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What Are the Elements of English Grammar?

By Bobby R. Goldsmith
Updated: May 23, 2024

There are numerous elements to English grammar. The structural rules that guide the use of spoken and written English have evolved and continue to evolve, but the basic framework remains relatively consistent. English grammar is based on two general classes of words: nouns and verbs. Nearly every other aspect of English grammar features some modification of either one. The grammatical construction of a sentence in English depends on the words that comprise it, as a correct sentence features a both a subject, which contains a noun, and a predicate, which contains a verb.

Nouns are the words that represent persons, places, and objects. Most sentences feature a noun, as a noun is the subject of a sentence. A noun can be general, like "dog," or it can specific, like "Rex." The former is a common noun, the latter is a proper noun. There are several other types of noun, including concrete, abstract, and collective nouns.

Verbs represent the action that occurs in a sentence. English grammar depends on showing a subject doing something or having something done to it. The shortest sentences in English are comprised of a single verb: for example, "Go." Though this sentence does not explicitly include a noun, it does include a subject: the person to whom it is addressed.

There are several classifications of verbs, but the most common is transitive and intransitive. Transitive verbs create a transition between the subject and an object featured in the sentence. For example, "Michelle picks up a spoon." features a transitive verb. Michelle is the subject, the spoon is the object, and "picks up" is the transitive verb.

Intransitive verbs transfer no action to an object. For example, "Jim ran quickly." is a sentence that features a subject and a verb, but the last word in the sentence is an adverb, a word that modifies the verb. Sentences that feature an intransitive verb usually include an adverb as well.

While adverbs modify verbs, adjectives modify nouns. For example, "The best sport happens at night." features a modification of the noun "sport." Generally, adjectives are used with common nouns, but often an adjective can modify a proper noun as well. The complexity of English grammar rests with the modification of both nouns and verbs, adding layers of nuance to sentence constructions.

Additional elements of English grammar include pronouns, words that take the place of nouns. Pronouns can include people, objects, and ideas. "His," "her," "their," "they," and "it" are all examples of pronouns, but there are others as well. Prepositions often describe the position or relation of one thing relative to another. These are words such as "in," "on," "by," and "around." Prepositional phrases, which begin with these words can, themselves, function as adjectives and adverbs, modifying the various nouns and verbs of a sentence.

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Discussion Comments
By Rotergirl — On Jan 21, 2014

I think the "Schoolhouse Rock" series from the 1970s did as much as anything to help students understand the basic elements of grammar, or the parts of speech, anyway.

I feel one reason some students have such a problem writing well is because they were not taught basic grammar in elementary school. The "whole language" movement seriously compromised a whole generation's ability to write well. You can see the results in some news articles, where it is obvious the writer needs a crash course in basic grammar and usage.

Learning the basics first is still the best way to learn to write well, in my opinion.

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