Basic Rules of Grammar to Write a Killer Essay

Basic Rules of Grammar to Write a Killer Essay

Grammar is not for the light of heart.

Don’t you hate it when writing your essay and you can’t figure out which word to put where and how in a sentence? I know I have.

There is a lot that goes into writing a killer essay and grammar is something you don’t want to ignore.

What is grammar really?

According to Wikipedia, grammar is a combination of rules that govern the creation of phrases, sentences, words and clauses in any language.

Surprisingly, good grammar is not only important in writing essays, but it is also crucial for emails, business, and oral conversations.

It would then be a good idea that you not only master grammar as an art, but that you starting learning the ropes now.

And did you know that there is even a National Grammar Day on March fourth?  Ooh, shouldn’t you then honor this day by writing a grammatical essay?

According to a report by Northumbria University, many native English speakers do not understand the structure of a basic sentence.

Does this sound like you? Then read on

What is the importance of grammar in writing?

Seriously, why is grammar so important?  Understanding grammar in writing is the key to writers’ or students’ competence and confidence.

Besides, grammar helps people to understand each other. For instance, it helps you as a writer to communicate your ideas efficiently and effectively.  The difference between an A and D essay depends on how well the author understands grammar.

In fact, a mastery of grammar will go a long way to help in understanding and following the instructions of your essay.

Without grammar, there is no logic in your writing.

Are you an English second language (ESL) learner or a native speaker who wants to excel in academic writing, sit tight and let me walk with you on this journey.

Let’s get started:

 Rules of grammar in essay writing

If grammar is that important then, what should I do to be good at it?



Verbs are words that describe an action or a state of being.  A sentence is not therefore complete without a verb. However, it is important for you to know that all sentences must have a verb.


The verb can be an action or a non-action word.  Surprisingly, a verb can exist on its own without the subject.




Remember when we said a verb shows an action or a state of being? That leads us to the two types of verbs:

  1. Action.
  2. Non-action.

While the action verbs show an action, non-action verbs show a state of being such as emotions or opinions.

Example of action verbs in a sentence:

James fought the young boy.

The verb in the sentence above is fought. James’ action (verb) is fought.

Example of non-action verb in a sentence

Mr. Daniel seems angry.

Non-action verbs are also called stative verbs as they may show a state, sense, an opinion or a desire.

Other non-action verbs include feel, taste, like, be, sound, have, want, believe etc.

Word of advice: non-action verbs cannot be controlled. What does this mean?  You cannot use the –ing continuous form with the non-action verbs.

For example:

They have a boat.

We cannot therefore say:

They having a boat

Why? Because the non-action verb ‘have’ cannot be continuous.


A pronoun is a word that is used to replace a noun.  Confused?

Check this out?

Instead of repeating the noun ‘James’ in every sentence, you might consider using ‘he.’

In this case, the special name for the word, ‘James’ is an antecedent.

If pronouns are important in writing essays, then they must agree in number and they must clearly refer to the noun.

Furthermore, if the antecedent is plural, then the pronouns must be plural as well.

INCORRECT: If a man stands in your way, they have to be strong.

CORRECT:  If a man stands in your way, he or she has to be strong.

Avoid the common mistake of vagueness and ambiguity in the use of pronouns.


INCORRECT: When the car and the elephant collided, it was not damaged.

What is wrong with this sentence?

The pronoun ‘it’ does not make clear what was damaged between the car and the elephant.

CORRECT:  when the car and the elephant collided, the car was damaged.

Articles (a, the & an)

Articles are used to modify nouns.

Sadly, more than 70% mistakes found in writing are related to the wrong use of articles.

Here’s  the good news

English grammar has two articles only:

  1. Definite (The)
  2. (A/ An)

The definite article; The, replaces to a specific noun. On the other hand, indefinite articles refer to anything that isn’t specific.

Interestingly, ‘the’ can be used with plural and singular nouns.   Many non-English speakers overuse or omit articles when writing their papers.


There are times where you do not have to use articles.  For example, articles cannot be used to refer to specific categories such as education, literature, countries, biology, chemistry,  proper nouns, patience etc.

Correct: Literature improves an essay

Incorrect: The literature improves an essay.


Just like articles, adjectives modify nouns. In short, by giving specific details such as quantity or quality adjectives describe nouns.

However, adjectives do not modify verbs or adverbs.

Adjectives could also be used to link verbs or to modify pronouns.

Usually, an adjective answers the questions:

  • What kind?
  • How many?
  • Which one?


The 3-pages essay

3-pages is an adjective referring to the noun essay.

3-pages answer the questions:

  •  Which essay?
  • What kind of an essay?

Style of citation & formatting

While these may not be necessarily relevant to grammar, understanding them will go a long way to perfecting your essay. The most common citation styles are APA, MLA, Chicago, Harvard, and Turabian.  Each style, however, has its own rules and guidelines.

On the other hand, formatting is relative to the style of citation as well as the type of paper.

To catch a glimpse of the basic citation and formatting guide visit the resources page.



Using punctuations is confusing. In fact, apart from the coma and the full stop, many students do not understand where and how to use other punctuations.

In that case, besides reading this article, you have to practice using punctuations if you want your essay and sentence to convey the intended message.  Although there is much to learn about punctuation, you will most likely encounter a list of 10 important punctuations in academic writing.

Here is the list:

The full stop

The full stop which is sometimes called a period appears at the end of a statement, sentence or in abbreviations


 The essay was delivered on time.

13 P.M.


Commas are often used to separate ideas in one sentence especially between two independent clauses.

Example: They said they were tired, so they went to sleep early.

You may also use a comma after a series of items.

Example: We bought a pair of shoes, a bucket, a knife.

Also, use a comma after transitional phrases.

Example:  Daniel was late for class; therefore, the teacher punished him.


Colons often come after independent clauses and they are mainly used to call attention to the preceding words.

Example:  Usually, when I am sick I feel only one thing: sadness.

However, some students make the mistake of using a colon before a list.

Incorrect: Items in my bucket list : soda, pens, and books.


Semi-colons may be used to combine independent clauses especially if the writer wants both clauses to have the same meaning.

Example:  Evans said he was sick; he went to the hospital without informing his wife.

Quotation marks  

Understanding the use of quotation will help you to not only convey ideas correctly, but it will also help you to avoid plagiarism.

In short, the quotation marks enclose the exact words of a person.

Example: James said, “I am not happy with your work.”

Question mark   

The question mark is only used at the end of a direct question.

Example: Did you fetch the water?


Just like other punctuations, the hyphen is equally important.  When writing your essay, use hyphens to join compound words.

Example: fifty-nine cows.


Apostrophes are used to show possession.

Example: The essay’s title.

In the sentence above, the title belongs to the essay.

Besides, an apostrophe could be used to pluralize numbers.

Example: The five’s and four’s


Parentheses could be used to enclose numbers in a sentence or make clear additional information that may not be essential to the sentence.


The essay will be grade on (1) punctuation, and (2) plagiarism

Exclamation mark

Do you remember interjections such as Ouch, wow or hey?

If you do, you understand the use of exclamation marks.

If not, here is an example:

Wow! I loved your cake.

Furthermore, an exclamation mark could be used at the end of a command.

Example: Stop it!

Passive and active voice

Don’t you hate it when you can’t seem to grasp the concept of voices in grammar? (I know I have).

Many students struggle with writing clear and concise sentences. However, all this comes down to understanding passive and active voices.

So what is the difference between active and passive voices?

In an active voice sentence, the subject performs the action and the object receives the action. On the other hand,  in a passive voice sentence, the object becomes the subject.


Active:  William hates the teacher.

Passive voice: The teacher is hated by William

The first sentence uses the subject; William, to do the action; hate, on the object; the teacher.

In the second sentence, however, the teacher becomes the subject.

Surprisingly, identifying the subject and object in a sentence is straightforward but requires practice.

To identify the subject you need to ask yourself one question:

  • Who is doing what and to whom?

The noun that is doing the action is the subject and the noun to whom the action is being done is the object.

While the passive voice may fit in some situations, it is always a good idea to use the active voice because it makes your essay clear and concise.

If you want to know whether a sentence is active or passive you might do the following:

  • Check the ‘by’ phrase e.g. by the cow or by the students. To convert this sentence into the active voice, rewrite it so that the noun after the ‘by’ phrase comes at the start of the sentence.
  • If the subject of the sentence is unknown consider guessing depending on the context.

Sentence structure

An essay is a combination of sentences put together to make an argument or idea complete. Similarly, a sentence is a combination of words put together to express an idea.

Learning to write sentences in the right structure requires a lot of practice and tenacity.  Some sentences have complex structures but knowing the basic rules of a complete sentence will help you to write a killer essay.

In this case, a well-structured sentence must do the following:

  1. Have a verb
  2. Follow the subject + Verb agreement.
  3. Stand on its own with a clear idea. This means that it is independent of other sentences.
  4. Starts with a capital letter
  5. Ends with a punctuation (period, question mark or an exclamation mark).

Redundancy & Conciseness

Ugh, this must be irritating, isn’t it?

When writing your essay believe in Shakespeare‘s maxim of brevity is the soul of wit.

However, every assignment has its set of rules including word count. When students do not want to be punished for not reaching the word count, they will often use many words in a sentence that could probably be written in one word or few simple words.

However, writing simple and clear sentence makes your essay flow.

Consider this example:

 The boys and girls at the school were extremely pissed.

While this sentence makes sense, it is redundant.

When rewritten this sentence could read:

The students were pissed.

See how easy that is?

So how do you avoid redundancy?

Here are the rules:

  • Avoid overusing adverbs ( completely annoyed, very odd etc)
  • Write in a positive form. Instead of saying  (He was not speaking) say (He was deaf)
  • Use thesaurus
  • Avoid using the ‘or’ phrase. Instead of saying:

(The global population or the world’s population)  (Simply say:  the world’s population).

Run on or fused sentences

Run on sentences also called fused sentences are common errors in academic writing. They occur when two independent clauses are not connected correctly. In some case, these clauses are separated by a comma.


The doctor was agitated; he wanted to see the patient.

To avoid run-on sentences, consider:

  • using conjunctions
  • Separating the clauses to make complete sentences
  • Use semi-colon or colons

The sentence above would read:

The doctor was agitated because he wanted to see the patient.

Paragraph length

Many instructors recommend that you use 100-200 words for each paragraph. Some say that an ideal paragraph has 5 to 6 sentence.  But is this the accepted and universal rule for writing essays?

Well, there is no rule to the optimal length of a paragraph. Some paragraphs are long while others are short. However, each paragraph should have its idea.  This means that the optimum length of a paragraph depends on the number of words, characters, and ideas.

The paragraph, however, will have its own subsections in order of:

  • Topic sentence
  • Claim
  • Evidence
  • Conclusion

How can I improve my grammar essay?

Improving the grammar in your essay is pretty straightforward   There 7 steps to improving your essay as follows:

  1. Use the right pronouns
  2. Ensuring the spelling is correct
  3. Avoid split infinitives
  4. Use transition words such as however, moreover, additionally etc.
  5. Use active voices
  6. Avoid insubordinate clauses
  7. Implement short sentences



Wrapping up

Writing is not just about grammar. You have to also learn the tricks of different essay types.  However, mastering grammar is your secret recipe to top-notch papers.

Do not worry though, these require practice and by being patient, you will be doing yourself a big favor.



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