How to Learn English Grammar
Seven top tips to help you learn English grammar.
Grammar can be difficult to learn. But with these top tips, you'll definitely improve your English grammar. Give them a try!
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Seven top tips to help you learn English grammar.
The first thing to do is to put grammar into perspective. Grammar alone isn’t going to help you learn a language. In order for language development to take place, you need to read and listen a lot. Think about children – they never sit down to learn grammar. They’re exposed to lots of language and then pick it up naturally. You can do the same if you listen and read enough! In fact, the more you read and listen, the more language you’ll absorb, and the more you’ll see how the language fits together (which is what grammar is all about).
You also need to remember that grammar is largely psychological. This means that the choice of tense often depends on what you (the speaker) want to say in a particular situation at a particular time – the choice of tense is not determined by some external “rule”. So, the selection of either will or be + going to, or must or have to, or the Present Perfect or Past Simple, and all those other grammar structures that are often compared, will depend mostly on what you want to say.
You also need to bear in mind that English is a dynamic language that’s constantly evolving. There’s no linguistic organisation regulating it (as there is for French or Spanish). So, the concept of “right” and “wrong” doesn’t really exist – it’s more a question of what is (or is not) standard English. But as there’s no universal concept of standard English, and there are hundreds of varieties of the language (Australian English, British English, American English, Jamaican English, South African English... and so on), and all of them are equally valid, it all gets a bit complicated. In many cases it isn’t a question of what's “right” or “wrong”, but what's accepted (or not) as standard in a particular part of the world. For example, in some places, it’s acceptable to say, “He don’t like it!” [sic]
4. It’s easy!
English grammar isn’t really that complicated. And there are a limited number of tenses that you need to learn (please refer to our “English Grammar Tenses” box). The rest of “English” consists of thousands of important words and expressions (each with their own “grammar”). If grammar is starting to sound overly complex or hard to grasp, you’re probably going into too much detail. Learning how and when to use the tenses is a lot more difficult, and this is where your teacher or a good grammar book can help. There are often useful guidelines (albeit with a lot of exceptions) that can help you understand when the tenses are used. But real learning will take place from repeated exposure to the language through reading and listening, and seeing the structures in action for yourself.
5. Verb tables
So, what can you do to “learn” English grammar? One thing is to memorise key verb tables. This can be done through the “look, cover, write, check” formula. Simply choose a verb table (the Past Simple, for example), look at it for a few minutes, then cover it and try to write it out again. Finally, compare your version with the original... then do it again until you can recreate the table perfectly. Then, choose another tense to work on. It shouldn’t take long as there really aren’t that many key grammar tenses to learn.
6. Memory & repetition
You also need to memorise key grammatical sentences. Listen and repeat these back to yourself until you’ve learnt them by heart and you can say them fluently. The sentences may be out of context, and they may not be entirely natural, but that doesn’t matter because the purpose is to internalise the basic structure, which you can then use in the future to generate other sentences with the same structure. For example, if you learn this sentence, “Keira lives in America", you can then use it to generate hundreds of other sentences, just by replacing the subject (“Keira”), the verb (“lives”) and the complement (“in America”).
a) Mike studies in Brighton.
b) Sara works in accounts.
Another thing you need to do is to build up your agility with the verb tenses. Do grammar drills on your own, with a friend or with your teacher to develop fluency. For example, say a sentence in a particular tense, then create the negative or question forms that correspond to it: “She went to the shops. / She didn’t go to the shops. / Did she go to the shops?” Keep doing this until you can do it automatically and without thinking. Then, when you’re in a conversation, you’ll find the tenses (and affirmative, negative or interrogative forms) come to you much more easily.
To summarise: read and listen a lot, learn the verb tables, memorise key grammatical sentences, practise forming negatives and question forms and, above all, remember that language is all about communication – it isn’t a set of rules!
English Grammar Tenses
Here are the key grammar tenses that you need to learn.
The verb to be, the Present Simple, the Present Continuous, the Past Simple, the Present Perfect, Future forms (will, be + going to, the Future Continuous, the Future Perfect), Modal verbs, the Past Continuous, Passive forms, the Past Perfect and Conditionals (zero, I, II, III).
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