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The ONLY 3 English Grammar Rules You Need to Know to Speak Fluent English

3 Essential English Grammar Rules

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Personally I stopped studying English Grammar the traditional way years ago.

By now I’ve actually forgotten most of the grammar terms and rules I had hammered into my brain, and just as well – they only prevented me from speaking English fluently.

Why?

Simple enough – I used to spend way too much time analyzing my thoughts, applying Grammar rules and preparing my speech in my head.

It was killing my English fluency, and it took me quite a while to figure out the simple truth – English collocations (phrases, idiomatic expressions, most commonly used sentences) already contain all necessary grammar in them!

When I speak English now, I don’t think about grammar anywhere near as much as I used to. I just rely on my “gut feeling” and get fully involved in conversations. My intuition takes care of English Grammar!

For instance, English preposition usage rules determine that you have to say “ON this occasion” but the word ‘situation’ goes with a preposition ‘in’ – “IN this situation”. Personally I don’t look at it as something that has to be constantly recalled during English conversations. I mean – once you learn the relevant collocations – “in this situation” and “on this occasion” – it sticks with you and you don’t have to consciously think which preposition to use every time you speak.

Having said all this, however, I have to admit there are a few English Grammar rules I always bear in mind, and they’re just about the only ones you need to know on top of naturally occurring English phrases and collocations to form correct and fluent English speech.

Of course, I’m not saying the ones below are the only English Grammar rules you’ll EVER need.

But let me remind you that this blog is for advanced foreign English speakers therefore the main presumption is that you don’t have a problem with Basic English Grammar – it’s completely out of the question here!

So, let’s look at the 3 English Grammar Rules that will help you to maintain your English fluency – especially on occasions when your English fluency experiences slight dips and you need to be a bit more careful when speaking.

Past Perfect Tense

In the unlikely case you’ve forgotten what it is – here’s an article (and a video) about the English Past Perfect Tense I published a while back.

And don’t get me wrong – I’m not implying that your English mightn’t be good enough or anything. I also tend to forget grammar related terms because I’m just not bothered studying it anymore, so it’s actually understandable that one might forget what the Past Perfect Tense is!

Anyway, here’s how I go about speaking in English and using the Past Perfect Tense; and why it’s one of those grammar rules I always keep in mind.

During any English conversation there are four possible timelines – events taking place in Present, Future, Past and also even more distant Past. This distant Past – let’s call it Past before Past – is the one demanding Past Perfect Tense, and so far it’s all common sense and I’m sure you’ve known this English Grammar rule all along.

Let’s say for example, you’re telling your friend: “Someone drove into my front yard and completely destroyed the lawn!” That’s Past, but now if you want to mention an event that HAD happened before the lawn got destroyed – that’s when you use Past Perfect Tense – “Thank God I HAD TAKEN little Eric inside – who knows what might have happened if he’d been there?”

Well, the reason I’m putting this Grammar Rule in this list is because it’s a bit tricky to spot that Past before Past during a conversation, and personally I have to slow my speech down a little to use the correct Tense ❗

It wouldn’t sound completely wrong if you used Simple Past Tense on both – Past and Past before Past – timelines, but I’m sure you want to speak as correctly as possible, and observing this grammar rule doesn’t really require that much effort.

You just have to make it your second nature to use the auxiliary verb HAD (normally it abbreviates to ‘d which is added on to the personal pronoun – “I’d done it”) followed by a Past Participle after personal pronouns when you’re talking about an event that PRECEDED some other event that you’re going to talk about RIGHT AFTER you’ve finished with the first one.

As I said, it might still require conscious effort long after you’ve become quite a fluent English speaker, and that’s why I put this English Grammar rule on this list.

Type 1 Conditional Sentences

There are many types of English conditional sentences containing the so-called “if-clauses”, and there was a time when I used to cram all their possible variations in my mind.

You don’t have to do it, and that’s not what I’m going to suggest in this article. If I did, there’s a good chance you’d find it even more difficult to speak in English because you’d overanalyze your own speech, and that’s definitely not something we want.

The first part of the previous sentence I wrote, by the way, is a Type 2 Conditional sentence – “If I DID, there’s a good chance you WOULD find it even more difficult”. Type 2 Conditional sentences are formed to refer to events which are unlikely to happen, but in theory they could, so you have to use Simple Past with the ‘if’ clause and follow it by WOULD + Infinitive.

However, there are exceptions to this rule, and you are actually allowed to follow the Simple Past ‘if’ clause by WOULD+ Simple Perfect. Therefore a sentence “If I met him yesterday, I would have started a fight with him” is a totally valid English grammar construct!

But what if I wanted to say “If I HAD met him yesterday?” Would that be correct?…

You see, this is what I call information overload ❗

If you try to include all variations of English Conditional Sentences in your analysis, you’ll be hardly able to speak at all!

My approach is the following – all these “would have’s”, “would have had’s” and “had I had’s” are much simpler than we’re told. There’s much more room for improvisation than we’re told by English Grammar specialists, and once you’ve spent enough time practicing English you’ll definitely get a hang of it!

The first rule in today’s article about the English Past Perfect Tense is all you actually need to get the Tenses right when you speak, and if you also incorporate Future in the Past in your English conversations, there’s nothing that can go wrong.

Nothing except the following: ‘if’ (and also ‘when’) clauses are to be used with Simple Present if action in the main clause is expressed by the WILL Future Form; however, we foreigners are often tempted to use the WILL Future Form in the WHOLE SENTENCE!

So for instance, you don’t say “If I’ll be still sick tomorrow, I won’t come to work.”

Type 1 Conditional sentences are constructed this way: “If I’m sick tomorrow, I won’t come to work.” You see – the first part of the sentence is in Present Simple “if I’m sick”, and personally I have always found it a bit difficult to wrap my head around this English Grammar rule.

Type 1 Conditional sentences don’t necessarily begin with the conjunctions ‘if’ and ‘when’. The may begin with nearly any conjunction:

“For as long as I’m capable to come in, I’ll continue with my normal work duties.” You see – same thing! You may be tempted to say “For as long as I’ll be capable to come in…”, but you just have to remember that all such and similar sentences demand Present Simple instead of WILL Future!

So basically it boils down to this: if you speak about something that might, will, or won’t happen and you intend to follow that clause by the main clause in WILL Future, use Perfect Simple!

Personally I always have to keep this in mind when speaking in English, and that’s why this rule is included among these 3 essential English Grammar rules.

Future Tense

“I’ll do it tomorrow, don’t worry!”

“I’m going to do it tomorrow; you may stop worrying about it!”

“I’m doing the driving test tomorrow so I have to take a day off.”

All the above sentences refer to future actions, but how do we determine which English Grammar Tense is to be used? This is another English Grammar aspect that can get your head spinning, so I believe that if you fix the way you describe Future actions, you’re English is going to be fluent.

First of all, you have to stop treating the WILL + Infinitive Future form as the basic English Future Tense.

Contrary to what the English Grammar books may have led you to believe, it’s only used to describe DECISIONS made at the moment of the conversation AND expressing your opinion – what you THINK or BELIEVE will happen (but even then you can use the GOING TO Future form, so instant decisions is really the ONLY time when you HAVE TO use this Future form).

“OK, I WILL carry this box down the hall for you, no problem!” (instant decision, offer to help.)

“I think the 3rd horse WILL not come in first, it doesn’t look fit enough” (your opinion, but as I said previously – GOING TO is also fine “I think the 3rd horse is not going to come in first…”)

HOWEVER, in real life conversations you’re totally fine to use the Present Progressive Tense when speaking about most Future actions because it’s used to describe arranged future plans which make up quite a big part of our total future activities we refer to when speaking with others.

To put it simply, before you refer to a future action during a conversation, just think whether it’s something that has been already arranged and/or known to you and/or your conversation partner. If it is, most likely you have to use Present Progressive.

“I’M FIXING my bike tomorrow so I’m not sure if I can go to the mall with you.” As you can imagine, the decision of fixing the bike has already been made, and now you’re only letting your friend know about it.

Same goes with most of our daily plans and actions, so you should regard the Present Progressive Tense as your primary English Future Tense: “A fire inspector IS COMING to check our building next week, so we have to make sure all fire exits are obstacle-free.”

Other than arranged future plans, you’re totally fine to use the GOING TO Future form when referring to most other future actions in normal, daily English conversations.

“You see, we’re GOING TO rearrange our office next week, so we’d best wait till bringing in the new chairs.”

“I’M GOING TO contact her tomorrow once more, but we’ll send the order out on Monday regardless because the goods might go off.”

If you watch TV programs and movies, you’ll notice that the GOING TO Future form (or GONNA – that’s how it’s abbreviated in conversational English) is used all the time. So I’d say you can’t get it wrong if you stick to using this future form and Present Progressive at most times.

And believe me – it’s not a big deal even if you mix up the two – Present Continuous and GOING TO Future form. Just read the following two sentences:

“We’re rearranging our office next week.”

“We’re going to rearrange our office next week.”

See – they both sound perfectly fine! So on many occasions it’s up to you which Grammar Tense you use as far as you don’t use WILL + Infinitive Future form all the time.

Bottom line

If you keep learning collocations, idiomatic expressions and phrases and you keep practicing a lot, you’ll develop the “gut feeling” for correct English and you won’t need to study English Grammar to speak correctly.

These 3 English Grammar Rules, however, will come in handy to get your speech right:

  1. Past Perfect Tense – use HAD + Present Participle when referring to actions in the past that happened BEFORE another event in the past you’re going to refer to in the same sentence.
  2. Type 1 Conditional Sentences – use Present Simple instead of WILL + Infinitive Future when describing things that might, might not, will or won’t happen and begin with conjunctions such as ‘if’, ‘when’, ‘as far as’, ‘as soon as’, ‘unless’ and others.
  3. Future – if you still do it – stop using WILL + Infinitive Future form when referring to all future actions. Use this grammar construct only when making instant decisions! Use Present Progressive and GOING TO Future forms for all other future references because that’s how native English speakers speak!

Robby

P.S. Would you like to find out why I’m highlighting some of the text in red? Read this article and you’ll learn why it’s so important to learn idiomatic expressions and how it will help you to improve your spoken English!

P.S.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!

 

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Well, it just goes to show that typos happen to everyone! 😉

  • Thanks, liked the post..
    A small grammatical error though, ironically in this sentence of all..
    “so I believe that if you fix the way you describe Future actions, you’re English is going to be fluent.”

  • Hi Klaudia,
    And thanks for the comment!
    Now, first things first – for some reason I hadn’t even noticed Chris’s comment all those years ago so basically I only got to read it now.
    I can’t really see how the whole “hospital” and “being nasty” thing ties in with this particular article because the point I was making in this article was the following: these 3 are the most basic grammar rules you need to make your speech sound fairly correct, that’s all!
    I’ve never claimed one doesn’t have to observe proper grammar.
    My belief is that for the most part you can learn correct grammar without studying the rules – all you’ve gotta do is simply learn correct speech patterns, collocations and phrases because they already contain all the necessary grammar in them.
    Sometimes though, one may have to adjust the tenses as they speak, so that’s when these 3 rules will come in handy.
    As for the whole American vs British thing – I personally thing the alleged differences are grossly overrated; for the average foreign English speaker it’s not worth even looking into it. Just learn to speak fluent English and you’ll be understood anywhere in the world!
    Cheers,
    Robby

  • Klaudia

    Chris,
    I’m guessing your British? or you teach British English because in Amercian English I went to hospital has no meaning to native speakers. Although I do agree with both Chris and Robby, In my opinion if you want to learn British English then you’re going to need to learn a little more grammers rules then written here in this article. But if your learning American English then I don’t think its necessary. And also little kids learn english or any other language without learning grammer first and it’s not a problem so I don’t think grammer is the most important part of learning a foreign language, ofcourse later on when you have the vocabulary and your not afraid to speak then learning the grammer is important, but that should’nt be the numer priority.

  • Chris

    Sorry Robby, I have to disagree with you.

    Yes, students shouldn’t be focused on grammar when speaking. Never stop a student from talking to correct their grammar. That’s a golden rule. If your teachers did it in the past, they were wrong. But students still have to learn the grammar before they can put it to the side or forget about it.

    Not knowing the grammar can mean that what you say is different to what you want to express.

    e.g. I went to hospital
    I went to the hospital.

    There are 2 completely different meanings here. Meanings that natives feel and understand.

    Also, prepositions are not grammar. They are just what we say and should not (can’t) be taught in a grammatical fashion.

    As for the teacher stressing fluency (which is extremely important!) over accuracy… A lot of students learn English for business and need to be accurate.

    You are nasty.
    You are being nasty.

    Two completely different sentences.

    Just my opinion.

  • Francisco Javier

    That’s right. Too many people for very few places.

  • Yeah… Sounds very harsh! Super-high standards; my guess is that there’s a big competition in this particular profession?

  • Francisco Javier

    By the way, here’s a post I wrote about how difficult it is to become a teacher in Spain:

    http://javiervallestero.tumblr.com/post/11528698294/becoming-a-teacher-in-spain-mission-impossible#disqus_thread 

  • Francisco Javier

    I’m a supply English teacher in Spain, currently unemployed (though I give some private tuition).

  • Thanks, and I totally agree with you! I understand you can see that I’m not advocating total ignorance and oversimplification of the English language when it comes to grammar.

    Let’s take this very same article. Of course, there are more than 3 grammar rule one needs to know to speak, but the point is – once you’ve gotten the hang of the spoken word, most of the grammar related stuff should come naturally and there’s very few rules that you’ll have to consciously think of when speaking.

    By the way – I wasn’t aware you were an English teacher; I’m glad you always find time to read and comment on my blog posts.

    Thanks a lot for your input!

    Robby 🙂

  • Francisco Javier

    Excellent post, Roby. As a teacher, I have to know and explain English grammar, but I don’t encourage students to learn its rules parrot-fashion, just to get the “idea” behind every grammar rule.

    I always stress the importance of fluency above accuracy, while at the same time telling them that they should strive for correction if possible.