logo  ELT Concourse: a free training course for TKT: modules 1, 2 and 3
The Concourse

TKT Module 1: Describing language and language skills
Grammar

grammar


what

What is grammar?

Here's a good definition of grammar:

a description of the structure of a language and the way in which linguistic units such as words and phrases are combined to produce sentences in the language.
Richards, Platt and Platt (1992:161)

Sometimes, the term grammar also includes phonology (the study of sounds) but in this course we will put phonology in a separate section.  Grammar also includes the way we change words and build words from smaller units (morphemes and morphology) but this, too, will be in a separate section on this course on lexis.


keys

Key concepts in this guide

By the end of this guide, you should be able to understand and use these key concepts:

  • grammatical form, grammatical function and inflexion
  • content words
  • noun (proper, mass, count), verb (lexical or main, copular, primary auxiliary, modal auxiliary), adjective (predicative and attributive), adverb (manner, time, place, frequency, degree), interjection
  • function words
  • determiner (article, demonstrative, wh-word, possessive, quantifier), preposition (place and time), pronoun (personal and other), conjunction (coordinating, subordinating, correlating)
  • modification
  • tense
  • aspect
  • phrases

Look out for these words like this in the text.
There will be tests at the end of the guide for you to check that you understand the ideas.


form and function

Grammatical form and grammatical function

Grammatical form refers to how a word or phrase is made in English.  For example:
The base form of the verb is smoke but, when the subject is he, she or it, the form of the verb changes to smokes.
The noun is child but when we make it plural, we change the form to children.
With an adjective in English such as happy we can change the form and make it a noun: happiness.  There is more on how we do that in the guide to lexis.
When we change the form of a word in English, the change is called an inflexion.  For example:
smoke → smokes: this is the third-person, -s inflexion.
printed → printed: the verb is inflected to show the past tense with -ed.
Grammatical function refers to what a word is doing in the language.  For example:
In I cut my finger yesterday, the word cut has the grammatical function of a verb describing an action.
In I have a bad cut on my finger, the word cut has the grammatical function of a noun for a thing.
In The English are strange people, the word English is a noun for the people who live in England.
In She is English, the word English is an adjective describing her nationality.  It is modifying the noun.

It is easy to see that you do not know what a word is doing when you look at it.  You must see or hear it in a context to know what it means and what sort of word it is.


two different

Two different sorts of words

There are two kinds of words in English.

  1. Content words
    When they are alone, these words still have a meaning.  For example:
    house, school, beauty, dislike, begin, jump, happy, sad, important, quickly, now, fortunately
  2. Grammar or function words
    These words mean nothing when they are alone but they make the grammar of the language work.  For example:
    in, out, up, the, a, an, this, that, he, she, them, and, when, but
stop

Stop and check

It is very important to understand the difference between content words and grammar words.
In this sentences there are 7 function or grammar words and 7 content words.  What are they?
    Mary came into the room and sat in her favourite chair by the fire.
Click here when you have an answer.


five bottles

Content words

There are 5 types of content words in English.

  1. NOUNS
    nouns
    boxes and boxes
    Nouns are words for people, places, things and feelings.  Here are some examples of the three types:
    1. Proper nouns refer to people and places:
      George
      is in London
      Russia
      is huge
      The European Union has lots of members
    2. Mass nouns refer things which do not have a plural:
      milk is expensive here
      sugar is bad for me
      the
      water is very cold
      happiness is important
      beauty doesn't last long
    3. Count nouns refer to things we can have in the plural and most nouns are in this group:
      I have a pencil and two pens
      my
      house is here
      dogs are not usually dangerous
      I love
      trees
      my
      country is beautiful
      he's a
      Scotsman
  2. VERBS
    golf
    hit the ball
    Verbs are words for doing, thinking, speaking and being.  Here are some examples of the five types:
    1. Verbs describing actions, behaviour or feelings.  These are lexical verbs or main verbs which carry meaning even if alone:
      kick
      the ball
      don't worry
      the glass
      broke
      I
      am watching TV
      Begin!
    2. Verbs describing states and thinking  These are also lexical verbs or main verbs which carry meaning even if alone:
      I
      enjoy walking
      I hope she is here
      she
      hates pasta
      it helps me work
      Think!
    3. Linking or copular verbs join nouns to nouns and nouns to adjectives and show the connection between things:
      I
      am in London
      she
      became the manager
      the car
      looks wonderful
      she
      got older
      there
      is a house on the corner
      The verbs do not mean anything if the do not connect two things so, e.g.:
      *She got
      *They are
      *It became
      all mean nothing.
    4. Primary Auxiliary verbs make tenses with other verbs:
      I have broken the glass
      she is working in Berlin
      they got the car repaired
      we don't visit museums
      Again, the verbs do not mean anything if they do not make a form with another verb so, e.g.:
      *She has
      *They are
      *We got
      all mean nothing.
    5. Modal auxiliary verbs show how you feel about other verbs.  They do not stand alone but are always with other verbs:
      I can come at six
      she will go later
      they must go
      we used to work harder
      Again, the verbs do not mean anything if they do not come with a main verb so, e.g.:
      *She can
      *They will
      *It must
      all mean nothing.
  3. ADJECTIVES
    adjective
    one orange pea
    Adjectives modify (i.e., change) nouns.  They can come before or after the noun they describe.  For example:
    1. It's a huge house with a long garden (adjective before the noun: attributive use)
    2. The house is tiny and the garden is very small (adjective after the noun, joined with a linking verb: predicative use)
    Some adjectives describe the noun.  For example:
    It's a red house
    and some tell us what sort of noun it is, for example:
    It's a detached house
    This is an important difference.
    For more on adjectives, see the guide on this site.
  4. ADVERBS
    adverb
    beautifully painted
    Adverbs describe (modify) verbs and some modify adjectives and other adverbs.  There are five types which answer different questions:
    1. How?  Adverbs of manner: he drove quickly, he walked slowly, he spoke happily
    2. When?  Adverbs of time: I'll arrive soon, She left early, I'm flying tomorrow
    3. Where?  Adverbs of place: sit here, please smoke outside, come in
    4. How often?  Adverbs of frequency: she often works at home, they frequently take a holiday, we sometimes play cards
    5. How much?  Adverbs of degree: I like it a lot, they really enjoy their food, he drove very quickly, she hugely enjoyed the play
    Some adverbs also modify adjectives.  For example:
    She was very happy.
    They were slightly interested

    Some adverbs also modify other adverbs.  For example:
    She drove very quickly
    He arrived extremely quickly
    For more on adverbs, see the guide on this site.
  5. INTERJECTIONS (sometimes called exclamations)
    surprised
    Ooops
    These are words we use, usually in speech, and informally, to show our feelings: surprise, pain, tiredness, fear etc.  Here are some examples:
    Wow!  What a beautiful house!
    Ouch!  That hurts.
    Oh, I didn't know that.
    Yuck!  That's horrible.

Here is the big picture:

content words


function

Grammar or Function words

These words mean nothing when they are alone.  They must be part of a sentence for you to understand them.  There are 4 different kinds of function words.

  1. DETERMINERS
    cat
    the cat is watching
    These words change how we see a noun.  For example, we can have:
    she has one cat
    this
    cat is pretty
    my
    cat is not very clever
    some
    cats are in the garden
    the
    cat wants food
    a
    cat came into the house
    which
    cat is your cat?

    and the determiners change how we understand the words cat, garden and house.
    Determiners always come in front of the noun and there are five sorts of them:
    1. a, an, the.  These are articles and they tell you if you are talking about a special noun or not.  For example:
      a cat came in (this is one cat that I don't know)
      the cat came in (this is a cat I know)
    2. this, that, these, those.  These are demonstratives and they tell me where the cat is.  For example:
      This cat here
      Those cats there
      That cat in the garden
      Those cats are in the garden
    3. wh- words.  These words make questions:
      Which cat?
      What cats?
      Whose cat?
      Who is that?
    4. my, your, his, her, our, their.  These are possessives and show us who has something.  For example:
      my cat is in the house
      his cat is stupid
      their cats are in the garden
    5. some, many, a few, two, three, ten, a little, lots of, no, several.  These are quantifiers and tell us how much or how many.  For example:
      There are four cats in the house
      Several cats came in
      Many cats are white
      No cats are in the garden
  2. PRONOUNS
    pronoun
    she looks like her
    These are small words which stand for things, people or whole ideas.  There are three sorts:
    1. I, me, you, she, he, it, her, him, we, us, they, them.  These are personal pronouns because they stand for people.  For example:
      I want a cat
      She wants it
      We gave them a cat
      Please tell us
    2. something, someone, anything, anyone, some, any, nothing etc.
      These do not stand for a special person or thing.  For example:
      Do you want something?
      I have nothing to eat
      Can I give you some?
      Is anyone at home?
      Notice that adjectives in English always come after these words:
      I want something stronger
      She offered nothing useful
    3. this, that, it etc. can also stand for whole ideas.  For example:
      He was working in the garden and that is why he didn't hear the telephone
      I was trying to follow the instructions to install my printer but it was very difficult.
  3. PREPOSITIONS
    place
    it's in the corner of the square
    These words usually tell us when or where (but they can tell us other things).  They join the verb to the noun or pronoun.  There are two main sorts:
    1. Prepositions of place.  For example:
      He is waiting at the bus stop
      She is sitting in my chair
      They have lunch in the square
      The restaurant is in the corner
    2. Prepositions of time.  For example:
      He will wait until 6 o'clock
      She came on Sunday
      They left after the film
      The train arrived at the right time
  4. CONJUNCTIONS
    conjunction
    These words join ideas together.  There are three sorts.
    1. Joining (coordinating) two equal ideas.  For example:
      He went to the market and he bought a new hat
      I telephoned but nobody answered
    2. Making one idea depend on another (subordinating).  For example:
      I came because he asked me
      She will come if she has time
    3. Double (correlating or correlative) conjunctions put two ideas together.  For example:
      Both John and Mary came
      Whether he comes or not is important

Here's the big picture:
function words


tense and aspect

Tense and aspect

There are two concepts to be clear about here.

Tense
time
Tense in languages refers to the time something happens.  For example:
I came with him (past time)
I will finish before 6 (future time)
I am smoking too much (present time)
Aspect
aspect
Aspect refers to how we see an event in relation to other events.  For example:
I have been waiting since 6 o'clock (the perfect aspect: I am talking about something which started in the past and is still happening now)
She was cycling when the accident happened (the progressive aspect followed by the simple aspect: I want to be clear that the cycling was a long event but the accident was short and quick)

phrases and clauses

Phrases

Phrases
We have seen that, for example, a noun or a verb can be a single word with a single grammatical function as in, for example:
He (pronoun) went (verb) home (noun)
Mrs. Smith (noun) cooked (verb) that (determiner) wonderful (adjective) dinner (noun)
But very often the grammatical function is filled not by a single word but by a phrase of more than one word.  Look at this sentence:
The old man almost certainly had lived through very interesting times
Can you decide which groups of words are doing the same job as single words?  Click here when you have your answer.

This is a course in Teaching Knowledge so we cannot cover all the grammar here.  There are lots of guides on this site which you can follow to learn more about the grammar of English.  A good place to start is the initial plus section.


self test

Self-test questions

Before you go on, make sure you can answer these questions.  If you can't, go back to the sections which give you trouble.

  • Give an example of inflexion on a verb and on a noun.
  • What is the difference between words like
    table, house, happiness, decide
    and extremely
    and words like
    and, of, for, by, the, an
    and because?
  • Give one example of the following:
    • a proper noun
    • a copular verb
    • an adverb of manner
    • the attributive use of an adjective
    • a quantifying determiner
    • a preposition of time
    • a personal pronoun
    • a coordinating conjunction
  • Explain the difference between tense and aspect.

If you are happy with your progress, go on.


practice

Tests and practice for TKT

Test 1 A simple matching task of 7 items
Test 2 A 15-item, multiple-choice test

Return to the Module 1 index: back
or go on to the next guide which is to lexis.


Reference:
Richards, J. C, Platt, J & Platt, H, 1992, The Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics, Harlow: Longman