English grammar

From Citizendium
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This article is developing and not approved.
Main Article
Related Articles  [?]
Bibliography  [?]
External Links  [?]
Citable Version  [?]
This editable Main Article is under development and subject to a disclaimer.

English grammar is a set of rules that attempt to describes the structural principles of the English language. While grammar is often conceived of as a set of instructions that explains how to form 'proper' sentences, this is only one sense of the term. In modern linguistics, it is used to refer to a complete system of a language that enables its speakers to understand and produce meaningful utterances. This means that while English teachers might want to instruct students about how to form a plural (e.g. "Add an s to the end of a noun"), linguists would be more concerned with placing such changes in the context of a larger model of grammar which is attentive to how language in general is generated, altered, and comprehended. The technical difficulty of such an undertaking -- particularly with a language such as English which has a relatively high proportion of irregular and inconsistent usage -- has deepened the differences between these two senses of the term.

Linguists usually view examples of both 'good' and 'bad' grammar as intrinsically valid, whether or not they conform to the ostensible 'standard'. This descriptive view is often at odds with everyday uses of the word 'grammar', where it is understood to refer to rules that have to be learned. This association of 'grammar' with 'correctness' is a prescriptivist view.

The traditional model of grammar commonly taught in US elementary and secondary schools uses the model of the parts of speech. Within this model, parts of speech are seen as discrete categories: verb, noun, pronoun, adverb, and so on. Within linguistics, however, a different set of models, based more on the function of words rather than their categorization, is preferred. Particularly with English, the model is useful, as we have so many words capable of functioning as several different 'parts of of speech.' The word fish, for instance, can function as a verb, a noun, or an adjective, depending on its syntactic position in a sentence.

Models of grammar

There are different models of grammar. The two most common ones are prescriptive grammar and descriptive grammar. Prescriptive grammar attempts to codify the rules of a language, while descriptive grammar describes how people use the language. In other words, a prescriptive grammarian tends to prescribe and tell the 'correct' rules of the language as opposed to a descriptive grammarian, who tries to describe and reflect what is spoken by the native speakers of that language objectively with a synchronic perspective.

We can exemplify this with the use of first personal pronoun 'I'. A sentence like 'it is me who loves you' will be regarded as incorrect as it should be changed into 'it is I who loves you' according to prescriptive grammarians. However, from a descriptive perspective, the former is acceptable as it is used by the speakers of English language.

For much of its history, English did not have any written prescriptive grammar; writers from Chaucer to Shakespeare got along fine without one. It was not until the Eighteenth Century that an increase in common schools which used English as their language of instruction, that a codified set of rules for English was developed.

English sentence structure

In general, English is a word-order dependent language, as opposed to a language which uses inflections to indicate the case of nouns (and thus their relation to one another). In the Old English period, English did possess a full set of noun inflections, but nearly all of these have been lost, with the result that the order of words in a sentence generally determines what is the subject, and what the object, of the main verb. With the exception of interrogative sentences (questions), English nearly always uses a SVO (Subject-verb-object) order.


Simple present tense

The simple present tense describes actions that happen daily or on a regular basis. Here are some examples.

  1. I drink coffee every morning.
  2. She exercises once a week.
  3. They meet for coffee every Friday morning.

Note: In the second sentence, the verb ends in "s". Verbs in the simple present tense, in the third person singular, end with "s". For example,

  1. He drinks coffee.
  2. She plays soccer.
  3. It crawls slowly in the night.

In the third person singular, If the verb ends in "y" and a vowel precedes the "y", add "s". For example,

  1. She plays guitar.
  2. He stays in the country on weekends.

As with nouns, if the verb ends in "y" and a consonant precedes the "y", change the "y" to "i" and add "es". For example,

  1. She studies all night.
  2. He flies from Washington D.C. to Atlanta every weekend.

Simple past tense

The simple past tense describes an action that happened in the past. You may or may not know specifically when the action occurred in the past. You form the past tense by adding ed to the end of the verb. Here are some examples.

  1. It crawled slowly in the night.
  2. I worked last Saturday.
  3. She explained the Algebra homework to me.

If the verb ends with an "e" just add "d".

  1. I exercised last night.
  2. He practiced (AmE)/practised (BrE) piano until 2 a.m.

If the verb ends with a consonant and a vowel precedes the consonant, for example the verb permit (the verb ends with "t" (consonant) and an "i" (vowel) precedes the "t") double the final consonant and add "ed". Here are some examples:

  1. I permitted her to go to the concert.
  2. She committed her campaign to environment issues.

If the verb ends in "y" and a vowel precedes the "y", add "ed". For example,

  1. I played guitar at the party.
  2. They stayed overnight.

If the verb ends in "y" and a consonant precedes the "y", change the "y" to "i" and add "ed". For example,

  1. We studied in the library.
  2. They partied all night.

Continuous/progressive tenses

  • Present continuous/progressive tense
  • Past continuous/progressive tense
  • Future continuous/progressive tense

Perfect tenses

  • Present perfect
  • Past perfect
  • Future perfect

See also