Overall English Grammar Review for Non-Native Researchers
This English grammar review is tailored for non-native speakers of English who are also academic researchers. If you feel you need to brush up on the basics of English grammar, this is the perfect guide for you. Remember, academic research writing involves expressing your research work on paper. So in order to express your research work as clearly and concisely as possible, it is crucial to keep in mind the basic rules of English grammar.
Oh yes, and you would probably want to have pizza 🍕 by the end of this guide. You will find out why later =)
Grammar is a branch of linguistics that deals with the syntax, semantics, morphology and phonology of a language (e.g. English). It also deals with the way that meanings are encoded into English words. Syntax is the set of rules that define how words and phrases are structured and organized. Semantics is concerned with the logic and meaning underlying words. Morphology is the study of the internal structure of words. Finally, phonology investigates the speech sounds that make up the core components of a language. This guide focuses on the syntactic structure of the English language, which is the most helpful aspect of English grammar for academic research writing.
Taking a look at it from the entire piece of text (i.e. article), this can be broken down or disassembled into paragraphs (parts of an article that coherently discuss a single topic), sentences (sets of words that typically end with a period and convey a statement), clauses (smaller parts of a sentence), and finally, words, or the smallest textual units that convey meaning. A vocabulary refers to the pool of words that make up a particular language (e.g. English).
A sentence must contain at least a subject and a predicate (verb), but can also contain an object. A subject refers to the who or what of the sentence, the predicate refers to the verb, and the object refers to a noun that acts as part of the action of the subject within the sentence. For example, in I ate pizza, I is the subject, ate is the predicate, and pizza is the object. There are four main types of sentences.
- Simple sentences contain only one independent clause. For example: I love pizza.
- Compound sentences contain two independent clauses. For example: I love pizza, but I am slowly and surely gaining weight.
- Complex sentences contain an independent clause and at least one dependent clause. For example: If I continue to eat too much pizza, I will become obese very soon.
- Compound-complex sentences contain at least two independent clauses and at least on dependent clause. For example: I cut down on eating pizza after I visited the doctor, and he recommended that I stick to a healthier diet.
Sentences can also be divided into four main types:
- Declarative sentences, which are used to express a statement. For example: The pizza was delicious.
- Imperative sentences, which are used to give an instruction or command. For example: Eat more pizza.
- Interrogative sentences, which are used to ask a question. For example, Would you like a second pizza?
- Exclamatory sentences, which are used to emphasize or express a strong emotion. For example, I loved the new pizza topping!
A clause is a part of a sentence that must contain a subject and a predicate (verb). There are two main types of clauses:
An independent clause functions like a complete sentence, and expresses a complete thought on its own. For example: I ate pizza.
A dependent clause is composed of a group of words but does not express a complete thought, hence, cannot act as a sentence on its own. It is dependent on another clause, and usually contains a dependent marker words such as although, after, because, before, even though, until, when, etc. For example: When I eat pizza. This clearly depends on another independent clause, like so: When I eat pizza, I feel happy.
A phrases is generally a set of words with no subject-verb, considered a single unit in a sentence. For example, the angry man is a noun phrase, and was upset when the pizza shop closed is a verb phrase.
Lexical Word Classes (Parts of Speech)
There are nine word classes, also referred to as syntactic or lexical categories, or parts of speech, in English. The four primary classes are nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs, which make up the majority of words. These are called open classes, since newly coined words in English are continuously added to them. The remaining five are determiners, pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions and interjections, which are closed classes, since they are not updated.
In its simplest form, a noun is a person, place, thing or idea. A noun is one of the primary elements of a sentence, and often acts as the subject or object in a sentence. There are several different kinds of nouns, which are defined hereafter.
Proper nouns are used to represent a unique person, place or thing. These are capitalized. Some examples are Adam, New York and Springer.
Common nouns are used to represent a general person, place, or thing. These are not capitalized. Some examples are boy, city and book.
Concrete nouns are used to represent things that can be physically sensed using the five senses. Some examples are table, pencil and ball.
Abstract nouns are used to represent things that cannot be physically sensed using the five senses. Some examples are bravery, love and youth.
Countable nouns can be counted, and come in singular and plural form. A singular noun represents one single entity, such as book, table and pencil. A plural noun represents multiple entities, such as books, tables and pencils.
Uncountable nouns cannot be counted, and they do not have a plural form. Some examples are fish, air, and oxygen.
Collective nouns are used to represent a group of things, such as herd, flock and committee.
Verbal nouns, or gerunds, are a special case of appending -ing to the end of verb, so that it acts as a noun. For example: Eating is a great hobby. In this example, eating is considered a hobby, hence, a noun (not a verb).
Plural forms of nouns can be divided into regular plural and irregular plural.
The three rules for regular plural nouns are:
- Add an s to the noun (book and books)
- For nouns that end with x, s, sh or ch, add an -es (bus and buses)
- For nouns that end with y, replace the y with an i and add -es (economy and economies)
The eight rules for irregular plural nouns are:
- For nouns that end with o, add an –es (tomato and tomatoes)
- For nouns that end with -is, replace it with -es (thesis and theses)
- For nouns that end with f, replace it with v and add -es (self and selves)
- For nouns that end with -fe, replace f with with v and add s (knife and knives)
- For nouns that end with -us, replace it with i (cactus and cacti)
- For nouns that comprise -oo, replace it with -ee (foot and feet)
- For nouns that end with -on, replace it with a (phenomenon and phenomena)
- Some nouns remain as-is (offspring, series)
A verb is an action word. There are three types of verbs in English:
Transitive verbs are transferred to the receiver, or the object. For example, I ordered pizza. In this example, the verb ordered is transferred to the object pizza.
Intransitive verbs are not transferred to the receiver. For example I eat every day.
Incomplete verbs represent copulating verbs (be, become, seem), auxiliary verbs (be, have, will, shall, do, may), and semi-auxiliary verbs (can, ought, dare, need, must).
Active voice is when the subject performs the action in a sentence. For example: We went to the new pizza shop.
Passive voice is when the subject received the action in a sentence. For example: The entire extra large pizza was consumed by Steve.
There are three main types of verb tenses, which are past, present and future. Each of these contains a set of different variations.
1. Past tense
Simple Past tense, which is used to refer to something that has already happened. For example: I went to the pizza shop.
Past perfect, also referred to as the pluperfect, discusses something that was completed before a certain point in the past. For example: I was shocked to realize that I had eaten 17 extra large pizzas last month.
Past continuous, also referred to as the past progressive, discusses something continuous that has already happened in the past. For example, I was eating pizza three times a day last month.
Past perfect continuous, also referred to as the past perfect progressive, discusses an action that started at one point in the past, and continued until another (later) point in time. For example, I had been enjoying a large pizza when I finally realized I needed help.
2. Present Tense
Simple Present tense, which is used to refer to something that is happening right now. For example: I feel happy.
Present perfect, which is used to refer to something that has happened at an indefinite time in the past (We have met before.), or started in the past and continues in the present (I have eaten pizza here.).
Present continuous, which is used to refer to something that is happening now, and may possibly continue in the future. For example: I am eating at my favorite pizza shop today.
Present perfect continuous, which is used to refer to something that started in the past, and is continuing. For example: I have been eating at the pizza shop across the street on a daily basis.
3. Future Tense
Simple Future tense, which is used to refer to something that has not happened yet, but will happen in the future. For example: I will go to the pizza shop after my weight loss seminar.
Future perfect, which is used to refer to something that will be completed before another certain point in the future. For example: I will have gained five pounds by the time this pizza party ends.
Future continuous, which is used to refer to something that will happen in the future and will continue for a known duration. For example: I will be eating at the new pizza shop when it opens tomorrow.
Future perfect continuous, which is used to refer to something that will continue to happen until a certain point in the future. For example: By December, I will have been eating at the pizza shop on a daily basis.
An adjective is used to describe a noun. For example, large pizza. Adjectives come in three forms.
Absolute adjectives describe a particular entity in its own right. For example: tasty pizza.
Comparative adjectives make a comparison between multiple entities. For example: tastier pizza.
Superlative adjectives show that an entity has the highest degree of a certain quality. For example, tastiest pizza.
Coordinate adjectives can be used sequentially do modify the same noun. For example, in the tasty, large pizza, the adjectives tasty and large are coordinate adjectives and refer to the noun pizza.
Academic writing is concise and to-the-point, unlike informal writing, which tends to use much more adjectives. The key is to use adjectives sparingly, only when needed. For example, why not say mansion instead of large house? Why say dark night instead of simply… night? They certainly do, however, have their place. For example, secondary data is more precise than data alone; and significant difference is more precise than difference alone. Adjectives are only effective when used to specify additional information on the following noun. But keep in mind that every word counts in academic writing, so if it is not needed or does not offer useful information to the reader, delete it.
An adverb is used to modify a verb, adjective or another adverb. Generally, it is used to modify all other word classes except a noun or pronoun. An example of an adverb modifying an adjective is: This pizza is very large. An example of an adverb modifying a verb is: I quickly ate the pizza. An example of an adverb modifying another adverb: I was eating too quickly.
A pronoun is a word that is used to replace a noun in a sentence. The purpose is to make the original noun less repetitive. For example, Adam went to the beach because Adam loves swimming sounds redundant and repetitive. A better way to write the sentence is by simply replacing the second instance of the noun with a pronoun. Adam went to the beach because he loves swimming. The different types of pronouns are:
Subjective personal pronouns, which act as the subject in a sentence. These are I, he, she, you, they, we and it. For example, I ate pizza.
Objective personal pronouns, which act as the object in a sentence. These are me, him, her, you, them, us and it.
For example, The whole pizza was eaten by me.
Possessive personal pronouns show possession, and are placed after the object in a sentence. For example, This pizza is mine.
Reflexive personal pronouns are used when the subject is also the object in a sentence. For example, I ate the pizza by myself.
Interrogative pronouns are used to ask a question. These are what, who, whom, whosevà which. For example, Who ate the whole pizza?
Demonstrative pronouns are used to differentiate between a noun and other entities in the sentence. These are this, these, those and that. For example, This is my favorite pizza.
Indefinite pronouns do not represent a specific person, place or thing. These are everyone, anyone, someone, etc. For example, Everyone loved the pizza.
A determiner goes at the beginning of a noun phrase. There are three main types of determiners:
Articles are the most common, and include a, an and the.
Demonstrative determiners include this, that, these and those.
Possessive determiners include my, your, his, her, our, its and their.
A preposition is used before a noun, pronoun or noun phrase to indicate direction, place, time, location or spatial relationships. Some common determiners are like, in, at, on, of, to, since and under.
Example of preposition of direction: The pizza shop to the left has just opened.
Example of preposition of time: I have been eating here since last year.
Example of preposition of location: I was at the pizza shop for two hours.
Example of preposition of place: I put the leftover pizza in the fridge.
A conjunction is used to join clauses, phrases or words together. There are two main kinds of conjunctions:
Coordinating conjunctions join clauses of equal grammatical significance (and, but, either-or, neither-nor). For example: I love pizza but she loves burgers.
Subordinating conjunctions join dependent and independent clauses together (because, since, while, although, whereas). For example: Since you can’t join me, I will go visit the pizza shop alone.
An interjection is an utterance that is used to express a strong emotion, feeling or reaction. Some examples are wow, ouchvà aww, cool.
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