Grammar and Punctuation

Grammar is the system of a language. Many people think grammar is the 'rules' of a language but this is incorrect. A better way to think of grammar is the whole of the language that we learn from early childhood to communicate with others in an effective manner. Punctuation plays an important role in the written component of most languages.

Understanding grammar and punctuation is an important part of successful academic writing. Even though knowing the names of the technical terms for different grammatical structures isn't essential, it can help individuals to better understand how English (or any other language) works.  Below are some of the important rules to follow when constructing an English sentence:

Subject-Verb Agreement

Subject-Verb Agreement is when the SUBJECT and the VERB of a sentence “agree” in number. This means that a singular subject must have a singular verb, and a plural subject must have a plural verb.

Consider these two sentences:

  • The children (subject) are (verb) unwell.           
  • The children (subject) is (verb) unwell.

In the first sentence the verb agrees with the subject, so the correct usage is 'The children are unwell'. 

It is important to note that sometimes the subject can be complicated, as it can be more than one or two words. For example the following sentence is more complicated because the verb is referring to the number not students.

  • The number of ACAP students has risen to over 5000 in the past 3 years. 

Note that some nouns refer to more than one person or thing, but represent something as a whole, and therefore use a singular verb. For example, 'the audience', 'the government', 'McDonalds', all use singular verbs.

  • The audience is expected to remain quiet during a performance.

This also occurs with names or titles that end in 's'. Countries, newspapers, and book titles that end with 's' take a singular verb.

  • Cyprus is a country in an island country in the Eastern Mediterranean.
  • The Brisbane Times is an online newspaper.
  • A Tale of Two Cities is a novel written by Charles Dickens.


Noun-Pronoun Agreement

A pronoun is a word that can be used to mean the same thing as the noun (the name of something) in a sentence.

  • The individual started counselling. He found the service critical to his recovery.  (The individual is the NOUN and He is the PRONOUN).
  • The Council believes that it had succeeded. (Council is the NOUN and it is the PRONOUN).
  • Dr Jones was pleased today. He couldn’t believe that his new book had a picture of himself on the back. (Dr Jones is the NOUN and he, his, and himself are all PRONOUNS).


Tense: Past, Present, Future

A tense is “where” a verb is placed in time. The common tenses used in English are the past, the present, and the future. It is important to use the correct tense when writing as it shows when an has action occurred. Sometimes different tenses can be used to mean the same thing. The students were seated can be also written this way The students had been seated. Using different tenses can seem irrelevant, but for academic writing using the correct tense is imperative for the proper communication of the message. 

The present tense shows that something occurs in the present time period. Present tense is used when referring to facts, habits, unchanging situations, and instructions or directions.

  • The patient giggles (present) when she is feeling nervous.

The past tense shows that something occurred in the past time period, and should be used when an action has been completed or is no longer true.

  • The children stopped (past) running when they reached the fence.

The future tense shows that something may or will occur in the future time period. Future can also show the probability of something happening. Future tense is used when referring to predictions, intentions, arrangements, scheduled events, and obligations.

  • Students will need (future) to see their tutor before the exam.

Note that sometimes the present tense can also be used to refer to future events in certain sentences.

  • The teacher has extra classes next week.

Sentences are made up of different word types and phrases. Refer to Sentence Structure page for more information on how sentences are constructed.