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Good grammar is an essential tool for all your written assignments.

 It cannot answer your essay questions, but it will create the framework that makes your work more readable, more interesting, and easier for your reader to understand.

Why is grammar important?

Sentence structure
You need to get this correct or the sentence may not make sense, or it might read in a way that you did not intend.
Parts of speech
In each situation, it is important to use the correct part of speech, for example: adjective, noun, adverb. Otherwise your writing will not make sense.
Correct tense
This is important so that the reader knows whether you are talking about something that has happened, is happening or is going to happen in the future.
Pronouns
Pronouns are used in place of nouns that have already been mentioned or that are already known, often to avoid repeating the nouns. For example: Kate was tired, so she went to bed. A relative pronoun is used to connect a clause or phrase to a noun or pronoun. You see them used everyday. The most common relative pronouns are: who, whom, whoever, whomever, which, whichever, and that.
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Run-on sentences

Run-on sentences occur when two or more independent clauses have been joined together incorrectly.  We will correct this run-on sentence example: 

I love mathematical problems I would solve one every day if I had access to new problems.  

Commas are used to mark breaks or pauses in a sentence. They are used to group words together to create meaning. Commas are often used with a connecting or joining word (examples include however, therefore, for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so).

I love mathematical problems, and I would solve one every day if I had access to new problems.

Full stops can be used to break a run-on sentence into smaller sentences. Make sure that you don’t create short, choppy sentences. This option is best for creating long sentences.

I love mathematical problems. I would solve one every day if I had access to new problems.

Semi-colons are alternatives to the comma and do not require a joining or connecting word.

I love mathematical problems; I would solve one every day if I had access to new problems. 

Independent/dependent clauses

Understanding the difference between independent and dependant clauses is key because these are the building blocks for good sentences.

Independent clauses

An independent clause makes sense without additional information. Combined with phrases or dependent clauses, it can form complex sentences. Alone, it is a simple sentence that expresses one complete thought.

Example: The assignment instructions need to be carefully analysed.

Dependent clauses

Dependent clauses only express part of an idea. They rely on other information in the sentence to provide meaning. Dependent clauses are used to expand on the main idea in a sentence.

Example:…so that you can address your assignment tasks properly.

Subordinate conjunctions

Subordinate conjunctions are the words that join independent and dependent clauses.  

As well as joining clauses, the subordinate conjunction will indicate a time, place, or cause-and-effect relationship. It will also indicate which clause is more important.

Example: The assignment instructions need to be carefully analysed so that you can address your assignment tasks properly.

Other subordinate conjunctions include after, although, as, because, before, even if, even though, if, in order that, than, that, though, unless and more.

Coordinating conjunctions

Coordinating conjunctions are used to link independent clauses (usually two).

Example: Use the marking guide to work out how many words to write for each section, and to check that you have answered all parts of the question.

“And” is a coordinating conjunction. This coordinating conjunction serves the function of addition, and it also allows more concise writing. Writing the two separate independent clauses as two sentences may have resulted in repetition.

Another important coordinating conjunction is “but”, which serves to show contrasting information.

Using the coordinating conjunction “and” as an example, you can join the following independent clauses together:

  1. Use the marking guide to work out how many words to write for each section.
  2. Use the marking guide to check that you have answered all parts of the question.

Use the marking guide to work out how many words to write for each section, and to check that you have answered all parts of the question.

Coordinating conjunctions include and, nor, but, or, yet and so.

Tense

When you write your assignments, most of your work should be in one tense, because you are discussing facts, actions, or studies. A good rule to apply to your work is: only one tense per sentence. You may write an assignment in past tense but need to refer to an example in a different tense. It is important that you do this carefully, so you do not confuse your reader.

As well as describing actions, verbs also indicate the timeframe for when the action takes place. There are many tenses in the English language, but to keep it simple, we will concentrate on the three main ones:

Woman in armor with shield and sword

Past tense

The past simple tense is often used to report what researchers have found. 

e.g. Rogers (2016, p.126) found that many respondents highly valued face-to-face contact because it helped to establish rapport and trust.

Woman typing on laptop as time passes

Present tense

The present simple tense is used to state facts.

e.g. An important issue that affects the health services in many countries relates to providing care for their greying population.

It is also used to state your position on a topic.

e.g. The approach recommended by Smith (2016, p.246) is likely to be effective in certain situations such as…because…

Man moving upwards

Future tense

The future tense is usually used in the introduction of an assessment task.

e.g. This essay will discuss the common biological, psychosocial, and behavioral changes that the elderly face….

Additional Resources

The Smarthinking Writer’s Handbook contains detailed information about grammar, spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure, with topics that include:

  • Parts of speech (e.g. nouns, personal pronouns, articles etc).
  • Usage (e.g. subject-verb agreement, tenses).
  • Punctuation (e.g. apostrophes, quotation marks, capitalisation)
  • Spelling strategies
  • Tone, voice, and work choice.

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