Introduction to Grammar

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Nouns : Pronouns : Adjectives : Verbs : Adverbs : Prepositions : Conjunctions


Grammar is a study of the laws of a language that makes sense of the words. This essay will introduce terms that you may have heard before as well as terms that you will only encounter if you study other languages. The majority of examples will be in English although in a few cases other languages will be used. This essay may help in understanding the study of language. As with all essays, the best place to begin is at the beginning.


A Noun is a word that describes a tangible object or idea. Examples are bridge, John, love. The first is an object that can be seen, built and crossed. The second refers to an individual and so is a Proper Noun. The third is an idea (feeling?). In English, proper nouns begin with a capital letter. In German all Nouns begin with a capital letter.

All Nouns have Number. In most languages there are only two Numbers: Singular and Plural (boat / boats, man / men, ox / oxen). A few languages (Slovenian, Macedonian) have three numbers: singular, plural and Dual.

In many languages Nouns also have Gender. English is not strong on Gender but Spanish has two while Greek has three: Masculine (Anthropos - man), Feminine (Agabi - love), and Neuter (Cheri - hand).

Nouns can be associated with Articles. In English, the Definite Article is the; the Indefinite Article is a or an. Russian, Hindi and Turkish have no articles. In Romanian, the article is a suffix (Rege - king, Regele - the king).

Another property of nouns is Case. Case determines the part that the Noun plays in a sentence. The Latin sentence discipulus videt means the pupil sees - the noun is the subject of the sentence. In discipulum video (which means I see the pupil) - the noun is the object of the sentence. Note the difference in the noun ending.

Common cases are called Nominative (for the subject), Accusative (object), Genitive (possessive), Dative (indirect object), and Ablative (instrument).

German, Greek, Russian, and Finnish all have noun Case in their grammar. English, Spanish. French and Hindi do not have noun Case.


Pronouns are words that take the place of Nouns.

The words she, them, it are examples. The sentence Chang sees the mountain, can be rewritten he sees the mountain or Chang sees it or even he sees it. In these examples a Noun has been replaced by a Pronoun.

The Pronouns that refer to people are called Personal Pronouns (I, you, he, she, it, we, they). In English, you is both singular and plural. In parts of the USA, there are two separate forms: you (singular) and you'all (plural). The Latin languages have no word for it but two words for they (masculine and feminine - in French: ils, elles).

Several Pacific languages have two forms for we - one including the listener, the other excluding the listener.

In most European languages, the personal pronouns have different forms for the Accusative (me, you, him, her, us, them) and the Genitive (my, your, his, her, our, their).

Demonstrative Pronouns replace a specific item or group of items: this is good, that was my book, these are excellent, those are mine.

Possessive Pronouns describe the ownership of items: mine, yours, theirs, his (the book is his).

Interrogative Pronouns are used in asking questions: who are you?, which one?, why am I here?, what is a proton?

Relative Pronouns have the same form as Interrogative pronouns but are not used in questions (the girl who looks like her, I did not understand what was said). Interrogative and Relative Pronouns have the same form in English but not necessary in other languages.


Adjectives describe Nouns. Examples are big, red, delightful, craggy.

English is simple in having one form for the adjective. In Hindi, French and Spanish the adjective has different forms for gender and number (big in French can be: grand, grands, grande, grandes.)

In Latin, Greek, Russian and German, adjectives must agree with their noun in Gender, Number and Case. This can give 20 or so different forms of the adjective.

The -er form of an adjective is called the Comparative (bigger, greener). The -est form of an adjective is called the Superlative (smallest, latest). Many languages have adjectives with irregular forms for the Comparative and Superlative (in English: good, better, best).

Demonstrative Adjectives are the words that point to a noun (this book, those towns).

Possessive Adjectives define personal possession (my, your, his) as in his slippers are green.


Verbs are the action or state words (the doing words of primary school). Examples of actions are walk, write, describe. Examples of states are is, becomes.

There is a form of the verb which tells you nothing about when the action is performed or who performs it. This is called the Infinitive. Examples in English are To go, to see, to destroy which are two word Infinitives. Most languages have single word Infinitives (in Spanish: comer - to eat; Hindi: jana - to go). The Infinitive is an example of a Mood.

In most languages, actions can be performed by three Persons (First, Second, Third) and two Numbers (Singular, Plural). This gives six forms. To Conjugate a Verb means to systematically run through these six forms. Verbs have Tenses which tell us when the action takes place. The first tense normally learnt is the Present Tense. So, if we conjugate the Present Tense of the Verb To walk, we would write:

In English the Verb does not change very much for person or number (except that walk becomes walks in the third person singular). In some languages the ending of the Verb changes for each person and number so that the pronoun is unnecessary. In Spanish, comer (to eat) is conjugated thus:

Apart from the Present there are several other Tenses. These are tabulated below for the English Verb To Walk. Verbs that are used with others to form a tense are called Auxiliary Verbs. To have and to be are both used as Auxiliary Verbs in English.

The -ing form of a verb is called the Present Participle (i.e. walking). The -ed form of a Verb is the Past Participle (i.e. walked).

Tense Examples
Present I walk, you walk, she walks, we walk,...
Present Continuous I am walking, you are walking, he is walking,...
Future I will walk, you will walk,...
I shall walk, they shall walk,...
Future Continuous I will be walking, we will be walking,...
I shall be walking, they shall be walking,...
Imperfect I used to walk, you used to walk,...
I did walk, we did walk,...
Past Continuous I was walking, you were walking, he was walking,...
Simple Past I walked, you walked, she walked, we walked,...
Present Perfect I have walked, you have walked, she has walked,...
Future Perfect I shall have walked, you shall have walked,...
Past Perfect I had walked, you had walked, we had walked,...
Conditional I would walk, you would walk, they would walk,...

All the tenses described above are examples of the Indicative Mood. This Mood describes actions in real life (she lived, we will become, I have eaten).

The Imperative Mood is the command form of the Verb (don't go, come here, take this, stop).

The Subjunctive Mood expresses wishes or desires (Let us pray, live long and prosper, if I were you).

In English the form of the Subjunctive is little different from the Indicative. The most common example is I was here (Indicative) compared to if I were here (Subjunctive). In the Latin languages, the Subjunctive has a different form to the Indicative (Spanish: comemos - we eat, comamos - let's eat).

Verbs can be divided into two groups. Transitive Verbs are capable of taking an object (in I see you, you is the object of the verb). Intransitive Verbs cannot take an object (the phrase I go you is meaningless because the verb to go is Intransitive). In some languages (Basque), the subject of a Transitive Verb has a different form to the subject of an Intransitive Verb. These are called ergative languages.

Many verbs that are Transitive in the UK, are treated as Intransitive in the USA. I cheat you (UK - Transitive) becomes I cheat on you (USA - Intransitive).

Verbs have two Voices. The Active Voice is the form where the subject and object are different (I see you, you see me). The Passive Voice turns the action back onto the subject (I am seen, she was seen). Only Transitive Verbs can have a Passive form.

Reflexive Verbs are Transitive verbs whose action is redirected back to the subject (I wash myself, we teach ourselves, they fought themselves).

Impersonal Verbs are those that only have meaning in the Third person (i.e it rains, it was possible, it will be necessary, it has snowed). Many involve weather.

The different verb terms are shown in the diagram below.



Adverbs describe Verbs.

Examples are well, quickly, boldly. Most end in -ly. The Comparative and Superlative forms use more and most (as in more quickly, most cruelly).

In the USA, adjectives are used where adverbs would be used in the UK. The form I am well (UK - adverb), becomes I am good (USA - adjective). The form the car travels quickly (UK) becomes the car travels quick (USA).


Prepositions control the direction of a Verb in relation to a Noun.

In sentences like I go to the shop and She is in the house, the words to and in relate the verb to the noun. These are called Prepositions because in most languages (English, Greek, Latin) they precede the noun. Further examples are towards, within, outside, below, with.

In Turkish and Hindi these words follow the noun and are called Postpositions.

In some languages (Latin or Greek), the meaning of a Preposition depends on the Case of the following Noun:


There are two types of Numbers. Cardinal Numbers are in the form one, three, ten. In many languages, the Cardinal Numbers behave like Adjectives and agree with their Nouns. For example, in French un homme - one man; une femme - one women.

Ordinal Numbers have the form first, third, tenth. These also usually behave like Adjectives.


Conjunctions are words that link phrases to form longer sentences. These are words like and, but, so.

Interjections are sounds made to show emotion. Examples are ouch, a-ha, phew and, hopefully, your reaction to this essay: wow!

© 1998, 2003 KryssTal

This essay is dedicated to Tashi Lassalle.

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