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Learn English Grammar Basics in Minutes


When I was a kid, my mom used to force me to diagram sentences, one after another. For some reason, she thought it would help me understand things like sentence structure and parts of speech better. 

It didn’t. I hated it. And today, I don’t even remember how sentence diagramming works. I just remember spending miserable hours of my childhood doing it at the kitchen table.

That image popped into my head as soon as I started writing this article. So today, my goal is to introduce you to all of the English grammar basics in a straightforward and simple manner. No sentence diagramming and no fuss, because I’ve been there! 

By the time you finish reading this article, you’ll have a better idea of how English grammar works, from word order to punctuation. 

Enjoy EnglishClass101.com’s introduction to English grammar for beginners, and don’t forget to see our free English Grammar page for an even more condensed version!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in English Table of Contents
  1. General English Grammar Rules
  2. Parts of Speech
  3. Determiners
  4. Capitalization
  5. Punctuation
  6. Making Questions
  7. Politeness and Formality
  8. Final Thoughts

1. General English Grammar Rules

There are four things you need to have a basic understanding about before we continue: 

  • Word Order
  • Tenses 
  • Moods
  • Verb Conjugation

Don’t worry, I’ll make it fast! 

Word Order

A Pineapple against a White Background

I hate pineapple.

English is considered an SVO language. This means that when forming sentences, we usually put the subject at the beginning, followed by a verb and then the object (if there is one). For example:

  • I lied.
  • Bob likes Susan.
  • I hate pineapple.

Of course, when it comes to complex sentences, things get a bit more complicated! For a more detailed look at English Word Order, visit our dedicated article. 


In English grammar, tenses are how a verb shows when an action happened. In English, there are three basic tenses: past, present, and future. For example:

  • Past: I went to the store.
  • Present: I am going to the store.
  • Future: I will go to the store.


Mood is a little more complicated. A mood shows how the action happened, or how the subject felt at the time of the action. In English, there are three basic moods: indicative (facts and beliefs), imperative (commands), and subjunctive (hypothetical statements or wishes).

  • Indicative: The library closes at six o’clock.
    • You’re stating a fact.
  • Imperative: Be quiet for a minute.
    • You’re telling someone to do something.
  • Subjunctive: I wish it were time for dinner.
    • You’re expressing a wish.

Verb Conjugations

Conjugation is how a verb changes to provide additional information about an action. In English, verbs conjugate based on person, tense, number, and mood. We’ll outline only the very basics here:

  • Person
    • Six persons in English: I / You [s.] / He, She, It / We / You [pl.] / They
  • Tense
    • Twelve tenses in English
    • For now, just worry about the three basic ones we talked about earlier. 😉
  • Number
    • Singular or Plural
  • Mood
    • Three basic moods in English: Indicative / Imperative / Subjunctive

If you think you’re ready, you can read our article about Verb Conjugations to dive deeper! 

2. Parts of Speech

In English, there are nine basic parts of speech. I’ll briefly outline each one in the following sections. 


To put it simply, a noun is a person, a place, or a thing. However, there are a few subcategories of nouns that you should be aware of.

Concrete vs. Abstract 

    ❖ A concrete noun is one that you can identify using your five senses (sight, smell, touch, hearing, taste). 
    ❖ An abstract noun is one that you can’t identify using your five senses. Examples include ideas and concepts.

  • Table
  • Fish
  • Hat
  • Loyalty
  • Trust
  • Courage

Countable vs. Uncountable

A Man Sitting on the Sand at the Beach

Can you list the different countable and uncountable nouns in this image?

This is a little bit more tricky, but bear with me! 

    ❖ A countable noun is one that you can count using cardinal numbers. 
    ❖ An uncountable noun is one that you can’t count using cardinal numbers.

  • Books
  • Bottles
  • Steps
  • Sand
  • Dust
  • Water

Do you see the difference? In a sentence, you could say “There are three books.” 

But you couldn’t say “There are three sands.” Instead, you would have to say something like “There are three grains of sand” or “There are three bags of sand.” 

Singular vs. Plural

This one’s easy! 

    ❖ A singular noun means that there is only one of that noun.
    ❖ A plural noun means that there are two or more of that noun.

  • Plural 
  • Cat
  • Train
  • Treaty
  • Trains
  • Treaties

  • Possessive Nouns

    In English grammar, possessive nouns are simply nouns that show possession. To form a possessive noun, you add an apostrophe (‘) followed by an “-s.” (There are some exceptions to this rule, but you’ll have to read our Noun article to learn about them!)

    NounPossessive ExampleExplanation
    CatherineCatherine’s shift just ended.The shift belongs to Catherine.
    DogThis is my dog’s favorite toy.The toy belongs to the dog.
    LibraryThe library’s selection is small.The selection belongs to the library.


    A verb is a word that represents an action or a state of being. Verbs can be either regular (meaning they conjugate regularly according to a set pattern) or irregular (meaning they don’t conjugate regularly).

    The two most important verbs in English are the verbs “to be” and “to have,” both of which are irregular. 🙁 

      → See our article on 100 English Verbs to learn more practical everyday verbs and how to use them!


    A Woman about to Cross the Finish Line

    Sarah is the fastest member of her cross country team.

    An adjective is a word that describes a noun, and they can also be used in comparative and superlative forms.

    • Comparatives are used to compare the intensity of an adjective between two people/nouns. 
      • Typically formed with the -er or -ier suffixes.
    • Superlatives are used to compare the intensity of an adjective amongst entire groups.
      • Typically formed with the -est or -iest suffixes.

    AdjectiveIn Comparative FormIn Superlative Form
    He is happy.
    He is happier than Tom.
    He is the happiest of his family.
    Sarah is fast.
    Sarah is faster than me.
    Sarah is the fastest member of her cross country team.
    Tasha is lovely.
    Tasha is lovelier than Mary.
    Tasha is the loveliest girl in class.

    Note that you can also use the words “more” or “less” for the same effect, and with certain adjectives, this is actually necessary. Take, for example, the word “intelligent.” You can’t say “intelligenter” or “intelligentest.” Instead:

    • Intelligent -> More intelligent -> Most intelligent

    Learn the top 100 Adjectives in English and how to use them! 


    An adverb is a word that describes a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. Here are some examples:

    • Joe ran quickly. [Describes a verb]
    • Her test answers were suspiciously accurate. [Describes an adjective]
    • He was very cautious. [Describes an adverb]

    Yes, we have an article all about English Adverbs, too. Check it out. 😉


    Let’s get pronouns out of the way… 

    A pronoun is a word that replaces a noun in a sentence. There are several categories of pronouns, but we’ll just give you a little info on each one. 

    Personal PronounsI / You / He, She, It / We / They
    Possessive PronounsMy / Mine / His / Her / Hers / Our / Ours / Their / Theirs
    DemonstrativesThis / That / These / Those
    Relative PronounsWhich / What / Whose
    Reflexive PronounsEach other / One another

    Pronouns are a crucial component of speaking English well, so you might as well study up on these, too! 


    A Man Peeking into the Fridge Late at Night

    I found soup in the fridge.

    In English grammar, prepositions are words that give information about a position, location, or status. We see prepositions all the time in English! Some examples include:

    • In: 
      • I found soup in the fridge. 
    • With: 
      • She went to the mall with Lewis.
    • Far from home: 
      • Sue is living far from home.

    Conjunctions and Linking Words

    A conjunction is a word that links one part of a sentence to another part, links two or more words together, and helps language flow more smoothly. Here are a few examples:

    • And: 
      • She watched a movie and cleaned the house.
        • This sounds better than “She watched a movie. She cleaned the house.”
    • But: 
      • I would love to go with you, but I’m very busy.
    • Or: 
      • Do you want ice cream or chocolate cake for dessert?

    There are more conjunctions where those came from! EnglishClass101.com has an article all about Conjunctions waiting for you! 


    An interjection is a word (usually more of a sound) that expresses a sudden emotion. Usually, these are sounds that you don’t really think about when you utter them, though many interjections seem to be infused with one’s language and culture. Some common ones are:

    • Oh! 
      • Oh! I want chocolate cake right now! 
    • Ouch! 
      • Ouch, that hurt! 
    • Ugh…
      • Ugh…I hate this class.
    • Huh?
      • Huh? What did you say?

    3. Determiners

    A determiner is a word that helps you better clarify what you’re talking about or add information to it. There are four main categories of determiners. 

    Definite Articles

    “The” is the only definite article in English. Definite articles come before a noun when you know the exact noun you’re talking about. 

    For example, if you said, “The cat hissed,” it means that you know exactly which cat hissed (it wasn’t just any cat). 

    Indefinite Articles

    “A” and “an” are the two indefinite articles in English. An indefinite article comes before a noun when you don’t know exactly which one of that noun you’re talking about, or when it doesn’t really matter. 

    For example, if you said, “Bring me a pen,” it indicates that you don’t really care which pen they bring you; any pen will suffice. 

    Keep in mind that you should use “a” for nouns that begin with a consonant sound, and “an” for nouns that begin with a vowel sound:

    • A dinosaur / A pandemic / A notebook
    • An apple / An olive / An ordeal


    A Piece of Chocolate Cake with a Fork in It

    This cake is delicious!

    A demonstrative is a type of determiner that demonstrates which noun (or group of nouns) you’re talking about. The demonstratives are:

    • This: A single noun that is near the speaker.
      • This cake is delicious!
    • That: A single noun that is distant from the speaker.
      • That story in the news was so sad.
    • These: A plural noun that is near the speaker.
      • What do you think of these shoes?
    • Those: A plural noun that is distant from the speaker.
      • Why are those people just standing around?


    A quantifier is a word that gives a general idea of how much or how many there is of something. Rather than a specific number, it’s sometimes useful to be more generic. Here are a few common quantifiers in English with example sentences:

    SomeCan I have some raisins, please?
    MuchHow much cereal is left?
    AllAll the workers left early.

    4. Capitalization

    Depending on your native language, you may find English capitalization rules a bit strange. However, proper capitalization is a key component in writing, especially for formal documents or emails! 

    In this section, I’ll go over the basic rules of English capitalization. I do recommend that you check out our lesson on The English Writing System as well, though, for more information.

    Do Capitalize

    At the beginning of a sentence
    • Tom ran away from home.
    • The garden flourished.
    • Please leave me alone.
    Proper nouns
    • Has Jose arrived yet?
    • I enjoyed visiting Yellowstone National Park.
    • Rena and Bill are dating.
    Days of the week and month names
    • I can’t wait until Saturday.
    • Diana’s birthday is in June.
    • Are you free on Monday or Thursday?
    Holidays and certain events
    • My favorite holiday is Christmas.
    • Have you been to the Burning Man Festival?
    • What’s your favorite Thanksgiving dish?
    Titles of books, movies, and other media/art
    • I’m reading Go Set a Watchman.
    • Have you seen Criminal Minds?
    • Dory and I watched The Dark Knight.
    Note that in writing, you need to italicize titles, in addition to capitalizing each word. 

    Further, any articles (a / an / the / etc.) that are in a title are NOT capitalized. 

    Don’t Capitalize

    Generally, the only times you capitalize a word are in the instances listed above. Unless a word (or series of words) fits into one of those categories, do not capitalize it. 

    Sometimes you can find odd capitalization in things like poetry or older English documents, but this is very rare nowadays. 

    Common Source of Confusion

    English capitalization can be confusing, I get it! In this section, I’ll explain a common source of confusion that many people (even native speakers) face! 

    Let’s look at the word “mother.” Did you know there are occasions where this should be capitalized, and others when it shouldn’t be? 

    If you’re using “mother” as a proper noun (meaning you’re talking to your mother, or you’re referring to your mother by that name), you capitalize it:

    • Have you seen Mother today?
    • I took Mother out to dinner yesterday.

    To double-check that you’ve capitalized correctly, simply place a name (in this case, your mother’s name) in place of the word ‘Mother.’ If it fits, great job! You should capitalize ‘Mother’ since it’s a proper noun, taking the place of your mother’s name. 

    If you’re talking about your mother (or someone else’s mother) in a more general sense, you don’t capitalize the word:

    • Your mother is so sweet!
    • I wish my mother were more like yours.

    Use of possessives in front of a noun nearly always warrants a succeeding common noun, meaning the noun should be lowercase. The exception is rare cases of endearment, such as “My Teddy.”

    Don’t worry if this is a bit strange to you now; you’ll gradually get the hang of it! 

    5. Punctuation

    An Exclamation Mark against a Blue Background

    This is important!

    Punctuation is how we make written English more readable and understandable; it’s also how we make it look and sound smoother. Here’s a list of the most common punctuation marks, their uses, and examples:

    Punctuation MarkUseExample Sentences
    Period (.)At the end of declarative and imperative sentences. 
    • I love eating Takis. 
    • Rita hates Susan.
    • Bring me that newspaper, please.
    Question Mark (?)At the end of interrogative sentences (questions).
    • Why aren’t you ready yet?
    • Where did Eric go?
    • What’s your dog’s name?
    Exclamation Mark (!)At the end of exclamatory sentences.
    • Look at that building! 
    • Dinner will be so delicious!
    • Get out of the way! 
    Comma (,)Used inside of a sentence, usually to separate one part of the sentence from another. 
  • In particular, commas are used as a “breather,” or brief pause, to make the sentence sound smoother and more natural. 
    • You don’t know about it, do you?
    • Lola, please come here.
    • After several hours, he came back.
    Colon (:)Used to introduce something that was just mentioned. 
    • I had a great idea: I would eat all the ice cream myself.
    • He knew this: she didn’t love him anymore.
    • He made the decision: he would move to New York City.
    Semi-Colon (;)Used in place of a period to connect one independent clause to another when they’re related (instead of using two sentences).
    • I worked days; he worked nights.
    • I didn’t know what to do; it was all so strange.
    • Liz worried; what would happen to Rick?
    Apostrophe (‘)Used to show possession.
    • The books cover is boring.
    • Sallys husband is tall.
    • Will Jills ex be there?
    Quotation Marks (” “)Used to indicate dialogue, a direct quote, or a set of words that are said sarcastically or with another meaning.
    • I’m tired, Harry said.
    • To be or not to be…
    • He said he’d be back soon.
    Ellipsis (…)Used to indicate a long pause or a moment of thought.
    • WellI guess it’s okay.
    • You knowI don’t like that guy.
    • She said something aboutgoing to the movies.
    Hyphen (-)Generally used to show connection between two or more words, or to give the impression of the two words being one. Used in many set phrases.
    • He’s a runofthemill (average) kind of guy.
    • It’s crystalclear now.
    • Your home should be pestfree now.

    6. Making Questions

    A Filipino Man Shrugging His Shoulders in Uncertainty

    Confused about something? Learn how to ask questions in English.

    I’ll briefly touch on how to make questions in English. 

    First, begin your question with a “question word.” These are:

    • What (asking information about a thing)
    • Where (asking information about a place)
    • When (asking information about a time or date)
    • Who / Whom / Whose (asking information about a person)
    • Why (asking information about motivation)
    • How (asking information about means or in what way something was done)

    Next, you add a question mark to the end (in writing) or use a questioning tone of voice (when speaking). 

    Finally, you can add a “question tag” to the end of your question (before the question mark). A question tag is a set phrase or word that adds emotion or necessity to your question. This is optional.

    Let’s see some examples:

    • What’s your favorite color?
    • How did you get here so fast?
    • You work at the market, don’t you?
    • His name is Gary, right?
    • This is exciting, huh?

    Note that in the sentences using question tags, the questions don’t begin with a question word. This is another reason that question tags are so useful; you can simply say a statement, and by using the question tag, you’re showing that it’s a question. 

    7. Politeness and Formality

    Two Businesswomen Greeting Each Other

    A few good manners can go a long way!

    I’ll end this article with a few words on politeness and formality in English. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

    • There’s no difference between formal and informal speech in English, as far as verb tense is concerned. For example, we don’t have a formal and informal “you,” like many languages do. It’s more about how we use the words.
    • However, there are certain words and phrases that are considered polite and courteous. Some great examples are “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me.”
    • When you find yourself in a formal situation (a job interview, for example), use complete sentences while speaking. This shows that you take the situation seriously and are well-studied in English. 
    • When you’re speaking to someone who is older than you or who you don’t know well, use formal titles followed by the person’s last name. Common titles include: Mr. (male), Mrs. (female, married), Miss (female, young or unmarried), Sir (male), and Ma’am (female, usually to older women). 
    • When making an inquiry or asking for permission, use polite set phrases before or after your question. Common phrases include: “May I?” / “Can I?” / “Would you mind if?” / “If it’s alright with you.”

    If you want more-detailed information about how to be polite in the United States, we have a couple of great articles I highly recommend you read: Proper American Etiquette in the United States and How to Find a Job in the USA.

    8. Final Thoughts

    Drawing of a Dandelion with Its Seeds Flying Away

    Understanding and using English grammar properly is something that even native speakers struggle with. There are lots of rules to remember, and only time and practice can help you get better—don’t expect to have perfect English grammar after just one lesson. 

    If you’re willing to face the challenge and put in the work, we applaud you! Even a limited understanding of the basic English grammar rules can prove beneficial in the long run. 

    The good news is that, at EnglishClass101.com, you can continue learning English in a way that’s both fun and informative. You can study on your own time, interact with fellow English learners, and always reach out for help if you don’t understand something. The EnglishClass101 family wants to help you reach your goals, and our expert team of teachers and hosts makes learning easy and effective. 

    Create your free lifetime account with us today, and once you feel confident and comfortable, upgrade to our Premium or Premium PLUS plans for exclusive learning content! 

    Before you go, we would love to hear from you. What part of English grammar seems hardest to you, and how can we help? Are there any topics you want us to write about in the future? 

    Happy learning! 🙂

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