Have you ever wondered which grammar topics are the most important to learn? Which ones are the most important to get right if you want people to understand you? That’s what I’m going to explore in today’s blog post.
First, look at these INCORRECT sentences. Can you correct the mistakes? Which ones are the most difficult to understand?
1. This is difficult to understand and difficult to correct! I guess it could mean “I went to London yesterday” or maybe “I’m going to London tomorrow.”
2. Does this mean “Sally loves Peter” or “Peter loves Sally”? Again, the meaning is not clear and we might not know what the speaker meant.
3. This should be “I’m having a party ON Saturday” but the incorrect preposition wasn’t a big problem. You still understood the meaning, right?
4. “London is THE capital OF England.” Again, the meaning is obvious, even with missing words.
I hope this exercise will show you that some grammar errors cause more confusion to the listener than others. The mistakes in sentences 1 and 2 will cause communication difficulties. If you say sentences 3 and 4, the listener will probably realise that you are not a native speaker but you will still be able to communicate.
What grammar you should focus on depends a little on your current level but here are some suggestions.
The most important
Parts of speech
This means learning about nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs and so on. First you need to understand what a noun is and a verb and so on.
Noun = a thing, person or place, e.g. table, apple, cat, music, teacher, London.
Verb = describes and action or situation, e.g. write, sing, learn, feel, have
Adjective = gives more information about a noun, e.g. red, small, beautiful
Adverb = gives more information about where, when and how, e.g. outside, yesterday, slowly.
Pronoun = a word which replaces a noun, e.g. she, us, mine, this
Preposition = a word that goes before a noun to show place, time, direction and so on, e.g. in, on, about, towards
Conjunction = a linking word, e.g. and, because, but, so
Then you need to know, for example, that “success” is a noun, “succeed” is a verb, “successful” is an adjective and so on. It’s so much easier to make a correct sentence when you know this.
Can you find and correct the mistakes in these sentences?
1. They have a teenager daughter.
2. She tried hard but didn’t success.
3. It was a difficult choose.
4. He drives slow.
5. She’s in the advance English class.
Here are the answers:
1. They have a teenage daughter. (We need an adjective, not the noun)
2. She tried hard but didn’t succeed. (We need the verb here, not the noun)
3. It was a difficult choice. (We need the noun here, not the verb.)
4. He drives slowly. (The adverb is more correct than the adjective although some people might actually use the adjective.)
5. She’s in the advanced English class. (We need an adjective her, not a verb.)
Sentence structure and word order
The most basic sentence in English has a subject and a verb.
The children are playing.
Subject = the children, verb = are playing
The verb is the action and the subject is who or what does the action.
The subject comes first and the verb second.
Then we might add an object.
The children are playing football.
Object = football
The object comes after the verb.
Now we have subject - verb - object and this is the basic sentence structure of English.
We can also add adverbs at various places in the sentence.
At the moment, the children are playing football outside.
Adverbs = at the moment and outside
We can make longer sentences by joining two ideas together with a conjunction.
The children are playing football outside and their father is watching them.
I believe the next most important thing to learn is verb tenses, such as present perfect, past continuous and so on. As I showed you at the beginning, using the wrong tense, especially confusing present, past and future, can lead to a misunderstanding.
I don’t mean that you need to learn all the names in English. I just mean that it’s good to know the difference between “eats”, “ate”, “is eating”, “has eaten” and so on. Try to pay attention to this the next time you try to have a conversation in English.
I have written a whole series of posts about verb tenses which you can read if you click here.
Other areas of grammar you will want to learn eventually include prepositions, a and the, irregular verbs, irregular plurals and so on. They are still important if you want to speak well but less likely to cause miscommunication if you make a mistake.
Then there are other topics like passives, conditionals and reported speech, which you will learn at intermediate level and upwards. These things will help you to sound more like a native speaker but they are perhaps less common in everyday conversation and there is often an easier way to make a sentence if you don’t know them.
Some grammar rules are arguably more important than others. For example, if someone says “I will go London yesterday” the listener quite possibly won’t understand if he is talking about the past or the future. There is a breakdown in communication. Some people say that grammar isn’t important at all, which I personally think is untrue. I wrote a post about that a while ago, which you can read here.
A few mistakes like forgetting “the” or “of” won’t cause a serious problem for the listener. In fact, you shouldn’t be afraid of making mistakes because you will still be able to communicate your meaning, and the more you practise, the better you will become!
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