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20 Grammar Rules

Here are 20 simple rules and tips to help you avoid mistakes in English grammar. For more comprehensive rules please look under the appropriate topic (part of speech etc) on our grammar page.

A sentence starts with a capital letter and ends with a period/full stop, a question mark or an exclamation mark.

The order of a basic positive sentence is Subject-Verb-Object. (Negative and question sentences may have a different order.)

Every sentence must have a subject and a verb. An object is optional. Note that an imperative sentence may have a verb only, but the subject is understood.

The subject and verb must agree in number, that is a singular subject needs a singular verb and a plural subject needs a plural verb.

When two singular subjects are connected by or, use a singular verb. The same is true for either/or and neither/nor.

Adjectives usually come before a noun (except when a verb separates the adjective from the noun).

When using two or more adjectives together, the usual order is opinion-adjective + fact-adjective + noun. (There are some additional rules for the order of fact adjectives.)

Treat collective nouns (eg committee, company, board of directors) as singular OR plural. In BrE a collective noun is usually treated as plural, needing a plural verb and pronoun. In AmE a collective noun is often treated as singular, needing a singular verb and pronoun.

The words its and it's are two different words with different meanings.

The words your and you're are two different words with different meanings.

The words there, their and they're are three different words with different meanings.

The contraction he's can mean he is OR he has. Similarly, she's can mean she is OR she has, and it's can mean it is OR it has, and John's can mean John is OR John has.

The contraction he'd can mean he had OR he would. Similarly, they'd can mean they had OR they would.

Spell a proper noun with an initial capital letter. A proper noun is a "name" of something, for example Josef, Mary, Russia, China, British Broadcasting Corporation, English.

Spell proper adjectives with an initial capital letter. Proper adjectives are made from proper nouns, for example Germany → German, Orwell → Orwellian, Machiavelli → Machiavellian.

Use the indefinite article a/an for countable nouns in general. Use the definite article the for specific countable nouns and all uncountable nouns.

Use the indefinite article a with words beginning with a consonant sound. Use the indefinite article an with words beginning with a vowel sound.

Use many or few with countable nouns. Use much/a lot or little for uncountable nouns.

To show possession (who is the owner of something) use an apostrophe + s for singular owners, and s + apostrophe for plural owners.

In general, use the active voice (Cats eat fish) in preference to the passive voice (Fish are eaten by cats).

Grammar Rules Quiz 1