Learning English Grammar – For Adults

Adults have certain advantages when it comes to learning English grammar. For one, you can get right into the technicalities of English and understand it in a way that a child can’t. So let’s start with the definition of grammar.

Grammar is a set of rules explaining how words are combined to form sentences.

Grammar describes the use of phrases, clauses and words, and at a fundamental level it attempts to make intelligible the garbled mess that is any natural language.

To do this it must address phonetics, usage, morphology, punctuation, phonology, verbs, syntax, nouns, semantics, adjectives, pragmatics and nearly everything else under the sun.

It is, undoubtedly, a monster. Yet it is a monster that should be tamed. But don’t get discoureged; as I mentioned before, adults have a small edge in their quest to learn English grammar.

Definition of Grammar - Just Like the Universe Itself

Grammar deals with forms, not meanings. It is governed by logic, and most native speakers of a language do not consciously remember every rule in their language even though they have internalized grammar. Rather, they learn the language by osmosis.

There is no single universal compendium of grammar for the English language. To quote Robert William Burchefield, editor of the Oxford English Dictionary: “the English language is rather like a monster accordion, stretchable at the whim of the editor, compressible ad lib.

In that vein, it’s important to understand that the progression of grammatical thought is not systematic. It’s not done in an orderly, controlled style. The rules exist, but they are often ignored and nobody bats an eye about it. Some of the most beautiful novels in the English language dismiss the iron-clad laws of grammar, and great writers do this consciously because they understand that breaking the rules is another tool in their toolbox.

Grammar is a Piano I Play by Ear

Even something as basic as parts of speech does not reach a unanimous decision.

As is mentioned on the latest edition of The Chicago Manual of Style, the classic view, as explained by writer Robert L. Allen, is that there are eight parts of speech: nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections.

These are disputed by a number of writers; a few believe there should be fifteen or more parts of speech.  Others feel that only four are needed.

For the sake of simplicity, this website uses the traditional eight.

It would be more accurate to describe grammar as a mixture of science and art.

Science, in the sense that it has a set of rules that govern its use, and art, in the sense that you are free to stretch and rearrange the language as long as you (loosely) abide by the laws of grammar.


Koerner, E. F. K, and R. E Asher. 2014. Concise History Of The Language Sciences. Burlington: Elsevier Science.

Lennie, William. 1851. The Principles Of English Grammar. Toronto: Brewer, McPhail.

Lily, William, and John Colet. A Short Introduction of Grammar, 1549. Menston, Yorks.: Scolar Press, 1970.

The Chicago Manual of Style. 16th ed. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 2010.