- English grammar basics
- Advanced English grammar
- Learning English vocabulary
Learning English as a second language is turning into a must-do in our rapidly globalizing world. As a result, the demand for free English grammar lessons, ESL programs, ESL activities, and best paper writing services is rising and the need for ESL teachers is steadily increasing too.
But what does one need to effectively learn (or teach) English as a second language? First, ESL essay help from the best paper writing service can be useful. Also, we figured that it would be free and handy online ESL study materials. That’s why we have gathered some of the most essential materials for studying ESL here, sorted by the topic.
The benefits of learning English rules online is obvious: it’s free, it’s easy, it can be fitted into your own schedule. Using the materials below will help you polish your English as a second language – online, for free. You will find lots of materials for learning English grammar and vocabulary.
And in case you have an essay to write (and no desire or skills to do it), you can use our online assignment writing services. Enjoy learning English while we take care of your grades.
We hope that this tutorial will be useful for learners and teachers of English as a second language, and will help to practice English in effective and enjoyable way. Using the directory is easy: you can navigate to a specific section using the links below, or simply press Ctrl+F to search for a specific topic.
English grammar basics
The correct use of indefinite articles “A” and “AN” is one of the most basic English grammar rules. Ironically, although everyone who was ever learning ESL is familiar with this rule, still many people make errors when using indefinite articles. The rule is, however, really simple.
Before all words which begin with consonants, use "A":
- a dog
- a gray cat
- a small orange
...unless the word starts with an unsounded "h":
- an honest mistake
- an hour of silence
Before the words which begin with vowels, use "AN":
- an apple
- an elephant
- an illustration
...except when the word starts with u which sounds like "you" or with o which sounds like "wa":
- a university
- a one-eyed pirate
Basically, if you pay attention to how does the first letter in a word sound – like a vowel or like a consonant – there are no exceptions. If the first letter sounds like a vowel, use "an", otherwise, use "a".
The word "hour" starts with an "h" which has no sound so the first sound in the word is a vowel, so we say "an hour". The "u" in "university" sounds like "ju" – the first sound is “j”, so we say "a university".
The following set of rules is another basic component of ESL grammar lessons. Below you will learn when to use “a” or “an”, when to use “the”, and when to skip the article altogether.
There are two types of articles in English: THE (definite) and A/AN (indefinite). Which one to use depends completely on the word modified.
A and AN (indefinite articles)
These articles signal that the noun modified is indefinite (when you are referring to any member of some group). When the noun is general and single, use "a" or "an"; for plural general nouns, use "some" instead:
- a bird (singular noun which begins with a consonant)
- an eagle (singular noun which begins with a vowel)
- a unicorn (singular noun which begins with a consonant sound [j])
- some guys (plural noun)
Indefinite articles are also used to indicate membership in a nation, profession, or religion:
- Lily is an American.
- Mike is a dentist.
- Alex is an Orthodox Christian.
THE (definite article)
"The" is used before singular and plural nouns which are particular or specific (when you are referring to a particular member of some group).
So we say: a cat (any cat), but the cat my grandmother kept (that specific cat).
We also say: some boys (any boys), but the boys she was friends with in school (those specific boys).
Note that "the" is not used with uncountable nouns when they refer to something in a general sense:
- English is a national language in several countries.
But if this noun becomes more specific (when a modifying phrase is added), use "the":
- The English he speaks is common in rural Ireland.
We also use "the" when a noun refers to something unique:
- the Pentagon
- the World War Two
THE with geographical names
"The" should not be used before the following geographical names:
- countries (except the US and the Netherlands)
- towns, cities and states
- bays and lakes except with a group of lakes (e.g. the Spronser Lakes)
- names of mountains except with ranges of mountains (e.g. the Himalayas)
- islands except with island chains (e.g. the Maldive Islands)
"The" should be used before:
- names of rivers, oceans and seas (the Nile, the Pacific)
- geographical areas (the Middle East, the West)
- deserts, forests, gulfs, and peninsulas
First and subsequent mentions
When a noun is mentioned for the first time, "a" or "an" should be used with it. When it's mentioned for the second time (and every time after that), definite article "the" should be used:
I found a book at my desk when I came home today. The book is not mine and I don't know who left it there. I should ask my parents if they didn't leave the book in my room.
When to omit articles
The following types of nouns don't need an article at all:
- languages and nationalities (English, Russian, Chinese)
- academic subjects (history, biology, math)
- sports (football, baseball, hockey)
You can practice the article/no article rule here.
You may be thinking that you know exactly when to use capital letters, but English can be tricky. When doing the ESL grammar exercises you may realize that capitalization rules in English are different from those in your first language. Have a closer look at the rules below, and then challenge yourself with this capitalization quiz!
The following words and groups of words should be written with a capital letter:
Proper nouns (names of people, places, and organizations)
- John Smith
- Pacific Ocean
- Statue of Liberty
Family relationships used as proper nouns
- I sent a present to Uncle Ben, but not to my other uncles.
Name of God (except when used in general sense), religious figures, and holy books
- our Almighty God
- Jesus Christ
- the Bible
- People worship many different gods.
Titles when they are preceding names, but not those following names
- Many people liked Mayor Thompson.
- Scott Thompson, mayor of our town.
Cardinal directions when used as sections of areas, not as compass directions
- The Wilkinsons have moved to the Northeast.
- His farm is five miles south of Springfield.
Holidays, months, and days of the week
- Thanksgiving Day
Members of national/religious/political groups
Historical periods and events
- Cold War
- Stone Age
- World War I
All words but prepositions in the titles of songs, books, articles (with the exception that preposition must be capitalized if it is the first word of the title)
- War and Peace
- The Song of Ice and Fire
In this section you will learn how to choose the right prepositions to indicate where the object is located or where to/where from it is moving. After getting familiar with the theory below, you can practice using ESL exercises and quizzes on this topic.
Prepositions "In" and "On"
ON is used to indicate that the object is physically in contact with and supported by a surface.
IN is used to indicate that the object lies within the boundaries of some area, or within the confines of some volume.
- She wrote a note with her lipstick on the mirror (surface).
- She saw her face in the mirror (area).
Usually "on" implies that the surface is not enclosed, while "in" is used when talking about some enclosed area:
- The cows are grazing on the meadow (the meadow is not enclosed by a fence).
- The cows are grazing in the field (the field is enclosed by a fence).
The most universal preposition. Can indicate direction:
- My dad yelled at me after he got the call from my school.
- I spent the whole evening at the Christmas fair.
- We arrived at the railway station.
The basic preposition of direction. Signifies orientation towards a goal.
If the goal is physical (e.g. "school"), "to" signifies movement in its direction:
- I am going to school by bicycle.
If the goal is not physical, "to" is attached to a verb to express purpose:
- I'm learning English to go abroad.
Prepositions "Into" and "Onto"
By adding "to" to prepositions of location, the other two prepositions of direction are formed:
IN + TO = into: signifies movement with the result that someone/something becomes surrounded by something else.
- He jumped from the edge of a cliff into the water.
ON + TO = onto: signifies movement toward a surface.
- I slipped on a banana skin and fell onto the floor.
"In" and "on" have a directional meaning on their own, so in both of the above examples they could be used, too. The difference is that while "in" and on" can have both directional and locational meaning, "into" and "onto" are strictly for the directions. So you could say:
- I fell on the floor OR I fell onto the floor.
- Now I am on the floor, NOT I fell onto the floor.
One more preposition which can be used to express movement in the direction of some destination is "toward". The difference between "to" and "toward" is that "to" usually suggests movement in the direction of a specific destination:
- I am driving to London. (London is my destination.)
…while "toward" suggests movement in a general direction:
- I am driving toward London. (I am driving in the direction of London, but it is not my final destination.)
The errors in using time/spatial relationship prepositions are very common among students who are learning ESL. Below you can find a short and handy material on how to correctly use prepositions with a point in time, extended time, and position in space.
A point in time
With the specific time of the day/night, noon, midnight – use AT:
- I will go to bed at midnight.
- The lessons start at 8 a.m.
With days of the week, use ON:
- Let's go to the movie on Tuesday.
With years, seasons, months and parts of the day other than night/noon/midnight – use IN:
- I have to go to school in the morning.
- It will rain a lot in November.
- He was born in 1992.
- I will be volunteering in summer.
To express extended time, the following prepositions can be used: during, for, from...to, from...until, since, by, within.
- It's recommended to drink at least 6 glasses of water during the day. (At any time that day).
- She is going to Canada for three months. (She will spend three months in Canada).
- This road will be closed from November to March. (It will be closed in November and open in March).
- This road will be closed from late autumn until early spring. (It will be closed in autumn and open in spring).
- The electricity was gone since midnight. (It went off at midnight and isn't back yet).
- My thesis will be finished by autumn. (I will finish it no later than autumn).
- I should complete my home task within a day. (In no longer than a day).
Higher than a point – above, over:
- The bird flew over the river to the other bank.
- Her photo is still hanging above my desk.
Lower than a point – below, beneath, under, underneath:
- Sign the document below the date of issue.
- The village is beneath the ancient castle.
- A big part of the anthill is under the ground.
- The house has a solid foundation underneath.
Close to a point – near, next to, among, between, by:
- The library is near the central square.
- The coffee shop is right next to my office.
- We found Jack's sweater among Sophie's clothes.
- The house #45 is between the house #47 and the supermarket.
- There is a checkpoint by the road.
Advanced English grammar
When planning English as second language lessons, teachers tend to include lots of material on using adverbs vs. using adjectives, because they are often very similar to each other. In this section you will learn how not to get confused and always use the right words.
- Adverbs modify adjectives, verbs, and other adverbs. Adjectives modify nouns.
Many of adverbs are formed by adding "-ly" to an adjective. Below are some examples of how to tell one from another.
- Donald is careful. Here careful modifies the personal noun Donald, so it's an adjective.
- Donald walks carefully. Here carefully modifies the verb walks, so it's an adverb.
- Donald is remarkably careful. Here careful is an adjective that modifies the noun Donald and remarkably is an adverb that modifies the adjective careful.
- Donald walked extremely carefully today. In this sentence, there are two adverbs – carefully that modifies the word walked and extremely that modifies the adverb carefully.
Remember that adverbs cannot modify nouns, so the following sentences are incorrect:
- She is a luckily woman.
- This book is uselessly.
Instead, we say:
- She is a lucky woman.
- This book is useless.
Adjective, in its turn, cannot modify a verb, as in the incorrect sentences below:
- I am incredible worried about him.
- John can work normal again.
Instead, we say:
- I am incredibly worried about him.
- John can work normally again.
- When an adjective modifies the noun before the verb, it always follows some form of the verb to be:
- She was worried.
- He has been ill all month.
- I tried to be helpful.
- When an adjective modifies the noun before the verb, it always follows a verb of appearance or a sense verb: seem, look, taste, smell, feel etc.
- Chicken curry tastes great.
- John's wound looks awful.
- The winter air smells fresh.
- Donna seems unhappy today.
Using adverbs instead of adjectives would not make sense in these cases because it would imply that, for instance, chicken curry is great at tasting, John’s wound is not good at looking, and so on.
Bottom line – be sure to always notice whether the word modifies the noun or the verb. If it modifies the verb, you should use an adverb. If it modifies the subject, you should use an adjective. It’s as simple as that.
Avoiding double negatives
Avoid using adverbs which are already negative, like "hardly" or "scarcely", next to another negative term. In English, you can use only one negative at a time, so you would say:
- Hardly anyone was there when I arrived (not "hardly no one...")
- There is scarcely any good books in this library (not "scarcely no books...")
Adverbs and adjectives to know apart
Good or Well?
Well is an adverb, which can be used as an adjective in a health-related sense. In this specific sense, you can use well in a sentence like "I recovered after that flu and now feel well". In every other case well functions as an adverb and should be used accordingly, for instance, "He did well on the driving exam".
Good is an adjective. So you would say that you look good and feel good, but you do well and live well.
Surely or sure?
Sure is an adjective which also can be used in the idiomatic expression "sure to be". Surely is an adverb (which can also be used as a sentence-adverb).
- I am surely ready to take this exam. Surely here is an adverb which modifies the adjective ready.
- He is sure that you did this. Sure here is an adjective which modifies the pronoun he.
- He is sure to be a good partner. Sure to be here is an idiomatic expression functioning as an adjective which modifies the pronoun he.
Nearly or Near?
Nearly is an adverb meaning "almost" or "in a close manner". Near can be an adverb, verb, adjective, or preposition.
- The moment of triumph neared. Neared here is a verb in the past tense.
- We are nearly done packing. Nearly here is an adverb that modifies the verb done.
- The truth will be revealed in the near future. Near here is an adjective which modifies the noun future.
- The dog crawled near. Near here is an adverb of place which modifies the verb crawled.
- Siblings are more nearly related than cousins. Nearly here is an adverb which modifies the verb related.
- The mystery is revealed in a scene near the end of the book. Near here is a preposition and a part of the prepositional phrase "near the end of the book".
Badly or bad?
You should use adjectives to describe how you feel, so you would say, for instance, "I feel bad right now". If you'd say "I feel badly", that would mean that you are unable to feel, like if you were saying that you play guitar badly.
Really or Real?
- I'm feeling really well right now. Really here is an adverb that modifies the adverb well.
- Are you really going to climb Everest? Really here is an adverb which modifies the verb going.
- Let us stop joking and concentrate on the real issue. Real here is an adjective which modifies the noun issue.
Check how much did you learn by completing this exercise on adverbs and adjectives!
An appositive is a noun/pronoun (possibly with modifiers) which is put after another noun/pronoun to identify or explain it. The tricky thing about using appositives is punctuation, so you wouldn’t have any problems with them while practicing your spoken English (in an oral conversation). In writing, though, you will want to pay some attention to the commas.
Here is how appositives look in the sentence:
- My friend Sarah is a teacher.
- My boss's wife, a stunning blonde, is the envy of his friends and colleagues.
In some cases an appositive phrase precedes the word it explains:
- An adorable Russian Blue, Mollie was my favorite cat.
- An expert in sales, John is on his path to becoming a head of marketing department.
Sometimes the noun being explained is so general that the meaning of the sentence would not be clear without the appositive. In this case commas around the appositive are not needed:
- The popular singer Michael Jackson was known for his impressive performances.
On the opposite, if the sentence would be clear enough without the appositive, do use the commas – one before the appositive, and one after.
- Michael Jackson, the popular singer, was known for his impressive performances.
Using countable and uncountable nouns correctly is something that ESL students often struggle with. In this section, their use is explained very simply and to the point.
Obviously enough, the difference between countable and uncountable nouns is whether you can or cannot count the things they stand for.
Countable nouns are things which can exist as individual units:
All of these objects can be counted: five boys, two hands, one stadium, and dozens of icicles.
Uncountable nouns are things which only exist as one whole and therefore cannot be pluralized. They can have a collective meaning (like equipment), or refer to abstractions (like misery). Some other uncountable nouns are:
You can easily detect uncountable nouns by putting the word "many" in front of the noun to see if it makes any sense that way. Neither of the above words can be pluralized (you can’t say “many weathers” or “attitudes”), therefore all of them are uncountable.
However, there are some of them which end with -s, for instance:
To all of these, the general rules for uncountable nouns are still applied.
There are also some nouns in English which have both a count and a non-count meaning. For example:
- Beer is made with malt and hops. (A kind of alcoholic drink.)
- I've been in the real estate business for over 10 years now. (The industry as a whole.)
- Her hair gets curly when she's out in rain or fog. (The mass of fibers on her head.)
- I had two beers on Friday night. (Two pints or cans of beer.)
- I own three small businesses which keep me afloat. (Three commercial organizations.)
- John's first mustache consisted of 3 lonely hairs. (3 single strands of hair.)
When it comes to the categories like food and beverages, the uncountable nouns can be used in a countable sense if it has to do with classification:
- We've brought a variety of white breads from the bakery. (kinds of bread)
- I prefer Indian teas over Sumatran. (kinds of tea)
- There are several French cheeses to choose from. (kinds of cheese)
The table below demonstrates which quantity terms can and cannot be used with countable and uncountable nouns:
Measure the gained skills: countable or uncountable exercise.
Most of the time, the choice of adjective is not affected by the kind of noun – for example, you can say both “The book was blue” and “The water was blue”. The difference between countable and uncountable nouns only matters when it comes to certain adjectives, which you will learn in the following ESL lesson.
Many only modifies countable nouns:
- Many Mexicans move to the U.S.
Much only modifies uncountable nouns:
- I don't have much money left after the holiday.
Lots of, a lot of
Used with countable nouns if they mean many:
- A lot of Mexicans move to the U.S.
Used with uncountable nouns if they mean much:
- He has lots of money because he is a famous actor.
Few only modifies countable nouns
- There are a few cows on the farm.
Little only modifies uncountable nouns.
- I have little money on my bank account.
In the table below you can see which articles can and cannot be used with countable and uncountable nouns:
Curious how much did you learn? Test yourself here!
Errors of the subject-verb agreement are among the most common errors in English grammar. Below are several rules for making sure that subjects and verbs agree in the sentence.
- Use a plural verb when the subject consists of two or more nouns or pronouns connected by "and":
- Thomas and his parents are out of town today.
- Use a singular verb when the subject consists of two or more singular nouns or pronouns connected by "or" or "not:
- He or his girlfriend is definitely at home because the light inside is on.
- When the subject is composed of both singular and plural nouns, use the verb which agrees with the part of the subject which is nearest to the verb:
- Her husband and friends visit her in the hospital every day.
- Her friends and husband visits her in the hospital every day.
- Remember that the verb agrees with the subject even if there is a word of a phase between them.
- One of the kittens is white.
- The lady with all her kids lives in a small flat.
- My little brother, as well as his friends, is afraid of the dark.
- A singular verb is used with the words which may refer to multiple people or things but are singular:
everyone, everybody, each one, each, someone, somebody, anyone, anybody, either, neither, nobody, no one.
- Each of my dogs is well trained.
- Everybody likes ice-cream.
- No one is at home tonight.
- The same rule applies to collective nouns – the words that imply more than one person at a time, such as family, team, group, class:
- The class goes to the museum after school.
The only exception is that a plural verb must be used when the individuals in the group are specifically referred to:
- My football team have never been able to agree with each other.
- Uncountable nouns which end with -s, such as physics, economics, measles, news and similar, require singular verbs.
- The TV news is at 6 a.m., 7.30 a.m., and again at 9.
- Nouns which only have a plural form such as scissors and trousers require plural verbs:
- My trousers are too tight.
- The scissors are in the toolbox.
Using the verb tenses consistently and clearly is important both in writing and speaking, so we couldn’t skip this topic in our English grammar tutorial. To sum it up, if the time frame for each state or action in the sentence is the same, shifting from one tense to another may cause confusion.
- One minute before midnight the candles were lit, the champagne was open, and the family gathers around the table.
Were lit and was open are past tense verbs; gathers is present but should be past (gathered) to maintain consistency within the time frame.
- Correct: One minute before midnight the candles were lit, the champagne was open, and the family gathered around the table.
The following sentence is incorrect for the same reason:
- The shelters are providing food and warmth for homeless people who had nowhere to go.
Are providing is a present tense and had is past, but should be present for the verb tense consistency (if the shelters are still providing help, homeless people still have nowhere else to go).
- Correct: The shelters are providing food and warmth for homeless people who have nowhere to go.
It is correct to use the shift in tense to highlight a change from one state or action to another in time frame:
- My grandfather lives in a small log house, which he built himself.
Lives is present tense, referring to a current state (he still lives there now). Built is past and is referring to an action completed before the current time frame (he is no longer building it).
In this sentence the tense shift is also used correctly:
- I am learning German and Spanish because I will be in charge for cooperation with German and Spanish contractors next year.
Am learning is present progressive which is referring to a currently ongoing action. Will be is future tense, referring to action expected to begin later than the current time frame (I will be in charge for cooperation in the future, after I have learned the languages).
Learning English vocabulary
There are some words in English which sound almost the same but are written differently and mean completely different things. You may notice this while learning English in conversations.
In the list below you will find some of the most common words of this kind and how to differentiate them.
- Accept = to agree/to receive (verb): I accepted their apologies.
- Except = to exclude/to leave out (verb): Women over 60 were excepted from the survey.
- Except = other than (preposition): Everyone got an A+ except John.
- Affect = to influence (verb): The lack of rest will affect your performance.
- Effect = to accomplish (verb): My efforts have effected a significant change in college regulations.
- Effect = result/consequence (noun): Will the lack of rest have an effect on your performance?
- Advise = to recommend/to suggest (verb): He advised me to drive carefully tonight.
- Advice = recommendation (noun): He gave me an advice to drive carefully tonight.
- Conscious = attentive, aware (adjective): I am completely conscious of my guilt.
- Conscience = person's moral sense of right and wrong (noun): I wouldn't cheat on the exam because my conscience wouldn't let me.
- Idea = mental impression (noun): Jack has an idea that we should all go hiking next summer.
- Ideal = something or someone regarded as perfect (noun): Michael Jordan was his ideal in the world of sports.
- Ideal = perfect (adjective): He was an ideal husband and father.
- Its = possessive form of the pronoun "it": My dog has some dirt on its paws.
- It's = it is/it has (contraction): It's (it is) going to be sunny tomorrow; It's (it has) been sunny for two weeks.
Than is used in comparisons and statements of preference:
- It is warmer than yesterday.
- He would rather walk than take a bus.
Then is used to suggest a conclusion/to refer to some time other than now/to refer to something next in order, space, or time:
- If you make enough money, then buying a car should be no problem.
- We were spending lots of time together back then.
- First I have to work, then I can have a rest.
- They're = they are (contraction): They're on vacation now.
- There = that place: The main square is over there.
- Their = possessive pronoun: Their dog barks all night long.
- To = preposition/a part of the infinitive form of a verb: I will go to the gym to exercise.
- Too = also, as well/excessively: I want to go to the gym, too. I'm too tired to go to the gym today.
- We're = we are: We're lucky to be here.
- Were = past tense form of the verb "be": We were the youngest people in the group.
- Where = location: Where is my shirt?
- Your = possessive pronoun: Aren't your shoes too tight?
- You're = you are (contraction): The shoes you’re wearing are too tight.
- Already = expressing time (adverb): I'm already going home.
- All ready = expressing complete preparedness (adjective): I'm all ready to go home.
- Altogether = completely, entirely (adverb): It was so hard to keep up with homework that I decided to quit the study altogether.
- All together = summed up: All together, there were more than fifty people in my class.
- Anyone = any person (pronoun): Anyone can join this party.
- Any one = a specific item in the group (adjective): Any one of these books could keep me entertained for a whole weekend.
- Anyway = in any case/nonetheless (adverb): It was a hard task, but I did it anyway.
- Any way = any direction/any manner (adjective or noun): She couldn’t help me in any way.
- Awhile = for a short period of time (adverb): I had to go home but my best friend showed up so I stayed awhile.
- A while = significant period of time (noun): It took him a while to learn Spanish.
- Maybe = perhaps (adverb): Maybe he could find another job.
- May be = might be, could be (verb): It may be better for him to find another job.
Sometimes, when the verb in English is followed by an adverb or a preposition, it changes the meaning of that verb completely, forming an idiom. When you are just learning English as a second language, those constructions can confuse you.
Here are a few examples:
to take after = to look like/behave like
- He takes after his parents.
to count on = to trust, to rely on someone
- I know I can count on my friends in any situation.
to break down = to stop functioning
- My car broke down in the middle of the road.
In the table below you can see some of the most common verbs with the articles which frequently follow them:
What you need to know about idiomatic verbs is that some of them are separable, which means that a noun or pronoun can be put between the two words of the phrasal verb:
- I turned off the light and went to bed.
- Before going to bed, I turned the light off.
Others are inseparable, which means they cannot have any word in between:
- I ran across my ex-colleague in the supermarket.
- I ran him across in the supermarket.
There are also intransitive ones, which means they cannot be followed by an object:
- Instead of cooking lunch at home, I prefer eating out on Sundays.
- I prefer eating out the lunch on Sundays instead of cooking.
The challenge is that there is no strict rule to tell one kind of phrasal verb from another, so it needs to be learned by practicing English through conversations and frequent use. You can additionally check this extensive list of phrasal verbs and phrasal verbs + other idioms list.
We hope that you find this tutorial helpful. It was created it for those who want to learn (and improve) their English step by step. If you liked this short English as a second language program, go beyond it and check our other ESL materials: