Knowing about grammar will help you write clearly and avoid losing marks in your assignments. Understanding grammatical concepts will also help you improve your writing over time.
Verbs and subjects
Verbs are words that convey actions, happenings or states of being.
Action: Administrators run the day-to-day operations of the hospital.
Happening: The colonial enterprise became the obsession of those who craved the status of empire in the 19th century.
State of being: The experiment was unsuccessful in proving the hypothesis.
Subjects are the person, place or thing which controls the verb (does the action). Subjects can be single words or phrases.
Person (or people): Managers enacted several new policies to increase production.
Place: The mountain region was experiencing erosion at an accelerated pace due to overdevelopment.
Thing: Climate change challenged society’s dependence on fossil fuels.
Subject-verb agreement means that subjects are matched with the correct form of the verb.
Correct regular verb forms for a subject
I, you, we, they
have + past participle
he, she, it
has + past participle
Example verb forms with the regular verb "show"
I, you, we, they
he, she, it
Irregular verbs do not obey the rules above. The “to be” verb is an example of an irregular verb. When using irregular verbs, check that you are using the correct form.
Example verb forms with the irregular verb "to be"
you, we, they
he, she, it
Verb tenses in academic writing
The verb tense tells the reader when the action of the verb occurs (present, past or future). The most common tenses in academic writing are present simple, past simple and present perfect.
Present simple indicates the action of the verb is happening regularly, repeatedly or all the time.
Hint: Use the present simple to state points or to introduce sources.
Example: McGuffin (2018) states that osmosis occurs between the roots of a plant and the surrounding soil.
Past simple indicates the action of the verb happened in the past.
Hint: Use the past simple to refer to findings or results of studies.
Example: The analysis revealed that population growth directly impacted the economy.
Present perfect indicates the action of the verb occurred in the past but has a connection to the present.
Hint: Use the present perfect to show that research is recent or still ongoing.
Example: The research has shown a correlation between diet and overall health.
Active and passive voice
Active voice is when the subject performs the action of the verb.
Example: Heat causes an increase in the movement of molecules.
Passive voice is when the subject is acted upon by the verb.
Example: The motion of molecules is increased by heat.
Hint: Generally, avoid the passive voice. Use it when you want to emphasise the action.
Example: The structure was made by combining several disparate parts.
Independent and dependent clauses
An independent clause contains a subject and verb and is a complete thought – it is a simple sentence.
Example: The population of animals declined.
A dependent clause can’t stand alone as a complete sentence. It either lacks a subject, lacks a verb or is not a complete thought.
Example: When conditions worsened.
Independent + dependent clause: You can join a dependent clause to an independent clause to make a complex sentence.
Example: When conditions worsened, the population of animals declined.
Hint: See punctuation for when to use a comma with a dependent clause.
Independent + independent clause: You can join two independent clauses with either acomma and coordinating conjunction or with a semi-colon.
Example [comma and coordinating conjunction]: Linguistic analysis showed the early influence of Roman Latin on English, and this influence was later compounded by the arrival of the church.
Example [semi-colon]: Further analysis reveals the influence of Old Norse on English; the Viking longboats brought new words as well as new settlers to England.
Hint: See coordinating conjunctions and punctuation for more.
Coordinating conjunctions can be used to join independent clauses together. Coordinating conjunctions include: For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So
Hint: An easy way to remember coordinating conjunctions is FAN BOYS.
Example: In 2001, Australia initiated the policy of turning back boats of people seeking asylum from south-east Asia, but this had severe political and human rights repercussions throughout the region.
Commas can be used to:
separate words in a list
Example: The analysts tracked the development, production and sales of the various products.
Hint: Don't put a comma before "and" in a list when writing in Australian English.
separate two sentences with a coordinating conjunction
Example: The rate of employment increased,yet wages stagnated in all sectors.
separate an introductory phrase from the main sentence
Example: When the mixture is heated, there is a chemical reaction between the components.
separate non-essential information from the rest of the sentence
Example: The rise in contract labour, which has increased steadily, has created greater financial instability for a large portion of the population.
Apostrophes are used to:
indicate a missing letter.
It is = It’s
Do not = Don’t
We are = We’re
You are = you’re
To indicate possession.
Example: The company’s report = the report owned or possessed by the company.
Example: The students’ work = the work of the student.
Helpful hint: With plural verbs ending with “s” (e.g. students, animals, states) the apostrophe goes after the “s” as in the second example above.
A colon can be used before a list.
Example: The are four steps in the scientific process: formulating a question, making a prediction, carrying out a test and analysing the results.
Semi-colons can be used to separate two independent clauses.
Example: History is not just about the past; it can reveal aspects of the future as well.
Helpful hint: Use a semi-colon mainly between two closely connected sentences.