Which part of English grammar should you learn?


It might sound strange but not all grammar is created equal. Moreover, not every native speaker can use and will use all and every part of the English grammar.

My students often ask me which part of grammar should they learn? The answer is: it depends on your objective. If you are preparing for the B2 or C1 exams, then you will have to learn, understand and use all parts of the English grammar. At B2 level, you have to be familiar with all the elements of English grammar. However, there are a few items that are not necessary to use but it is important to understand them. You can make mistakes, but you should correct yourself as much as possible. At C1 level, the requirement is to use all parts of English grammar correctly and to correct yourself almost 100% of the time.

On the other hand, if a language exam is not necessary for you and you are learning English for work, some parts of the grammar will be less important to you. This is because, on the one hand, not each grammar item is used with the same frequency. On the other hand, work situations call for certain parts of grammar more than for others. And thirdly, the same meaning can often be expressed with different grammar, therefore you can substitute some grammar with others.

When I was studying second language acquisition and teacher training, we learnt that grammar can be divided into three categories: essential, important, and nice to know.

Essential grammar points are those which we should always use correctly because they are the foundation of the language. They carry most of the meaning and the listener will not understand the sentence if it is not correct.

For example: words order, the simple and continuous tenses (present, past, future), modal/auxiliary words in the present, questions order, linking words, pronouns and determiners, verb patterns, pronouncing the end of the words, especially -ed, -ing, and -s at the end the words (because they carry meaning)

Important points are the ones which should be used correctly most of the time if you want to sound professional. However, small mistakes will not disturb the meaning.

For example: present perfect, relative clauses, participle clauses, coun

table/uncountable words, prepositions, first and second conditional, reported speech, gerunds and infinitives, modal and auxiliary words in the past, passive sentences, articles.

And finally, nice to know items are the low frequency parts of grammar. It is necessary to be familiar with them and understand the meaning. However, you can avoid them by substituting them with other grammar parts. Believe it or not, even native speakers make mistakes with some of these items!

For example: third conditional, past perfect, past perfect continuous, future perfect and future perfect continuous, wish sentences, phrasal verbs.

Language is often approached from the grammar point of view because it is easy to categorise grammar. However, there is another way to look at language. Often it is more helpful to consider language from the point of view of functions. Functions are things that we do with the language to help us communicate and interact with other people. If you are using English at work, I recommend considering focusing on functions instead of grammar. In fact, functions are a combination of grammar and expressions.

Some examples are asking questions, asking people to help, making polite requests, negotiating, talking about reasons and result, expressing the likelihood and possibility of something, making deductions, changing a topic, dealing with difficult questions, etc. These are just a few examples.

Having said all that, I would like to add that grammar is important. The more you know and the better you can use it, the more sophisticated, eloquent and subtle your sentences will be. Is it possible to learn everything there is to know about the English language? Sure, it is! I know many people who have done just that. Nonetheless, if you don’t have to time or the inclination to memorise and practice all every little parts of the English language, it makes sense to focus on what is really important to you in your context.

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