The Importance of English Grammar: When It Matters (And Three Rules You Can’t Ignore)
English grammar is one of the most important elements of your language study. Unfortunately, it can also be one of the most complex and difficult.
In this article, I’ll show you why English grammar matters in different situations, from informal conversations to professional communication.
I’ll also help you study grammar more efficiently by focusing on the concepts that are most important to you—plus three key English grammar rules you can’t ever ignore.
- How Important Is English Grammar in Daily Life?
- How to Practice the English Grammar That’s Most Important to You
- 3 English Grammar Rules That Are Important in Any Setting
How Important Is English Grammar in Daily Life?
Correct grammar is your key to speaking English fluently and confidently. Knowing your grammar will help you avoid errors that make your English sound strange to native speakers.
But there are certain situations in which English grammar is especially important. For example, if you’re going for a job interview in an English-speaking country, the employer will be interested in the quality of your spoken and written English. In fact, in a recent survey of U.K. job recruiters, 50% said that bad spelling and grammar was the biggest reason they would dislike an application.
Correct grammar won’t just demonstrate your English skills—it’ll also show that you’re diligent and have an eye for detail.
This is equally important if you’re aiming to study abroad. Colleges and universities are likely to assess your academic English based largely on your knowledge of English grammar.
Grammar is even important for your social life. Did you know that people on online dating apps are 14% less likely to chat with someone who uses poor grammar? Plus, when you’re meeting new people or visiting new places, the last thing you want is to be misunderstood! To avoid confusing your friends, or even ordering more drinks than you intended, you need to have a firm idea of how to structure your words.
With all that said, remember that in some situations it’s okay to relax your grammar. When you’re texting a close friend, for example, it’s fine to use casual or more simplified language. Talking online is a fantastic way to connect with native speakers and other English learners in a friendly and pressure-free environment.
How to Practice the English Grammar That’s Most Important to You
As we just saw, English grammar is important to different people for different reasons. If you’re learning basic grammar for a trip to the U.S., you have different needs than someone who’s applying to an undergraduate program at an English-speaking university.
So, how do you focus your grammar study on the most important concepts for you?
Start by gathering some quality, comprehensive grammar resources to narrow down your learning. For example:
- “Collins Easy Learning Grammar and Punctuation” has a very well-organized index (list of chapters) where you can easily choose topics that are unfamiliar to you. Maybe you already know about modal verbs, but… the present perfect continuous tense?! What’s that? Just turn to page 106 to find out.
The book includes lots of clear examples of how and why certain grammar is used in day-to-day language, so you’ll master the grammar you need in no time.
As you study with this and other resources, keep a notebook of key grammatical ideas so you can look back on what you’ve covered. At the beginning of each week, choose a new area to focus on and challenge yourself to find a real life example each day. This will help you track your progress on the grammar concepts that are most important to you.
You can also make a note of confusing grammar that you hear or read in English. Once you begin to immerse yourself in English media, you’ll start to realize that you’re hearing certain phrases and structures again and again. Those are the important everyday grammar concepts you should focus on if you don’t already recognize them.
To find more grammar concepts in use, you can use anything from English TV shows to language learning programs like FluentU. And since FluentU uses authentic videos with accurate, interactive subtitles, you can both see and hear how to phrase things correctly on any number of topics.
If you have English-speaking friends, don’t be afraid to ask them to help you out. People are unlikely to correct your spoken grammar because they may worry about offending you. Tell your friends that you don’t mind them politely pointing out your errors, and they can help you find the right way of rephrasing your words.
A good friend will be patient and encouraging, because even native English speakers know that the grammar can be complicated.
3 English Grammar Rules That Are Important in Any Setting
Now that you know how to focus on your own most important English grammar, there are also a few rules that everybody needs to know.
If you ask your friend to look after your dog, but you actually have seven dogs, your friend is in for a massive canine surprise.
Making a mistake with plurals is sure to cause confusion anywhere, from social situations to research labs. That’s why it’s so important to learn the rules—especially for irregular English plurals, which are tricky for non-native speakers.
In English, the standard way to form the plural is by adding the letter “s” to the end of a singular noun.
One cat → Two cats
One shoe → Two shoes
One bath → Two baths
This rule works most of the time, but unfortunately there are some exceptions.
Words that end in “ss” typically form the plural by adding “es” to the end. This is to avoid having a triple “s” at the end of a word, which would look and sound strange.
One goddess → Two goddesses
One business → Two businesses
Some words may stay the same in the plural as in the singular. For example, if you have one pet fish and you buy another, you now have two fish. If you fly in an aircraft, and then fly in another, you’ve now flown in two aircraft. There’s no rule to tell us which words will behave like this, but luckily the list isn’t too daunting. The proofreading website Vappingo has come up with 101 examples of these words.
Some of them may be a little obscure, but you’ll see there are certainly some that you’ll use all the time. When you come across a word like this, make a note of it to help you remember that it’s different.
You may also start to see patterns among irregular plurals, but don’t rely on them without checking. For example, one goose becomes two geese, but one moose becomes two moose (not “meese”).
These sorts of words are the most misleading and probably the hardest to get the hang of. One way of learning these irregular plurals is to create a table with two columns during your regular vocabulary study. When you learn an important piece of vocabulary, write the singular form in one column and the plural in the opposite column. Hang the table somewhere you’ll see it regularly, like on the back of your bedroom door or on your fridge.
Once you get used to seeing them, they’ll begin to look less odd!
Articles and Gender
Understanding articles and gender in English is crucial for being able to refer to a person or thing correctly. Unfortunately, this highly important English grammar rule is also one of the strangest for many non-native speakers.
That’s because in many languages, the way that you describe a noun is dependent on its gender. In French, for instance, there are different articles for feminine and masculine nouns.
In English, nouns don’t have a grammatical gender. It’s common for new English speakers to refer to objects as “he” or “she” because they’re used to them having a gender in their native language.
The good news is that once you break this habit, the English grammar is actually very simple. The two articles you need are “the” and “a.” We use “the” to refer to specific objects directly, while we use “a” to refer to objects more generally.
I would like to eat the banana you bought at the store today.
I would like to eat a banana, but there aren’t any in the house.
If a noun begins with a vowel, the indefinite article becomes “an” rather than “a.”
Confusingly, English speakers love to humanize objects, even though we don’t use genders. Vehicles are often treated as feminine. You may hear someone say, “Look at her engine, she’s a real beauty!” when talking about a car. This doesn’t mean that a car should actually be referred to as “she,” it’s just a way of expressing pride or fondness for a machine by making it sound more like a person.
Formality is important for lots of occasions. For interviews, work dinners and dates, you need to be able to adapt your English to suit the tone of the event.
One subtle grammar change that’s worth noting is the use of the words “can” and “may” when making requests or asking questions. “May” is considered more formal and polite than “can.”
With a friend, you might ask, “Can I have the wine?” With a colleague or someone you just met, you might ask, “May I have the wine?” instead.
Similarly, “would like” is a more formal version of “want.”
I want to try on this dress. → I would like to try on this dress.
There’s one thing that makes formality in English easier than other languages. In lots of languages, there’s a formal and an informal way of addressing somebody (saying “you”). In French, for example, you can use tu for a friend and vous for somebody you don’t know so well. But in English we only have one word: “you.” You can call your best friend, your mom and your boss “you” without worrying about formality.
While English grammar can seem daunting in places, learning to understand and use it correctly is incredibly rewarding. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes as you practice English. Sometimes this is the best way to learn! If you’re committed and enthusiastic towards tackling grammar, it can be an absorbing and even exciting aspect of learning a new language.