Grammar refers to the way words are used, classified, and structured together to form coherent written or spoken communication.
This guide takes a traditional approach to teaching English grammar, breaking the topic into three fundamental elements: Parts of Speech, Inflection, and Syntax. Each of these is a discrete, individual part, but they are all intrinsically linked together in meaning.
In the first part of the guide, we will look at the basic components of English—words. The parts of speech are the categories to which different words are assigned, based on their meaning, structure, and function in a sentence.
We’ll look in great detail at the seven main parts of speech—nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, and conjunctions—as well as other categories of words that don’t easily fit in with the rest, such as particles, determiners, and gerunds.
By understanding the parts of speech, we can better understand how (and why) we structure words together to form sentences.
Although the parts of speech provide the building blocks for English, another very important element is inflection, the process by which words are changed in form to create new, specific meanings.
There are two main categories of inflection: conjugation and declension. Conjugation refers to the inflection of verbs, while declension refers to the inflection of nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and adverbs. Whenever we change a verb from the present tense to the past tense, for example, we are using conjugation. Likewise, when we make a noun plural to show that there is more than one of it, we are using declension.
The third and final part of the guide will focus on syntax, the rules and patterns that govern how we structure sentences. The grammatical structures that constitute syntax can be thought of as a hierarchy, with sentences at the top as the largest cohesive unit in the language and words (the parts of speech) at the bottom.
We’ll begin the third part by looking at the basic structural units present in all sentences—subjects and predicates—and progressively move on to larger classes of structures, discussing modifiers, phrases, and clauses. Finally, we will end by looking at the different structures and categories of sentences themselves.
Using the three parts together
The best way to approach this guide is to think of it as a cross-reference of itself; when you see a term or concept in one section that you’re unfamiliar with, check the other sections to find a more thorough explanation. Neither parts of speech nor inflection nor syntax exist as truly separate units; it’s equally important to examine and learn about the different kinds of words, how they can change to create new meaning, and the guidelines by which they are structured into sentences.
When we learn to use all three parts together, we gain a much fuller understanding of how to make our speech and writing not only proper, but natural and effective.