauses, and they include because, if, since, while, and although.
- Interjections are words that indicate emotions. These include oh, hey, ouch, and wow. They are often followed by exclamation points.
- Articles are used to modify and define nouns. The is a definite article, and a and an are the indefinite articles.
2. Recognize points of view.
- First-person singular: I
- Second-person singular: you
- Third-person singular: he (masculine) / she (feminine) / it (neuter)
- First-person plural: we
- Second-person plural: you
- Third-person plural: they
3. Use proper word order.
- Frank (subject) quickly (adverb) mailed (verb) the (article) long (adjective) letter (object).
4. Conjugate verbs properly.
- Simple present (uninflected verb, or verb + s/es in third person): I go, you go, he/she/it goes, we go, you go, they go.
- Present continuous (aka progressive) (am/is/are + present participle): I am going, you are going, he/she/it is going, we/you/they are going.
- Present perfect (has/have + past participle): I have gone, you have gone, he/she/it has gone, we/you/they have gone.
- Simple past (verb + –ed for regular verbs): I/you/he/she/it/we/you/they went (“to go” is an irregular verb).
- Past continuous (was/were + present participle): I was going, you were going, he/she/it was going, we/you/they were going.
- Past Perfect (had + past participle): I/you/he/she/it/we/you/they had gone.
- Simple future (will + uninflected verb): I/you/he/she/it/we/you/they will go.
- Future continuous (will be + present participle): I/you/he/she/it/we/you/they will be going.
- Future Perfect (will have + past participle): I/you/he/she/it/we/you/they will have gone.
5. Punctuate sentences properly.
- Commas separate thoughts, ideas, elements, and independent clauses.
- Periods indicate the end of a sentence.
- Semicolons join independent clauses in a single sentence or separate elements in a list.
- Colons introduce items in a list, explanations, or definitions.
- Question marks indicate that a question was posed.
- Exclamation points show emphasis, imperatives, or declarations.
- Apostrophes demonstrate possession or create contractions.
- Quotation marks indicate that you are directly quoting someone else’s words.
- Hyphens join separate words into compound words, modifiers, and numbers.
- Dashes create a pause, interrupt a sentence, or add parenthetical information.
- Parenthesis add additional information, references, or citations.
6. Read children’s books.
7. Read a variety of material.
- Try reading aloud so that you also get an idea of how the language sounds in conversation.
- Keep a dictionary and thesaurus handy while reading.
- Read newspapers, listen to news radio, and watch televised news programs daily as well.
8. Pay attention to how other speakers talk.
Listen to how other people construct sentences, where they place words in sentences, how they say common phrases, and the vocabulary they use. English has many rules and exceptions, so don’t be afraid to ask questions if you have any.
- Try parroting what other people say by repeating it in order to understand how sentences are formed and to expand your vocabulary.
- Be warned that some English speakers, even native ones, don’t have a grasp of proper grammar.
9. Play word and grammar games.
There are many online games and applications you can download on your computer or phone that will test your grammar skills in a fun way. Since these games are educational, they’ll often provide explanations for wrong answers so you can learn from your mistakes.
- Libraries, bookstores, and online resources will also offer grammar lessons, practice exercises, and quizzes
10. Practice writing every day.
Improve your grammar by writing and practicing any new rules or words you’ve learned. Keep a journal, write short stories, or even just email back and forth with friends or family. Concentrate on improving any problem areas you might have or mistakes you often repeat.
- Don’t rely solely on grammar checkers. For one, they can be wrong. Second, you won’t learn from your mistakes if you don’t correct work yourself. If you do employ a grammar check or proofreading services, take the time to look over what changes were made so that you can learn what you did wrong.
11. Learn the difference between confusing words.
- Confusing it’s (a contraction of it is) and its (a possessive pronoun).
- Mixing up they’re (a contraction of they are), their (a possessive pronoun), and there (an adverb indicating place).
- Using you’re (a contraction of you are) and your (a possessive pronoun) incorrectly.
- Confusing too (which means in addition), to (a preposition) and two (the cardinal number that comes after one).
- Not using then (meaning at that time) and than (used to compare) correctly.
- Improperly using lie (meaning to be in a horizontal position) and lay (which means to place something in a horizontal position).
- Confusing farther (used with physical distance) and further (used with figurative or metaphorical distance).
12. Use punctuation properly.
- Run-on sentences, where there is no punctuation separating independent clauses in the same sentence. This can be remedied by either placing a semicolon or period between the independent clauses.
- Comma splices, where independent clauses in a sentence are joined with a comma but without a proper coordinating conjunction. Instead of using just a comma, use a comma followed by the word “and” or “but.”
- Using apostrophes to create plurals (they are used to create contractions or show possession, not create plurals).
- Improper use of quotation marks, which should only be used to indicate that you are directly quoting something someone said.
13. Use the active voice.
In an active construction, the subject is the thing that performs the action; in a passive construction, the subject is acted upon by an outside force. While there’s nothing wrong with the passive voice, it’s less forceful and can make sentences unclear. Therefore, you should use the active voice more often, but it’s acceptable to use the passive voice from time to time, especially to emphasize something. For example, consider how these active and passive sentences place emphasis on different elements of the sentence:
- The active “I paid the bill” places the emphasis on what the subject did.
- The passive “The bill was paid by me” places the emphasis on who paid the bill.
14. Use reflexive pronouns properly.
The reflexive pronouns are myself, yourself, himself/herself/itself, ourselves, yourselves, and themselves. These pronouns can be used reflexively or intensively. Reflexive pronouns are only used as the object in a sentence, and only when that object is the same as the subject. Intensive pronouns are used to add emphasis to a sentence and reinforces that the subject performed the action. To tell the difference, remember that if the pronoun can be removed from the sentence and it still makes sense, the pronoun is being used intensively. However, if the pronoun cannot be removed without altering the meaning of the sentence, it’s being used reflexively.
- Reflexive: “I pinched myself to see if I was dreaming.”
- Intensive: “She individually picked each gift herself.”
- Reflexive: “He asked himself how he’d feel in that situation.”
- Intensive: “I myself don’t know how I’d react.”
15. Take a class or see a tutor or teacher.
One of the best ways to ensure you understand the basic grammatical elements of a language is by seeking the help of someone who’s qualified to teach you. Many community colleges offer language courses, or you can ask around at your local high school or college to see if any English students want to make some extra money tutoring you.
16. Read style guides and grammar books.
- The Chicago Manual of Style, which is often used for social science and historical journals.
- The Modern Language Association (MLA) style, which is often used in the humanities, in language studies, and in cultural studies.
- The Associated Press (AP) style, which is used by most news and media outlets.
- The American Psychological Association (APA) style, which is often used for natural and life sciences, academic journals, and social sciences.
17. Find online resources.
- Purdue OWL is an excellent resource that has lessons and different style guide recommendations.
- You can also subscribe to daily grammar emails and blogs from people like Grammar Girl.
18. More tips
Don’t agonize about every mistake, and don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Perfecting a language takes time and practice, and you have to make sure you’ve got the basic building blocks down before you can master it.
If you know someone with excellent grammar skills, ask for guidance and lessons.
Read The Elements of Style by Strunk & White to recognize and remedy common grammatical errors.