In order to obtain English fluency for ESL students, studying grammar can slow your progress down significantly. Basic grammar is a necessity, but focusing on grammar will prevent you from being able to speak English fluently in a reasonable time frame. Grammar is most effective to improve communication and writing skills, but this only pertains to those who have a solid foundation in English fluency.
If you are studying for an exam or want to learn the details of all the grammar rules, you can study our grammar section at http://www.talkenglish.com/grammar/grammar.aspx
One commonality among everyone in the whole world is that they learned to speak before they learned grammar. Speaking is the first step for any English learner. So if you are a novice at English, please focus on your speaking and listening skills prior to studying grammar. After being able to speak English fluently, you will realize how much easier grammar is. But it does not work the other way around. Being fluent in English speaking will help you with your grammar studies, but studying grammar will NOT help you with your speaking.
In this article, the four most basic grammar topics are explained, which consists of 1) subject, 2) predicate, 3) verb, and 4) article. This is the absolute minimum you should know. After you become comfortable with speaking, then you can study more advanced grammar topics. For now, please review and study the four items described below.
What is a subject?
The subject in a sentence is “who” or “what” you are talking about. Every sentence needs a subject. If you don’t have a subject, then the sentence is incorrect and nobody will understand what you are talking about.
In other languages, the subject is not always required. Verbally, the person listening to you will understand what you are talking about, so a subject is not required. In English, a subject is always required.
Here are examples of small sentences with the subject underlined.
“I am hungry”
“My brother is very smart”
“That computer is very expensive”
“We are going to the store now”
“My sister and I will be waiting here”
“The building is very big”
“When are you going to eat lunch?”
“Why are they waiting in line?”
“Who is going to take you to the store?”
What is a predicate?
The predicate in a sentence is the section that informs the person what the subject is or what it is doing. It is a phrase that contains a verb. The verb is always in the predicate.
Let’s look at the sentences we used in the subject lesson to identify the predicates. They will be underlined.
“I am hungry“
“My brother is very smart“
“That computer is very expensive“
“We are going to the store now“
“The building is very big“
In the above short sentences, we have identified the subject and predicate. In the most basic sentences, you need a subject and an action associated with the subject. Let’s go on to verbs to understand this in more detail.
What is a verb?
A verb is an action, existence, or occurrence. In the simple sentences we used so far, the verb is mostly in the existence form. They are “am”, “is”, and “are”.
Other types of verbs are action verbs such as:
There are many action verbs, but I only listed a few to let you know what I am referring to. Here are some sentences to help you understand.
“I need to wash my face”
“Jane taught Jill”
“Mike is laughing“
A verb can also start at the beginning of the sentence.
“Throw the ball at the catcher”
“Run towards the finish line”
It is important to understand the verb, but having just a subject and a verb is not sufficient. For example, “Jill run” is not a complete sentence. Although Jill can be the subject, and “run” is the verb, this is not a complete sentence. That is why the previous lesson on predicate is important. With the predicate, we can turn the sentence into a proper sentence. “Jill is running”
What is an Article?
Articles seem so easy, but it is extremely difficult to teach.
“A”, “An”, and “The” are all articles. It is easy to explain the difference between them, but it is difficult to explain when they are used.
“A” and “An” have the same meaning. They are both indefinite articles. They are only different depending on what word or sound is following. Here is a brief explanation.
You should use “A” when the following word starts with a consonant.
You should use “An” when the following starts with a vowel sound.
“An awesome book…”
“The” is a definite article. The difference is if the noun or subject you are talking about is specific or not. Examples are the best way to understand the difference, so let’s take a look.
If you say, “I am going to a library to study”, then the person you are speaking with does not know which library. If you say, “I am going to the library to study”, then the person you are speaking with knows the specific library you are going to.
“I am going to a coffee shop” (No specific coffee shop)
“I am going to the coffee shop” (A specific coffee shop both the speaker and listener knows)
Here is a slightly different example, but still using the same concept of specific or general.
“I am going to sit in front of one of the computers in the lab”
“I am going to buy a computer”
Although the computer in the lab can be one of many computers, the correct article is “the” because it is still a specific computer that exists in the lab. However, if you say you are going to buy a computer, you cannot use “the” unless you already have the computer specified. Buying a computer can be any brand, type, or size so it is very general. Therefore, you must use “A” in this type of sentence.
Here is another type of example:
“The heat wave is unbearable”
“I heard a heat wave is coming”
The difference between these two sentences is that the “heat wave” is specified in the first sentence, and not specified in the second sentence. In the first sentence, the heat wave is already present and both the speaker and listener knows that the heat wave they are talking about is the one they are currently experiencing. The second sentence is referring to a future heat wave that is not specific.
When and When NOT to use an article
One common rule to keep in mind is that articles are not used when referring to a name.
“Turn right at the burger store”
“Turn right at McDonalds”
“The boy was running very fast”
“Mike was running very fast”
Another example of when not to use an article is when referring to general things in conversation.
“Too much alcohol is bad for you”
“Cigarettes can cause lung cancer”
When you are referring to sports, you do not need an article.
“I love playing badminton”
“Football is a dangerous sport”
In most cases, you don’t need an article when referring to a country except when the name is referring to multiple countries or regions. For example, if you say England or Scotland, you don’t need an article, but if you are referring to The United Kingdom, then you do need an article.