Linguapress English Grammar
Advanced level reading resources Intermediate reading resources English grammar online Language games and puzzles
Linguapress English Grammar

A very short English grammar

Essential English grammar in a nutshell 

This page covers all the essentials of English grammar on a single page, explaining them briefly and clearly and illustrating them with very carefully chosen examples. The aim of this very short grammar of English is to be short but not inadequate, simple but not simplistic, clear but not superficial.

Surprising, maybe, but true!  English is actually a fairly simple language.

   Of course, beyond the essential basics there are all sorts of special cases that can that make English grammar seem very complex. Many grammar books, specially the big ones, concentrate more on the exceptions than on the rules of English grammar, and nothing will seem simple if you prioritize the difficulties rather than the basic framework. English grammar is no exception to this.

searchSearch Linguapress  using - the green search engine
   But the essential rules, those that govern most everyday writing and speech in English, are not very complicated. If we focus on the fundamentals, on the basic framework of English grammar  it will become clear that they are quite simple and not too hard to understand.

  That is the purpose of this very short grammar of English. Everything on this page is correct, but by definition, little is complete. To further explore any point of grammar just follow the links or consult the critically acclaimed Linguapress Descriptive grammar of English  (ebook or paperback).

Grammar means words

Languages are made up of words, so the key to understanding grammar is to understand the nature and functions of different word categories. We begin therefore by exploring the different word categories in English grammar; after that this page then looks in a little more detail at each category, before finishing with a short section about the other main points of English grammar.

1. Types of word

Like many other languages, English uses eight main types of word. They are, in order of importance

  1. Verbs.  These are words that are express an action, a state or a relation. Examples  to shut, to be, to like.
    In order to have meaning, a statement or question must contain a verb.
  2. Nouns.  Nouns are words that refer to people, things and concepts.  Examples: woman, aeroplane, idea, oxygen
  3. Pronouns. Pronouns are short words that can replace nouns to avoid repetition. Examples: we, him, they, theirs, who ...
    Every statement or question must contain a noun or a pronoun; commands do not need to include a noun or pronoun.
  4. Connectors.  Connectors, also called conjunctions, are words that  show the relation between two sentences, two clauses, or two similar items in a sentence.  Examples:  and, but, however, if.
  5. Adverbs. Adverbs usually express time, place or manner.  They can be single words, such as yesterday, here, up or easily, or adverb phrases such as in the past, with my brother,  without thinking. They can also be added to verbs, in order to give them specific meaning, for example  to look up, to make up, to go back.
  6. Adjectives.  Adjectives are words that describe nouns. Many adjectives are root words, such as blue, big, clever; other adjectives are derived from nouns or verbs, for example  beautiful (from beauty),  amazing (from amaze) or  careless (from care). Adjectives can be used before nouns, as in a big house, or after the verb to be, as in That's wonderful.
  7. Prepositions.  Prepositions are short words that express time, place or relation.  For example at, in, beside or to They are used in front or nouns to form adverb phrases, or else in or after verbs in order to indicate a specific meaning, as in come in, turn on, look at, depend on. 
  8. Determiners.  These are words that precede or determine nouns. They include articles, numbers, demonstratives and possessive adjectives. Examples: the, three, these and their.

2. Verbs

My friend Tom drives an old Mini.  
     This sentence is in the active voice. Drives is here a transitive verb  in the present simple tense.

That old Mini was being driven by my friend Tom.

      This sentence is in the passive voice. Was being driven is a transitive verb used in the past progressive tense.

The concert will start in half an hour.

     Will start is an intransitive verb used actively in a future simple tense or form.

The concert is starting in half an hour.

     Is starting is an intransitive verb used actively in the present progressive form implying future time.

I could never understood this before.

     Could never understand uses the modal helper verb can in its simple past form could.
Get out !
      Get is used in the imperative mood. No subject pronoun is needed.
For more, go to verbs

3. Nouns & pronouns

I have two ideas in my head.  
     I is  a personal pronoun, ideas is a plural abstract count noun, head is a singular concrete count noun.

They gave her two tickets to San Francisco.

     They is a plural personal pronoun, her is a singular feminine personal pronoun, tickets is a plural concrete count noun, and San Francisco, with its capital letters, is a singular proper noun.

I like whisky, but not the whisky in that bottle.

      I is  a personal pronoun, the first whisky is used as a non-count noun, a generalisation with no article; the second whisky is used as a count noun, and therefore preceded by an article.  Bottle is a singular concrete count noun.

Chemistry is an exact science.

     Chemistry is a generic abstraction, therefore a non-count noun with no article;  science is used as a count noun, and is therefore preceded by a determiner, in this case an.

There are no children in the school.

      There is an expletive pronoun which introduces the sentence; children is a plural count noun, school is a singular count noun.
For more, go to nouns

4. Connectors

I like coffee but I don't like tea..  
     But is a contrasting coordinator that links two clauses, I like coffee  /   I don't like tea.

We can't play cricket if it rains   /   If it rains, we can't play cricket

      If is a subordinating coordinator. "We can't play cricket" is subordinated to the condition "if it rains". Subordinate clauses with if can come before or after the main clause.

It's raining, therefore we can't play cricket.

      The subordinated clause we can't play cricket starting with therefore has to follow the main clause It's raining..

You can give it to either Hamid or Noura.

       The correlating coordinators here link two proper nouns.
► For more on this see conjunctions

5. Adverbs and prepositions


I can easily put all the bags in my car on Monday.  

     Easily is a simple adverb, in my car is a simple adverb phrase, and so is on Monday.
      In and on are short prepositions that define the meaning of the adverb phrases.

I took off my coat and hung it on the back of the door.

      Off is part of the phrasal verb take off, and on is a preposition introducing an adverbial phrase of place.
► For more on this see adverbs

5. Adjectives and determiners


His three adorable cats are always very friendly.  

     His is a possessive adjective, three is a numeral determining adjective, adorable is a descriptive adjective used attributively.  Friendly is a descriptive adjective used predicatively and graded by very .  Though they refer to a plural noun cats, no s is added to any adjective.

Which lady has lost this rather beautiful coloured scarf ?

     Which is an interrogative adjective, this is a demonstrative adjective,  beautiful is an attributive descriptive adjective graded by rather, coloured is another attributive descriptive adjective.
► For more on this see adjectives

6. Other essential points of English grammar

Almost all the words in normal English fit into one of the categories described above. A few, such as interjections (for example Oh!) do not.

There are two other essential aspects of English grammar that need to be learned and respected. The first is word order, the second is punctuation.


Perhaps the man has already written a letter to his son.

Perhaps is a sentence adverb which refers to the whole sentence

the man is the subject.

has written is the verb

already is a short adverb that is able to come between the auxiliary has and the participle written.

a letter is the direct object

to his son is the indirect object

For more on this see word order and punctuation.

For a lot more detail clearly explained, with plenty of examples, consult A descriptive Grammar of English - ebook or paperback.

Continue :  Return to top of page.    Go to grammar subject index

Copyright   : Website and texts © 2022 except where otherwise indicated


Here is a sample of texts in graded English to read on
Advanced level English (B2 - C1)
Nevada and its Extraterrestrials
Who killed Martin Luther King ? with audio
Wall Street culture
The story of the Blues with audio
California: awaiting the "Big One" 
America's Amish - model society ?
Henry Ford, the man who changed America with audio
Just who are the English ?
Agatha Christie - world best seller
Tea and the British with audio
Short story : For Elise with audio
Intermediate level English (B1 - B2)
Alcohol, prohibition and Al Capone
George Washington, America's first president with audio
No more Fish 'n' chips ?  Britain's fast food.
Big red London buses  with audio
Robin Hood - fact or fiction?
Moving to the country  with audio
Short story: Driftwood   with audio
New life for Big Ben

Discover Britain - institutions, tourism, life

CopyrightCopyright information.
Copyright by  -  Free to view, free to share,  free to use in class, free to print, but not free to copy..
If you like this page and want to share it with others,  just share a link, don't copy.

Linguapress respects your privacy and does not collect data from users. Cookies are used solely to log anonymous audience statistics and enable essential page functions. To remove this message, click   or otherwise learn more about setting cookie preferences