If your aim is to do better at your studies or to improve your writing skills, then a great place to start would be to improve your grammar skills. The effort, required to improve your coursework or essay writing is surely worth making if, at the end of the day, it positively impacts on your results and levels of confidence.
Granted, grammar is not everyone’s cup of tea, because there are so many rules to remember (and don’t forget the exceptions to those rules), but being au fait with the rules of English grammar may be the difference between composing a good piece of writing and a brilliant one.
Improving your English grammar can save you a great deal of work and time in later years and, possibly, qualify you for that job you desire. It can also, in the short term, give your overall performance a shot in the arm.
Revise the Basics of Grammar
Knowing how to improve your grammar skills in English isn’t rocket science. You have to be able to identify and memorise the main parts of speech.
A good place to start is with a revision of the basics of grammar.
Which are the fundamental parts of speech you have to know?
You must make sense of how words work together to make up sentences. To do so, you must recognise the function each word plays in the sentence. Once you’ve identified what it does, you’ll be able to identify the difference between an adverb or adjective in any sentence.
As grammar basically refers to words and how they work together to form sentences, it is a good idea to pinpoint the word types which are most regularly used.
Let’s start by looking at verbs, since no sentence exists without having a verb present, even one-word exclamations, such as “Don’t!” and “Stop!” contain a verb.
What does a verb do?
It denotes action and if used in the Active Voice convey a sense of immediacy (urgency).
In essence, verbs, which in primary school are referred to as ‘doing words’, are very important to sentences, as they create movement and give a sense of time.
People, however, tend to commit two errors when using verbs in written work.
Some try to sound very intellectual and opt for using long verbs far too often. This is really not necessary, especially when a shorter verb can convey what you intend perfectly… and come across as more natural.
This may be the difference between, ‘she encumbered the child’s run towards the busy road’ and ‘she blocked the child’s run towards the busy road’.
While the first example may be perfectly plausible statement, no-one really speaks that way nowadays and the verb ‘blocked’ does the job perfectly.
The second common error is making use of verbs in the passive voice too frequently. This can complicate something which makes perfect sense when stated directly. We will revisit this topic, because it may be a major impediment to you improving your English grammar.
Nouns name people, places and things. They can also identify feelings, ideas and concepts.
An important thing to keep in mind, when you’re wanting to improve your grammar skills, is not to repeat use certain nouns repeatedly.
Consider which of these sentences you prefer:
The team, which won the league championship, was praised by everyone in the team.
The team, which won the league championship, was praised by everyone there.
The team is repeated unnecessarily in sentence one, whereas the second sentence refers back to it succinctly, without any repetition.
This is a feature which is often encountered in writing and actually quite easy to fix. This is where rereading your work comes into its own, as you will look at the written piece afresh and from a somewhat different perspective. Repeated nouns, which will jump out at you, will soon become a thing of the past.
These are also commonly said to be ‘describing words’.
In essence, adjectives modify or describe nouns and pronouns. They give the reader a better idea of what someone or something looks like:
‘The red car sped down the road. However, it skidded on the wet road.’
While adjectives can enhance your essay-writing tremendously, it is very important not to overuse adjectives – their use must be judicious or well-considered.
The poor use of adjectives will, not only make the construction of your essay look clumsy, but may interrupt the easy flow of a sentence and your creation may appear amateurish.
To present a professional, polished composition, steer clear of words such as ‘really’, ‘nice’ and ‘very’. With a dictionary or thesaurus at your fingertips all the time, it’s easy to find words that would contribute far greater substance, style and class to your work.
These words are very often used in speech and may be perfectly okay there, but they won’t truly add any value to your essay. A better way to say ‘nice’ winter weather would be to express it as ‘balmy’ or 'pleasant' winter weather.
These words are used in the place of nouns and include words such as ‘I’, ‘she’, ‘he’, ‘they’ and ‘we’.
These may not come across as being particularly note-worthy, but they will definitely be great at improving your grammar skills and obviate the overuse of nouns, proper nouns in particular.
Pronouns would allow you to craft a better statement than ‘the team achieved a wonderful set of wins, far greater than what the team had imagined.’
Replace the repeated noun with a pronoun and improve the flow by stating ‘the team achieved a wonderful set of wins, far greater than it (or they) had imagined.
You find this popping up frequently in your writing, thus underscoring the need to review your creations carefully and replacing oft-repeated nouns with pronouns.
Adverbs are quite versatile, since they modify several other words, viz. verbs, adjectives as well as other adverbs.
To ensure that you don’t mistake it for an adjective, think ‘an adverb adds to the verb’.
While an adjective would, in the main, describe a noun, an adverb would describe in greater detail how an action is performed or how grand or small a trait is.
Examples like ‘the rain fell heavily’ or ‘she ran a very fast time’ supplies information that can be of great use to the reader.
There are two adverbs, among others, that are commonly used incorrectly. They are the words ‘literally’ and ‘actually’. Young people, in particular, use them to embellish their speech without any consideration for their real meaning.
These days it’s common to hear someone say something like ‘he was literally right in front of me’ when they mean that the person was very close to them making their statement grammatically incorrect. Avoid misusing these words if you’re serious about improving your English grammar and essay-writing. While they may sound cool in day-to-day speech, they are a no-no in written work.
Connectors (Linking Words)
This is the last of the major group of words we’re going to highlight.
Connectors link one idea or sentence to another and, thus, are extremely important for creating a wonderful narrative flow to your written work.
The repeated use of one or two connectors is a common error. It is okay to use words like ‘and’, ‘yet’ and ‘but’, however, guard against their repeated use as your written creations will sound lacklustre and unimaginative.
If you seriously want to improve grammar skills as well as your written work, switch these connectors with others that may be more appropriate for the situation you are currently describing.
The Use of the Active Voice
As mentioned previously, a frequently repeated mistake is made when people make use of the passive voice too often.
So, what is the solution?
Choose to write in the active voice as often as possible.
The use of the active voice creates a clarity and sense of immediacy or urgency in your essays, which is not possible when you use the passive voice.
Think about the two sentences which follow and decide which comes across better.
‘Experts believe that staying fit can protect you against various illnesses’.
‘It is believed that staying fit can protect you against various illnesses’.
The first sentence, definitely comes across as more direct and striking.
Don’t you agree?
The subject is immediately identified as the experts, leaving no doubt in the reader’s mind as to who is believing.
General statements such as ‘it has been said’ and ‘it was identified’. Rather clearly indicate the subject and rewrite the statement in the Active Voice.
Do More Reading
"What I do believe is that there is always a relationship between writing and reading, a constant interplay between the writer on the one hand and the reader on the other." - Guillermo Cabrera Infante
Guillermo Cabrera Infante, the acclaimed writer of the screenplay for the movie, Vanishing Point, agrees that reading is fundamental to improved writing.
If you want to know how to improve your grammar skills in English, it would be a great idea to consult some references on the subject.
If you’re in the market for a book which is a cut above a conventional grammar book, ‘The Sense of Style’ by Stephen Pinker might be just what you need. It not only deals with topics of grammar, but provides you with writing tools that a prospective writer would require.
You do not have to get stuck on a language book. Pick up a book by your favourite fiction writer and dive right in. The pure pleasure of getting lost in the text and travelling imaginatively has numerous spin-offs.
Enjoy the story and glean from the writer’s craft what would benefit your own. The more authors you expose yourself to (figuratively), the greater the influence you will experience in your own writing.
Maybe, through your reading, you will identify an author who represents the type of writer you would like to become.
Take what is good from their writing and apply it to your own writing.
Okay, it’s time to stop reading and start writing!
Get to it!
The platform that connects private tutors and students