In the Internet Grammar of English, we use the term grammar to mean the system of structural rules which describes how words combine with each other to form sentences. In this sense, native speakers of English already have an instinctive knowledge of its grammar. It is this knowledge which enables us to distinguish a well-formed English sentence from one which is clearly ill-formed. For example, native speakers know that the following sentence is well-formed and `grammatical':

[1] David plays the piano

Native speakers can produce and understand a sentence like this without ever thinking about its grammar. Conversely, in the course of everyday communication, no native speaker would ever produce this:

[2] *piano plays David the

We recognise instinctively that there is something very wrong with this sentence, not least because it doesn't make sense. It is ill-formed and `ungrammatical'.

Now if all this is true, then it is reasonable to ask why we need to study grammar at all. If we know instinctively that [1] is acceptable and that [2] is nonsense, then what more do we need to know?

In the most general terms, a knowledge of grammar is part of our knowledge of the world and of ourselves. The use of language is a distinctively human activity, so it is appropriate for us to understand how it works. The study of grammar enables us to say why [1] is acceptable and [2] is not. It enables us to externalise and formalise our instinctive knowledge of our own language.

Apart from professional linguists, however, few people study grammar as an end in itself. For many people, their first encounter with grammar comes when they try to learn a foreign language. In order to do this, it is essential to have some knowledge of the different parts of speech, and of how the parts of a sentence relate to each other. This knowledge can be acquired most efficiently by studying the grammar of one's own native language.

The study of grammar helps us to communicate more effectively. Quite simply, if we know how English works, then we can make better use of it. For most purposes, we need to be able to construct sentences which are far more complicated than David plays the piano. A knowledge of grammar enables us to evaluate the choices which are available to us during composition. In practice, these choices are never as simple as the choice between [1] and [2]. If we understand the relationship between the parts of a sentence, we can eliminate many of the ambiguities and misunderstandings which result from poor construction.

In the interpretation of writing, too, grammatical knowledge is often crucially important. The understanding of literary texts, for example, often depends on careful grammatical analysis. Other forms of writing can be equally difficult to interpret. Scientific and academic writing, for instance, may be complex not just in the ideas they convey, but also in their syntax. These types of writing can be difficult to understand easily without some familiarity with how the parts relate to each other.

The study of grammar enables us to go beyond our instinctive, native-speaker knowledge, and to use English in an intelligent, informed way.


How the Internet Grammar is Organised

We begin by looking at words and their classes, and then we progress to increasingly larger and more complex units - phrases, clauses, and sentences.  

Each of these major sections is covered in a series of linked pages. Many of these pages contain interactive exercises. These have been designed to help you test your understanding of each topic before you move on to the next.  

You can look up grammatical terms in the Glossary, which is accessible from each topic page, and from the Home Page. 


Conventions used in the Internet Grammar

Throughout the Internet Grammar we will use the common convention of marking grammatically unacceptable sentences (or other constructions) using an asterisk. For example:  
      *the lady old the chicken cooked
In some instances, there is doubt about the acceptability of a sentence or construction. We indicate this doubt using a question mark:  
      ?an ill dog
We use the symbol "~" to mean "can legitimately be changed to". For example,  
      David broke my glasses   ~My glasses were broken by David
We use "graying" to indicate a word or words which we have removed from a sentence in order to illustrate a grammatical point. For instance, we "gray" the phrase very quickly in the following sentence in order to show that it can be removed, while still leaving a complete sentence:  
      He ran very quickly across the field

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