English is one of the most commonly-spoken languages: of the 7.5 billion people in the world, 1.5 billion people speak it proficiently. It is also the most studied language in the world. Of those 1.5 billion people, only 360 million people are native speakers.
Despite its high number of learned speakers, English is also an incredibly challenging language to learn. It boasts some of the most unreliable grammar rules of any language—virtually every tenet has some exception. Many native English speakers struggle to understand the foundations of grammar and spelling, and there are only so many Band-Aids that Grammarly and Microsoft Word can stick on an essay.
Struggling with English grammar, or looking to brush up on your skills? Here are five advance grammar rules to remember to ensure success.
1. When possible, sentences should be active, not passive.
In English, every sentence includes a subject and a predicate verb. The subject should act out the verb. Consider the following sentence:
John kicked the soccer ball.
In this context, John is the subject and kick is the predicate verb. Sometimes, a sentence flips to speak about an action passively:
The soccer ball was kicked to John.
John is still the subject, and kick is still the predicate verb, but the action occurs passively, placing the subject at the end of the sentence rather than at the front. The use of passive tense makes for a stagnant narrative voice.
Looking for a tip to identify a use of passive voice? Try adding “by zombies” at the end of the sentence. If you can add “by zombies” to the end of your sentence and it makes sense, then your sentence is passive. If it does not make sense, your sentence is active.
John kicked the soccer ball [by zombies]. Incorrect; active.
The soccer ball was kicked to John [by zombies]. Correct; passive.
2. Join two independent clauses together with a comma and a conjunction…
In order to make a sentence, you need to have a subject, a verb, and a complete thought. This combination is called an independent clause. If you want to link two independent clauses together, you need to place a comma and conjunction in-between them. Remember the most common conjunctions by the acronym FANBOYS:
For example, consider the following sentences:
Harry disliked chocolate.
These two sentences are both independent clauses on their own. In order to join the two together, you need to place a comma and conjunction between the two:
Mary liked chocolate, but Harry disliked chocolate.
Harry disliked chocolate, yet Mary liked chocolate.
3. ...or, use a semicolon.
Instead of joining two independent clauses together with a comma and conjunction, you may also combine them with a semicolon. For example:
Mary liked chocolate; Harry disliked chocolate.
Harry disliked chocolate; Mary liked chocolate.
To create a balanced narrative voice, a good writer should alternate between the two. This will create a natural flow and readable prose.
4. Join together a dependent and independent clause with the locational principle.
A dependent clause differs from an independent clause in that, while both have a subject and a predicate verb, only an independent clause has a complete thought. Dependent clauses cannot stand on their own as a complete sentence. Here are some examples:
Dependent clauses often begin with cause-and-effect relationships or adverbs that describe why, when, and how something happens.
How to join a dependent clause with an independent clause depends on where the dependent clause is in the sentence. Most of the time, when the dependent clause comes before the independent clause, you need a comma to connect the two. For example:
Because Joann loves flowers, Jack bought roses.
In this sentence, Because Joann loves flowers is the dependent clause. Jack bought roses is the independent clause. Because the dependent clause comes before the independent clause, you connect the two with a comma.
When the dependent clause comes after the independent clause, you do not need to connect the two with a comma. For example”
Jack bought roses because Joann loves flowers.
Because the dependent clause comes after the independent clause, you do not need to connect the two with a comma.
This is not a steadfast rule, and has some exceptions, but most of the time, you can adhere to the locational principle.
5. Listing? Separate with a serial comma
Commas are one of the trickiest parts of the English written language to master, but one of the key comma rules includes the serial, or Oxford, comma.
When listing two or more things, separate each with a comma. For example:
Oranges, apples, pears, and bananas.
You may also use the serial comma when listing pairs of things. This format is somewhat more confusing both to understand and read, but is grammatically correct. For example:
Oranges and apples, asparagus and broccoli, and cake and cookies.
Be sure to include the serial or Oxford comma to encourage a more cohesive, coherent writing style.
These are only a few of English’s many grammar rules, but they are some of the most important. Study up and focus hard on the basics to become a great writer and master of the English language!