Master the art of writing to create impactful content in no time with our comprehensive guide to English grammar rules. Also, learn why grammar is vital.
They say the pen is mightier than the sword, but what's a pen without its ink? Grammar rules are writing's metaphorical indispensable pigments, molding your creative thoughts and ideas into compelling narratives. Below, we'll dive into the heart of basic English grammar, describing the essentials for refining your craft and shaping your stories. We’ll also take you through practical tips and clear grammar examples, empowering you to become a better writer.
Why is grammar important? ✏️
Grammar is the structural backbone of any language. From constructing sentence forms to expressing ideas clearly, grammar rules guide writers, speakers, authors, and more to not only scribble words on a piece of paper but also add a sense of understanding and emotion. Applying these rules accurately is also critical to effective communication.
While English grammar rules might seem straightforward (especially compared to other languages), minor mistakes dramatically alter the meaning of writing. Misusing a comma or tense can blur your narrative, causing confusion and misunderstanding. That's why grammar mastery isn't just pedantic –– rather, acing the basic structure of a sentence and beyond maintains the integrity of your message.
A tool to be sharpened, correct grammar communicates with your readers effectively. In freelance writing, your words are your currency, and grammar is the mint certifying their value.
What are the rules of grammar? 📝
Whether you write, copy edit, or proofread, grammar takes the writer, editor, and reader to the shared destination. These linguistic signposts are even more critical for independent writers, as they have to build their own credibility among prospective clients. Master the following 12 grammar rules to help your writing achieve maximum impact:
1- Subject-verb agreement 🖊️
In English sentences, subjects and verbs must be in sync. When they agree in number, sentences flow with a natural rhythm, establishing logical coherence. For example, this grammar rule is why we write "The dog chases its tail" (singular subject, singular verb) and not "The dog chase its tail" (singular subject, plural verb). And don’t get confused with the "s" at the end of the verb –– adding the "s" doesn’t make it plural.
2- Adjectives and adverbs 📓
Artists of language, adjectives and adverbs add vivid details to narratives. Adjectives describe qualities of objects, people, and places (nouns), while adverbs describe verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. In the phrase "The quick brown fox," the adjective "brown" describes the fox. In the phrase "He runs swiftly," the adverb “swiftly” modifies the verb "runs."
3- Punctuation 📗
When considering grammar rules, how to use commas and other punctuation marks correctly is a hot topic. Punctuation (like a comma, semicolon, and period) signals when to pause and stop — much like traffic lights — and can steer readers off course when misused. For example, "Let's eat, Grandma" reads much differently than "Let's eat Grandma," and the only difference is a comma.
4- Sentence structure 🗒️
A well-structured sentence is like a well-constructed bridge — it carries the reader from one idea to another. Typical sentence structure is a subject, verb, and object, and following this is an excellent way to increase your writing fluency. For example, "John (subject) scrolls (verb) the smartphone (object)."
5- Verb conjugations and tenses 🔨
In the English language, verbs conjugate according to tense, such as the present perfect tense. Like placing markers on your narrative's timeline, correctly adding verb tense avoids disorienting mistakes that disrupt writing's flow and logic. For instance, using "She danced" (past tense) rather than "She dances" for a past event.
6- Quantifiers ✒️
Quantifiers are words or phrases placed before nouns to indicate quantity. Using quantifiers correctly adds precision to writing. For example, "Many freelancers" or "A few computers" paints a clearer picture than simply "freelancers" or "computers."
7- Active voice 🏃
Active voice casts your subject as the doer of the action in a sentence. It creates dynamic, engaging sentences, making your writing more effective. For example, "The designer created the web page" (active voice) is more precise and direct than "The web page was created by the designer" (passive voice).
8- Correct article usage 🤔
The words "a," "an," and "the" — called articles — play a significant role in writing. Using articles correctly determines whether you're referring to something specific or generic, enhancing your piece’s clarity. For example, when you say, "I saw a laptop in the breakroom," the reader is unsure which laptop you're referring to. If you say, "I saw the laptop in the breakroom," it's clear that you're referring to a specific machine.
9- Correct preposition usage 💡
Prepositions connect nouns, pronouns, or phrases to other sentence parts. They provide details regarding direction, location, time, or manner, and using them properly adds valuable complexity to all types of writing. For example, saying "The report is on the desk" clearly shows the report's location. Saying "The report is in the desk," misusing the preposition, is quite confusing.
10- Proper use of modal verbs 👏
"Could," "should," "might," and "must" are modal verbs conveying necessity, possibility, permission, or ability. Using them accurately adds depth to the writing and communicates your meaning accurately. For example, "You must shut the computer down now" conveys a sense of urgency.
11- Homophonic words 💻
Homophones are words that sound exactly like other words but have their own unique meaning and, in some cases, spelling. Popular examples include "there," "their," and "they're," "break" and "brake," and "course" and "coarse." Recognizing and using these linguistic doppelgängers correctly boosts the clarity of writing.
12- Double negative 📚
Did you know that two negatives in a sentence often create a positive? This can be confusing, which is why we recommend avoiding double negatives. For example, swapping "I don't need no help" for "I don't need any help" accurately communicates that you don't actually need help.
6 tools and resources for improving grammar skills 🔧
A lot goes into being grammatically correct, and it’s more important nowadays than ever. From the difference between a consonant and a vowel to how to use a personal pronoun, relative pronoun, interjection, prepositional phrase, singular noun, or possessive noun in a complete sentence, it’s complex, to say the least.
To improve your grammar, try one of these six tools:
- Grammarly: This AI-powered writing assistant offers real-time grammar, punctuation, and spelling checks. It's an excellent way to catch small mistakes and typos (which can make a big difference) and provides writing style suggestions to help you enhance your writing's clarity.
- Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL): Hosted by Purdue University, OWL is a free writing resource you want to take advantage of. It's home to comprehensive guides on various grammar topics, making it best for deep-diving into detailed explanations and examples of grammatical rules.
- Hemingway Editor: Named after the great author, Hemingway Editor is an online and desktop app that helps writers create clear, concise, and powerful sentences and paragraphs. Hemingway Editor highlights and fixes common errors, boosting the readability of text.
- Grammar Girl: Mignon Fogarty launched Grammar Girl in 2006. This educational website offers helpful tips that make even complex grammar rules, such as the difference between an independent clause and a dependent clause, seem simple and easy to learn.
- Daily Grammar: This resource is a free online grammar program. Written by English teacher Bill Johansen, it offers grammar lessons that become more difficult as you work through them at your own pace.
- Grammar Bytes: This grammar review website is the perfect alternative to stuffy books and manuals. It offers definitions, interactive exercises, PowerPoint presentations, and resources specially designed for teachers.
Connect with fellow writers on Contra ✨
In freelance writing, grammar mastery makes your words come alive and leaves a lasting impression on readers. Now that you're equipped with an understanding of essential grammar rules and a robust set of tools to keep improving, it's time to put your skills into practice.
To keep growing and improving, connect with other independent writers on Contra's Slack community or read our blog. In this thriving online space, you'll find a wealth of experiences, points of view, and tips to enrich your work. Join us to hone your writing voice, and let's learn together!