Grammar: An Introduction

See also: Spelling

A sentence is a self-contained unit of meaning.

Writing is constructed by putting sentences in sequence, one after another and, if a single sentence is read aloud, it should be understandable. 

Meaning should flow from one sentence to the next, carrying the argument or point of view forward in a clear and concise manner. If you do not use correct grammar and punctuation, or your sentences are too long and complex, what you are trying to say will become unclear and the reader will be unable to follow the text because the flow of meaning is interrupted.

If writing is a relatively new experience, or it is some time since you last wrote anything, write in fairly short, simple sentences.  Aim to make one point in each sentence or paragraph if the point is more complex.  If a sentence delivers two points, consider splitting it into two sentences.

Inconsistencies of grammar and mistakes in grammar blur the meaning of written work and cause confusion in the mind of the reader.  They slow the reader down and distract him or her from the meaning of the sentences and the key messages contained.

Sentence Construction

A sentence is a collection of words that convey sense or meaning and is formed according to the logic of grammar.  Clear, short sentences are preferable, and more effective, than long, complex ones.

The simplest sentence consists only of a noun, a naming word, and a verb or action word.  For example, in the sentence “Mary walked”, Mary is the naming noun and walked is the action verb.

Quick activity:

Write two examples of nouns and verbs, and then combine them to form sentences.

Mary is the proper noun in the example sentence above but can be substituted in following sentences by the pronoun she.  A pronoun is a word that can be used instead of a noun when a noun has already been mentioned.  Other pronouns are he, we, they and it.

Quick activity:

Write a sentence using a proper noun.  Then write another using a pronoun.

Most sentences have a subject noun and an object noun.  For example, consider the sentence “Mary walked towards the hotel”.  Mary is the subject noun (a person or thing performing the action of walking), and the hotel is the object noun (a person or thing towards which the action is directed).

Quick activity:

Write two sentences using a subject noun and an object noun.

Adjectives describe nouns. Adjectives usually come before the noun.

They are sometimes known as 'describing words'.  When two adjectives are used to describe one noun, they are set apart with the use of a comma. 

For example:

The lazy dog dozed.


The hairy, lazy dog dozed.

Adverbs describe verbs.  The adverb should always follow the verb.

For example:

Mary walked slowly. or Peter ran away quickly.

Activity: Write a few sentences using adjectives and adverbs.


Verbs, or action words, are expressed in tenses; past, present or future.  The tense of a verb is its setting in time. 

For example:

Mary walked (past tense)

Mary walks (present tense)

Mary will walk (future tense)

There are also other, more complex tenses not covered here.  An important point is to be consistent in your use of tense.  Decide whether you are explaining an event in the past, present or future and then be consistent in the use of that tense until there is a good reason for changing.

The incorrect use of tenses is one of the most common mistakes of grammar.  For example, consider the following sentence:

“Marianne describes the new techniques, how they varied in approach and attitude”.

The verb describes is in the present tense but varied is in the past tense.  The correct tensing of the sentence should be:

“Marianne describes the new techniques, how they vary in approach and attitude”

Quick activity:

Try spotting the mistakes of verb tense in the following sentence:

A sentence is a collection of words which conveys sense or meaning and are formed according to the logic of grammar.

The correct sentence should be:

A sentence is a collection of words that convey sense or meaning and is formed according to the logic of grammar.