Do you need to take English grammar lessons to learn English? No. Children learn a language with no formal lessons at all-- just by listening and then beginning to speak. If you are just beginning to study English, don’t start with grammar terms.
First listen to some basic conversations and learn some simple phrases. Listen and practice as much as you can. You will begin to understand the basics of English structure even without formal study.
Too much emphasis on grammar in the beginning may even make it harder to speak fluently. Thinking too much about what’s correct makes it more difficult to express your thoughts.
Instead, try to think in English. The best way to gain fluency and understanding is to listen a lot, read a lot, and speak freely. Don’t worry about perfect grammar.
As your English improves, you do need to understand how English works. How are thoughts expressed? How are sentences organized?
If you have never taken a class in English, you might start studying online by listening to some of the basic conversations in Randall's ESL Listening Lab or a website teaching English in your first language. (For Spanish-speakers, Pumarosa is very good.) When you can understand and speak enough for simple English conversations and reading, you may want to improve your comprehension and express yourself more clearly. Then some English grammar lessons might help you.
Some English expressions may not be clear or obvious, especially if they are expressed differently in your first language. For example, consider question 7 on the Quiz on our home page:
7. Four of the following five sentences mean basically the same thing, but the other does not. Which sentence means something different?
___A. Although I have spoken English all my life, I still am learning new words.
___B. I have spoken English my whole life, but I know only a fraction of the words in an English dictionary.
___C. Even if I had spoken English all my life, I still could learn new vocabulary.
___D. Even though I’ve spoken English for as long as I’ve lived, there are still words I don’t know.
___E. In spite of speaking English all my life, I continue to learn new words every year.
The difference should be obvious to most native speakers of English. Is it clear to you? (See below for explanation.)
When I thought about how to explain the difference, I realized I would need to teach some grammar terms. (I was trying to prepare students for advanced-level tests of thinking and judgment like the NCLEX or TOEFL.) Grammar explanations can help you understand the reasons behind confusing sentence structures.
To understand professional or academic tests, journals, or textbooks, you need to recognize distinctions like the difference between 'although'/'even though' and 'even if.' If you have doubts about these differences in meaning, see Complex Sentences. (You can also practice them with Adverb Clause and Complex Sentence Practice.)
(Incidentally, sentence C is the different one. Sentences A, B,
D, and E all say that English is my native language. C is in the unreal
conditional tense. It says I have NOT always spoken English, but
considers how things might be if reality had been different.) For a short explanation of the unreal conditional tense, see the Modal Verbs section about 'would.'
Grammar is the structure of a language, the way words work together. In the English grammar lessons in this section, we will look at English Parts of Speech (nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.), as well as English Nouns, English Pronouns, and English Verbs for more detail.
See English Sentence Structure, as well as Negative Sentences, Question Formation, Compound Sentences, and Complex Sentences, for ways to form sentences in English. Subject-verb Agreement gives a little practice with this grammar point that gives trouble even to some native speakers, but can help make your writing clearer.
Learning English verbs may seem challenging. There are so many related tenses and modal verbs, each changing the meaning of a sentence. There are also many irregular verbs in the past tense. The good news is that English verb conjugations are much simpler than many other languages.
For most verbs, you only need to learn five forms, and most of those are closely related: the base form (for the simple present tense, or add 'to' to form infinitives), the third person singular present, the present participle (for continuous tenses), the simple past, and the past participle (for the perfect tenses.) All the tenses and moods are formed using these five forms and various helping (auxiliary) verbs.
Thus, for example, the five forms of the verb to live are:
live, lives, living, lived, and lived.
For the verb to do :
do, does, doing, did, done.
The verb to be is the most useful and most difficult. (Note that its infinitive (and what you might call its base form, 'be,' is not the same as its present tense plural form.) It is the only English verb with three forms in the present:
(I) am, (you, we, or they) are, and (he, she, or it) is (3rd person singular.)
'To be' has two forms in the past, unlike any other English verb:
(I, he, she, or it) was,
and (you, we, or they) were.
The present and past participles of ‘to be’ are simple: being and been.
For more information on the present, past, and future of verbs, see English Verb Tenses. (The present and past participles can also sometimes be used as nouns or adjectives. English parts of speech can be very flexible!)
To practice with verbs (as well as other grammar) see Grammar Practice and Worksheets. For Modal Verbs, see Modal Verbs, Modals Practice, Using Helping Verbs to Give Advice, and Practice Giving Advice.
Don't get discouraged! With a little practice (and a lot of listening and reading), English grammar will begin to feel natural to you.
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