To attain physical fitness, we exercise our bodies.
Doing grammar exercises will not increase your fitness, but they will improve your strength and ability to use the English language.
Before we start our exercises in English grammar, we first have to understand the scope: what, exactly, is grammar?
Defining English Grammar in General Terms
Grammar is the set of structural rules governing the composition of clauses, phrases and words.
Learn more about English Grammar Clauses in our dedicated blog.
While elegant, this definition does not detail every aspect of what is included under the umbrella term we know as grammar.
Aspects of this field include:
- Phonology – the study and organisation of sounds in a language.
- Morphology – the study of words, how they are formed and their relationship with other words.
- Syntax – the set of rules that governs the structure of sentences
- specifically: word order and punctuation.
- Phonetics – the sounds of human speech
- in the case of sign language, the equivalent aspects of signing to spoken language.
- Semantics – the study of meaning in language
- Pragmatics – the way context contributes to meaning
Unless you are planning a career in linguistics, specializing in the English language, you only need to concern yourself with syntax and phonetics.
You might consider dabbling in Pragmatics, as well. Hasn't your Esl teacher often told you to look for context clues when reading, or listening to spoken English?
Just as a physical fitness coach will focus movement sets to certain muscle groups, the grammar exercises we feature in this article are targeted to help you improve your overall English capabilities and fluency.
The Problem with Predicates
For linguists and grammarians alike, predicates pose problems. There seems to be a division of opinion on exactly what a predicate is.
One school of thought contends a predicate is one of two main parts of a sentence.
The other gets down to brass tacks: a predicate is the main verb and any auxiliary verbs in a sentence.
Whether identified as verbs or predicates, these parts of speech seem the most arduous to grasp and use correctly for those learning English as a second language.
What tense should you use when describing an ongoing action? What about if the action is already complete? And what verb tense should you use to describe facts that are generally true?
In the course of your language learning, and especially if you sit for IELTS, you will have to identify and use verb tenses correctly.
Most of the students in my English classes are female.
Simple present tense is used to describe facts that are generally true.
I scored well on the Esol exam.
Simple past denotes already completed actions.
I am going to my business English class.
The simple present of to be + verb with -ing ending makes present progressive (sometimes called present continuous).
Here we note that many people studying English have difficulty distinguishing between going to – meaning 'headed in a direction' versus the 'going to' that signals an intention.
Here is an easy way to remember the difference: if another verb follows 'going to', that verb phrase signals intent. If no other verb follows, you are facing an ongoing action.
How to Compose a Negative Sentence
Suppose your Esol score is lower than expected? Or maybe you are not going to your English lessons.
Negating an expression is not always as simple as inserting not into your sentence.
Especially with the more elaborate verb constructions, you must take care to put your negative in the right place.
I did not score well on my Esol exam.
The helper (auxiliary) verb goes before the negation. The verb to score is not conjugated; it remains in its natural form.
I am not going to my business English class.
To negate a sentence written in present progressive, simply insert not between the auxiliary and action verbs.
Because every verb tense conjugates differently and writing or speaking the negative form can be complex – especially if you are composing a sentence using an irregular verb, it pays to practise this aspect of grammar.
Find out more about English language style and form in our dedicated blog.
Sentences, Word Order and Conjunctions
A new trend of native English speakers is to create overly long sentences, rife with conjunctions and descriptives.
Speakers of American English seem particularly afflicted.
From a police report in America:
A black male suspect was observed fleeing in a northerly direction at a rapid rate of speed, and we were in quick pursuit, but we were unable to apprehend the individual.
Although word order rules have been followed in this run-on sentence, this example breaks grammar rules for proper sentence construction and conjunction use.
To speak English fluently, you should use short, concise sentences with as few adjectives and adverbs as possible.
Let's rewrite that statement, using proper grammar:
The suspect was seen fleeing north. We were in pursuit, but were unable to apprehend him.
Not only is the statement much shorter, but splitting it into two complete sentences helps make it easier to understand.
Although not an outright grammatical error, the repetition of 'we were' in the original sentence is a style blunder that makes the statement awkward and unprofessional.
As an English learner, you should strive for expressions that inform rather than overwhelm. These exercises can help you place words in the proper order.
ESOL Grammar: Proper Punctuation is Vital
A woman without her man is nothing.
This sentence can be punctuated in several ways:
A woman, without her man, is nothing.
Punctuated this way, the sentence suggests that women must have a man at their side, otherwise they are of no value.
A woman: without her, man is nothing.
Highlighting aspects of text through the use of a colon and comma, we find that man has no worth without woman.
Clearly, punctuation has a profound effect on interpretation in English.
Oddly enough, English courses seldom emphasise the importance of punctuation.
Another often misused punctuation mark is the apostrophe.
I'll buy this toy for my cat's.
This sentence includes a correct use of the apostrophe, and an incorrect one.
Do you know which is which?
Punctuation errors being so prevalent in the written language, obviously English teaching should include in-depth instruction on how to use these marks effectively.
Fortunately, if you are taking English lessons online, you can find many sites that promote the proper use of punctuation.
Have you considered taking any online English courses?
If so, you might already have found the University of Bristol's page, loaded with practice exercises and quizzes that address punctuation.
Using the Right Word
Le mot juste – French for the right word is a phrase that people use upon discovering the very word they need to express their sentiment.
The trouble with English words is that so many of them sound exactly alike! Some of them are even spelled the same.
Whether homophone, homonym or homograph, the important fact to remember is that word pairs do not have the same meaning.
Check out our blog on words with multiple meanings in English.
Effect and affect are two such words. One of them suggests a quality that expresses outward; the other is one that works inwardly.
My English pronunciation will ______ my TOEFL score.
Which one should you write?
Affect is generally used as a verb, therefore your pronunciation will affect your exam score.
Effect can be either a noun or a verb, but is mainly used as a noun, like in this sentence:
The effect of listening to spoken English on your language skills cannot be measured.
Are you ready for another challenge?
Those studying English as a second language could stand a ___________ of their vocabulary coursework.
Is lightening the correct word? Or should we insert lightning?
If you chose the second, the sentence suggests that a bolt of electricity should zap every student's dictionary and textbook, and possibly every English teacher on the planet.
For the sake of English teachers everywhere, we hope you chose correctly.
To sharpen your vocabulary skills, test yourself on these most frequently confused word pairs.
The Best Grammar Exercises
We could say that your having to work so hard to learn English grammar and vocabulary is not fair, especially considering that the native English speaker learns grammar as a matter of course, in early life, before s/he can formulate complete thoughts.
You have to work much harder to pick up the English skills native speakers seem to flaunt.
The best way to test your language skills is to use them at every available opportunity.
Do not concern yourself unduly over whether any given word is a preposition, a conjunction or an aberration of the English language.
Who cares if a verb is a modal or an auxiliary?
Our formula to achieve fluency: learn abundantly, test yourself minimally, and speak frequently.
If you follow that advice (advise?), your proficiency will surely grow.